“Education is critical in order for us to achieve the blockchain future that we envision. I am constantly seeking out opportunities to educate the community about blockchain; whether it’s presenting at meetups, supporting local events, providing career advice, or just carving out time to explain blockchain to newbies — I have an open-door policy. I received the same openness and support from those more seasoned than me, when I was getting started on my journey, so this is my way of paying it forward. As I continue my blockchain journey, I hope to bring goodness by inspiring others to shoot for the stars and believe in themselves. The work that I do for the Atlanta Bitcoin Embassy, where I am the lead advisor, is a great example. The Embassy is an open and friendly space where members of the community can swing by to network, socialize, and learn more about blockchain. Through the Embassy, I have befriended a diverse set of individuals, from all walks of life. Some folks even come from outside the city and battle gruesome Atlanta traffic to make it to our events. When asked why, I frequently hear that they feel inspired to be around such passionate and like-minded folks. This really is the ultimate mission of the Embassy, and I’m proud to be executing on it.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Rika Sukenik, Product Manager at ConsenSys. ConsenSys is a blockchain startup, focusing on building out the Ethereum ecosystem and developing decentralized applications. Rika started her career at Deloitte as a CPA, but shortly after pivoted to technology, first working in the enterprise software space advising Fortune 100 companies, and later to blockchain, building solutions and exploring cross-functional use cases. She has taught herself programming, has participated and placed in several hackathons, is on the leadership team of a major blockchain meetup, and serves as an advisor the Atlanta Bitcoin Embassy.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I am honored to be featured — thank you! My backstory goes all the way back to Uzbekistan, where I was born, but you’re probably asking about my blockchain backstory. It has certainly been an exciting whirlwind, where should I start?! I fell down the rabbit hole about a year and a half ago, while I was working at Deloitte. In early 2017, blockchain was all the hype for enterprises and I was fortunate enough to be in the very midst of it. During this time, I eagerly pursued blockchain initiatives at Deloitte and voraciously read books, whitepapers, research publications, and news about blockchain and cryptocurrency. When I couldn’t read — like, while showering or driving, I listened to podcasts and audio books.
I quickly realized that meeting, connecting with, and talking to a diverse group of people in the space was critical for my growth. I started attending a blockchain meetup in Atlanta, where I quickly hit it off with the organizers. I expressed an interest in blockchain and crypto, and they instantly saw my enthusiasm. At the time, I knew way less about blockchain than they did, and it was certainly intimidating, but I pushed through the discomfort and challenged myself to go outside of my comfort zone. Soon enough, I was not just attending meetings, but I was on the leadership team and giving technical presentations to 100+ person audiences. In parallel, I was also participating in hackathons where my skills (and physical endurance!) were tested. In fact, at my very first hackathon, my team won third place. I was thrilled, and so excited to see the fruits of my labor.
As my reputation and network grew, my inbox started to flood with speaking opportunities, requests to evaluate blockchain use cases and new business ideas, career counseling requests, and just general inquiries to pick my brain.
The interest and fervor around blockchain was undeniable. I knew that I had the opportunity of a lifetime in front of me, and I had take the plunge. So, I took a risk. In the beginning of April, I joined a blockchain startup called ConsenSys. I just had to do a quick doubletake, because I can’t believe I have only
been working at ConsenSys less than three months. It feels like so much longer.
I consider myself to be extremely fortunate to work as a Product Manager at ConsenSys. I am on the forefront of building bleeding edge technology that will revolutionize our current models for power structures and hierarchies. The way we allocate resources will be turned on its head.
With all this said, I’m so excited to shape this new world and I know that all the work I’ve put in so far is merely a preface to my “back-story.”
Can you tell me about the most interesting projects you are working on now?
Unfortunately, I am not able to disclose the client projects that I’m working on, however I would love to tell you about an initiative that I’m very passionate about.
At ConsenSys, we have tons of initiatives (you can think of them like clubs) that are all self-organized. Members of the mesh (that’s what we call ConsenSys employees) essentially bootstrap their ideas and just run with them. We’re given a lot of freedom to explore our interests and work on projects that we love. With that said, one of the initiatives that I’m very active in is product management. Myself, along with the many very experienced product managers at the mesh, meet to exchange best practices, share product success stories (and failures), and discuss latest trends. ConsenSys has built 40+ blockchain products, so naturally we love dogfooding (using our own products). With such a rich and robust technology stack, I find it very important to be educated and up-to-date on all of our products, so I spend a lot of time networking and asking hard questions to our teams.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
This is an easy question. It is undoubtedly my fiancé, Harry. He is my number one supporter and he motivates me, every day, to reach my goals and conquer my fears. I remember when I was going through the recruitment process, we would do mock interviews together every night. We spent hours each week nailing down my “story” and honing in on my goals. I remember we even rehearsed interview questions and discussed strategy during a weekend music festival we attended with our friends.
