To supplement the Threshold Time email newsletter (see the past issues here) and give the Threshold Community greater insight into the talented and passionate people creating and supporting this groundbreaking technology, Threshold's Marketing Guild has been doing a series of interviews with members of the Keep and NuCypher teams (whose protocols merged on January 1 to form Threshold).
With this post we expand from a focus on the two development teams to also include members of the Threshold DAO and community - thus now Meet the DAO.
Not a member of the Threshold Discord yet? Be sure to head over to discord.gg/threshold and dive in!
Today we bring you a conversation with Nico186, a key member of the Threshold community. Interview by John Packel, advisor to Keep and Threshold Marketing Guild.
Great to meet you virtually, Nico! So, you kicked off ETH Denver as a Threshold community member talking about your experience. Tell us how that came about.
It was really like a dream come true. Kind of like going to boarding school, you know, like we all were there for a specific purpose, everybody knew they wanted to get something out of it. And it was very technical, there were a lot of really interesting speakers and everything. But then you're kind of like living together with all your friends, you know? And you'd be so hungry because your brain is just going non‑stop - so, let's all go grab a bite to eat. But then, I've worked in sales, so it's a little awkward, you know, you meet your clients for the first time: "Do you have any food allergies? Do you like Chinese?" But then it was like I had been friends with everybody for the last 15 years.
Wow, that's really cool to hear.
So Threshold had the sponsorship, and as a portion of that they were allowed to be a lead presenter and they were leading off [the event]. Ryan and Jake came up with the concept - let's get one of our community members to go up there; and I was really excited to do it. I was a little nervous, of course, but the main thing I thought about it was, you know, our community is as important as any product that we produce; it's all the parts and pieces that kind of build our community.
I hope you had some lead time. When did they hatch the idea?
I had probably six hours. We all met, and you can just imagine in the hotel room, there's all these laptops, and everybody's working in different capacities: they're helping hackers, they're answering questions on Discord, a lot of them are moderating. So, it was a really cool environment. But I got a chance to kind of present how I was brought into Threshold.
Right, so what was it that drew you to Threshold? How did you first hear about it?
So, kind of a happy accident. At the time I was a professor and the college that I was teaching at they always give the professors a perk and they say you can take any two classes you want for free. I just love education and I love kind of branching out. There used to be like an art class or a photography class or something, but they had a blockchain class; it was sort of the entryway into smart contracts. So I signed up for the class and it was a really neat project. We did you know, we did the very basic the Ethereum Pet Shop, but during it they said, "You should branch out, you know, there's a lot of money out there, you can enter these bounty hunts."
And I found Playing for Keeps [an early incentivized testnet where community members won KEEP work tokens for providing value to the network] and thought this is really something that I can do, I'm really interested in this. And I had enough of a background that I was comfortable to launch a node. But the project just really pulled me in the very first week that we all got together, they had a Zoom call. And I'm involved on this Zoom call, and immediately kind of linked up with another couple of guys, and we get some ideas for a group project. And before long we won. Every month, they would issue these tokens, you know. I just couldn't believe it; it was a really nice windfall, but just the fact that someone like me, and who was just coming into crypto, amongst everybody in the world, it's a global competition.
So cool. And remind me what project was that? Or maybe there's more than one that won Playing for Keeps?
A couple of projects. The first one I did, we got together with another gentleman in Ireland. And he had collected pretty much every laptop that he ever had, you know, all this beat-up equipment, he had a Raspberry Pi and he said, "I really want to know if I can run like 10 or 15 nodes. So I'm gonna try every piece of equipment that I have, and I’m gonna try to launch a node." And I said, "Man, I don't know anything about building a computer. And the last time I really put anything together was when my Apple crashed in college, and I couldn't afford a new one."
So I built a totally autonomous cloud computer, and spent a little bit of money on it, there was the monthly fee. I kind of boosted up my Infura connection. I looked at it, like I'm gonna take this very seriously, and if I add a little bit of money, I'll do it. And [my partner] said, "No, I'm just going to use my Raspberry Pi." And one of the ways that he was checking his node was when his fan went crazy, you know - I'm getting my my ECDSA to function because my fan goes crazy. He's like, "I can hear that fan going and I run over and I make sure I log everything."
That’s really funny. I remember when the Playing for Keeps winners would come out and you'd see the announcements in Discord, and all the excitement - about the birth of threshold cryptography, the foundation of so many things that are to come.
