Jan 29 / 2019
Latest News / Blockchain news/ Features

The Hackathon Man

As Managing Director of Blockchain Advisory Ltd, Jonathan Galea has contributed his experience to the Malta Blockchain Summit’s upcoming hackathon. Katy Micallef picks his brain in an exclusive interview

Jonathan Galea stumbled into the blockchain sphere almost by accident. As we talk, I’m struck by how his curious mind and thirst for knowledge has shaped his life. He tells me how, as a young law student he took it upon himself to build a laptop from scratch. Needing a graphics card, but unable to find one that didn’t break the bank, he turned to the internet for advice.

By lucky accident his online scrabbling turned up an article explaining that the shortage of graphics cards was, in part, due to Crypto mining. In the early days, from 2010 through 2013, graphics cards were a hot item when it came to Bitcoin mining accessories, with many suppliers frequently running out of stock. From there on, he was hooked. He started mining and before he knew it, a hobby had become a career.

As a lawyer, Jonathan admits it hasn’t been easy. “Being a lawyer you are trained to analyse things in a certain manner, and when you are developing things there’s also a very strict regime to follow – they’re essentially diametrically opposed.”

Jonathan Galea

He goes on to explain that when giving out any form of legal advice, he follows one key rule – that is to keep in mind that law always follows technology. “It’s no use coming up with a legal framework which is synonymous to the law of the country if that same law is not compatible with the same tech it is trying to regulate.”

Case in point: Take the infamous Bitcoin. It is almost impossible to regulate Bitcoin at its core as a technology, simply because you cannot regulate something that is decentralised, that no central authority has central control of.

It is, in fact, Malta’s whole-hearted adoption of blockchain tech regulation, and the inevitable slew of events that follow, such as the Malta Blockchain Summit Hackathon, that will lure developers to the island. What advice would he give Malta, which like many other countries has suffered from a deficit of talented developers?

Malta, he says, cannot currently compete with countries such as the Ukraine and Russia. Mathematics and cryptography is ‘part and parcel of their syllabus’ when it comes to software development. The importance they place on these fields is what makes them such a hotbed for talent.

“Having said that, Malta is not at a disadvantage compared to other jurisdictions trying to do the same thing, reason being is that it is a country trying to holistically regulate the space. A lot of companies will therefore try to settle somewhere that offers legal certainty and peace of mind. Because they’re in it for the long run, there’s a good chance they will relocate their whole team so they can keep a compact environment with the team in one place. Once that happens there will be a much deeper talent pool available for other companies to make use of. Companies that take the plunge and make the move will also attract other businesses to relocate here as well.”

This is why social coding events, such as the Hackathon are so beneficial to Malta’s development. There are two types of hackathons according to Jonathan. An ideas-focused Hackathon consists not just of developers but of people with marketing expertise, promotional skills and so forth. The main purpose is to build up a holistic product and make the sale to the audience.

The second type is a more hardcore version, from a pure coding standpoint.

Jonathan Galea 2
The Hackathon Man

Coders, developers and programmers put their heads together for a couple of intense days so that they can come up with a final product that works. It is the latter that will take pride of place at The Malta Blockchain Summit this year. “The focus is purely on the core aspect of the tech” Jonathan says.

The Hackathon has provided a carefully-crafted opportunity for developers to hone their talents. Companies scouting for talent and seeking to develop their products, looking to join the race, and make the best use of the blockchain revolution will find the Hackathon a natural fit.

“Right now, the resource which is in most demand in the blockchain space is developers, I can’t think of anything else which will attract developers and big businesses to the space as well as a Hackathon.”

As someone who straddles the deep canyon between technology and the more fragile human aspect, what is the biggest societal impact this tech can have on us?

“There’s been a lot of focus on the value of these cryptocurrencies, on the speculative side of it, but I think we are being short-sighted if we just focus on that aspect. Blockchain solves one fundamental issue which has plagued human societies for the past few years, especially with the entry of the internet.

The internet has connected us but hasn’t resolved the issue threatening to derail our technological evolution – a lack of trust. We still need cumbersome third parties to conduct transactions across the globe. Blockchain replaces those third parties and fills the position of trust. We can deal with persons across the globe without the need of a trusted third party. It can take us to the next step in evolutionary terms.”

And how does blockchain play with other technologies such as AI and the IoT in terms of the trust gap?

“It’s a good thing you mentioned those other two technologies, as I think of these, along with blockchain tech as the holy trinity that will usher us into the next age of humanity. AI has been developing at quite a rapid pace, but when it comes to gathering info from the outside world, AI still hasn’t grasped that notion very well yet. When it comes to feeding info to AI you’re still limited to human input.”

Jonathan goes on to explain that smart devices still rely on a trusted third party for communication and connection. This is where blockchain comes in. “Block tech in a vacuum is powerful in its own right, but it’s not revolutionary. Linking block tech to AI and IoT forms a golden triangle – when that happens I think we’re in for interesting times.”

And finally I ask him a question that is front and centre for anyone currently taking up space in the blockchain sphere. Why is it so hard to find the right advice in the blockchain zone right now? As someone who gives advice for a living, Jonathan is humble in his answer. “This is a new space and there are a lot of people claiming to be experts. I myself have five years experience behind me, my partner has four. We don’t call ourselves experts, but specialists, because you can’t have experts in such a fresh space. The trick is just to set the right expectations, be honest in your advice and think of the clients’ interests first, making sure their business model works with block tech.

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