Harry continues to push me to conquer my fears. I’ve heard a lot of women in the space talk about “imposter syndrome” and I certainly had it too. As I mentioned in my response to the first question, I was so scared to be the “expert” when I presented at Atlanta Blockchain meetups. What if I incorrectly stated something? What if someone in the audience asked me a question I didn’t know? With Harry’s support, guidance, and encouragement, however, I worked on conquering these fears. In tandem, I was also conquering my fear of public speaking, which stemmed in part from a stutter. I never thought that I would be doing so much public speaking, but my blockchain journey has taught me that I have something important to say — something that may one day change the world — and I won’t allow my fears to hold me back.
What are the 5 things that most excite you about blockchain and crypto? Why?
1. The inclusive and collaborative nature of the vibrant and passionate blockchain and crypto community. As someone who previously did not have experience with open source projects, I am blown away every day by how “easy” it is to get involved. With desire and motivation, anyone anywhere in the world can start contributing. The whole space feels like a playground now, and it’s up to us to design and build the world we want.
2. Building the world we want: a flatter, decentralized, and disintermediated world that will make way for more effective economic, social, and political paradigms. Joe Lubin, founder of ConsenSys and co-founder of Ethereum, speaks a lot about this vision. His passion is contagious and infiltrates the halls (and Slack channels!) at ConsenSys. It’s hard to not believe in this future when I see the mesh (ConsenSys employees) working hard each and every day to build products, educate the community, and deliver results.
3. Blockchain Voting: My team and I built a decentralized voting app on Ethereum during a hackathon, so this is certainly a use case that gets me excited. The reality is that the voting process in many developing countries is far from transparent and it is plagued with fraud. Even in the US, we saw in the last presidential election how foreign governments can attempt to disrupt our democracy. Using blockchain, we can build systems that timestamp and track each vote, permanently record the votes on the blockchain, and allow anyone to verify the authenticity of votes. Voting goes hand-in-hand with identity, which is another very important blockchain use case.
4. Self-sovereign identity: For the first time in history, we have an infrastructure (Ethereum) that can support a global identity system. This means that we, as individuals, will have control over our data and will choose which information to share and with whom. Reputation attributes (what you control) and reputation attestations (what other people say about you) are fundamental concepts of this new system.
5. Token design and incentive mechanisms: Ethereum enables us to finally leverage the robust communication infrastructure that we have spent years developing to create self-regulating systems for value exchange. The questions that are being answered today in the field of crypto economics/tokenomics are how to enable self-interested actors to behave in mutually beneficial ways in the absence of a central authority dictating and enforcing rules. The answers to these questions lie in economic and social theory, with the tragedy of the commons problem frequently appearing in crypto economics literature. Blockchain is so much more than simply automation technology. I love how it draws upon the human sciences and will touch our future lives on a very personal, human level.
What are the 5 things worry you about blockchain and crypto? Why?
1. Price speculation — a lot of folks have gained significant amounts of wealth by trading cryptocurrencies. Many of these individuals do not care about the technology, but rather are using it as a get rich quick vehicle. Unfortunately, because crypto markets are so nascent, they lack a lot of the safeguards that traditional financial markets have put in place. The practice of pump and dump, where the price of a cryptocurrency is artificially inflated by spreading inaccurate information, plagues crypto markets. “Whales” (big money investors) have the ability to immensely influence prices, and in fact many people believe that the “Crypto Christmas” of 2017 when bitcoin skyrocketed to $20,000 was a result of price speculation and whale influence. Price speculation and market manipulation is a threat to the public’s confidence in cryptocurrency as well as the success of blockchain projects that rely on a steady cryptocurrency price for their network’s usage.
2. Crypto bros — an entire counterculture has developed within the crypto community, focused on ostentatiously showing off the amount of wealth individuals have accumulated by trading cryptocurrency. Lamborghini’s have become the face of the crypto bros, with “Lambo” sales skyrocketing. You’ll typically find these guys hanging out together at conferences talking about how much money they made trading the latest and greatest coins, trolling on Reddit and Twitter, and throwing post-conference “networking” events at strip clubs. A lot of these guys are crypto anarchists who shudder at the mention of regulation, as it threatens their dream of creating a crypto utopia.