It blew me away that there was this project director, Matt Luongo, and he was very successful and very renowned, but he was available. I mean, he would show up, and every week we would see him, writing back to us on Discord. And from my professional background, I mean, that would literally be like Frank Lloyd Wright checking to make sure your doors are in the right place; so awesome. So, that was kind of my natural entree into everything Threshold. You know, it's just that foundation of a real community. It's friends.
I was just going to ask - then was it sort of the community aspect that kept you interested. That's been a fascinating thing to see: the NuCypher and Keep communities come together to form Threshold, and now the DAO - how we make decisions, what are the different groups - and everybody has a voice.
It’s incredible. I mentioned my background is in education and every like 5 to 10 years, the college will go through the curriculum. And, you know, there's classes that everybody is teaching, and there's new technology that we have to bring in. But at a state university level, you've got to make sure that your curriculum meets the requirements, and it can just be a bloodbath.
People get really strong opinions, and there isn't really a mechanism. But you look back at how our [protocol] merger came to be. I mean, it's historical. It's the first time that it's ever happened that two autonomous blockchains have really came together. And that's exactly it: How do we do it? I mean, how do we merge? What's in the best interest of NuCypher? What's in the best interests of Keep? And how will those those translate into the future? You know, what's in the best interest of Threshold?
Yeah, and it was community members who originally suggested to the the teams, to Matt and Maclane and others - "Hey, there's a lot of similarities here, maybe we should explore this." If you think about it, it's a network and networks have value. Communities, the people that we're bringing to this are nodes in the network, and the more that we do, the more influential and the more interactive each of our nodes is, it makes the whole network more valuable.
More valuable, more reliable, more decentralized. It's outstanding.
So what sort of subject areas did you teach or what's your background? How did you get into academia?
My professional background is interior design. More of a commercial designer. Like think about big, big offices and big hotels. I came into being a lighting designer, and I just loved it; there was just enough math, there was just enough space planning. And there was a human element. You know, the goal of lighting really is, you you've got to kind of bounce enough energy off of the surfaces for people to function.
Before the video started, we talked a bit about your NFTs. So, the one on the right is the NFT that was printed on skateboards. Who was that artist?
I'm glad you asked because I really love this guy. His name is Vexx. A lot of people say, well, you know, what's the deal with an NFT? Why would I buy a piece of art that is only on the blockchain? But you get these little screens, and they embed the artwork on here. And so you actually have a little tangible piece, but what's really neat about the artwork is, every one of them is kind of individual; I think he did maybe 50 of these. When you buy the NFT you become the manager of it. I remember times when people would say, "Oh, I have a Picasso." Well, do you really have a Picasso?
Yeah, that's the question, right? How is it authenticated. And there have been issues there.
So coming from design, I guess one of the biggest things that really drew me to the Threshold Network, it was just the ability for us to bring our best selves to the team. And what I mean by that is, we've obviously got some very intelligent mathematicians, and we have some incredible coders, we have engineers that are world renowned. I was invited to join the Marketing Guild, and that just was such a natural fit. It was just everything that I always wanted to kind of be a part of.
My impression is that the teams, the developers, the architects - they really appreciate the community, the Marketing Guild, Integrations, Treasury Guild, people who bring these different perspectives and different skills to growing this network. And what I think will become an ecosystem.
We have this unlimited capacity; once [tBTC] v2 happens and once the network really is built out this summer, there's no stopping it. And I just love being able to bring in all the new ideas and to bring the tools and marry them together with the people.
Exactly, it's a very creative process. So anything else you'd like to share with the community?
When I'm not working as a professor, I also work in construction. And it's always been kind of nice, we used to have to find a summer job or you know, find some way to kind of augment - you don’t make too much money as a teacher. So I would always do construction and my brother-in-law and I are really close and he has a general contracting company. So, I always have a work truck, and I finally bought a four-wheel drive work truck, and I just have so much fun; we go out in the desert and I love to go off-roading, kind of trail hopping.
And I like to snowboard and just being outside. But a fun fact about me is I'm a dog lover. I've always had a dog. My wife and I adopt pitbulls. A couple of years ago, we found a pitbull that just was on its way to, unfortunately, the shelter. As a puppy. We both grew up with labs, and we thought, well, let's give it a shot, and I just fell in love with the dog. So we're on our second adopted dog, and so it's a big part of our life.