Alexis Gauba is co-founder at she256, a nonprofit dedicated to increasing diversity and breaking down barriers to entry in the blockchain space, and Mechanism Labs, which is conducting blockchain based research experiments in the domains of distributed consensus, scalability, and usability.
The following is an exclusive contribution to CoinDesk’s 2018 Year in Review.
Blockchain technology has been challenging norms and pushing boundaries since its inception, and 2018 was no different. We saw a selection of projects on bleeding-edge frontiers, unlocking ideas that didn’t previously exist and actions that simply weren’t possible before.
This struck me personally. When I got into the space, I was not only fascinated by the technological challenges, but also ideologically drawn to these big ideas of transformative change. This wasn’t merely a subfield of computer science, but a generational movement.
Throughout all of this, however, it’s crucial to step back and also consider the wider implications of what we’re building. More and more we’re asking, who can really benefit from these technologies? Who are we building this future for? And more often than not, these potential user groups come from all walks of life.
This makes sense. This space is driven by an ethos to enable individuals to take actions they weren’t able to before, to allow for global governance based freedoms and financial autonomy, to build in choices where there may have only been a single, monopolistic option
We are still so early in this process of understanding the best ways to deploy these technologies to positively affect different groups. The thing is, we’ll never get there if we build in silos.
If we want this technology to make up our financial and governance based futures, it is crucial that those building these technologies are representative of the global, diverse population which they are to serve.
Recognizing the problem
However, the diversity gap in tech is widespread. And that doesn’t exclude this space. It’s important to recognize this and to take tangible steps towards closing the gap.
Consistent reminders to take actionable measures are important. Take this as another – what can you do in your community or workplace to break down barriers, to educate, to foster growth?
Going a step further, a vast majority of the population doesn’t understand blockchain technology.
Now, we’re still early, but if this technology is to reach a place where it can be impactful on this scale, it’s crucial to bring more people in and to build real understanding. And this isn’t just technologists, it’s necessary for lawyers, designers, economists, policymakers and more to be well informed and deeply engaged.
The cool thing about this space, though, is that because it’s still in its infancy, we have the opportunity to set a precedent right now, to build in diversity and inclusion as a priority and value from the very beginning. And there are people doing amazing work while also actively prioritizing these values.
But we still have a ways to go. We can do better. We can set a different set of norms if we consciously make an effort.
A firmer resolve
A key blocker on both fronts is the high barrier to entry. Sometimes we want to abstract away “the blockchain,” but if we want global participation in governance processes and contribution to projects, it’s necessary to build bridges and welcome members with open arms.
In order to reduce barriers, we can prioritize beginner friendly resources, use helpful abstractions and clear communication, consciously document our open-source projects in an understandable manner, collaborate to discuss standards, and more.
It starts with building a culture, in workplaces, that fosters mentorship and education. We can think about where we make decisions and discuss issues. If we want people to participate, are they even aware? If so, how can we bring them in? Passively hoping populations who aren’t contributing will somehow join in won’t work.
We need to make it easy, reach out, and be encouraging and welcoming. We need to collaborate and share what we’re doing in our workplaces and communities to empower others and hopefully inspire more people to do the same.
Just as important as laying the foundations for the next generation of these technologies, are the people laying these foundations. Let’s keep the conversation going. Let’s take action.
Image via CoinDesk archives