Carla Kirk-Cohen: Bitcoin Is the Ability to Take Back Control Over Your Financial Situation


Today’s guest is Carla Kirk-Cohen she is a developer at Lightning Labs and is living in Cape Town in South Africa. Carla is building infrastructure around lightning nodes that makes it easier for people to run their own nodes at home.

“I was really drawn to the security model of Bitcoin, really interested and thinking, oh, this can’t possibly work. There must be some way that it breaks. And then going back and learning a bit more and realizing how incredible the entire system actually is. For me Bitcoin is really about self determination. I think the ability to take back control over your financial situation is a really powerful thing and it’s a really interesting thing because it’s something that’s never been possible until Bitcoin existed.” – Carla Kirk-Cohen

“That 21 million that will never change and is finite really does ensure value of Bitcoin through scarcity and that I think is the most important feature and just fundamental to the entire system.” – Carla Kirk-Cohen

Our topics:

  • Her career in the Bitcoin space
  • What Bitcoin means to her
  • The 21 million hard cap
  • The Lightning Network
  • Lightning infrastructure projects
  • Loop, Faraday, Multipath payments
  • Privacy in the Lightning Network
  • The Bitcoin community in South Africa
  • Lightning Wallets
  • How to become a (female) Bitcoin and Lightning developer


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Recording Date: May 18, 2020
Location: Online




Anita Posch [00:04:22] Hello. Today's guest is Carla Kirk-Cohen. She's a developer at lightning labs and she's located in South Africa. Hello, Carla.

Carla Kirk-Cohen [00:04:32] Hi, Anita. Thanks for having me.

Anita Posch [00:04:34] Thanks for taking the time to do this interview with me. At first, please introduce yourself a little bit to our listeners. What is your story and what's your education.

Carla Kirk-Cohen [00:04:45] Well, as you said, I'm a Cape Town based developer in South Africa, and I studied computer science and economics, which is a pretty good fit for Bitcoin development and I started out in Bitcoin working at an exchange called Luno, which is a sort of emerging economies based exchange. It operates in South Africa, Malaysia, Nigeria.
And while I was there, I worked on a lightning network integration where I got to really understand and become interested in lightning. And after that I was incredibly fortunate to attend the chaincode labs residency in New York where I spent three months learning about Bitcoin and contributing to LND.
And at the same time when I was there, I met Elizabeth Stark, who is the CEO of lightning labs, and I got to know her a bit and eventually after the residency, took up a position on the lightning labs infrastructure team, where I've been for about nine months now.

Anita Posch [00:05:40] Oh, that sounds cool, but how did you end up at Luno? Did you know, or did you already know about Bitcoin and want to get into this, cryptocurrency space?

Carla Kirk-Cohen [00:05:51] Yes, it did. I sort of came across the white paper while I was studying. It was a very interesting time for me. I was studying economics and Bitcoin felt like this unbelievable thing that couldn't quite be true. I read the white paper. I was turned on to it by a friend. the first thing that really appealed to me as a student was how short it was having read these very, very long academic papers for the last four years, I was really refreshed by how short and simple it was.
And I was fresh off a penetration testing some internship from my CS degree. which is where you kind of get a box and try and take down a website and feel like a real hacker. so I was really drawn to the security model of Bitcoin, really like interested in thinking, Oh, this can't possibly work.
There must be some way that it breaks. And then going back and learning a bit more and realizing how incredible the entire system actually is. So when I got to the end of my degree, I did look around and think, okay. What am I interested in working in? I was interested in security. I was interested in Bitcoin, and there really wasn't a lot out there except for Luno, which was one of the first companies in South Africa to pick up Bitcoin.
And they were a Bitcoin early exchange at the time so it was a really natural fit. And I joined the crypto operations team, which, which is my first job. And I feel very fortunate to start out there because I know a lot of people take awhile to come to Bitcoin as their actual job.

Anita Posch [00:07:13] I mean, you can develop many things at home. You can learn how to code, or you can, fall down the rabbit hole of Bitcoin without any company or any income. But on the other hand, you have to pay your rent and stuff. And so it's great to find a job in the industry.

