October 25, 2022
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Caralie Chrisco
Principal, Developer Fund

Analyzing Data and Describing Elephants with Josie

Analyzing Data and Describing Elephants with Josie
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Josie is a Bitcoin Core contributor and a 2022 Superlunar grant recipient. 

Josie was never the kid that took apart a computer to see how it worked. He was too busy being outside with his butterfly and bee collection. As an early-age hipster, he’d always go for the analog version of something like learning how to develop old-school film in place of using a digital camera. 

“Tech needs to be solving a problem. Tech for the sake of tech is not interesting.” - Josie

Born on the west coast, he spent his childhood moving back and forth between suburban California and Seattle, Washington before eventually settling in Indiana. His dad was a software engineer at Boeing at a time when it was a relatively novel profession. 

Josie failed almost every math class he took in high school. After starting college, he decided to drop out and go to Seattle with the intention of becoming an Alaskan sea fisher but panicked the day before he was set to get on the boat. He flew back to Indiana, decided to make college work and signed up for calculus to prove to himself that he was capable of understanding math. He put in the effort and actually got an A at the end of the semester. He realized that having an objective goal felt great - when he worked hard, he was rewarded. He decided to stick with math and ended up majoring in it along with a minor in physics. Upon graduation, he realized that most career paths for math majors weren’t lucrative so he resigned himself to working with computers. 

Studying physics had involved utilizing empirical data analysis so that felt like an interesting path to explore. Data science presented a more creative direction since fancy math was used to answer big open questions. The idea of solving real life problems with data was attractive so he started teaching himself. He studied data science and applied statistics courses on Coursera while teaching himself Python. Around this time, Josie was first introduced to the world of open source. He used free resources like Wes McKinney’s pandas library, which made data science possible for the masses. He also stumbled across the R project, which has a traditional and well known open source community focused on statistical computing and data science. 

Even though he wasn't a formal data scientist, he was able to get a job relatively easily since he was entering the field in its infancy. Companies knew they needed data expertise but didn’t really know what that meant. A small company in Virginia decided to take a chance on Josie and he got to sink his teeth into the art of data science by working on metrics, data engineering, and machine learning. He went from data scientist to data engineer in three years. Later, he was recruited by Amazon where he worked in transportation forecasting as a Business Intelligence Engineer. 

Lunch and Learn

Early 2017, a coworker introduced him to Bitcoin. Josie was resistant at first but his colleague insisted on chatting consistently until he understood the importance of cryptocurrencies by eating together every day for three weeks. These lunches provoked Josie to read the Bitcoin white paper but most of his research was done only to prepare for rebuttal. While these lunches were filled with rich debate, he still just wasn’t interested in it. 

In 2019, he came across a reddit thread that brought Bitcoin back into his sphere of interest. He went to the github repository for the first time and it started to sink in how remarkable it actually was as an intricate open source project that was actually working

Josie ended up joining a startup after Amazon, but took some extended time off to recover from burnout shortly after. He was a user and holder of bitcoin at that point, becoming so consumed by it that he felt extremely motivated to understand how it worked and eventually how to contribute. He read about the Chaincode seminars on Twitter, went through that process, and then actually used its open source material to run a seminar of his own.

Current Projects

Josie is currently collaborating on a project that takes an empirical approach to analyze and clean mempool data. By collecting this type of data and enriching it, they’re able to learn more about how the mempool really works: fees, congestion, implications for package relay, replace-by-fee, etc. Last year the project was focused on transaction analysis that ended up making privacy improvements to the Bitcoin Core wallet. 

Josie cares a lot about privacy, which he feels there is very little of in money today. This year, he’s also making plans to work on Cross-Input Signature Aggregation (CISA). The goal of CISA is to make transactions smaller, which will result in cheaper and more private transactions. This project was originally slated to be in the Taproot soft fork, but it was decided that the upgrade would be too large and needed more research. The project involves quite a bit of cryptography, which is an area Josie is excited to learn more about that. 

“Just as the cypherpunks said: ‘Privacy is necessary for an open society in the electronic age.’”- Josie

Josie is also passionate about education and onboarding new developers. He works to promote available open source resources and keeps the barrier of entry as low as possible. On the heels of his own experience as a data scientist-turned-Bitcoin contributor, Josie advises hopeful contributors to identify ways to provide unique value while also learning more about the space. He’s learned that open source can involve a lot of soft skills that include being comfortable making mistakes and tradeoffs in public as well as needing to be patient. His first major pull request to Bitcoin Core took one year to get merged. Josie now has routine calls with other contributors to connect and share best practices to help deal with the nature of the isolating work. 

Not Defining Bitcoin

Josie thinks that asking the question, “What is bitcoin?” is like asking six men that are blind to describe an elephant - people perceive it and need it differently. He believes that when we force alternate definitions or add ideologies, it risks becoming exclusionary when it is supposed to be a tool for anyone.

“Bitcoin is software. Beyond that, we’re just projecting what we need it to be and what we want it to be.” - Josie

Josie hopes bitcoin continues to solve real world problems without losing sight of its use cases. He implores interested contributors to be users first - if you can identify how to make bitcoin work for you, it’ll likely be solving someone else’s problem as well. By reminding contributors and maintainers of the problems they’re trying to solve, the less of a chance bitcoin becomes just another tech project for tech’s sake.

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