Regen Diaries: Chapter 1 - Living in Limbo

a little introduction to me, what i do, and what im working on at Public Goods Network

This post was originally written in February 2024 for friends and family. Public welcome, but content may be personal.

Tying Up Loose Ends

I held off on writing this monthly update until I had a clearer grasp of what I'm doing. The past month has been chaotic. The temporary shutdown and potential revival of PGN left me in a state of uncertainty about where I was headed and who I’d be working with. Each day, I held onto the hope that the next meeting or milestone would finally bring me clarity.

That clarity never came.

It’s a lot easier to write when things are going well, or at the very least, I know what I’m doing. However, the main reason I began writing Regen Diaries was to capture the unpredictable nature of working in this industry. The past month was full of unknowns, constant changes, and insane volatility. I guess this is why documenting it all down now is more important than ever.

Despite my efforts, I’ve realized that many of you still have no idea what I do. My parents are confused about my job and my friends are unaware of my whereabouts. So, let's clear the air. This chapter is here to tie up some loose ends and clarify a few things:

  1. What I do for work

  2. What I’ve physically been up to

  3. My tentative future plans

“Wait, so what are you doing for work again?” -my mom.

To answer the question, I’m essentially a freelancer* doing product design & software engineering for various Web3 projects. I primarily focus on the "public goods funding" space within blockchain. This niche focuses on improving systems to fund things everyone benefits from, like open-source software or clean air, but aren’t easily funded by traditional markets.

In the latter half of 2023, I joined as the technical product manager for Public Goods Network (PGN) under Gitcoin, where I had previously contributed in the spring.

*I’m not technically a freelancer, rather I’m a contributor for Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAO). But legally speaking, I’m an independent contractor and work on various projects, so to keep things simple I’m essentially a freelancer. And yes, I get paid in crypto.

What is PGN?

If you’re familiar with blockchain: Public Goods Network is an L2 dedicated to funding public goods through sequencer fees.

For people not as familiar with blockchain, here’s a quick explanation for what I was working on: 

A blockchain is a way to prove digital ownership. It's like a giant record book that uses math to ensure everyone can trust the information. Anyone can read and write to it, but you have to pay a fee to make changes - like a toll fee on a bridge. 

For Ethereum (a Layer 1 Blockchain), the fees can be very expensive since a lot of people want to add information to the chain. PGN (a Layer 2 Blockchain on top of Ethereum) is like a carpool lane that bundles up a bunch of transactions and significantly reduces the fees for each user.

Okay, that’s it for the technical lesson of the day.

A Road Full of Roadblocks

There were many hurdles that made PGN a particularly difficult project to work on. For one, PGN is a whole-ass blockchain. We had to build novel technical infrastructure while simultaneously persuading an entire ecosystem to join our network.

I was one of three contributors to PGN, competing for transaction volume against other very well-resourced and experienced teams. We brought a knife to a gunfight in the heat of the L2 wars. The weapons of choice: money and cutting-edge tech. We had neither.

These obstacles weren't new to me. Most of the Web3 projects I’ve contributed to have always revolved around public goods and impact. Unfortunately, a bootstrapped budget and mediocre technology is fairly standard for this domain. I joke that working in Web3 public goods funding is like working in a non-profit, but everyone thinks you’re a scammer. You’re bootstrapped, stretched thin, and dependent on unpredictable funding like grants and donations.

Worth the Fight?

As I dived deeper into my work, it was clear to me the vast impact PGN could have on fixing some of these systematic issues. PGN was one of the first public goods funding projects I’ve seen that was 'economically exothermic' — a system that generates revenue as more people use it rather than depleting resources.

Typically, public goods rely on taxes, grants, and donations. For public goods that are not on the government's priority list, like open-source software and environmental solutions, the sources of funding are even more finicky and unreliable. PGN, however, could create a durable and sustainable funding source for public goods. 

I wanted to give this my all. I networked my ass off to secure new technical infrastructure at no cost, sought out funding partners, and onboarded numerous community builders to increase transaction volume. 

Yet, when my manager returned from sabbatical, he announced that PGN would be shutting down.

“Wait, so where are you?” -my friends.

Some Life Updates: Rose, Bud, Thorn edition

🌹 Rose: My life in Mexico

Earlier this year, I temporarily relocated to Mexico City. One benefit to working remotely is that I have agency to decide where I want to live. Mexico City offered several benefits: a vibrant Web3 community, the opportunity to connect more with my culture, and proximity to home so my friends and family could easily visit me.

On my first night in Mexico City, I went to a blockchain meetup to hear my friend, Laura, speak about on-chain impact attestations. The venue instantly charmed me – a coworking space with a seamless indoor-outdoor floor plan, palo santo burning in the corner, and just the best vibes. I met tons of other Web3 folk as I poorly attempted to explain what I’m working on in spanish. ¿Cómo se dice L2 sequencer revenue en español?