Carla Kirk-Cohen [00:07:30] Yeah, it really is. And it feels like every day you're doing what you would be doing on the weekend anyway. So I feel very fortunate to have spent my entire working career, in Bitcoin. it's a wonderful thing.

Anita Posch [00:07:43] That's something. Yeah, I needed some time to find it because I mean, I'm. Very long in the worklife already. So, Bitcoin had to be founded first and then I could find it. So, but, what does Bitcoin mean to you in that sense? I mean, if you say it's like working is like a holiday in a way, why do you like it so much? what is so special about it for you?

Carla Kirk-Cohen [00:08:08] Well, I think on the conceptual level, for me, Bitcoin is really about self determination. I think the ability to take back control over your financial situation is a really powerful thing. and it's a really interesting thing because it's something that's never been possible until Bitcoin existed.
I think kind of from South Africa, it's a really powerful thing for us because we've had some pretty. Pretty shady government situations. We've had some presidents that are not really great. We are neighbors to Zim who've obviously had so many issues with their currency. So I think that's a really important part of it.
To me, the ability to own your financial situation, really matters.

Anita Posch [00:08:48] Yeah. And I would say with owning Bitcoin, like owning really the physical Bitcoin, having, the private keys for it, you also have a vote in a way, in the economic system. Would you say so too?

Carla Kirk-Cohen [00:09:01] I would say that you do. I think that you take power away from the people who make decisions about your money. So it decreases the power that something like a central bank has over you and by association, the power that politicians have, because maybe your vote can't necessarily change all that much.
Although democracy is alleged to work, it doesn't always turn out the way one expects. So. It's almost the absence of a vote. Really it's deciding that you are going to look after yourself rather than leave your future in the hands of other people.

Anita Posch [00:09:36] Oh, that's an interesting view. Many people say Bitcoin is so complicated, and I mean to grasp the depth of Bitcoin. You take a while. That's true. But is there an easy explanation? How would you describe it to your grandma? For instance?

Carla Kirk-Cohen [00:09:53] That's a pretty challenging one. When I told my grandparents I was a software developer, I'm pretty sure they thought I was a typist. cause that's their mental model. So the only technical thing I could really ever explain to them was email because I got to email them. And they were amazed that it arrived so quickly unlike the post.
So I think if I was to explain it to my grandparents, I'd have to say that it's money that's like email. because you can have your own email, you can have your own inbox, you can send it quickly to anyone in the world. And unlike post which can get stopped at the postbox, no one can really stop your email from going through.
It's not a perfect metaphor, but I think it's sort of a mental model. It's familiar to people who only use their computer for email and don't fully understand it yet.

Anita Posch [00:10:41] That's true. That's actually a good explanation. Also with the post office that can open your letter.

Carla Kirk-Cohen [00:10:47] Yeah, yeah. Maybe take something out of your package.

Anita Posch [00:10:50] Yeah, exactly. So what's, in your opinion, the most important feature or characteristic of Bitcoin.

Carla Kirk-Cohen [00:10:57] I'd have to say that the 21 million cap is really what sets Bitcoin aside for me from any kind of currency. I think it's a pretty natural thought when you start out in Bitcoin, you realize that there's this 21 million cap. When you think, Oh, well, you know, I can just, you know, go into my code and say, well, I want 22 million and I'll just make more Bitcoin.
And then, no, I've, I fooled the system. But as I came to really understand how consensus works in Bitcoin, how everything fits together in such an almost magical way from individual nodes validating to the peer to peer level, propagating blocks and transactions to the miners mining those blocks, I really began to understand how fundamental the scarcity is to Bitcoin.
And without that, I don't think Bitcoin would be much different to maybe a bunch of other things, but that 21 million that will never change and is finite really does ensure value of Bitcoin through scarcity and that I think is the most important feature and just fundamental to the entire system.

Anita Posch [00:12:00] Do you also think that if anyone would propose to change the supply limit, then that there would be a hard fork and all people would split into different forks.

Carla Kirk-Cohen [00:12:11] Yeah, absolutely. I think without a doubt, if people try to increase the cap which I know is an argument, because people do worry that as the block subsidy decreases, we're going to be more reliant on fees and perhaps if fees are not as much as the subsidy, that the system won't be as secure. So people do argue for perpetual block subsidy, but I do think that just totally does away with the point of Bitcoin.
So I would certainly be on the 21 million hard fork.

