BUIDLing Among the Chaos: What Devs Discussed at ETHDenver

High school students, Web 2 converts and crypto founders spent a week building the future of finance in a jam-packed venue. What comes next?

AccessTimeIconFeb 23, 2022 at 7:00 p.m. UTC
Updated May 11, 2023 at 6:40 p.m. UTC

The 10-day ETHDenver conference wrapped up Sunday afternoon with Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin donning a furry buffalo-unicorn costume on stage as he judged the conference’s hackathon finalists.

This year, ETHDenver drew thousands of developers – known as “BUIDLers” in cryptoland – to the Mile High City, despite ETH prices that dipped and dipped some more over the course of the week.

While the usual crypto conference debauchery occurred in Denver, this year’s conference stood out due to the sheer amount of actual building that occurred. Legions of T-shirt clad engineers were littered about hotel conference rooms, word-of-mouth hacker houses or the oversized bean bag chairs scattered throughout The Castle, an antiquated Chrysler showroom turned event space that hosted the majority of the show.

“ETHDenver is one of my favorite conferences because it’s super developer-focused,” said jacobc.eth, an operations lead at crypto wallet firm MetaMask and a guest judge for the ETHDenver hackathon. “Most crypto conferences are just people shilling their project’s token.” This one was for the hackers.

In this context, the term “hacking” means coding, a tongue-in-cheek reference to the word’s more internet-native definition: “exercising skill to the limit,” as hackathon projects are typically churned out in a span of mere hours or days.

“The culture at ETHDenver is around people building in an open source way that is really fun and celebratory,” jacobc.eth told CoinDesk in an interview at the conference.

CoinDesk spoke to a variety of attendees ranging from protocol founders to high school students, from Web 2 defectors to female code-shippers.

Full of starry-eyed optimism for the future of Web 3 and crypto, simply put, they came to Denver to BUIDL.

Meet the BUIDLers

It’s been over two years since Illia Polosukhin, co-founder of the $5.5 billion Near Protocol, says he’s seen his co-founder, Alex Skidanov, in person. The two finally crossed paths last week at ETHDenver and spent a few hours hacking together, just like old times.

“It brought us back to the days when we started Near in a room with a whiteboard,” Polosukhin told CoinDesk.

Polosukhin wasn’t the only prominent founder in attendance – Ethereum’s own Vitalik Buterin was spotted aiding developer teams, visiting hacker houses and even voicing his view on the Canadian trucker fiasco. (His fashion also made headlines.)

“I got to speak with Vitalik,” said Byeongjun Moon, a high school hacker and founder of PadawanDAO, a decentralized autonomous organization that sponsors budding crypto enthusiasts (who must be under 25 years old) to attend blockchain conferences.

“We sent about 70 young people to ETHDenver this year,” Moon, 16, told CoinDesk. The conference helped him “realize the importance of diverse perspectives in moving Ethereum forward.” Moon says he’s been involved with Ethereum since 2014, when he was just 9 years old.

Another developer, Konrad Gnat, came to ETHDenver seeking a new challenge after working for years in Web 2. He says this is the 10th Ethereum-related hackathon (including virtual ones) he’s attended since May 2021.

“I’ve built up a skill set in Web 2 already where now I feel confident building whatever I want,” he told CoinDesk at the post-conference ski retreat in Breckenridge. “In Web 3, you’re only limited by your imagination. It’s about skating to where the puck will be, not where it is.”

In-person networking

With February also marking the two-year anniversary of the coronavirus pandemic, the conference also marked the first time many project contributors have met their virtual collaborators in real life.

“Remote work has its benefits, but the iteration is slower,” said Near’s Polosukhin. “These types of events are important. It brings a bunch of creative people together.”

In addition to in-person collaboration, many attendees touted the importance of face-to-face networking. Despite the jam-packed days of panels and workshops, many attendees made time to attend a myriad of side events.

People wait to enter the main venue of ETHDenver 2022. (Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images)
People wait to enter the main venue of ETHDenver 2022. (Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images)

“ETH Denver was like next-level networking and bonding,” said Thy-Diep “Yip” Ta, co-founder of Unit Network, who participated in the hackathon as a delegate from the all-women H.E.R. DAO and also received a sponsorship from the team behind the Harmony blockchain.

