Inside the Ethereum Union: Behind the Scenes of the Historic Cryptographic Event

As the cryptocurrency world eagerly awaited the Ethereum merger last week, a group of developers, researchers, and community members who have dedicated their lives to the project felt the pressure build.

But counting down the blocks as time ticked by at 2:30 am EST on Sept. 15, the group didn’t falter with excitement. They, along with the broader cryptocurrency community, were tweeting as the estimated times for the merger got closer and closer. Those who gathered at the IRL at the Ethereum Foundation office in Berlin, just in time for the famous EthBerlin hackathon, where Ethereans meet from all over the world to celebrate the project they have dedicated their lives to, were huddled around their computers during a Zoom call to discuss progress, share war stories, and finally celebrate.

However, despite all the support, doubts remained, some citing how the merger had been delayed so many times in the past and how an upgrade of this scope, on an active network of this size, had never been done.

To their surprise, Ethereum’s proof-of-stake chain began to wrap around 3:00 EST, and viewers witnessed in real time a historic moment in cryptocurrency history. And as it happened, in true Etherean fashion, artist Jonathan Mann continued his long-standing tradition of singing Ethereum-themed songs on community Zoom, a custom he has adopted over the course of multiple pre-trial calls. Union. His last song dedicated to the union included the lyrics: “The carbon footprint is gone, that’s why we are singing the song of union”.

With success then assured, the merger was completed and the developers and observers cheered alike.

To outsiders, the show may have seemed unwarranted, thinking the merge is just a tedious software update. But for the responsible team, it’s more than just a tech feat. In addition to being an extremely important milestone for Ethereum and the large cryptocurrency industry, the road to it was 24/7 work, countless tests, workshops, meetups, hackathons, and developer trips. , who have become reference figures within the crypto community. Spanning generations and cultures, dozens of developers and researchers have managed to connect and collaborate, week after week, to build Ethereum and prepare for union. Here’s how they did it.

‘Great time for me’

The union was long. Since the genesis of Ethereum, creator Vitalik Buterin, along with developers and researchers, has been planning to move the network into proof of stake mode.

Mikhail Kalinin, lead researcher at major Ethereum software firm ConsenSys, spent 10 hours a day working on it, but it was never much like work, he said. Fortune.

Kalinin, 35, is an Ethereum OG: he started working on the Ethereum ecosystem in 2015, a month before the launch of the Ethereum mainnet, or main public chain, and has eventually become known as the “mastermind” behind it. the Union. In fact, other developers claim that without him the merge would not have happened.

In November 2020, Kalinin published a proposal for “Executable Beacon Chain” and a month later the Beacon Chain, Ethereum’s proof-of-stake chain, was shipped.

That was “a great moment for me: to see something I’ve worked tirelessly on in production that other people will use,” said Terence Tsao, founder of Prysmatic Labs and developer of Ethereum in San Francisco. Working with the team since 2018, 34-year-old Tsao also witnessed the development of the union in its early stages, before it was called a merger, or even Eth2, and was mostly called “Shasper,” a combination of “Casper. ”, The then name of the proof of stake version of Ethereum and“ sharding ”, an Ethereum downsizing solution.

Since then, developers and researchers have worked and tested the merging process many times, and those times have become team members’ favorite memories. For one, developers and researchers remember the October 2021 “Amphora” workshop in Greece.

“It was really interesting and exciting to see the people you interacted with online for so long in person,” said Ethereum Foundation software developer Marius van der Wijden, who is based in Germany and led the work on the popular Go Ethereum (Geth) customer since 2020.

That trip was very interesting for the carefree Ethereum community. For example, Dapplion, a pseudonym lead Ethereum developer at Lodestar, wore a lion costume for most of the trip. “I wore that dress on different days,” said Dapplion, 29, laughing.

Developer Dapplion (left) with devops engineer Parithosh Jayanthi.
Courtesy of Dapplion

But for van der Wijden, 26, the “funniest thing” wasn’t the lion costume. Instead, it was the observation of over 40 developers and researchers staying in a five-star hotel in Greece and never leaving the basement. “We sat in this rather small room, programming, all bent over computers, from morning to night,” recalled van der Wijden.

Their goal was to make progress and “iron out” some problems related to the merger transition, and they did. They didn’t know at the time, but it would become an important “milestone” on Ethereum’s road to proof of participation.

Mikhail Kalinin talks to other Ethereum developers at a seminar in Greece in October 2021.
Courtesy of Mikhail Kalinin

“We were able to show that the overall concept or architecture we were using worked and I think it was the most energizing moment when it comes to joining,” said Tim Beiko, head of protocol support at the Ethereum Foundation. who helped organize the trip.

On the last day of the event, “we wanted to try to make the merge actually happen on a test network [or Ethereum test network]. We were able to get this test to work five minutes before we all had to leave, “said Parithosh Jayanthi, Ethereum Foundation devops engineer, who joined the team in 2020 and led most of the pre-union tests. In the end, completing it was “an amazing feeling,” said Jayanthi, 28. “I won’t forget it for sure.”

Ethereum developers celebrate a successful union test in Greece in October 2021.
Courtesy of Ben Edgington

‘Meetings after 10pm’

Long working days and nights are not uncommon for this group. Their dedication to union and passion for Ethereum often outweighed their desire for breaks or sleep. Plus, with developers and researchers around the world in various time zones, including Australia, Germany, India, Poland, Switzerland, the UK, and the US, working odd hours has become a routine.

Ethereum Foundation researcher Hsiao-Wei Wang knows this well. He has been working on the Ethereum ecosystem with the team since 2017, contributing to the merger in many ways, including creating the meme viral panda merge. Based in Taiwan, he usually works late at night to get in touch with his colleagues. “I’m used to having meetings after 10pm,” she said Fortune.

But this “hugely collaborative” effort is “critical” to Ethereum’s success, said Ben Edgington, product owner of the leading Ethereum Teku client at ConsenSys, where he started working in 2017. “This is the kind of network we want. build: the network in which no one has it and where it allows an enormous diversity of developers “.

The Ethereum community, just like other cryptocurrency-related communities, is online 24/7. “We tend to live where we work, so it’s very difficult to close the door and say, ‘Ok, my day is over. “added Edgington. “Plus, everything we do is fascinating. There aren’t enough hours a day. There is this urge to consume it. ”

Ethereum developer team in Greece in October 2021.
Courtesy of Mikhail Kalinin

While individual motivations for initiating the merger may vary, most developers and researchers said reducing Ethereum’s environmental footprint was among the most important. With a background in climate dynamics, the change was especially vital in the eyes of Edgington and his 18-year-old daughter.

“I was talking to her about NFT and she went crazy. Like, ‘How can you do this? You’re boiling the ocean. This is my future. ‘ And I was very happy to be able to say: ‘Actually, my life’s work now is to fix it. That’s what I’m actually doing, ‘”she said. “This move to proof of stake is an essential step.”

Many who worked on the merger saw their efforts as creating “the greatest impact any of us individually could have” in preventing climate change, Jayanthi said, adding that he saw it as a way to “probably tackle the carbon budget.” of my entire life … which is crazy to think about ”.

“In 50, 100 years later, people will look at the union as, ‘Oh, wow, the union has actually changed history,'” Tsao said. “It’s really great, but I feel people haven’t realized it. We are in the early days ”.

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