Anita Posch [00:12:37] Yeah, me too. what's your personal vision, what Bitcoin can do in the future, or what are you hoping for.

Carla Kirk-Cohen [00:12:44] I think of it that there are three phases to Bitcoin. So there's sort of where we are right now where it's a bit difficult to use, but if you do want to use it because you're a hobbyist or you need to use it because you're in a marginalized community, you can. and then there's the middle time situation where it kind of lies in the same range as, bittorrent where people use it, but it's kind of still a bit fringe, more easy to use, more known and pervasive.
And then of course, there's sort of the hyperbitcoinized future, which people I'm sort of always very keen for where Bitcoin is to be, the global unit of account. And well, I would like a hyperbitcoinized future because I think specifically that would decrease volatility a bit. My aspiration for Bitcoin would be to reach the Bittorrent level of success where it's a bit easier to use and people who can, who need to use it can, and it enables some really cool use cases because it's much better than fiat in every way in terms of being programmable money. So I would think that I would see Bitcoin as succeeding if it reached that level.

Anita Posch [00:13:48] A good working alternative for the people who need or want to use it.

Carla Kirk-Cohen [00:13:52] Yes, exactly. And I think that, I don't think Bitcoin will have failed if we don't see a hyperbitcoinized future. I think it is currently succeeding because it's doing what it needs to do in places where it needs to be done. I would like hyperbitcoinization, but if we hit that middle ground, I'd be pretty happy.

Anita Posch [00:14:10] How big is the Bitcoin community in South Africa? I heard it's rather big. And how has it changed in the last four years? Since the last halving.

Carla Kirk-Cohen [00:14:19] Well, I think this one's pretty interesting. I read a report from, I can't remember the source now. I think it was the world data forum or the world internet forum or something like that. and South Africa has the highest self-reported holding of cryptocurrency in the world. which is self-reported.
So take that data with a pinch of salt. But we have 10% of all active internet users report holding cryptocurrency, which is almost double the world average of 5.5%. And I think that's really interesting. And it's also really interesting if you have a look at the countries that keep us company at the top of that list. It's countries like Vietnam, Chile, all these countries that don't really have traditional banking systems and are all sort of more emerging markets. So I do think it's pretty interesting to see how that's developing. we do have. I'd say a large user base here.
So we have two quite active exchanges who have a lot of very active users, but our developer scene definitely isn't as big as it would be in a place like New York or Berlin, where they have lots of developers, lots and lots of Bitcoin companies. But for the size of our country, I think it's pretty significant.

Anita Posch [00:15:29] In the Bitcoin space, we don't talk so much about those countries. We talk about Venezuela and Zimbabwe, but Chile and Vietnam, I didn't actually know that there is so much usage of Bitcoin there.

Carla Kirk-Cohen [00:15:41] Yeah. Well, I think the reason that we don't report it is because the volumes aren't necessarily that high. When you earn in such a low value currency, people are probably holding various small amounts of Bitcoin. So we perhaps don't see them on our big bar charts and volumes, but those people are there and they are using it for something.
And you could say, Oh, well, all these people are in emerging markets. They've got a better risk appetite. So perhaps they're all speculating, but that just seems kind of unlikely to me. It really does feel like Bitcoin is starting to work in the way in which it is intended to. And I think that's really backed up by a lot of the research that's done by looking at all of these emerging market countries and how they're really starting to use Bitcoin as a tool where the local currency is failing.

Anita Posch [00:16:30] Hm. You're right. We're looking at volumes most of the time, but not at the fact that some use cases don't have that high volumes. They are just people who have, no means of exchanging money in another way. Sometimes people say Bitcoin is a luxury item because those people in emerging countries or in poor countries can't afford to buy Bitcoin anyhow because they can't afford their internet fees.

