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Women Leading The Blockchain Revolution: “Listen to people in and beyond your field” With Linda Schilling and Tyler Gallagher

To women, not only in the blockchain space, but also to people in general, not only women: I think getting high-quality education and training in a field that you are genuinely interested in is one step to success. Second, in the industry as well as in academia, success requires a demand for your product or […]


To women, not only in the blockchain space, but also to people in general, not only women: I think getting high-quality education and training in a field that you are genuinely interested in is one step to success. Second, in the industry as well as in academia, success requires a demand for your product or research. Thus, it pays off to listen to people in and beyond your field. I think people who are successful work on things they are genuinely interested in and manage to bridge the gap to other fields, to communicate why their product or research is useful for others. Third, to measure ourselves according to the same standards as we measure others. In particular, you cannot criticize others for being more successful if you do not put in the same amount of dedication and working hours. Taking responsibility for your own failure is an important step to grow and do it better next time.


I had the pleasure of interviewing Linda Schilling, Assistant Professor for Financial Economics at Ecole Polytechnique in France and a visiting scholar at the Becker Friedman Institute of the University of Chicago. Linda holds degrees in pure and financial mathematics from the University of Bonn and Edinburgh. She obtained her PhD in Economics from the University of Bonn while spending two years as a visiting PhD student at UC Berkeley.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share with us the story of how you decided to pursue this career path? What lessons can others learn from your story?

Academia allows you to dedicate yourself and thus continue learning about things that you personally find interesting. Within the fields of economics and finance, I can change the topics that I am working on. There is no routine. This freedom is something that I very much appreciate. In the course of my studies I did multiple internships and side jobs. This helped a lot in finding out what kind of job I will (not) like working in, in the long run.

Can you tell me about the most interesting projects you are working on now?

Currently I’m researching crypto price evolution in a future world where cryptocurrencies could genuinely compete with more traditional means of payment, like Dollars. One important aspect about cryptocurrencies is that — as opposed to the Dollar or Euro — there exists no crypto central bank to stabilize crypto prices. Value stability, at least to a certain degree, is a necessary property for the class of so-called ‘currencies’. Together with my coauthor Harald Uhlig, we work on finding out whether and to what extent the central bank which controls the Dollar has an impact on the crypto price evolution or vice versa, given that in a market equilibrium prices are supposed to change in a way such that demand equals supply, for both Dollars and Bitcoin.

None of us are able to 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?

There are several people who made an impact at very decisive moments in my life: Johan Walden for whom I taught stochastic finance at UC Berkeley Haas, my close friend Philipp Strack, Rocko Luciano who was my dance teacher and team leader in San Francisco and who now runs his own ‘Full Out Studios’ in Oakland, Mikhail Golosov and Harald Uhlig from the economics department of the University of Chicago, and my close friend Nga Le who is an entrepreneur (founder of EDUBAO). No stories, just thank you.

What are the 5 things that most excite you about blockchain and crypto? Why?

As a finance person, I find interesting the evolution of crypto prices and their interaction with central bank policies (inflation targets), i.e. my current research. Beyond that, as an economist, I find fascinating the design of the Bitcoin mining protocol to not misreport transactions (double spending), although this comes with some issues (see below). I find the idea of establishing decentralized anonymous trust fascinating for many reasons. Take the example of Bitcoin. Why does Bitcoin have value? Unlike gold or diamonds, Bitcoin is intrinsically worthless. Economists call this fiat money. The Euro or Dollar is also fiat but their value is backed by a trusted institution, a central bank. Not so for Bitcoin. Still, Bitcoin currently trades at 5,538$. Why? Because there are people who believe that Bitcoin has positive value in the future, even without a central bank. For now this just sounds like speculation. But there are people who are investing massive sums into energy and mining equipment for Bitcoins or other cryptocurrencies continuously. Their belief that the Bitcoin price remains high must be quite strong. What does this imply for us? Does this mean we no longer need trusted institutions like central banks to have a functioning payment system and means of payment? Does it mean that we do not trust our institutions or companies offering centralized payment systems (Banks, Paypal and Visa) which in return made Bitcoin et al. strong? We talk a lot about trust in the mining system, the incentives for truthful mining, following the protocol and how usage will be influenced by this trust. What nobody talks about is that even with a given mistrust in the mining system, it only requires sufficient mistrust in the existing, currently dominant centralized institutions to drive users into cryptocurrencies. The success of cryptocurrencies and blockchain forces us to rethink the values of privacy, ownership of data and information, and the way we allow institutions to access them. The fact is, cryptocurrencies together with their underlying blockchains seem to satisfy a demand for an anonymous payment system which allows to easily send value across the globe without some third party watching the identity of the transacting parties. Cash can satisfy this role only locally. What I find fascinating about Blockchain is that we now observe the demand for anonymous payments. With cash this was not possible. I cannot observe in country F whether person A gives a suitcase with cash to person B in country G. With Bitcoin, for instance, since the blockchain is public, we observe the transaction volume, i.e., how many suitcases change hands and with how much content (see blockchain.com).

