In preparation for the Baltic Honeybadger 2019 Bitcoin conference that will be held this weekend, one of Coinfomania’s representatives, Emi Lacapra, met one of the most vocal Bitcoin maximalists and also one of the funniest and most enthusiastic professionals in the space, Jimmy Song.
Jimmy is a Bitcoin Core developer and one of those who keeps adding value to the scene spending most of his time educating people on Bitcoin both from a monetary and technical perspective.
Jimmy, you are a Bitcoin Cowboy. Did you actually grow up in the Wild West?
Haha, no. I actually grew up in Korea up to the age of 7 when my dad was offered a job in NYC and we moved to New Jersey. Since then I moved around the States until I settled in Texas 7 years ago. That’s why I wear the typical hat, I want people to know where I’m from.
The second reason is that I call the cryptocurrency space the Wild West because it retains a lot of danger but also a lot of opportunities and that’s what makes it so exciting.
The third reason is that I love the 1800 era. Since then, America went from being a troubled British colony to a world superpower, all in the range of roughly 100 years. I recognize that as the era of sound money on a global basis, that’s what Bitcoin is taking us back to.
What’s your educational background?
I studied math but started programming when I was 10. I was soon driven towards computers and got my parents to buy me a Commodore 16. I used to look at it and think about what I could do with it, I was fascinated.
Were you one of those nerdy guys that used to spend all the time in the basement with a computer being mainly unsociable?
Haha, not really. I think I’m too extroverted for that!
I used to try new computer games with my friends until my mum hired me a tutor to teach me all about computers as she saw I really loved this machine and one day I could make a living out of it.
Through college, I thought I wanted to become a math professor but then I went to Budapest to study for a foreign exchange math program semester and that was a transformative experience as I realized I loved traveling and visiting different countries like where we are now.
Also, I realized I am too extroverted to be a professor, I could not be sitting in an office all day. But I do love the teaching aspect and I found that in educating about Bitcoin.
There’s also an entrepreneurial side which I enjoy. When you work for a company as a programmer you get paid to do just that, you can’t really step outside of your set tasks. Whereas being an entrepreneur pushes you to be creative and think about the next way to earn money and sustain yourself. It’s kind of exciting.
For instance, I never thought I could get paid for eating steak with people! But then I also teach graduate students at the University of Texas without holding an advanced degree. Also, I went as far as writing a book which I never did before. It’s great to grasp the opportunities as there are many out there and you do not need to be on the front line of everything.
It all combines together, this entrepreneurial aspect relates a lot to Bitcoin where you need to take responsibility for your own money.
True, a lot of people aren’t used to being responsible for anything.
For example, one of the most frightening things in life is to move your Bitcoin. And this is not only true for people who aren’t technical.
Even Adam Back told me he has the cold sweats when he’s moving them!
So it’s not a matter of having the right skills to do something but more to get the personal responsibility to do it. Going back to the 1800 era, people had to take care of everything like finding their own food, get their own job whereas now we’re too used to having everything easily, from banks managing our money to governments getting us a way of living and we do not push ourselves anymore.
Also being more personally responsible makes you much more empathetic with the others because you can almost see what they need even before they need it.
The centralized system nowadays does everything for you but once you start taking ownership of your life you realize that the system has been taking advantage of you while you can actually get to do things your own way and do them better.
When and how did you finally get into Bitcoin?
In 2011 I saw on a technical website I was using back then, that Bitcoin had broken 1$. I didn’t even know what breaking one dollar meant, let alone what a Bitcoin was.
First thing I noticed was its scarcity. The fact that there were only ever going to be 21 million Bitcoins made me thing “If this catches on I better be one of the first people who gets it.” It was very difficult to buy Bitcoin back then so I left it in the end and that’s now one of the biggest regrets I have in life, not buying BTC at 1$!
Do you think that’s still one of the main reasons that push people away from buying it?
No, I don’t think there is any excuse now. It’s become much easier and also Bitcoin is so valuable because it’s not as easy to get as a candy bar. Those who understand it will go a long way to get it. Everyone else will be selling in 6 months, they’re not going to be the hodlers.
You soon became one of the most prominent Bitcoin Core developers. I always wondered, what does a core developer do?
It mainly involves making the code more readable, tested, reviewing other people’s code, making sure people can run a node at home without too much trouble and similar stuff.
Then you got yourself into writing a book, “Programming Bitcoin.” How was that experience?
Very hard and long, 14 months to be precise. It’s hard to constantly motivate yourself, you start hating the stuff that you write and this is true for most of the writers I’ve been speaking to. My editor helped me and I found some tricks that got me to sit down and write, a more disciplined attitude that got me going.
Then I got into writing another book last month, “The Little Bitcoin Book” and that was so much easier as it was written with 7 other people. They were depending on me and it felt like the whole project was just moving smoothly without me having to push it at all. I enjoyed it a lot.
How is “Programming Bitcoin” different from Andreas Antonopoulos’ “Mastering Bitcoin”?
Andreas teaches how to build applications on top of Bitcoin whereas my book is more about the protocol, how to program Bitcoin from scratch and by the end of the book people are going to have a very good idea of how Bitcoin works.
It’s an exciting time for Bitcoin. Do you think it finally managed to move away from the “blockchain” hype that’s haunted it for so long and got the recognition it deserves?
I think it did for some people, certainly for maximalists. It takes people time to really understand and appreciate the very nature of Bitcoin. The steps are the same for everyone. First, they want to know how to mine it. When they realizee it’s no longer profitable they think of buying it. Then they think it’s too late for Bitcoin, they missed that train and they look at altcoins as a get rich quick scheme. It takes a while before they realise they’re not the same as Bitcoin and they finally come back.
Blockchain is sold as the technology to resolve every problem in the world and “adopted” by businesses everywhere as an overall solution. They do not realise how stupid that is as more often than not they do not need a blockchain but a different digital signature or database.
I see Bitcoin use case only in the new monetary system that it represents, everything else does not even compare to it.
There might have been some lessons learnt from altcoin existence but overall I see them as a giant negative. People have lost a lot of money, there have been too many businesses that have built money out of thin air while scamming people into buying it.
Final question is kind of a funny situation you find yourself in: you are the pilot of a plane and on board you have Craig, Roger, and Vitalik. The plane is suddenly in an emergency, you have to get rid of human weight therefore two of them have to jump off the plane. You can only save one of them, who would you choose and why?
Ha, Craig is definitely off the plane! Between the other two, and only because I care about human lives, I would probably choose to save Vitalik since he’s the youngest and also I care about his health. He seems fragile lately so I would save him! I would not save any of them based on the contribution they give to the world.