Satoshi Broke Software Barriers, ‘Now Everyone Is Doing It’
Chris Mountford is a senior software developer at Atlassian and one of the company’s earliest employees. For those who don’t know Atlassian, it is one of Australia’s great success stories.
“Bitcoin shows us that there are a class of things we previously all assumed could simply not be made with software. Money was one of those things. Now we have no idea where our new limits are.”
The company is privately held by its two co-founders Mike Cannon-Brookes and Scott Farquhar, and since its launch in 2002 has grown to over 1,100 employees worldwide and has a current valuation of ~US$4 billion, all without employing salespeople. Essentially, Atlassian makes software for technical teams and Mountford has been involved in the development of many of these tools. Some of the more popular ones include Bitbucket, Jira, Hipchat and Confluence. Atlassian has over 22,000 customers globally, including Google, Apple, Amazon, NASA and the United Nations.
Mountford is actively involved in the Australian Bitcoin community and he is the chief evangelist on all things Bitcoin at Atlassian. He will be speaking at Disruptocon, which can be watched on live stream. Cointelegraph spoke with Mountford about his involvement in the conference, Atlassian and Bitcoin.
Cointelegraph: Can you explain your interest in Bitcoin, as well as that of Atlassian?
Chris Mountford: My interest in Bitcoin is somewhat obsessive. It is the second half of the Internet revolution. I was a passionate and vociferous fanboy of the Internet back in the early ‘90s and what people don't realise is the impact has not yet been fully realised—it's not done yet.
Software development is my primary focus. I've been a hands-on software developer building products like JIRA at Atlassian since 2005, so my skills are primarily in engineering. Atlassian is a very optimistic and courageous company when it comes to bleeding-edge technology. We recognise the incredible value that comes from investing in knowledge and skills ahead of the curve, and that's a big part of our success in building collaboration tools for technical teams. As far as Atlassian's interest in Bitcoin goes, following our literal "open company, no bullshit" policy, I'll say we do not currently have any official projects to make significant technical contributions in the cryptocurrency software space, but this would change if it makes sense to our business.
“It's like Roger Bannister being first to run the four-minute mile. He broke the time record, but his achievement is often used to highlight how the toughest barrier to break is our own assumptions of what is possible. Now that Satoshi Nakamoto has done it, everyone is doing it.”
CT: Are you working on any Bitcoin projects at the moment? If so can you talk about them?
CM: I've worked on Bitcoin and blockchain-related software projects at Atlassian over the past year, but these are mostly prototypes, proof-of-concepts and they're all done through 20% time, self-directed experimental projects and prototypes for ideas my colleagues and I want to explore—bug bounties, adding financial transactions to chat, blockchain-based identity systems. In my copious spare time, I also have an exploratory project to use genetic programming methods for automated crypto trading systems—evolving trading bots. That project is still at an early stage.
CT: What will you be talking about at Disruptocon?
CM: At Disruptocon, my talk is "Beyond Bitcoin as Money." There's a lot of regulatory discussion about Bitcoin, and it seems to be plagued by the idea that Bitcoin has to be either a commodity or a currency, or some other example of an already existing category of regulatory containment. What's most exciting to me about the blockchain technology is how general purpose it really is. Bitcoin wouldn't be much interest if it was just a digital version of dollars or an incremental improvement over the payments systems we already have.
“It should require only a monumentally stupid act of self-sabotage to miss out on the FinTech opportunities before us. I'm normally quite optimistic but I have seen no sign from our political leaders that they even understand this point.”
CT: Based on that phrase, "beyond bitcoin as a currency," can you talk about real use cases you can see that the blockchain can solve?
CM: Bitcoin shows us that there are a class of things we previously all assumed could simply not be made with software. Money was one of those things. Now we have no idea where our new limits are. Certainly all manner of exotic financial instruments, equities, derivatives, futures, etc.—those are all up for grabs. Same too of "smart contracts"— sophisticated multiparty transactions that replace the expensive framework of manual legal executors within regional jurisdictions. Beyond those things there are other nonfinancial types of transactions—identity registration, authorization and reputation systems, provably fair voting, automated real-time auditing, authenticity measures such as "proof of existence," as is traditionally served by the patent system.
In general, the pattern we are following is to decentralize things and remove extraneous trusted parties from secure interactions. Those human institutions and systems that for hundreds of years have been based on a concentration of authority—centralized systems—many of which can also be built in a decentralized way. There are costs and difficulties in building decentralized systems, but what Bitcoin has shown us is not only that it is achievable, but because, crucially, all this software is open source, we can see exactly how to do it. It's like Roger Bannister being first to run the four-minute mile. He broke the time record, but his achievement is often used to highlight how the toughest barrier to break is our own assumptions of what is possible. Now that Satoshi Nakamoto has done it, everyone is doing it.
CT: Where do you see Australia fitting into the Bitcoin evolution? Is interest growing here?
CM: Australia is often referred to as the lucky country. This is the century we all find out what we make of that luck. Because we are economically and politically stable with a well-educated and technologically savvy population, and because we are situated in Asia with access to the largest and fastest-growing regional economies in the world, it should require only a monumentally stupid act of self-sabotage to miss out on the FinTech opportunities before us. I'm normally quite optimistic but I have seen no sign from our political leaders that they even understand this point. They seem happy to continue to sell dirt, just as we "rode on the sheep's back" in the past. We should be cutting red tape for value-creating, high-growth industries like software, and build an economically and ecologically sustainable future—we have that opportunity in Australia.
The mighty USA, by comparison, while it has Silicon Valley and a business-friendly entrepreneurial culture, it is also bogged in a quagmire of state financial regulations that threaten to severely limit its ability to profit from the FinTech surge. The UK, especially the city of London, has acted quickly to capture this potential by untangling the regulatory constraints on Bitcoin startups, and providing clarity to enable businesses to comply with a reasonable set of rules. Australia's GST ruling is insane by comparison and is precisely why Melbourne company CoinJar relocated to London in 2015.
“While a lot of people talk about Bitcoin in the context of a retail experience, or as a high volatility investment, my primary interest is to promote investment in knowledge and skills so that people can achieve a technical and financial literacy to equip them for this kind of future.”
CT: Are there any further thoughts you want to explore about the space in general?
CM: While Bitcoin is still too new and edgy for a lot of people, especially those who know about it only from mainstream headlines, among early adopters there is a strong consensus that dramatic and transformative technology-driven change in the finance sector is almost upon us. Banks and other financial institutions already know that major divisions of their existing operations will become outmoded and those most able to adapt to rapid change will profit while others suffer.
While a lot of people talk about Bitcoin in the context of a retail experience, or as a high volatility investment, my primary interest is to promote investment in knowledge and skills so that people can achieve a technical and financial literacy to equip them for this kind of future.
There is an explosion of FinTech projects, distributed systems, cryptographic security solutions to the threat from corrupt surveillance, and monetary systems that are designed to withstand economic crises without entrusting our financial future to anything less reliable than a robust mathematics. And it's all open source. Knowledge is the only barrier to entry. What can we expect? The bottom line is that, even for people deep in the projects to build this future, we are still discovering fundamental possibilities. Our excitement comes from the fact that we will definitely see a lot of new stuff that the rest of us never anticipated.
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