Vicente Almonacid – full transcript of the podcast

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Marcel Klimo: [00:00:00] Welcome to another episode of Banking on air, the Vacuumlabs podcast on FinTech banking, cryptocurrencies, and how they’re sweeping the world and changing everything in this crazy post COVID world of 2021. Today, I’m really excited to have one of the software engineers. It’s a Emurgo on the call with me today.

Vicente Almonacid: [00:00:24] Thanks for having me.

Marcel Klimo: [00:00:26] Great. So before we start on, before we kick in all to all of the difficult questions, can you give me a bit of a background into how you ended up at Emurgo and where you come from?

Vicente Almonacid: [00:00:37] Well, my name is Vicente. I’m originally from Chile, but living in France right now for several years now. So I’m a software engineer with Emurgo. Working on the Cardano R&D team. I started working on crypto back in early 2017, but that time I was actually hoping to become a satellite communications engineer, but I’ll say  I was  finishing my PhD thesis. I was feeling very curious about crypto. Since then I’ve just been working on a full time on this.

Marcel Klimo: [00:01:09] Perfect! Software engineer from a satellite engineer. So that’s a big shift right into crypto. I guess it’s still programming, right?

Vicente Almonacid: [00:01:18] There is still programming, but different kinds of programming, a lot of MATLAB low-level programming as well that, you know, C stuff like that, but not much in common with protocols.

Marcel Klimo: [00:01:29] Yeah, absolutely. I mean this whole world of crypto with real value being held in cryptocurrencies,  it’s really the future and working on  real satellites now to the virtual world it’s an interesting shift. So let me just jump to the question, which is probably on a lot of people’s minds and very pertinent. You work at Emurgo. So for those who haven’t ever heard of Emurgo for whatever reason,  how does it fit into the entire blockchain ecosystem? How would you introduce it to somebody who hasn’t ever heard of Emurgo and what you do there?

Vicente Almonacid: [00:02:02] Okay. So Emurgo is part of three main companies that are behind the Cardano blockchain since the beginning, since the Genesis. The others being the Cardano foundation IOG previously called IOSK or Input Output.. So we are generally known as the commercial arm of Cardano. We are focused mainly on increasing the overall value of the Cardano ecosystem. We have a business branch that is more oriented to enterprise solutions, mainly in the supply chain sector and another branch, which is more focused on development of products in the Cardano block chain itself. And that’s the unit I work on specifically. One of the projects that we develop here in Emurgo in the Cardano branch is Yoroi wallet. It is a light wallet in the sense that it does not require users to download the whole blockchain and synchronize with it. So this way we can develop Yoroi a multi-platform application that can be easily maintained in browser for instance, as an ETA application in iOS and Android. Also, we have another branch, which is about training is called Emurgo Academy. And it’s been working on India for a couple of years now.

Marcel Klimo: [00:03:19] So if I recall correctly, our journeys is the Vacuumlabs and Emurgo really kicked off and became official with this app, right? People can read about it a little bit more, but can you tell me a bit more about how Yoroi got started, your role in it and how it has changed over time as we were developing it together?

Vicente Almonacid: [00:03:37] As you know, Yoroi  was one of the earliest collaborations between Emurgo and Vacuumlabs. But for me it has some sort of special meaning because by the time I joined, I didn’t have much experience regarding wallet design, all the intricacies that are behind it. I joined I think a couple of months after the first major version Yoroi was released. So I learned a lot actually by reading code that was writen by engineers from Vacuumlabs basically. And as I was reviewing the code  and  being familiar with it and adding more features, improving some details, I soon understood why Emurgo decided to work with you guys. I thought, yeah, these people know what they are doing. You quickly realize that building a wallet is not something that can be done by a random team of developers, especially in the early days of Cardano and considering all the constraints that you have in a distributed system like blockchain, you need experienced skilled people with a deep understanding of the complete stack of technologies involved, but also we are experiencing  security things that have to do  with everything you have in financial obligations in general. So when I took the lead of Yoroi mobile, I was already starting on a very good foundations, thanks to especially the collaboration that we had with Vacuumlabs. From then, we have being in constant communication with engineers from Vacuumlabs especially to discuss a new features that come into the protocol that may impact our wallet services.

