Journeys in Blockchain: Kadan Stadelmann of Komodo

The CTO of Komodo Platform discusses the impetus behind his drive for decentralized systems.

by Darren Kleine 12 min March 12, 2020
Journeys in Blockchain with Kadan Stadelmann - CTO of Komodo Platform
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Kadan Stadelmann confessed. He was leaving his high-paying, cybersecurity job for an uncertain future: a freelance career in blockchain technology.

Baffled, his family demanded explanations. “What is this… blockchain? Can you even pay your bills with this job?”

“Do something real. Make something out of your life!”

But his decision had already been made. Stadelmann’s experience as a government-employed cybersecurity and penetration tester in the operations security division, collecting mass data on centralized nodes, had forced him to question the entire system under which he labored.

He just couldn’t do it anymore. It was time to do something different.

Stadelmann explains that it was when he had a child that he began to seriously contemplate the greater implications of his work — how would it affect his kid’s future?

Precious time

Stadelmann’s family moved frequently during his childhood. His father spent much of his career working as a diplomat in what were at the time known as “Third World” countries in Africa. In addition to being highly skilled in machine engineering, his father was a self-taught coder.

Stadelmann was exposed to computers at a very young age. He recalls distinct childhood memories of dot-matrix printers. They made him deeply curious about the inner workings of computers. He loved printing the primitive, dotted pictures and was fascinated with the process involved in creating pointillistic images of helicopters and cars.

And before that, as a toddler barely able to speak, he was already playing computer games. He quickly won puzzle games, moving cubes through complex labyrinths with ease.

Stadelmann enjoyed a precious — but tragically brief — connection with his father who, despite being in a diplomatic government role, was often called on to help with IT issues. Around the age of six, he received shocking news: his father had been killed. “Unfortunately, shortly after my time being engaged with coding with my father, this incident happened.”

The family was ripped apart. “We moved to Austria,” he remembers. “I was split away from the family for around two or three years. It was a tough time. My mother wasn’t psychologically able to take care of everything. I was with my siblings, and I was the oldest one.”

The trauma affected Stadelmann deeply — even physiologically — he explains. His brain was working overtime dealing with thoughts and emotions in a way that an average child of that age would not normally experience. “Thinking about life, I was very young, but old enough to understand that death was irreversible,” he says.

With help from the Austrian government and other family members, Stadelmann and his siblings were eventually reunited with their mother after she had some time to recover from the loss. It was at this time that the boy also received his very own computer.

The computer was quite expensive by today’s standards, but not high end by any means. “I got one of the lower quality computers at the time with one of those huge monochrome monitors. My eyes were bloody red after one day of using it,” he laughs.

Sometimes on weekends, Stadelmann would lose track of time entirely, immersed in the world of gaming and scripting. His family would be gone for the day and leave a meal behind for him to eat, but upon returning they’d see the food was untouched. Obsession had taken hold.

Fortunately for Stadelmann, his family recognized the deep curiosity and affinity he had for mathematics and computers. He relished the feeling of seeing parallels — related patterns from one topic to another — and perceiving the overarching picture — connections between the physical world and mathematics.

As a teenager, he read books voraciously. He craved learning — physics, mathematics, algebra, astrophysics, anatomy, biology and more. He was particularly inspired by historical figures like Archimedes and Pythagoras, along with Renaissance counterparts like Leonardo da Vinci.

These figures saw parallels between everyday nature and transformed them into the language of mathematics, Stadelmann says. They were often polymaths, seeking to have a broad range of understanding and connectedness between subject areas that are segmented in the modern educational system.

Escape to Cyberspace

Wrestling with the loss of his father, Stadelmann found comfort online. “Cyberspace was like a second world,” he explains. “I really felt comfortable there”.

It was also a place Stadelmann could turn his energy into something productive. He was fascinated by the concept of building applications that control computers. He even managed to break his own computer with coding experiments, messing up his hard drive and operating system. But failure didn’t deter him. The experience revealed the great power of coding: that one could control — and even break — machines through code. This gave him “a huge boost of excitement, happiness and fulfillment,” he explains. It also gave him a deepening obsession with programming.

