As part of Paxos’ Learning and & Development program, full-time employees are given a $500 quarterly stipend to be used in a variety of ways.
Paxos Software Engineers, Liz Rodan and Aileen Huang, chose to use part of their L&D budget to attend Consensus, one of the largest events for crypto, investing, NFTs, DeFi, regulation, Web 3 and the metaverse in Austin, TX.
Why did you want to go to Consensus?
Aileen: I’d never attended a blockchain conference before. Being new to this space, I wanted to participate in the ongoing dialogue of what blockchain and cryptocurrencies have come to represent in people’s minds: a class of financial instruments, a way of reducing bias in the financial industry, and a new means of organizing individuals via DAOs and social credit tokens, among other things.
Given that I live in Dallas, I couldn’t help but be curious about attending Consensus, which would be held just a few hours away in Austin.
Liz: I think it’s important to take a step back and look at the big picture and understand what other participants in our space are up to, what challenges they are facing and what problems they are trying to solve. So much is still evolving in terms of blockchain technology and use cases, and as an engineer, I think it’s important to develop an understanding of developments in the industry.
I was struck by the wide array of speakers from diverse backgrounds. For example, this conference had speakers ranging from US Senators to engineers working on new blockchains and peer-to-peer payments networks, and artists leveraging the blockchain to release NFTs. Relevant to our work, many of our clients, vendors and competitors in the space were in attendance, and there was plenty to learn from them as well.
Who was your favorite speaker and why?
L: My favorite three talks were a talk on the Bitcoin Lightning network (“Bitcoin: When Lightning Strikes”), the panel with US Senators Cynthia Lummis and Kirsten Gillibrand, and the panel with the CEO of PayPal. The talk on the Lightning network was very well presented and relevant to our team in terms of finding alternative payments networks that can support growing scale over the long term.
The panel with the lawmakers (“Washington’s Crypto Awakening: The Lawmaker Town Hall”) was standing-room only in a massive auditorium, and the energy and interest from the audience was palpable. It was heartening to see such interest from the lawmakers in crafting a comprehensive framework providing regulatory clarity to our industry, without being overly restrictive towards innovation. Two of the senators responsible for the new Lummis Gillibrand cryptocurrency bill were in attendance, and it was good to see that there were still areas that lawmakers are being conscientious about not overreaching, especially with concerns around surveillance. It was also interesting to see a good deal of interest from the lawmakers in stablecoins and their emerging importance as a means of digital payment.
Lastly, the panel with PayPal President and CEO Dan Schulman and SVP Jose Fernandez da Ponte (“When Payments Go Programmable”) was a favorite in that we got to hear about the company’s vision for rethinking the payment rails to build a more efficient and inclusive financial system. In this panel, the audience was educated on the fact that about 2 billion people around the world do not have access to the traditional financial system, and about 4 billion people total are underserved. $140 billion is spent annually in the US on unnecessary fees and high-interest rates, and by moving payments on-chain, we can reduce these inefficiencies and provide more open access. The concept of using stable methods of exchange to settle transactions using digital currency was underscored as one of the most significant changes the team anticipated bringing to the mainstream into digital assets over the next five years. In response to questions about the coming “crypto winter” the team responded with optimism saying that now is the time to double-down. They further highlighted the importance of providing more open and cost-effective access to financial services, saying that “financial health is the bedrock of our democracy and our economy.”
A: My favorite panelist was Dan Schulman, the CEO of PayPal. Because I work on technology that serves PayPal, I felt extremely proud to represent Paxos, especially as PayPal had just announced the transfers functionality that Paxos powers. In addition, it was fascinating to listen to a measured, yet optimistic, perspective on this current crypto winter–to Dan, it signals an opportunity for PayPal to double down on its investment in cryptocurrency (and partnership with Paxos) rather than pull back.
My second-favorite panel was “Lessons Learned Riding the Crypto Rollercoaster,” featuring cryptocurrency investors Dan Morehead, the CEO of Pantera Capital, and Mike Novogratz, the CEO of Galaxy Investment Partners. Both shared their insights on current macroeconomic conditions and the role that Bitcoin could potentially play as a hedge against inflation. Listening to seasoned investors analyze cryptocurrencies as a financial instrument bolstered my confidence that crypto is already a permanent fixture in the financial ecosystem.
What is one thing you learned from attending? Anything that surprised you?
A: I learned that people’s conceptions of what crypto can be beyond mere financial instruments are still in their nascent stages. Still, it was cool to attend discussions on the metaverse and mint my own NFT featuring myself at one of the photo booths at the conference.
One thing that surprised me was the number of people attending the conference who were in favor of government regulation over cryptocurrencies. At the main stage panel featuring Senators Gillibrand, Toomey, Lummis, and Congressman McHenry, the moderator of the panel asked for a show of hands of people who supported crypto regulations, and of those who were opposed to it; the crowd leaned overwhelmingly for regulation. Though this was, of course, a very informal survey, it was emblematic of a general trend that I’ve observed in which crypto will necessarily and increasingly become integrated with traditional financial and governmental institutions as it gains widespread adoption.
Ultimately, I observed a tension between two very contradictory ideas that weren’t addressed in great detail in the panels: that the decentralization and potential anonymity of financial transactions on a blockchain offers can be superior to fiat currencies, but that we need government regulation, centralization, and oversight on cryptocurrencies, as well.
L: There was a lot that surprised me. A few interesting tidbits that stuck out to me: it was interesting to hear Cynthia Lummis, the US Senator from Wyoming give her perspective that a CDBC makes sense for wholesale transactions but not for retail transactions (presumably due to concerns about privacy and surveillance). We did hear the theme of fragmentation (in tokens and blockchains) come up several times throughout the conference, which underscored the importance of issuing our own tokens across a larger set of blockchains as well.
What was your favorite part of the whole conference?
A: Definitely seeing 2Chainz. He was just such a funny guy, sharing his initial foray into investing in crypto and NFTs and cracking jokes about how his next album would “sound like the metaverse.” His panel, which was on the last day of Consensus, was a great way to cap off the whole experience.
L: The energy and optimism of the participants, ranging from heads of major companies in the space to celebrities beginning to experiment with NFTs, such as 2Chainz. It was also really cool to see how the projects we work on matter in the broader community and industry, such as with the work our team has done with stablecoins. It was also great to spend some time in person with several colleagues from Paxos and meet several other Paxonians in person for the first time!
Will you be back with Paxos next year?
L: Hopefully! I think it’s super important for us to be aware and engaged with up-to-date developments in our space by attending conferences like this.
A: Attending Consensus was a fantastic experience, and I couldn’t be more grateful to have represented Paxos there. Conferences are not only a great way to allow employees to network with other organizations, but also a medium by which management and engineers alike can become connected to the big ideas and trends that have taken storm in the blockchain space. I hope that Paxos can continue to support engineers’ attendance at conferences in the future.