Marcel Klimo: [00:05:12] Okay. So to reveal a bit of the sort of secret thoughts that went into creating the Yoroi wallet, what would you say were some very specific design patterns or approaches that you chose that others can learn from, for another blockchain or in general, in different financial services in the future? What are things that sort of surprised you that you really learned a lot about.

Vicente Almonacid: [00:05:35] Yeah. The first thing that you need to know when you’re building something on of the blockchain is that you don’t have a traditional backend system. You need a way to interact with the blockchain, of course, which requires a backend, but you don’t have like a regular database where you can store user information for instance, or there are a lot of things that traditional applications can handle through our backend. We don’t have that. We only have the blockchain and the information that is publicly available in the blockchain. One of the tricky things about it is that you need to think about, for instance, concurrent processes that are happening in the blockchain. You may, for instance, want to send a transaction through the wallet, but at the same time, you can have like a transaction incoming to your wallet, which will change your balance on the state of your account. You have to think about many things that are happening in parallel. Well, because it’s a distributed system in network.

Marcel Klimo: [00:06:37] Those are very good points because right now, speaking of all these distributed systems, it feels to me like we’re now finally moving into that era of everything being in the cloud, on the internet and everything just connected in through some sort of lights clients. And it really doesn’t matter where the servers are and how the data is held, it’s now all in the blockchain. Would you say that blockchain applications are building this very light internet, heavy cloud heavy future? Or is this just one of the patterns that you’re seeing? 

Vicente Almonacid: [00:07:10] I think there are different approaches to this, for instance, in the Cardano where we have another wallet, which is called Daedalus. Daedalus actually downloads the full blockchain into your computer. That is a different approach in the sense that you make sure that all the transactions that actually being processed inside your computer and have different security properties as well. But I think that there’s a space for different kind of solutions. Users will have different requirements. Some people will want to have a full node operating their computers while other people would prefer to have a light wallet on their phones because they only have a phone for instance. So it’s super important to cover all the different spaces in terms of requirements.

Marcel Klimo: [00:07:56] So it was exactly like when we speak with our clients and they tell us, they ask us, is this the right approach? And we say, yes, It depends on the case.  This is the current situation, even with the way you approach designing blockchain applications.

Vicente Almonacid: [00:08:11] Yeah. But there’s not a single approach or it’s not like we are converting it into a single view of things in Daedalus in the things.

Marcel Klimo: [00:08:20] Great. So moving beyond Yoroi, are you also involved in other projects in Emurgo that you Vacuumlabs has either been involved with or that you’re really passionate about?

Vicente Almonacid: [00:08:29] Well, in terms of our collaboration with Vacuumlabs they actually typically work on maintaining code related to hardware wallets. Hardware wallets are something that we support in normal, our Yoroi products for people who don’t know about hardware wallets these are perhaps the more advanced and secure way to store and manage your digital assets. They are very easy to set up. You can use them with both the Yoroi extension and Yoroi mobile. This is part of the critical infrastructure that is developed by a Vacuumlabs.  We are constantly communicating with people from Vacuumlabs you know, to coordinate new updates to this code basis. Me in particular, I’m not involved in other projects apart from Yoroi , but I also, I’m very active also in the community watching what are the new initiatives that are starting to pop up and try to give a hand to developers that are jumping in right now.

Marcel Klimo: [00:09:29] Absolutely. So let me give you a difficult question this time. Well, maybe difficult. So what’s the actual state of the software infrastructure today? Is there something that’s really limiting you or is it just really about taking the time to build it? Is there something that’s really coming up in the future that you wouldn’t mind sharing with me today?