Stadelmann attended a tech-focused high school in Austria where he developed an educational foundation in active coding, micro-board building, engineering and building computers. He even learned to build computers that could themselves build computers.

He began to learn about decentralized technologies. At the time, disruptive solutions like Napster and Kazaa were all the rage, offering peer-to-peer networking and file sharing that had previously been impossible on such a grand scale. “I was truly privileged to have the chance to go to that high school.”

Stadelmann continued his education in Vienna, studying at a technical university. “It was an essential part of my life,” he says. There he developed long-lasting friendships that he refers to as brotherhoods. The connections he established in Vienna remain with him to this day, as he continues to meet and collaborate with close friends from that period of his life.

“This one specific professor — he was a pure anarchist,” Stadelmann says. “He taught us so much. Things you wouldn’t learn in any book or tutorial or any other course.” This professor described a future where decentralized technologies would eventually revolutionize the entire world, he explains. Although society will continue to have central actors, Stadelmann learned that one should always strive to build decentralized technologies. “The central infrastructure problem will eventually be resolved,” the professor often insisted.

The Bitcoin white paper

As a part of his learning experience in Vienna, Stadelmann was assigned a scientific, peer-reviewed research project. He chose to focus his research on the Bitcoin white paper. It was during his research into this project that Stadelmann began to recognize the problems of the modern financial system. “I wasn’t aware,” he says. “Up until that time, I was just following the illusion and trusting the system. That changed heavily during that time.”

Concerns about the system continued to haunt Stadelmann into his early career as a cybersecurity expert and penetration tester. He questioned societal assumptions about the modern financial system and what he saw as the illusion of personal freedoms and rights. “But I didn’t have the guts to confront anyone about it,” he remembers.

Around the time his first child was born, his dilemma reached a critical point.

He felt compelled to take a big risk and depart from the safety and security of his government job.

His family was unimpressed with the news. “That’s when I told myself, ‘just do your own thing.’ Leave, do something I can identify with, and more importantly, something I’m sure could change the world for my kids. Even if I cannot change the world for my kids, I’m going to promise myself that I’m going to spark the brain that will change the world.”

“Many family members were disappointed that I was wasting my talent,” Stadelmann explains. Even when he began experiencing some financial success, family members continued to doubt his decision. “They’d say, ‘Yeah, but what if it collapses tomorrow? You don’t have a reliable, regular income.’”

Stadelmann says he would try to explain how the technology works, what it meant from an eco-financial and technical perspective, and how it could change society. But it was tough convincing anyone.

Luckily, he didn’t have to convince himself. He knew he would be depressed if he went back to a traditional job. “I’d rather be homeless and happy than end up burned out, depressed, 80 or 90 years old in my deathbed, questioning myself.”

Mining Bitcoin

Around this time, Stadelmann got deeply into mining Bitcoin and altcoins. He reinvested his mining profits into building a more powerful mining infrastructure, but it ended up being a frustrating experience. “It took a lot of time and I was very stressed.” Keeping up with altcoin instamines meant staying up late at night, resulting in a chaotic life cycle. “I should have just hodled. It would have been worth a few million dollars!” he laughs.

Stadelmann became more engaged with Bitcointalk and a number of altcoin communities where he got to know many of the people he works with to this day. He posted ads offering freelance coding services and received so many inquiries that he was able to make a better income than he had earned from his previous state-backed job. “I felt so relaxed. It was just great.”

A year later in 2013, Bitcoin’s first major pump to around $80 was enough to convince Stadelmann that he had made the right decision, “It was a wow effect. I told myself, ‘This is the future.’” He revealed to his family that he was moving fully into crypto for work. “It will revolutionize our financial system in the next twenty, thirty years. That’s going to happen. One hundred percent,” he told them.

“It all started on Bitcointalk,” Stadelmann says. He still regards the forum as the best place to go for crypto novices. It’s a resource with reams of information on the topic, he explains. Much of the best content was generated before it became so focused on financial ups and downs.