Carla Kirk-Cohen [00:16:59] So I'd say it's an interesting question whether bitcoin is a luxury because bitcoin really is what you wanted to be, which is quite unique of Bitcoin. So yeah, often on Twitter you see stack Sats, you know, don't put more money in Bitcoin than you can afford to lose, but make sure that you're regularly stacking sats.
And that has always seemed very strange to me because a lot of people have no money to lose, and that's never really part of our conversation, that even the ability to put small amounts like trivial amounts of your income into Bitcoin is definitely a luxury because you have this disposable income that a lot of people don't have.
So in that way, Bitcoin is luxury because it's something that you do with your disposable income. But in other ways. Bitcoin is definitely a tool that people are using. So a lot of research is coming out of as I said, looking at how Bitcoin is being used as a bridge in Venezuela to move currency within Latin America.
And that's not a luxury, that's a necessity for these people and although they don't have an internet connection or perhaps a full node, they still do find a way to access Bitcoin and use it for what they need it to.

Anita Posch [00:18:11] You are working at lightning labs tell me please. What are you doing there? You're in the infrastructure team.

Carla Kirk-Cohen [00:18:18] Yes, so I work on building infrastructure around a lightning node that makes it easier for people to run and operate a lightning node, because right now it's pretty challenging. You've got a lot to think about as a user when you're running a lightning node. so I work on two projects primarily.
One is loop, which is a liquidity service on lightning where you can do subatomic swaps. So you send money on chain and receive money off chain or the reverse and that allows you to manage your liquidity in your lightning node. And the other one is a project called Faraday, which we've just started off, which is looking at helping people manage their nodes more effectively. So which channels on their node they need to open which channels on their node they need to close. And perhaps also looking into sort of the accounting side of things. So if people are running lightning as a business, kind of provide solutions there so they can properly account for all of their sats.

Anita Posch [00:19:13] Oh, interesting. can you please explain for newbies what the lightning network is and what it does.

Carla Kirk-Cohen [00:19:20] well, the lightning network is a layer on top of Bitcoin, which allows for fast and small transactions. So on the Bitcoin network, we have a dust limit of 540 sats, I think. And it's not economically feasible for you to transact below that. You also on the Bitcoin network, when you transact, you need to wait for that transaction to confirm for a few blocks, which can take 10 or 20 minutes.
So what lightning does is operates with these things called channels where you and I would set aside some balance on chain. So we pay, say, half a Bitcoin into a channel, and then essentially we move money back and forth in that channel without going on chain. So every time the lightning transaction is sent, all we do is update a spend from that channel.
And then you and my balances change. And we do that in a trustless way. So we can effectively achieve almost infinite transactions, just shifting the same amount of money back and forth. And then if either party wants to cash out on chain, they can then do so by broadcasting the latest settled balances between us.

Anita Posch [00:20:32] So the advantages are that it's much faster than the Bitcoin blockchain transactions. And also it's immediately settled and it enables micropayments very, very small payments. Yeah. So how small can these payments be.

Carla Kirk-Cohen [00:20:50] Well in the moment with these payments can actually go sub Satoshi. So we have a unit of account called Millisatoshi, which is the 1000th of a Satoshi. However, because we do, we do have an onchain transaction, we do have a signed onchain transaction, which reflects our balance. And these payments are held in what's called an HTLC in that transaction.
So every output on that transaction needs to actually be able to go on chain eventually. so although we can do these subsatoshi payments, if you do end up going on chain with your transaction, that subsatoshi payment won't actually pay out. It will be rounded down into miners fees. So that is something to be aware of in lightning that we have micropayments but in the case that you settle on chain, that will actually be rounded down because it's physically impossible to pay out that little on the lightning network.

Anita Posch [00:21:46] I also heard that the lightning network enhances the privacy of users if we use it instead of blockchain transactions.
How is this working? How's that the case?