Vicente Almonacid: [00:09:47] Of course. We can actually observe right now is that is getting more and more major that it’s evolving faster and faster. One year ago, for instance, we were just the Shelley protocol and it’s improved a proof of stake consensus algorithm. Only in our testing network in a testing environment. Right now we have Shelley totally integrated in main net, as well as support for native assets onto metadata and a new variety of projects that are popping up under the beam founded by catalyst. For people who don’t know about catalyst, it’s actually a platform in which anybody can submit a proposal for, could be an application and new standard, or it could be a Dow lot of things. Anybody that actually is a Yoroi user or a user of other Cardano wallets can bolt on these proposals. Thanks to that things have been evolving very fast in the last weeks or months, just a month ago, people were barely figuring out how to play with native assets. But right now there are multiple community tools for minting new assets for minting NFTs based onto metadata. These NFTs are already being traded, somehow paying the community and acquired in value as we speak actually.  But the main block right now is that we don’t have support for smart contracts. As you may know, that means that we can have, for instance, like a decentralized exchange or many of the decentralized finance primitives that we have in blockchains, like Ethereum, for instance, you know, decentralized lending and borrowing decentralized margin trading and stuff like that. But the good thing is that we know how it will work. We have many playgrounds testing environments to test how the smart contracts will actually work on Cardano. We also have a date for the next hard work, which will bring smart contracts into Cardano. It’s going to be in August this year. Also, you can see that there are more and more developers jumping in and starting to design the apps, proposing the apps in catalyst. So I really hope that by the time we have Alonso released, the ecosystem will be quite ready with many applications ready to be launched.

Marcel Klimo: [00:12:18] Yeah.I know feeling. Anytime there’s a date attached to something that’s like that’s, that’s when you really get excited about the things. That’s really, when you start dreading as that release date comes closer and closer, and you’re really trying, having to make all the right decisions and put other things on the roadmap for the future. Can you reveal something that’s on the road not coming up soon?

Vicente Almonacid: [00:12:40] Yes. Well about Emurgo, one of the main things we’ve been pushing for is a DAP connector. We released the ERGO DAP connector. So for people who haven’t heard about ERGO, ERGO is another blockchain, but it actually shares many traits with Cardano. For instance, it’s also based on extended UT Excel model. And it also has a similar approach for smart contracts. So basically they also use like a functional approach for coding smart contracts. And the idea behind this collaboration with ERGO was that we could start to test this kind of features that we will have eventually in Cardano before in an environment that has so many similarities with Cardano. In the roadmap the idea is to have this same functionality, actually for Cardano. As you may know, we have many users as you also have in Adalite we’ve been increasing dramatically in the last few months. So it’s natural for the users to expect that the current wallets will provide a way to interact with smart contracts once they’re out there. So that’s the main thing we are working on right now. There’s also collaboration for a building, a stable coin. I don’t know if you’ve heard about that called H U S D. It’s a protocol-based stable coin in the sense that we don’t need to back it up with actual dollars, but there’s instead protocol mechanism that is riding on smart contracts to keep the bag with respect to the dollar,

Marcel Klimo: [00:14:16] To the dollar.

Vicente Almonacid: [00:14:17] Yeah. So this product involved a lot of research regarding Oracle pools. Because we need to have some information about what’s happening outside the blockchain. And for that, we need some very robust system that can not be tricked. And also we’ve been researching about sterilization mechanisms. And the thing is that in the context of Cardano it’s a take soul-based blockchain so much of the things that have been already tested on Ethereum, for instance, won’t work here. So we need to come up with your stuff basically.

Marcel Klimo: [00:14:50] So it’s really laying the ground for the future. You’re establishing the railroads for years and years to come with the extreme growth that we’ve seen. You can technically look at any cryptocurrency, but even just looking at ADA. If you held ADA in December compared to now, especially larger amounts you’re probably a very happy man. Or significantly happier than you were in December. With COVID and everything is it just the whole COVID output of the sort of potential depression and things that we’re seeing in the real world markets, which are still behaving very confusing in any days. What do you think is driving all of this sort of explosive growth?