Stadelmann advises, “Don’t invest a penny unless you understand what this is and what the vision is. If you get into crypto, read Satoshi’s paper. Read posts on Bitcointalk from 2011 to 2012. Then you’ll have a good solid base to continue in this industry.”

Komodo CTO

After working as a freelance coder for some time, Stadelmann received a job offer from one of the founders of Komodo, James Lee. “It was a great offer, to be head of security.” He promptly accepted the role. In 2017, it was announced that Stadelmann would head up the tech layer for the Komodo platform, becoming chief technology officer for the project.

While Stadelmann continues his work as CTO for Komodo, his daily routine has changed significantly. He is focusing more on his health. “I’m waking up earlier. I’ve stopped working through the night.” He was in the habit of doing “messed up workshifts, working all night, 16 hour shifts.” Over the past couple months, he has lost weight with daily workouts, a better diet and a healthier schedule. It has increased his efficiency and productivity with fewer work hours.

Now he starts the day looking for vulnerabilities, coding and reviewing. Later on in the day, as it becomes harder to concentrate on more intense tasks, Stadelmann switches to communications — emails, interviews and engaging with the community.

He is making a more concerted effort to set time aside for himself, meditating regularly and living a better work/life balance. He heartily recommends regular exercise: “Take one or two hours a day for yourself. You will increase your efficiency and produce more in less time.”

Atomic DEX

The next big thing in Stadelmann’s sights is the completion and full launch of AtomicDEX. Current decentralized exchange competitors are not really decentralized, he explains. “Komodo is providing a true DEX wallet. It’s the most exciting technology Komodo has built. It’s my baby. I’m getting an Atomic DEX tattoo next month.”

What sets Atomic DEX apart, Stadelmann says, is its ease of use and true decentralized nature. It will be fully integrated into browsers, allowing users to launch a node from within a browser, which can then directly connect to DEX peers without any intermediaries. “It’s easy, accessible and permissionless. You click download, you install and you’re attached to a blockchain.”

“It was a dream, and we made the dream reality. I’m pushing my main focus into this layer. I want to see major financial services and institutions using this technology. It is compatible, even with the traditional financial sector.”

Stadelmann cautions that we still have a long journey to decentralization: “Our whole internet is based on a centralized infrastructure. The whole underlying layer is owned by central entities who can shut the internet off with a click. All this decentralization is useless as long as the underlying structure is heavily centralized. We’re trusting the underlying structure to remain operational, which is not guaranteed.”

He believes the world already has the technology to build a truly decentralized internet. Even rudimentary technology like amateur radio could be used “to send each other bits and bytes.” He has plans to build a small decentralized internet, independent of currently centralized network infrastructures, for colleagues to work on the Komodo platform and to communicate with each other.

It’s not all about money

Despite years of success, Stadelmann still encounters many doubters, including a few in his own family. I have some cousins who still tell me this is a bubble. I still say, ‘I don’t care.’”

Other family members seem to finally be getting the picture, though. “Closer family members have told me I’ve been completely right.” Older relatives who faced opportunities thirty or forty years ago, but timidly stayed with their safe jobs, have come forward and admitted their regrets to him. “These same people who were saying to me, ‘What is this? This isn’t real,’ now tell me I absolutely did the correct thing.”

It shouldn’t be all about the money, Stadelmann insists. “Even if Bitcoin didn’t have these crazy pumps, I know I’ve made the right choice. This is the big problem with our societal model. It’s based on a monetary, financial foundation.”

“My mother, my family, they didn’t tell me this is bad because I wouldn’t be happy or because it wouldn’t fulfill my dreams or my potential. No, it was because they thought I wouldn’t earn reliable money from it and be a part of this financial system.”

Stadelmann looks forward to a different future for his children. Ultimately, he hopes his choice of work can build a better society, contributing to the causes of freedom of speech and permissionless networking.

“Even if it helps one human,” he says, “then I’ve changed the world for one human.”

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Darren Kleine at Cointelegraph Magazine

Darren Kleine

Based in Canada, Darren Kleine is fascinated with distributed ledger technology and its implications for societal change. He had written the Cointelegraph Journeys in Blockchain feature since day one.