Posted February 24, 2023
By Ray Blanco
Bitcoin: By the People, For the People
The story starts simply enough, a young coder in high school was deeply interested in bitcoin and wanted to be a part of the exciting digital currency.
The enthusiastic teenager started tinkering with bitcoin nearly seven years ago while still in high school.
During this time, without the knowledge of his parents or a traditional bank account, the high school programmer put together a website with a simple message: “I will work for bitcoin.”
The website also included a link to the student's bitcoin wallet address so that visitors could send him tips for work.
This is how Andrew Chow first became involved in the world of cryptocurrency…
Fast forward to today and Mr. Chow is one of the few who can actually write changes to the software that supports the roughly $500 billion flagship cryptocurrency.
Sure enough, Andrew and those like him perform an absolutely vital service for bitcoin, one that is almost entirely unknown to the millions who own it.
And when I say handful, I mean it… there are only four other coders, not including Andrew, who serves as maintainers of Bitcoin Core, the open-source program that keeps bitcoin’s digital ledger up-to-date on the thousands of computers that account for its network.
While bitcoin remains the flagship cryptocurrency across the entire space, it also acts as the gold standard for all of cryptocurrency.
Over the past year, a multitude of crypto exchanges and alt-coins have filed for bankruptcy, collapsed, crashed, or burned.
Most of this stems from the infamous FTX implosion, but there has also been a declining interest in cryptocurrency as a whole.
Of course, the loss of interest is certainly stemming from the FTX situation as well as other fraudulent activities becoming public, a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts…
Still, throughout all the chaos bitcoin has stayed the course and managed to hold up to some degree.
Although over 62% off its top back in November 2021, bitcoin has managed to stay afloat…
Moreover, the coin’s price is still up over 5,550% from this time seven years ago when Andrew first got involved in the crypto space.
As the oldest cryptocurrency in existence, it remains the most popular coin by a wide margin… Over the years, bitcoin has floated at around 40% of the value of the entire crypto market.
Sure enough, the future potential and price of bitcoin depend, to some degree, on Andrew and his four peers who continue to maintain and update the software that runs the whole show.
At least once in known history, Andrew and his peers performed bug fixes that those most knowledgeable of bitcoin claim could have completely destroyed the value of the coin.
With assistance provided by a larger community of less-involved developers, coders, and programmers, Andrew and his peers are the heirs to bitcoin’s shrouded creator, Satoshi Nakamoto.
Keeping Bitcoin Alive
Alongside Andrew, there are four more current bitcoin maintainers, all of which are paid by sponsorships and charity from crypto firms and some wealthy investors.
Normally, a tech company would have a handful of software developers who are organized in a traditional company structure.
There usually end up being tiers of developers who work alongside managers that create job descriptions and carry out performance reviews.
When a company is publicly traded, investors can view a variety of documents regarding finances, operations, management, and so on.
The thing that separates bitcoin from the pack is that it doesn’t have the same type of oversight you’d see in a publicly traded company.
In fact, that’s part of the appeal for a lot of investors.
The idea of decentralization means that no one entity, government or otherwise, is in full control of the currency.
Instead, bitcoin is run by the people, for the people.
For similar types of ‘company-specific’ information that investors would ideally be able to access, bitcoin has white papers.
These papers exist on message boards and on GitHub, a website owned by Microsoft where the bitcoin-related software is stored.
On these message boards, the main five bitcoin maintainers and adjacent developers gather to talk about high, or low, priority code tweaks as well as personnel matters in a weekly chat room.
Naturally, that chat room is available for viewing by the public, that whole decentralized bit again...
Thanks to the open-source nature of the software, anybody that had a GitHub account would be able to suggest adjustments to the code that runs and keeps bitcoin up to date.
Now, this is where the five main developers come in… simply suggesting a change doesn’t mean it will be implemented, that is up to the discretion of Andrew and his four peers.
If a change is approved, it will be moved into the GitHub repository to be implemented into bitcoin’s software.
From there, the changes take place once users download software updates that are released about twice a year.
From what it seems, being a chief bitcoin maintainer is a pretty thankless job, your compensation comes from sponsorships that you have to apply for once a year, and you often don’t know exactly what your responsibilities will be day-in and day out.
Additionally, discussions in the weekly chat room can become quite heated since they’re totally open to the public.
Whether insults are being flung or praise is being given is solely at the discretion of whoever shows up to the chat that day.
Even still, bitcoin’s almost cult-like following ensures that those who really care about the future of the currency are at the helm.
According to those close to the software, at least once a catastrophic failure has been prevented thanks to the maintainers and the weekly chat room.
As bitcoin continues to grow in popularity and climb back up in price, maybe we’ll see some more maintainers get voted in by the community surrounding the software.
For now, Andrew and his peers continue to look after and care for the software that is responsible for the currency that millions have their hard-earned cash stowed away in.