Vicente Almonacid: [00:15:28] Yeah, that’s a very good and tough question because  you can view it in many different ways.  Apart from the fact that many people are currently seeing cryptocurrencies are as hit for their portfolios in general. I also think that there’s been some sort of overall validation about what cryptocurrencies can achieve in general, not only for financial applications, but also in many aspects of society, many industrial applications. Apart from that, I think that there’s this validation. There’s a lot more capital coming into cryptocurrencies in general, not only into Cardano but once we had this Interest from traditional investors in general, they start to look into other alternatives. I think that the natural way of reasoning here is to start to take a look into what are those projects that actually provide real innovation in the space. What are those projects that are actually backed by highly professional companies. All those projects that have like a clear vision for the future projects that have a secure and decentralized network, which is in my opinion, like the most important things, when we’re talking about public blockchains. Also the community and so on. So I guess that after the Shelley hard work and last year we started to see interest in Cardano growing faster and faster. So here, I think that Emurgo and Vacuumlabs have been playing an important role. Actually, we build the infrastructure that helps onboarding new users to set up a wallet like very easily and quick. Those are in my opinion, critical part of the infrastructure. And that’s why we need companies with professionalism that Vacuumlabs and Emurgo provide in this area.

Marcel Klimo: [00:17:23] So is there something that makes us different from the rest of the FinTech industry?

[00:17:27] Vicente Almonacid: [00:17:27] Interesting question in my opinion. When you think about it, for instance, if you download an app for your bank, you trust the application because you trust your bank, but you have no clue about who actually wrote  code.  You just trust that your bank, the good decisions. And in crypto to this is totally different because in order for all the decentralization narrative, to make sense, you need the code to be open source in general. So all the main applications like the note,the wallets, et cetera, are in general open source. Ergo, most of what we, Emurgo  and Vacuumlabs do is open source and you can see exactly who was the developer that did this bit or that bit of the code. And it’s a completely different process, I guess, regarding more traditional companies in the financial sector.

Marcel Klimo: [00:18:17] You can always run, get the blame on somebody, right?

Vicente Almonacid: [00:18:21] Yeah. We are a bit exposed, I guess.

Marcel Klimo: [00:18:23] Yeah but I guess you can also look at who did the pull request check and blame them as well, if you want. But, you know, it was really not a blaming game right?

Vicente Almonacid: [00:18:32] Yeah. But at the same time, you can also start, like knowing who are actually the people behind it. And it’s not only about the name of the company, but it’s also about, the individuals that are part of these companies.

Marcel Klimo: [00:18:46] Absolutely. So this is much more and I would say much more transparent when you’re building out infrastructure in this open way, because the trust is really important there. You can see the community who is building that software and it isn’t just a piece of code built by some institution somewhere, it’s actually something that is much more open and makes the financial services of the future much more open. And at the same time, anonymized. Which really is a bit of a paradox. But it is quite unique. Even if you look at the world through the spectrum perspective of say the editors of Wikipedia, the fact that there were contributors that really created the biggest and most interesting broad encyclopedia in the world. Whereas you had before that you had, encyclopedia Britannica, which had I guess, hundreds of employees and now it’s crowdsourced in this open fashion, which is fairly unique in the history of the world. I’m really just excited about where all of the sort of commercial interests and open interests of the world lie. As we get into the crypto world and the blockchain world, we start talking about the NFTs, which are really cool right now and everybody’s talking about them. And they’ll  find their place in the economy and, the world at large. So I think it’s just in general, it’s all converging towards something that will eventually be much more open and outward very cool, because that your daily job as you’re doing this it’s constantly evolving as you discover new ways of working with these completely new technologies that didn’t exist just a few years ago. So is there something that really interests you right now? Something that’s really keeping you excited  and that you would like to share with us here?