The events are typically co-hosted by crypto exchanges, blockchain projects, DAOs, protocols or venture capital firms, and vary in scope from unassuming cocktail parties to nightclub raves featuring artists such as Tiesto (sponsored this year, somewhat improbably, by Bacon Coin).

Ta’s hackathon submission, Proof of Meditation, is a decentralized application (dapp) that takes a user’s heart rate during meditation sessions to generate unique pixel art NFTs. It won a prize in the “Impact” category.

She says she started each day with either a morning swim at 6:15 a.m. or a yoga meditation session at the H.E.R. DAO hacker house.

“The well-being sessions were super vital to keep the calm amidst the chaos,” Ta told CoinDesk.

(Chet Strange/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
(Chet Strange/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Big incentives

Sponsorship recipients like Ta typically receive free airfare and accommodations from the sponsoring entity (typically a well-capitalized layer 1 blockchain) to attend the conference.

Skale, an Ethereum scaling solution, announced a $100 million ecosystem fund last Friday, a testament to the big incentives blockchain projects use to lure developers into building projects in their ecosystems.

“Our hackers are grinding,” Skale co-founder Jack O’Holleran told CoinDesk in an interview during the conference. “So far, they’ve made over 20 submissions on Skale.”

Last Thursday, data-querying project The Graph announced a similar $205 million ecosystem fund to support dapp development using its technology.

One day later, the Algorand Foundation announced it would award $20 million to developers building Ethereum-compatibility solutions or developer tooling for Algorand.

“The job of the foundation is to build good fertile ground for people to get involved with Algorand,” said Staci Warden, CEO of the Algorand Foundation. “That means grant-giving and providing assistance, including technical assistance.”

That’s up to folks like Ryan Fox, a member of Algorand’s developer relations, or “DevRel,” team. They’re more-extroverted builders (“developers who also like to talk to people,” per Near’s Polosukhin) who crucially serve as a project’s brand evangelists, fielding technical questions at booths or providing on-site technical assistance to builders during the hackathon.

“We had incredible engagement with devs using Reach to design and deploy their smart contracts to both Algorand and Ethereum simultaneously,” Fox told CoinDesk. “Beyond Web 3, the buzz focused on interoperability.”

Reach is a programming language that allows developers to use a few lines of JavaScript code to write Solidity smart contracts, the technical underpinnings of everything from non-fungible tokens (NFTs) to decentralized exchanges.

Near launched its new Web 3 startup platform Pagoda on Sunday. Pagoda is a set of tools to help developers more easily develop applications for Near.

“With Pagoda, we’re opening Near up to JavaScript developers,” said Marieke Flament, CEO of the Near Foundation. “We believe that’s what opens the door to be mainstream and increase the overall pool of talent.”

A ‘growth flywheel’

Many prominent developers compared the energy of the conference to the early days of Web 2, a term that refers to the reigning tech giants such as Google, Facebook or Amazon.

For many projects, that meant new product launches aimed at integrations or tools that streamlined the development process for engineers.

Jacobc.eth said MetaMask’s new Snaps system was inspired by a strategy used by Google Chrome, which he claimed provided the best developer tools to build websites during the rise of Web 2. As a result, many of today’s most popular websites were built on Chrome.

“It just created a growth flywheel,” he told CoinDesk.

Launched last week, MetaMask Snaps, available only on the developer build of MetaMask, allows third-party projects, such as Solana or Cosmos, to create their own application programming interfaces (APIs) for for the popular Ethereum wallet.

“There are a lot of teams here building using Snaps,” said jacobc.eth. “Some are being built by third-party teams, some by anonymous devs, some are being built in-house by our own team.”

On Tuesday, Ethereum sidechain Polygon announced the launch of Finity, a user interface (UI) development tool that offers Polygon developers a suite of “tried-and-tested assets, elements, and templates, with a focus on 3D design,” according to a press release.

“It’s wild right now,” said Skale’s O’Holleran. “There’s so many people building in Web 3 – everyone from the brilliant hackers in a college dorm room to the largest corporations.”


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Tracy Wang

Tracy was the deputy managing editor at CoinDesk. She owns BTC, ETH, MINA, ENS and some NFTs.