3. Failure of ICO projects to deliver a product– According to Coindesk, ICO funding in Q1 of 2018 was $6.3 billion — that’s 118% of 2017’s total ICO raise! It’s important to caveat though that $4.6 billion was from Telegram’s behemoth ICO. These stats show that the ICO craze is not slowing down, even with the SEC’s ruling that at least some ICOs are subject to securities laws. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s amazing that the Jobs Act and equity crowdfunding laws have enabled projects to access previously untapped capital, however a lot of investors understand neither the technology nor the risks of investing. Many people have been severely burned as token values plummeted, and I’m very concerned that the worst is yet to come. I can’t help but think what is going to happen in the next five years when speculation subsides, and token prices actually start reflecting the value of the blockchain product. Companies that misused ICO funds, hired poor teams, and simply wasted time, will go under, sending massive shockwaves throughout the ecosystem.
4. Overhyped or negative press coverage — Media and journalism are wonderful ways to disseminate information, but it has its faults. Up until a year ago, most media coverage of blockchain and crypto was heavily skewed negative. Cryptocurrency was depicted as a vehicle for criminals to engage in illicit activities, and it has taken a lot of work for the blockchain community to slowly paint a different picture. Blockchain and crypto is undoubtedly far from perfect, has many kinks, and will fall flat on its face a few times. But if the media overshadows positive news with negative news, we will never achieve mainstream adoption.
5. Blockchain products not becoming mainstream — we still have a long road ahead of us before blockchain products become embedded in our daily lives. CryptoKitties has so far been one of the few blockchain applications that went viral, but, like many, I’m not convinced that a modern-day Tamagotchi is Ethereum’s killer app. There are many products in production (ConsenSys has built 40+) but their use is mostly confined to technical users. If blockchain is going to become the next Internet, we need to make products that are intuitive, simple, and add value. This will of course take time, as we must first develop the protocol layer, to support the application layer: the layer that users will interact with. Surely, this takes time, but prolonging blockchain’s evolution for too long, may be its death.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share a story?
Absolutely. Education is critical in order for us to achieve the blockchain future that we envision. I am constantly seeking out opportunities to educate the community about blockchain; whether it’s presenting at meetups, supporting local events, providing career advice, or just carving out time to explain blockchain to newbies — I have an open-door policy. I received the same openness and support from those more seasoned than me, when I was getting started on my journey, so this is my way of paying it forward.
As I continue my blockchain journey, I hope to bring goodness by inspiring others to shoot for the stars and believe in themselves. The work that I do for the Atlanta Bitcoin Embassy, where I am the lead advisor, is a great example. The Embassy is an open and friendly space where members of the community can swing by to network, socialize, and learn more about blockchain. Through the Embassy, I have befriended a diverse set of individuals, from all walks of life. Some folks even come from outside the city and battle gruesome Atlanta traffic to make it to our events. When asked why, I frequently hear that they feel inspired to be around such passionate and like-minded folks. This really is the ultimate mission of the Embassy, and I’m proud to be executing on it.
What 3 things would you advise to someone who wanted to emulate your career? Can you share an example for each idea?
- Be curious and ask a lot of questions — It’s a sad truth of this world that most people feel shame and embarrassment when asking questions. I can’t help but think about the kid in grade school who would ask the teacher questions during class, only to be picked on later for being a teacher’s pet. The reality is that our brains form patterns faster and we learn better when asking questions. When I was working in consulting, I too often bore witness to new analysts not asking thorough questions, in fear of looking incompetent. This just created information silos and led to re-work, animosity, and project delays. When I left consulting, I promised myself to always ask questions. While learning to code, I would post the most basic of questions about Truffle (the most popular Ethereum developer framework) to Ethereum Stack Exchange, and initially, I thought I would get silly, unwarranted responses. Turns out, the blockchain community is so collaborative and supportive, that even my “dumbest” questions got answered before I had time to make a cup of coffee.
- Ask people in the space to explain blockchain to you — this is not so much to learn about what blockchain is, but rather to hear new ways of describing the technology. I’ve learned that everyone has their own way of interpreting blockchain and the value that it adds. Everyone has their own set of analogies they like to use. Everyone tells a different story. At the end of the day, our goal as contributors to this space, is to tell a convincing story about what a blockchain future will look like and how we’re going to get there.
- Build a band of supporters: I love Mark Twain’s quote, “Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.” I discussed the importance of a strong support network in my response to the third question, so I won’t dive into too much detail, but I will say that it is impossible to succeed in this space on your own. A very relevant example is how I was connected with the team writing this series. I am a WeWork member and last month, Austen Radcliff, from the Atlanta WeWork Public Affairs Team, reached out to let me know about this interview opportunity. She encouraged me to apply. I was very pleasantly surprised when Austen reached out, and it warms my heart knowing that I am part of such a supportive community at WeWork!
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this 🙂
Marissa Mayer. Very few female executives have been able to achieve the influence and power of Marissa Mayer. I would love to get to know her on a deeper, human level. Did she know that she would achieve such great success? What motivated her during her failures? What are her greatest fears? Does she feel like she’s done her life’s work or is she working towards further greatness? I have so many more questions!
Originally published at medium.com