Vicente Almonacid: [00:20:42] Yeah. Good question. Because there are many things that are interesting in this space, but personally and I think that here I’m very different compared to the average developer crypto enthusiasts in the sense that I will like to see blockchain, helping to fight problems like climate change actually. But the problem is that we are also part of the Poland,  especially with proof of work chains. That’s not the case for Cardano.  That’s good news at least, but I think that the problem with climate change in general is a coordination problem.  Blockchains help to solve coordination problems. So for me, it’s, it seems kind of natural that we’ll end up using this kind of technologies to help. Now, for instance, I don’t know, in improving the efficiency of carbon markets, stuff like that. But I think that we are still early stage.  Anyway, I think this is going to come in the future. Regarding more fun stuff like DeFI, nFTs and so on, I’m actually of course, super bullish in everything that is about providing financial services to those who don’t have access to basic stuff like lending, borrowing, the minimum stuff that you need to be a business in general is something critical to develop in poor countries. And I think that Cardano is heading in that direction, which is one of the things I like about it.  Probably it’s going to be one of the things I will like to work on in the future.

Marcel Klimo: [00:22:28] Finish us off and I know you’re a very, very busy man. Let me give you a very simple question. If you hadn’t called back to your hometown and put up a billboard, what would you put on it? What would you want to say to the world that you’ve learned and that you want others to know about? What would you like to teach through a single billboard?

Vicente Almonacid: [00:22:48] There are two things that come to my mind. The first one is that you eventually learned that you don’t need to be like the smartest guy to build meaningful things in life. It could be code or it could be, I don’t know, a service, a company that you could work in the public sector, whatever, but it’s mostly about hard work. I don’t know how I would put that in a phrase, but yeah, I could probably try to figure it out something about that. A few days ago, I was just listening to some video about Steve Jobs talking about something similar and he said like something about the moment you realize that the world is built by people who is no smarter than you, then everything changes. So something that that could be a good phrase for a billboard.

Marcel Klimo: [00:23:36] Don’t be the smartest. You don’t need to be the smartest guy in the room. You just need to put in the hard work and actually confront problems in a meaningful way. I love it.

Vicente Almonacid: [00:23:47] Yeah. It’s about that and believe in yourself.  Realizing that people are no better than you because you know, they come from richer countries or richer families.

Marcel Klimo: [00:24:00] It is a very positive message and I thank you for it today. Thank you for coming on the podcast. And if people want to find out more or about you and what you do, where can they find you?

Vicente Almonacid: [00:24:09] For me, I’m active in Twitter is V underscore… almana seed is going to be a, probably difficult to spell that out.

Marcel Klimo: [00:24:18] Don’t worry everyone. If you’re listening to this, we’re going to put this into description and going to see it there. You  can go straight to the Twitter profile.

Vicente Almonacid: [00:24:25] Yeah, you’ll find me on Twitter.  There’s also the Emurgo website Emurgo.io. We also have a discord for Cardano. I’m also there to challenge for Yoroi. If  you have questions about Yoroi you can go there. I’m also on Telegram.  It’s not difficult to find us.

Marcel Klimo: [00:24:41] Perfect. Perfect. Thank you so much for your time. This has been a really fun conversation. I hope you enjoyed it as well. And is there something you want to leave us with? Is there something I should’ve asked and didn’t ask.

Vicente Almonacid: [00:24:52] Yeah, I think that’s all. It’s been a pleasure. Thanks for having me.  Let’s give this collaboration together.

Marcel Klimo: [00:24:59] Absolutely. We’re very excited about what we’re building together. So thank you so much. And hopefully we can get to meet in person after all this COVID stuff passes through and you can meet us right in our new offices. It will be lots of fun. I guarantee it.

Vicente Almonacid: [00:25:13] I’m looking forward to it.

Marcel Klimo: [00:25:14] Thank you. Bye bye.

Vicente Almonacid: [00:25:15] Bye bye.

Marcel Klimo: [00:25:33] Thank you for listening. You liked the episode, please don’t hesitate to like subscribe, review, download, or share it. My name is Marcel Klimo and I’m from Vacuumlabs and we’ll be back soon with another episode that will give you new insights into digital banking.

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