What are the things worry you about blockchain and crypto? Why?

The mining protocols are currently not safe against attacks such as ‘double spending’ or ‘selfish mining’. The miners who verify transactions are supposed to do so truthfully and immediately once they have found a new block. However, settings exist in which, from a miners’ perspective, it is optimal to withhold a block or to undo transactions by not attaching the block to the longest chain when sufficient mining power is accumulated in one entity. These kinds of instances may undermine trust in the corresponding cryptocurrency.

Next, coin mining is detrimental to our environment due to its energy consumption. It is further inefficient since an increase in mining power does not necessarily lead to a rise in verified transactions.

Last, from the finance perspective, I believe a lot of people are buying cryptocurrencies without knowing what they are acquiring. Unlike stocks or bonds, cryptocurrencies are generally not a claim on a stream of coupons or dividends. Unlike stocks, cryptocurrencies do not represent ownership and by this a share of the net worth of the issuer (there are exceptions to this such as tokens issued in the course of an ICO). Unlike commodities or real estate, cryptocurrencies have no intrinsic value. Per se, I believe everyone should be able to invest his or her private funds the way he/she wants. If it comes to pension funds or systemically relevant banks and investment institutions though, I will be worried. I do not think that the taxpayers’ budget or retirement savings should depend on intrinsically worthless, highly volatile crypto assets. At least, the exposure — I believe — should not be arbitrarily large. One thing that I am worried about is that regulators lag behind in determining (i) what are the risks to the real economy when confronted with a shock to cryptocurrency markets, (ii) what are potential channels, (iii) how should corresponding regulation look like, (iv) how fast can regulation be implemented, given that systemically relevant investment institutions such as Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan have already started to explore crypto trading strategies for their clients.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share a story? –

I hope to bring goodness to the world through my teaching at Ecole Polytechnique :). I hope to convey not only knowledge but also enthusiasm and excitement for economics, mathematics and finance through many real-world examples and applications.

As you know there are not that many women in your industry. Can you share 3 things that you would advise other women in the blockchain space to thrive?

To women, not only in the blockchain space, but also to people in general, not only women: I think getting high-quality education and training in a field that you are genuinely interested in is one step to success. Second, in the industry as well as in academia, success requires a demand for your product or research. Thus, it pays off to listen to people in and beyond your field. I think people who are successful work on things they are genuinely interested in and manage to bridge the gap to other fields, to communicate why their product or research is useful for others. Third, to measure ourselves according to the same standards as we measure others. In particular, you cannot criticize others for being more successful if you do not put in the same amount of dedication and working hours. Taking responsibility for your own failure is an important step to grow and do it better next time.

Can you advise what is needed to engage more women into the blockchain industry?

One issue may be that female role models are missing, in particular in Germany. I became aware of this lack only when I arrived at UC Berkeley and saw two female super tough Professors in action. That was inspiring! Previous to that my courses were exclusively taught by male Professors.

What is your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that had relevance to your own life?

Plato’s Allegory of the cave. The awareness of how much our social environment and our belief in our capabilities may constrain ourselves.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I am not sure about the ‘great influence’ part, but I would start a platform offering free access to knowledge and high-quality education. I am a fan of the MIT open courses and educative youtube videos. Nowadays, many high-quality education programs come with very high price tags. But not everybody is capable of paying this price. Alternatively, not everyone is willing to take out a high student loan for financing. I have also witnessed that the quality of education varies tremendously across programs. Often, excellent programs are very pricey. Ecole Polytechnique is an exception in this respect. I believe education is the key to achieving a higher life standard for oneself, a ‘better life’. Whether you are born in a wealthy or low-income family will play less of a role when high-quality education becomes more affordable.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I am not that active on social media, but I do have a webpage where you can follow my research 🙂

https://sites.google.com/site/lindamarleneschilling/home

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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