August 11, 2022
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Caralie Chrisco
Principal, Developer Fund

Freely Trade at Any Age with Duncan Dean

Freely Trade at Any Age with Duncan Dean
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Duncan Dean is a Bitcoin Core and Lightning Developer. He is one of Superlunar’s 2022 grant recipients.‍

With a population of sixty-nine million, eleven official languages, and nine unique biomes, there is no typical way to grow up in South Africa. 

Duncan's father was an entrepreneur so his family moved quite often, but he mainly grew up in the Pretoria / Johannesburg region in the post apartheid era. Within its borders, he had exposure to a wide-range of experiences and interacted with a variety of different cultures. However, his home country still has work to do to better embrace diversity despite the recent dismantling of racist laws.

As a little boy, Duncan pushed all the buttons and took everything apart. He found the usual things nerdy kids find exciting and from the age of six became extremely interested in technology. He has a vivid memory of his dad bringing home a laptop at a time when they weren’t ubiquitous. He was hooked. 

In high school, he’d self study if he didn’t find the assigned work interesting enough. He was the kind of kid that wanted to understand the fundamentals of how the universe worked so he spent a lot of time reading science books. He taught himself web development and did a deep dive into Firefox OS, which is now a discontinued open-source operating system.

First Brush With Bitcoin

His first brush with bitcoin was late in high school while browsing a reddit thread. The thread touted bitcoin as this new experiment and attempt at a decentralized global currency. It led him to the white paper but he struggled to grasp it in its entirety despite finding it comprehensive. He temporarily abandoned understanding the back end technology and became a user of it instead. 

He was the “weird bitcoin proponent” in school and knew his audience. His friends didn’t care about bitcoin as a long-term store of value but as a money that you could take anywhere and do anything with. He got them to run full nodes, which at the time took ~30 gigabytes of chain data but is now closer to ~500. As a South African teenager, the bank account cards he could access didn’t allow for international purchases, so bitcoin opened up a whole new world of accessibility and freedom. Duncan even purchased a geiger counter, an electronic instrument used for detecting and measuring ionizing radiation, by using bitcoin to complement his physics studies. 

Duncan got a scholarship to study physics at the University of Pretoria and also majored in math. He was the first person in his family to go to university and thoroughly enjoyed it. He had hopes to do postgraduate studies when he started developing panic attacks. Without any external pressures, he had started to pursue a level of toxic perfectionism. He was burnt out. 

He stepped back from the academic world and continued to self learn in a less pressured environment. Following in his father’s footsteps, he started his own business doing contract development work that focused on creating reporting software for miners as well as miscellaneous Android and iOS work. After some time, he craved a career shift that catered to his curiosity and would reinvigorate passion for his work. He found himself drawn back to bitcoin. 

Part of the Movement

The bitcoin movement made Duncan feel a closeness with other users within the global community. With no central figure, it felt like the wild west and that’s where he wanted to be. He applied to Luno, the prestigious crypto investment application, and the place where he first purchased BTC in 2013. By this time, bitcoin had come a long way in its development and global understanding. 

He was granted the opportunity to work at Luno and spent a whirlwind three years building up his career from web engineer to senior software engineer. During this time, he played around with the programming language Go, explored related open source projects, and met his friend and mentor, Carla Kirk-Cohen. Carla, also a native South African, exemplified a successful open-source developer and proved that one doesn’t have to be in the United States to make a difference. It was clear that this is what he wanted to do for the foreseeable future.   

“Bitcoin isn’t going away. Over a decade later, it’s still standing strong and no organization has swooped in to call all the shots. Bitcoin has longevity and sustainability. It works.”
- Duncan Dean

Current Projects

Earlier this year, Duncan joined the teaching staff at Qala and is now able to dedicate his work full time to open source software. He is currently focused on asmap and Lightning Developer Kit (LDK). Bitcoin Core contributor and researcher, Gleb Naumenko, approached Duncan to work on asmap, a feature that works today but is not enabled by default. Asmap essentially helps to make the whole network more decentralized and resistant to attacks by diversifying the peers with which you share connections. The goal is to eventually enable asmap by default in Bitcoin Core. 

Lightning Developer Kit builds tools and libraries to allow easy Lightning integration into any bitcoin wallet. Duncan jumped into LDK because he’s a huge fan of the programming language Rust and Lightning in general. Duncan's ultimate hope for bitcoin is adoption. He believes Lightning is going to be central to that and wants to see it grow because he knows the impact it can have, especially within countries without properly functioning financial systems. 

He’s currently working on various aspects of Lightning spec compliance and dual funded channel support. Moving forward, Duncan would like to be involved in simple taproot channel support in Lightning and eventually grow as a spec author.  

Governments aren’t typically progressive and require opposition and pressure to make change.  It is necessary to have individual freedom, especially the freedom to take your money with you. The uncensorable property of bitcoin is of the utmost importance.
- Duncan Dean

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