One of the perks of this industry is that we’re all connected by one degree of separation. This makes it super easy to make friends. Despite not knowing many people here beforehand, I tweeted that I would be in Mexico City, and before I knew it, I was part of multiple Telegram chats and had seamlessly integrated into this new city. The vastness of the global Web3 community never ceases to amaze me—it’s incredibly large, yet remarkably interconnected at the same time.

Picture of my friends & our little cowork setup :)

🌱 Bud: Learnings from Latam

Witnessing how people all around the world interact with this technology is a powerful reminder of its immense scale. Traveling through Latam opened my eyes to the global reach of Web3. 

  • At an Ethereum Mexico event, I spoke about Hypercerts – a protocol for tracking and funding impact. I was blown away by how many attendees were already familiar with Hypercerts, Gitcoin, and Public Goods Network. 

  • In Guatemala, numerous restaurants and shops not only accepted Bitcoin but also encouraged its use. It surprised me to learn that many locals preferred Bitcoin over their local currency.

  • At Haab, the coworking space I worked at, I connected with other Web3 professionals from all around the world: Mexico, Argentina, Australia, the Czech Republic, Ireland, India, and more. It's remarkable to think that we all come from such different backgrounds and yet converged at this technological schelling point.

  • During Mexico City Art Week, I connected with artists whose NFT genesis started in this city. Through their stories, I learned about the significant movements they spearheaded and how blockchain empowered them to pursue art full-time.

Blockchain, by its very nature, functions as a global coordination tool. Traveling reminds me that we’re not just building within a small bubble; we’re pioneering technology that impacts communities on a global scale.

🥀 Thorn: The End of PGN

A few weeks into my time in Mexico, I received news from my PGN team that we were shutting down the network.

I felt conflicted. On one hand, I was relieved. Putting my heart and soul into building PGN had been challenging. It felt like we were relentlessly climbing a hill, only to realize we had barely made a dent. On the other hand, I felt extremely disappointed. Despite being one of the main contributors, I had no say in the decision. 

The shutdown was due to high costs, insufficient technical infrastructure, and low transaction volume – all of which we were on the verge of overcoming. New technological updates would reduce our costs by 99%, making our network profitable. We had just secured multiple partnerships with infrastructure providers, and the community was about to launch several initiatives to grow our transaction volume. It felt like we were giving up on a problem worth solving, right as it was getting easier (and profitable) to solve.

Aligning My Roots

An Unexpected Ally

After PGN's shutdown announcement, a mutual friend connected me with Aadi. We instantly clicked – shared goals, aligned missions, and complementary skills. Aadi even had a plan to revive PGN, rekindling my hope for its future.

Aadi began conversations with Gitcoin about the next steps. I’ll spare the details since I wasn’t involved in many of these discussions, but TLDR, the fate of the network kept fluctuating between shutting down and transitioning to a new team. I joked that it felt like a toxic breakup; just as I accepted it was over, I received news it might be transitioning. And vice versa. As I write this, I’m still in that state of limbo. 

However, I've come to terms with the fact that PGN’s future isn’t my decision to make. Instead, I'm focusing on what I can control: the people I surround myself with and the mission I'm dedicated to.

It’s All About the People

This chapter in Mexico City was beyond special. The past few months have been a period of transition and rediscovery. Reflecting on my time in Mexico City, I realized its significance stemmed from the strong community and relationships I formed. People are what make me feel grounded, whether on a personal, community, or professional level. 

Wrapping up my time in Latin America, I managed to fit in a trip to Guatemala to see some amazing friends I'd lived with in Berlin and Mexico City. Gazing out at the breathtaking view of Lake Atitlán, it hit me – this industry brought us together in ways I never could've expected. I get so caught up in the chaos and over focus on the things that aren't going well. But, when I zoom in on the big picture, I'm reminded how grateful I am to experience all these opportunities alongside some incredible friends.  

Picture from breakfast in San Pedro overlooking Lake Atitlán, Guatemala.

What’s Next?

Next week I’ll be heading to EthDenver. This is one of the biggest Ethereum conferences of the year. I’m excited because being with people in person energizes me so much. On the other hand, I’m anxious as heck because I feel more career-vulnerable than ever before.

Financially, logistically, and career-wise, I haven't figured anything out yet. It's unclear whether Gitcoin will allow me to represent PGN or if they're fully committed to shutting down the network.

Either way, I'm hopeful that everything will work out.

Ironically, while this is the most uncertain I've probably ever been, I feel a deep sense of groundedness knowing that I'll be surrounded by people who support me and that I won't be navigating this alone.

- xoxo, Sophia.

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