Carla Kirk-Cohen [00:21:58] Well, I think this is a really great feature of lightning, which isn't actually spoken about that much because we often get caught up in the fund micropayments use case. But I think the privacy offering is enormous because when you put an on chain transaction, when you broadcast it, the likelihood is that a company like chain analysis is analyzing everything that happens or actually look at so many things, they can look at the way in which this transaction is propagated to the network. So obviously the transaction starts at your node, it sends to your peers, to their peers, and that's how it spreads through the network. And they do these attacks, which still are not very well addressed on the peer to peer layer.
Where they can try and identify the source of a transaction using a timing attack. So seeing where it started to pop up in the network, and then they can figure out with most likelihood which node it came from. and they can also look at transactions on chain and see the kind of spending patterns. So often when they see two outputs on chain, it's, and one is a round number, for example.
It's very likely that the round number is a payment and the remainder is your change output. So then they can know that the address that came from is associated with the change address. So there's a lot of analysis they can do, and there's a lot of awesome work being done to address this on the base layer.
So Amiti Uttarwar, who's a contributor at Xapo is working on that timing attack. things like pay join, where you actually mix your coins with the person you're paying. All of these things are sort of addressing it, but in lightning we actually just take that opportunity to surveil away entirely, because first of all, you net out to the blockchain.
So you could have had a thousand transactions in one channel between you and I, but at the end of the day, all chain analysis gets to see is the single balance that pays out. So it really obfuscates in that way. And then for payments within the network, every payment that is routed through the network is onion encrypted.
So as a node trying to surveil the lightning network whenever you forward a payment, because that would be the comparison to watching on chain transactions. All you can ever see is the one is the node before you and the node after you on the route, you can never see the full route. So it's really difficult and you could set up tons of these surveilling nodes, but there would still be quite a high cost to setting them up because you'd have to fund up this lightning node and you still wouldn't have not a lot of certainty about where those payments came from, or we're going to, which is fantastic.

Anita Posch [00:24:33] It's a great way to defend ourselves from all these privacy attacks that are coming more and more I guess, I mean, because companies like Chainalysis, I mean, they are like spies and everybody is suspected to, to do something wrong.

Carla Kirk-Cohen [00:24:50] Yeah. And I think that, the important thing that lightning does is it really removes the ability to spy at all. Because the base layer, you will fundamentally always be able to spy on the baselayer. Now because everything happens. And you know, you pick up a megaphone and shout to the entire network that a transaction has occurred.
That's how Bitcoin works. So while we can constantly be improving the base layer, it's really great that we also have the second layer, which is much more private by design, that they really will have a lot of, a lot of issues surveilling. And although, you know, it might have been true a while ago, a chainalysis employee did an ask me anything on Reddit.
And one thing they pointed out was that they have absolutely no solution for the lightning network at present, which, you know, they might not be a legit employee, but I thought it was a pretty accurate reflection of the fact that they can't really do much about it.

Anita Posch [00:25:43] We can speculate on that now, but maybe do you think that governments and authorities then will forbid the lightning network or can they do this.

Carla Kirk-Cohen [00:25:54] I don't think they will forbid it. I think that with companies like chain analysis, the burden really lies on large companies to run the software. So, for example, if you're an exchange, you have a regulatory obligation, for chain analysis. Whereas of course, if you're an exchange running lightning, perhaps the government would want to see that you are, you know, doing some kind of regulatory compliance thing like chain analysis.
But for individuals running lightning, like the government has no reason to tell you not to use this thing. You're an individual using your money. In a way that you choose, and it would be a really hard ask to put that kind of regulatory pressure on individuals, whereas it's very easy to pressure larger businesses because they have to be compliant.

Anita Posch [00:26:41] That's true that brings us to the point that, I mean it's very important for Bitcoin that many people run their own full nodes and verify their transactions. That's the whole idea behind Bitcoin. Does a lightning node basically do the same, I mean, you just said, if I'm using a lightning node as a private person, nobody can come at me.
How does this work in lightning?

Carla Kirk-Cohen [00:27:07] Well, I mean, I think it's the same, very basic principle of not your keys, not your coins. When you run a lightning node, it has some channels that it controls and it holds keys, which allows it to sign, balance updates that channel. And if you were to use a custodial lightning solution, you can have a balance in your wallet and it looks all good, but at the end of the day, you don't hold the keys.
So someone can always spend those funds out of your lightning wallet or just freeze your funds because they're in a tough space as a company. So really in lightning it is absolutely the same principle, that not your keys, not your coins, if possible, run your own node. And I think that what's really great about lightning is that the effort going into making sure that we can run our own nodes with lower resources is really active. So we have things like Neutrino, which allows you to run an entire lightning network on your phone. Breeze wallet is a fantastic one, which does exactly that. So you actually have a full, well, not a full Bitcoin node, but you have a lightning node running on your phone and you hold your own keys, which is great.

