Blockchain technology is a mysterious topic for many. Is it a network? A database? A cryptography algorithm? Is it the same as cryptocurrency? In episode 10 of “ACM-W Celebrating Technology Leaders,” we aimed to demystify blockchain technology with the help of leading women technologists in the field.
The panellists for this session were:
♦ Lisa Calkins, CEO @ HalfBlast Studios
♦ Tatiana Zander, Director of Disruptive Technologies @ Ericsson
♦ Zeenat Anjum, Founder & CEO @ Digiwrite
Our panel, with host Bushra Anjum (ACM-W Standing Committees Chair and ACM Ubiquity Senior Editor), talked about the core concepts to give the audience an intuitive understanding of blockchain. The panellists also explored what problems are good candidates to be solved with this emerging technology and the current industry careers and opportunities available.
Below, we highlight some key discussions; you can watch the full video here.
What was your first brush with blockchain technology, and how has your journey been?
Lisa: My company had an innovative team that would keep track of new technologies. So they introduced me to blockchain technology – it must be already eight years ago at least – so it was definitely somewhat at the beginning of blockchain technology. We had a couple of sales leads that came through that talked about wanting to do some blockchain work. I thought I understood the complexity, but little did I know how challenging and complicated it probably was. So, when we started my next company, I said we have to understand and jump into blockchain technology. I can’t talk to clients about blockchain without knowing it, so we took a full-blown architecture course on blockchain technology and then built some prototype projects. Then, over the 3-4 years, we worked with many startups and some financial institutions. A lot of our technology work is in the mobile space.
Blockchain technology is so misunderstood. It’s so intriguing and exciting. But, as you said, there is hype and reality. But there aren’t always many of those types of things going on, and this one is pretty disruptive, and it is quite different, so that’s a space I always like to live in.
Tatiana: At work, I was part of an employee-driven innovation community. So all of a sudden, a bunch of these different activities, proof of concepts, started popping up that people would do on the side of their work. One of these projects, for example, was roaming agreements. This was basically using smart contracts to get rid of the clearinghouse concept you have in roaming today, which is very telco specific. Later I learned this became an IEEE recommendation; we were on to something! More recently, I rediscovered blockchain in my current role, because of my mandate to look into different technologies that could change the business for us – one of those was blockchain. It was at first going back to the drawing board, learning what it is about and what it does, and then understanding that Ericsson now had a full organization dedicated to blockchain. This journey led me to realize that everything I learned before was not something so applicable to an enterprise setting, as blockchain aspects differ a lot for enterprises compared to public blockchains. So now, I’m driving various activities where we explore enterprise blockchain applications for us further and bring things to life.
Zeenat: While doing my bachelor’s degree, I started being curious about different technologies – that was the time when blockchain and Web 3.0 were emerging. Being an engineer and exploring more about blockchain, I began to write about it. The more I researched it, the more I got curious. I started with cryptocurrencies. Then, I studied for my Master’s in HR and marketing. Most of my marketing projects are in the blockchain domain. Web 3.0 was something I researched particularly. I have worked both on the engineering and non-tech sides. I fell in love with blockchain technology when I dug deeper into the implementation of blockchain applications that can benefit people. Blockchain technology is something that holds great potential, and people should be getting ready for this emerging technology.
Bushra: How would you explain blockchain intuitively?
Lisa: It is the technology supporting cryptocurrencies, bitcoin and all the rest. A technology that solves “money” innovatively can be used to solve other issues. Blockchain is fundamentally a back-end architecture and a way to organize data. The transactions on this data get grouped in blocks, and these blocks are connected to form a strong chain using this innovative model, e.g. you can’t take the blocks out of order. If you were just using it in one company, and it was just the architecture behind your one software package, it wouldn’t have nearly the same value as it does in the scenario where today, we all are sharing information. The amount of sharing we’re doing is endless, and we don’t have great sharing models.
