It was 7:30 am on a chilly February morning when I first heard the word Web3 being uttered by a person in real life. I was standing at the immigration counter at the Vancouver International Airport, outbound to Denver to attend the “largest and longest-running ETH event in the world.” The person animatedly talking about ETHDenver was at the next counter, a man in a faded gray hoodie and dark blue jeans, with unkempt hair– your typical vision of a tech developer, or “buidler” in Web3 parlance.
From that point on began my immersion into the world of Web3, one that I had become a part of only four months ago. So far, all Web3 conversations I had had were mediated by computer screens, with 2D versions of my colleagues on Zoom calls, or slack messages. As I made my way from the security check to my seat in the airplane, I passed conversations about dapps, and the smart contracts being deployed in those dapps, investors scouting the next exciting idea in Web3. The humans behind your crypto wallets, and developer APIs of Web3, the 3D versions of Web3 evangelists, started coming alive for me.
The idea that community was key to Web3 was one I had heard my colleagues talk about on many Zoom calls. An engaged community helps us better our products with their feedback, add more features based on their needs, and onboard more people onto Web3. The technology that powers Web3, blockchain, itself has the idea of the collective built in. If miners would not reach a consensus about the validity of a transaction, it wouldn’t be added to the chain, and therefore not exist. However, the full weight of the argument that Web3 was community-oriented, community-focused, and in many ways, community-run, did not hit home until I had spent a few days at ETHDenver.
Community is as community does
When I think about community, I think about a place where one can belong. And Web3 provides ample room for belonging to anyone who wants to come in. One look at the schedule for events at ETHDenver could confirm that.
For the developers, there was the hackathon and build-together workshops. For those interested in blockchain’s potential to make public goods more accessible, there were workshops on building basic income tokens and panels on using blockchain to build social housing. For those who wanted to create a more equitable Web3 ecosystem, there were panels on bringing more minorities and women into Web3, and talks on empowering artists through distributed ownership of their NFTs. For the more scientifically inclined, there were workshops for building open-source research frameworks. The use-case specific folks could attend talks on blockchain’s uses in insurance, retail, journalism, astrology, space exploration. You name it and ETHDenver had a talk or event for you.
As a non-techie at a hackathon, seeing the corridors of the 4th floor of the Art Hotel, one of the main venues for the hackathon, full of buidlers, full of passion for their ideas and finding partners to build it with, was fascinating.
During one of our catch-up sessions in the lobby of the Art Hotel, a colleague from Florida excitedly told me that she had met at least five people who lived in her city of St Pete, whom she would have never met if she hadn’t come to ETHDenver. Her excitement at the thought of being able to hang out, and talk with people who understood, or were at least excited about Web3 in a world where few people outside the industry understood it was palpable. She had found her community.
At a panel about navigating the Web3 as a BIPOC, queer, marginalized individual, panelists talked about the massive potential that our industry had in building more equitable workplaces. Due to Web3’s unique position of being in its foundational stage, we can intentionally build organizational structures and processes that are inclusive. Doing so is easier than dismantling hegemonic structures and trying to make them more democratic, as we are (unsuccessfully) trying to do with Big Tech.
The importance of community in Web3 can be gauged from the popularity of decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs), which are expected to revolutionize financial and cooperative organizational structure. It was a topic that dominated discussions at ETHDenver, from what they are, how to participate in one, how to create your own DAO to whether they actually really matter (UkraineDAO raising $6.75M in ETH to aid the country’s defense against Russia is case in point). The fact that ETHDenver is itself a DAO, and completely member-run is telling of the importance of DAOs in the Web3 community.
No matter which direction you walked in a four-block radius of the Art Hotel on North Broadway, you would chance upon venues for the various talks, events, mixers where people talked about scaling the ecosystem, onboarding more newbies into Web3, or pitching their new dapp to a crypto fund. The whole atmosphere in Downtown Denver was charged with possibilities, of finding a new project, new job, new ideas, or just a new, decentralized way of life.
I couldn’t help but think of parallels between ETHDenver and my time at grad school. You sit in talks and panels, imbibing new ideas. Your days are packed with class, panels, discussions, and you find yourself rushing from one event to the other. On your way, you encounter colleagues on crosswalks, rushing to the same event as you, and you talk about the most recent exciting thing you learnt. After an action-filled day, you head over to drinks with colleagues to unwind, but still talk about your subject, which happened to be all things Web3 at ETHDenver. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that ETHDenver was a two-week crash course in Web3, where conversations with even your Uber drivers revolved around blockchain and crypto.
Where I found community
The bulk of the action at ETHDenver was at the Art Hotel and the Sports Castle. However, it wasn’t at these people-packed venues that I found my community in Web3. I found it in a small house three blocks down from the Art Hotel, called Hacker House, which was a venue for many talks and panels organized by H.E.R. DAO, a women-focused developer DAO.
Tracy Bowen, the founder of H.E.R. DAO, described the Hacker House as a safe space where newcomers to Web3 can ask questions, connect with experts and like-minded individuals, and find mentorship. Bowen, who is passionate about bringing more women into Web3, talked about creating opportunities where people who may not have all the skills required for our industry to upskill themselves, to build connections, find new opportunities, and build the confidence to be able to grab those opportunities when they present themselves. Bowen’s words resonated with me since not too long ago, I was one of those people who found themselves in a new industry, with no technical background but a curiosity to learn.
Over the next few days, I kept encountering people who were on a similar quest as me to find their place in the ‘brave new world’ of Web3. I met an environmentalist from Chile who became interested in Web3 for its potential to reduce the carbon footprint of technology. I met a healthcare worker who wanted to use Web3 to build out a dapp that made access to mental health resources easier. I met an ex-consultant who took a leap of faith and quit her job to find her next career move in Web3. For most of these people, they were only armed with their curiosity about Web3, and were now buoyed by the community they found along the way.
During a conversation at the Hacker House, a registered nurse wondered if she could ever find a place in the technology-driven world of Web3. I found myself giving her a perspective that a colleague had once given me in a conversation where I was trying to find my place at Consensys: he had said, “Think of yourself as a SaaS business. You have core skills that you can offer. Now go see where in the organization those skills can be put to use, even if it wasn’t a part of your job description.”
The same logic applies to Web3. Our industry is still in its infancy, and needs not just buidlers, but marketers, evangelists, business managers, spokespeople. There is room for every skill set, every idea, and every individual.
When I talked about the exciting pace of new developments in the world of blockchain and Web3 during my hiring interview at Consensys, one of the panelists had, quite rightly, pointed out that the fast pace of change could also mean that you get lost easily. Therefore, it was important to always remember why “you came into the space in the first place”. I tried hard to find an answer to that question for the past four months, and found it at ETHDenver. It’s for the community.