Developer Showcase Series: Markus Sabadello, Danube Tech

We have another Developer Showcase blog ready! This series serves to highlight the work and motivations of developers, users and researchers collaborating on Hyperledger’s projects. Next up is Markus Sabadello from Danube Tech. Let’s see what he has to say!

What advice would you offer other technologists or developers interested in getting started working on blockchain?

You probably already have a good technical understanding of how blockchain works. You already know that blockchain is more than Bitcoin. You know that there are many different types of blockchains with different features and properties. You also know that blockchain is not a panacea, that it is sometimes over-used, and that blockchain is often just a small piece of a bigger solution.

Since you know all that already, my advice would be, let’s now try to understand why there is such high interest in blockchain, and why so many individuals and companies are working with this technology. Is it because blockchain is a novel solution for technical challenges such as security and stability? Or is the rise of blockchain mostly about profit and new business models? Or is it about a desire for a utopian new world with more democracy, transparency and without authorities?

Today, it is becoming clearer that technology is not always neutral. It tends to have built-in assumptions and objectives. The design of technical architectures and algorithms can imply and support certain world views and values. Some of the currently existing digital infrastructure is perhaps based on paradigms and assumptions that has resulted in adverse effects for our political and social structures.

As engineers and developers, we have a special responsibility here. Therefore, when you start working with blockchain, try to not only find the best technical solution for your use case, but also consider what deeper human effects your algorithms and data structures will have once they get deployed and used in the real world.

Give a bit of background on what you’re working on, and let us know what was it that made you want to get into blockchain?

I have worked on digital identity technologies for a long time, the question of who we are, how we present ourselves, and what do others know about us in the digital world. There’s this concept of user-centric identity, and more recently self-sovereign identity, which places individuals at the center of their online relationships and transactions, and gives us all the ability to create, manage, use, and destroy our online identities according to our own rules.

In classic identity technologies such as OpenID, SAML, WebID, etc., the act which establishes a digital identity for an individual always introduces a dependency on an external entity that has to be trusted in some way. In these systems, digital identity is always represented as an account in some service provider’s database, or as an identifier managed by some registration authority.

With blockchain or distributed ledger technology, we realize that now for the first time we have a way to establish digital identity without such dependencies on identity service providers.

In a joint effort of several communities such as the W3C Credentials Community Group, the OASIS XDI Technical Committee, the series of Rebooting-the-Web-of-Trust workshops, and the Internet Identity Workshop, we then began developing the concept of a Decentralized Identifier (DID), which will become a base building block for higher-level identity data formats and protocols. This is currently my focus at Danube Tech.

What project in Hyperledger are you working on? Any new developments to share? Can you sum up your experience with Hyperledger?

The only Hyperledger project I work on is Hyperledger Indy, and I am not among the most active direct contributors, but everything I work on is connected to it. It is a codebase for a distributed ledger, which unlike most others is specifically being built for digital identity that is decentralized, independent, and follows privacy-by-design principles. Indy offers functionality and components for registering DIDs on a ledger, for privacy-preserving cryptography, and for so-called agents, which are off-chain components that exchange verifiable identity data on an identity owner’s behalf.

I can share that there are currently dozens of proof-of-concepts happening around the world using the Indy software, involving well-known major corporations, but also non-profits, academic institutions, and governments. Here in Austria, we have a consortium of several large companies jointly experimenting with Indy, and I think we will soon see plans for concrete products, applications, and services, that will transform the way how identity works online.

I was already part of this project and its community before it was accepted into Hyperledger incubation, but I can definitely say that Hyperledger has really accelerated Indy both in terms of the provided infrastructure, but also credibility and community support.

What is the best piece of developer advice you’ve ever received?

One good advice for developers I have received a few times is “sleep is more important” – but then again, it’s not always true, is it? 🙂

What technology could you not live without?

My pen that I use for writing down thoughts and taking notes during conferences.

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