Lisa Neigut: Reinventing Lightning to Reinvent Bitcoin

The Blockstream developer has been working on what she calls “Lightning v2” since 2019, and it’s poised to launch by year’s end.

AccessTimeIconDec 4, 2023 at 1:00 p.m. UTC
Updated Jan 26, 2024 at 3:32 p.m. UTC
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Lisa Neigut is a bitcoiner's bitcoiner. First of all, she's from the maverick state of Texas. She uses the Lightning Network, which she helped build. She's teaching people the world over how to sync a node, and raising funds in sats to do it. And she's writing a textbook about bitcoin transactions.

The first time I spoke to Neigut, she said "If you really want to get my attention, you can message me for a small fee on VIDA," a screener for spam that only lets paid messages through. In this industry, you call that proof-of-work.

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But given her bona fides, Neigut is also something of a late convert to bitcoin – at least compared to the OGs who remember conversing with Satoshi on BitcoinTalk in 2010. She said she bought her first couple thousand satoshis in 2018 using CashApp (as any bitcoiner would).

That same year Neigut started working at Blockstream as a developer. Before that she was predominantly an Android app developer, with her first dev job working on a mobile app for Etsy – particularly "the in-app cart."

"I've been working in different aspects of 'ecommerce' almost my entire dev career," Neigut said in an email interview.

To some extent that remains the case. At Blockstream, Neigut is helping to develop Lightning, a scalable payments layer for Bitcoin that makes the cryptocurrency fast and cheap enough to use BTC for buying things like your morning cup of coffee.

Lightning has its issues, and Neigut is focused on fixing them. Although not yet an industry-standard term, Neigut has been working on what she calls "Lightning v2," or version two, since 2019 to make it easier to move money around on the payments-focused protocol.

Bitcoin, the first cryptocurrency, is sometimes derided for being slow to adopt new innovations, a point Neigut contends. At Consensus 2023, for instance, she said the largest blockchain (by market capitalization) is poised for a "Cambrian explosion" of layer 2s that will accelerate adoption and development of the chain, including the one she's working on.

And, as of writing in late November, it's "days away from being merged into the spec." Kudos, Neigut. Though she isn't one to hog the spotlight:

"The best part of working at Blockstream for almost half a decade has been getting to work with Rusty Russell and Christian Decker, two rightfully legendary bitcoin devs. When I got hired onto the Lightning team, Rusty joked that I was the diversity hire because I program in vim (he and Christian Decker are emacs users)," she said, referring to different text editing systems.

Despite 2023 looking like the year Neigut will finish what it took four years to develop, she said she actually spent most of her time writing (and procrastinating from writing) the above-mentioned textbook.

Neigut is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, where she also worked as a teaching assistant in the McCombs Business School. The year she discovered Bitcoin, 2018, she worked for several months as a coder at Square.

Since 2021, she has been running Base58, a Bitcoin education company that hosts in-person and online workshops. This year, Base58 added two new classes on Taproot (a Bitcoin code update) and Lightning, and hosted several conferences called bitcoin++, including its first in Europe.

Q&A

What was your biggest achievement this past year?

Getting interop[ability] with Eclair [a bitcoin wallet] for the first phase of what I'm calling "Lightning v2." We're extremely close to having it merged [into the codebase], which would be my biggest contribution to the official Lightning specifications.

It's something I started working on in 2019, so it's really rewarding to have reached this point with the protocol!

(There's three phases to Lightning v2: v2 opens also known as "dual-funding," splicing, and "splice to close." As of right now, the first two phases (v2 opens and splicing) are implemented in Core Lightning and Eclair; v2 opens are days away from being merged into the spec. These are really cool and important updates to Lightning because they allow for cheaper and more dynamic movement of on-chain bitcoin between existing and new Lightning channels.)

Other achievements include: ran my fourth ever bitcoin++ conference in 16 months, first ever in Europe; and launched two new classes for Base58 (Taproot + Lightning).

What's your No. 1 goal for 2024?

Level up 5,000 more devs into bitcoin protocols with Base58 courses (online or in person).

Please give us a prediction for crypto next year.

Bitcoin dominance reaches new heights, Tether gets adopted by the USG as the new Fed. Bitcoin goes parabolic.

Disclosure

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Daniel Kuhn

Daniel Kuhn is a deputy managing editor for Consensus Magazine. He owns minor amounts of BTC and ETH.


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