Anita Posch [00:28:11] With Neutrino I really only need a regular smartphone?
Carla Kirk-Cohen [00:28:15] Yeah, it does of course have a data requirement that is that, but you can run it on a smartphone. I run breeze and you just open up the app every now and again to make sure you sync to chain and you can run on a regular phone.

Anita Posch [00:28:29] Oh, okay. I have to look into that. so the lightning network started to operate at the beginning of 2018. How would you describe the current stage? Is it still, like reckless to use and one can lose money? And, how far are we from wallets that are really easy to use for the masses?

Carla Kirk-Cohen [00:28:51] Well, that's a tough question because I think that, you know, you can always lose money in Bitcoin and Lightning unfortunately, because, you have the self sovereignty and you hold your own keys, you can always accidentally delete your entire Bitcoin node, which holds all your coins or delete your lightning node.
You know, these things do happen. That is the cost of self sovereignty. But I would certainly say that the lightning network is becoming a lot more stable in terms of, you know, loss of funds. We are, we haven't seen many cases at all. there is the situation where lightning node can breach, which is the worst case, when your peer tries to cheat you and you reclaim funds on chain, you actually sweep all of their funds to yourself because they tried to cheat you. And I think in my memory, there's been two or three breaches and all of them have been accidental people sort of messing up their node by mistake and breaching.
so I think we're definitely getting to a much more stable state. We're getting to a state where a lot of the implementations and looking at having database backups and fail overs so that funds really are becoming very safe in lightning. When it's sort of really easy to use for the masses I think it depends on who the masses are.
If it is the Bitcoin onboarded masses, we're there. We have great wallets that help you get up and running and lightning and 30 minutes. But to understand the principles from scratch to someone as a wallet is a pretty hard task.

Anita Posch [00:30:18] Yeah. I think the idea in the end is that for users it makes no difference if they use the lightning network or the Bitcoin blockchain. I mean in the, in the usability, in the wallet. When will we be there or are we going to get there even, I mean, I heard somebody else say it would not be such a good idea to merge lightning and Bitcoin blockchain transactions in one interface.
Carla Kirk-Cohen [00:30:47] I think in this regard that for the average user for UX, it would definitely make sense that there's one interface, and perhaps I'm biased because I work in lightning, but I would say that there isn't actually much need if we are looking for mass adoption for people to understand the underlying blockchain.
I think that lightning in terms of it makes a payment for them. It's fast, it's easy, it's cheap and it's small. I think that's really the wind that lightning gives us. And I think from then we can then look at sort of educating as you go, as you start to use this thing, perhaps understanding more and more about it.

Anita Posch [00:31:25] What do multipath payments do?

Carla Kirk-Cohen [00:31:28] Well, multipath payments, basically create a payment with more than one path through the network. So if I were to send you a payment previously I would have to find a single route in the lightning network, which reached you and a route goes over various channels. So each of those channels would have needed enough balance in the right direction for my HTLC to reach you because that's how I make the payment in lightning.
I lock in an HTLC and then the payment propagates through all those channels. A lot of problems that people are having in the lightning network is that they were wanting to make payments, but they couldn't find paths because perhaps the channels between you and I were quite small and we were wanting to make a bigger payment.
So what multi-path does is allows you to split a payment up into multiple HTLCs. So instead of one group, from my node to yours, we can perhaps take four. And that allows for smaller HTLC is to split up and reach your node independently, which is really great when for user experience because you now need to worry a lot less about managing your channels and a really great one for privacy because even if this chain analysis node was sitting on the network with a lot of nodes trying to figure out where all these payments are going.
Previously they would have to figure out where one HTLC was going. Now they have to figure out where four or five HTLCs are going. So the magnitude of surveillance that they would need has just increased by this change.

Anita Posch [00:32:55] Oh, cool. Sounds cool. Yeah. So, you are living in South Africa, but lightning labs is in New York, I think , how is work organized? Are you all working decentralized.

