Who’s Building Bitcoin? An Inside Look at Bitcoin’s Open Source Development

Posted on Saturday, 1st June 2013 @ 09:06 AM by Text Size A | A | A

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One of the biggest stories so far this year has been the re-emergence of bitcoin, the little cryptocurrency that could. It’s been a wild ride, to say the least. Amid the craziness, it’s been easy to forget that bitcoin is a work in progress. Who are the architects behind the world’s most widely used virtual currency?

Slowly but surely, over the past few months, we’ve figured out exactly what bitcoin is, how it works, and what it all might come to. We witnessed events in Cyprus that put into question the current system and the U.S. Treasury issued guidance validating the legality of a brand new form of virtual money. We experienced a frenetic bubble as well as the inevitable crash.

Beyond the ecosystem of services, exchanges, and new companies willing to accept these digital dollars, there lies a disruptive technology that’s constantly being worked on, tinkered with, and improved. The bitcoin system evolves with each new update. But who’s doing the updating?

For a finer picture, I turned to Alex Waters, who, along with Gavin Andresen, was one of the only bitcoin core developers to ever get paid by TruCoin (an entity that was around prior to the existence of the Bitcoin Foundation) for his coding expertise. Today, he’s the COO and CIO of BitInstant.

The heart of everything

Coding contributions to the master file over time, via Github

Bitcoin is an open source project. That means it’s code is available for perusal by anyone at the open source online community, Github. Here, the core developers of bitcoin decide what needs to be worked on and what new software improvements will be added to each new version.

As Waters explains, core development is “the underpinnings of everything. It’s the seed that grew this enormous tree that is bitcoin. And it’s still kind of a seed. Right now, it’s this thing that has enough water, enough sunshine, and all the nutrients it needs.”

“But it’s still this seed. Bitcoin’s core development is led by a small group of people.”

And as bitcoin grows, there’s a perpetual struggle to keep up. “If bitcoin is the ship, the core dev team is the engine, which is constantly under maintenance,” Waters told me. “The engine is constantly being improved. At the same time, the ship is also growing. New facilities are being added and more people are getting onboard.”

“So everything is slower because the ship is fat and the engines aren’t powerful enough to keep up. But it’s still a ship. It’s a ship with a direction in mind.”

The key players

For as much as bitcoin has grown, the technology is still being developed by a core group, which includes:

Gavin Andresen: Andresen serves as chief scientist on the board of the Bitcoin Foundation and is essentially bitcoin’s lead developer, a position passed onto him by Satoshi Nakamoto, bitcoin’s mysterious creator. A Princeton grad, Andresen joined the bitcoin movement after spending time in Silicon Valley. Today, he is the only person receiving an official salary from the foundation for his work. Outside of Nakamoto himself, Andresen is the person who has most influence on the direction of bitcoin. If bitcoin is a ship, Andresen is the undisputed captain. He’s bitcoin’s Linus Torvalds.

Jeff Garzik: Garzik is a frequent writer, miner, developer (bitcoin and others), network engineer, familiy man, and staunch bitcoin advocate. He’s known within the community to be incredibly smart, tackling bitcoin’s many complex problems with speed and ease. Notably, he was the world’s first person to receive a specialized bitcoin miner from Yifu Guo’s firm Avalon, which at one point was mining hundreds of dollars worth of bitcoins a day.

Mike Hearn: By day, Hearn is a software engineer for Google. By night, he is the bitcoin community’s unofficial futurist, bitcoin’s very own Ray Kurzweil. Always focusing three to five years down the road, Hearn’s role is primarily that of an advisor.

Matt Corallo: One of the core development team’s unsung heroes, Corallo has made significant contributions to the bitcoin client, its infrastructure, and the main protocol, among others.

Pieter Wiuelle: Like Corallo, Wiuelle has devoted a substantial amount of code to the bitcoin project.

“This core team of bitcoin developers has remained fairly solid over the years with little controversy among the community,” said Waters.

By: Katherine T. Madison

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