Carla Kirk-Cohen [00:33:07] Yeah. So, we like to say lightning labs is worldwide and lightning labs never sleeps because we are all over the place. We have people in San Francisco, I'm in South Africa, and we've got people in Europe, DC, Hungary, Reunion, US. There's no point of time in the day that someone from lightning labs is not awake, which is actually really wonderful for continuous productivity.
so we are a decentralized team. We have two calls a week, which the entire team sits on. So they're just a bit later at night for people in the European time zone and earlier in the morning for San Francisco. Yeah, a fully decentralized team living the principles of Bitcoin to the fullest.

Anita Posch [00:33:48] And if somebody would like to start out today to become a Bitcoin or lightning developer, what would this person need to know or learn.

Carla Kirk-Cohen [00:33:56] Well, I'd say that for bitcoin and lightning development, the two important principles that you need to be familiar with are cryptography and distributed systems. Because you're working on these systems with nodes all across the world, they need to reach consensus. If you're looking at the Bitcoin layer, you need to be very wary of forwards and backwards compatibility because you don't want to accidentally fork the network.
On the lightning side of things. You also have this distributed system. You need to understand Bitcoin quite a lot to get into lightning dev. but I would really say that if you would like to become a lightning and Bitcoin developer, the resources that are out there. it's a really wonderful space to be in because really whatever you want to work on, except for perhaps AI, because there's not much AI in Bitcoin, but lightning and Bitcoin offer everything.
It's peer to peer. It's decentralized systems. It's cryptography, it's databases. It's every single chapter in the engineering textbook you will find in this space. And that's just been one of the most wonderful things for me.

Anita Posch [00:35:00] Yeah. And, do you have a message for people who want to start out? Maybe, especially for women, because there are not so many women in this space.

Carla Kirk-Cohen [00:35:09] Yeah. I think that's the unfortunate case across a lot of engineering. So my message would really be. Don't be scared, which kind of sounds ridiculous, but when I got into lightning and Bitcoin, I didn't know a soul. I was completely intimidated by these names of people on Twitter who felt famous to me, and I got to go to chain code and meet some of these people and realize how friendly and engaging the entire development space really is.
I was completely intimidated for no reason, and it doesn't help to tell people not to be intimidated, because they always will be. But I would really just say start with something, start with anything, and don't be afraid of getting it wrong because everyone got it wrong in the beginning. And really, if you reach out with good intentions in Bitcoin and lightning, someone will answer because it is an incredibly welcoming and fantastic development space to be in, I've really never met a community like this before.

Anita Posch [00:36:06] Yeah, I agree completely. It's the same for me or it has been the same for me. Do you have any recommendations for our listeners to get to know more about Bitcoin and lightning, for instance, books or websites, videos?

Carla Kirk-Cohen [00:36:22] Well, I started out with Mastering Bitcoin. I think it's a really great resource. It's really digestible and quite easy to understand and I'm really happy that Mastering Lightning is going to be written soon. Andreas, Olaoluwa and Rene Pickhardt are working on that at the moment. I think those are incredible resources to have open source.
I also started out when I was trying to figure out Bitcoin, I started listening to the Stephan Livera podcast I really recommend that and then on the more technical side of things, chaincode labs have their entire syllabus that we did at the residency online, including all of the talks are up on YouTube on the chaincode labs channel, and that is really an incredible set of resources.
If you want to know almost everything about Bitcoin or lightning, I would recommend checking that out.

Anita Posch [00:37:13] Oh, great. Thanks for that. I will put it in the show notes. Great. And where can people follow you and your work?

Carla Kirk-Cohen [00:37:22] I'd say the best places to have a look are Twitter and Github. So I'm "actuallyCarlaKC" on Twitter and carlaKC on Github. And just to echo, if any people are looking to get into lightning or Bitcoin developers, my DMs are open, which is a blessing and a curse. But if you do want to get involved and you feel like you don't know where to start, I absolutely would be happy to chat to you about it because I think it is a great thing to do.

Anita Posch [00:37:49] Great. Thank you very much for being so welcoming and also for doing this interview. I hope you had a little bit fun too. For me, it was very interesting and I always love to talk with people. I think we have been at the lightning conference, but I think we have not met there, so I hope we can meet in person one day again and yeah, and, and thank you very much and have a good day.

Carla Kirk-Cohen [00:38:18] Thanks so much. This was a great chat.

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