For example, let’s look at a concert and the tickets and the ticket process – it’s a crazy nested set of relationships starting with the artist who wants to sell the ticket for a particular concert. Then somebody else resells them, and somebody else wants to buy them. Here’s the thing: I want to ensure that when I buy a ticket, the person I am buying the ticket from gives a valid ticket so I can go to the concert. I also got to make sure I give them money and that they get my money. Then if I can’t go to the concert, I want to resell the ticket again, or maybe this is how I’m going to make a living: reselling tickets. All of that is really risky in the current models. So, blockchain technology could take that to a whole new level by making sure that when I’m the last one to buy the ticket, and I go to the door, that ticket will be valid. The chain has been validated from the original person who sold that ticket to me. In sum, we want all of us to have a valid way to transact with each other, which is the real value of blockchain.
Bushra: From a hypothetical example to a real example. Could you walk us through a blockchain use case or project you have worked on in your company?
Lisa: One of our clients described this scenario, and you will see all these different pieces that go into it. In our housing market here in the United States, the way that it’s always worked is that there is usually an owner of a house. But houses have become so ridiculously expensive that no one can afford a house anymore. The client came to us and said what they want to do is like the old model that’s been around, and many people have heard – vacation places called timeshares. This scheme was very popular in the 80s. In a timeshare, I owned a week at a mountain resort or on a beach, and somebody else owned the next week, and somebody else owned the next week and so on. It doesn’t exactly work when you want to live in a house. The idea was to take that timeshare model, except instead of having multiple people living in the house, it would be multiple people who could own a percentage of the house. Here, you’re talking about money; you’re talking about assets, and you’re talking about multiple people; some of the people might even be companies. Maybe I want to sell my shares, and somebody else wants to buy them, and then as you see, a whole chain of buying and selling different pieces.
Blockchain is a fantastic solution for that kind of model. Now, was it only blockchain? No. You still have to create an application layer; you still have to create user interfaces so that people interact with your application. In fact, ours was a mobile app. There are also reporting structures and admin tools, and so on. So, blockchain is only part of the solution at the backend.
Zeenat: I recently got a chance to work with an RPG (Role Playing Game) -metaverse startup. I have investigated its marketing, what could relate to a crypto enthusiast, and how the game can resonate with the market. I have also worked with a DeFi platform and on other blockchain applications. From community partnerships to understanding the protocol, I believe that the possibilities are endless, especially in the marketing and outreach of these projects. The market is still evolving, and that’s the beauty of these individual cases.
Tatiana: Let me share first the epiphany I had regarding when blockchain makes sense and is helpful to drive a use case and actually optimizes a process. The number one reason to use blockchain is when there is a trust issue between companies, entities or any involved party. Everything else is just a question of, does it make sense to automate and can be solved with regular automation.
At Ericsson, we work in telecommunications. For example, you know, base stations, radios and cell towers. To help you visualize – it’s funny that in California, we even dress them up a little, making them look like palm trees. In other places of the world, we make them look like other types of trees.
So when something like 5G comes out, we need to go and deploy new radios and base stations on this existing tower. Sometimes we even find coverage gaps that we need to address, so we need to pull up entirely new towers. That is a massive and expensive process. Our heroes are tower climbers, the engineers who do the installation and maintenance.
So what happens with the new installation? We do this for a customer – for example, in the US, it could be Verizon, ATT, or T-mobile. Many different entities are involved in the installation and maintenance process, and so on. There could be vendors from our side that we outsource. Vendors from the customer side could be involved, and the customer, of course. All these people need to check the installation: so let’s say Ericsson starts the job, the tower climbers install the radio somewhere on the top of this 30-meter big tower. A bunch of other people need to go up there and check everything works right, and it’s signed off. This is such a good case for blockchain. We built an application using Corda where you can now check remotely if the installation worked. You get a lot of information about the installation, such as status, evidence and test results. Now the customer and the other vendors involved in the process can validate and make sure things are 100% right – it does the right thing, the audit passed, and it’s verified. It’s called Ericsson Customer Acceptance. We released that at the Mobile World Congress – it’s a live offering that we have now that we use to fulfill our contracts and commitments, but also we are offering it as a service.
So coming to criticisms of blockchain. An article in Verge in 2019 said that bitcoin consumes more energy than Switzerland. Then later, there was an article in the New York Times that said that Bitcoin is not environmentally friendly; it has a huge carbon footprint. Would you say that blockchain technology, in general, is environmentally unfriendly or is it more the way cryptocurrencies work?
Lisa: I think all of us are concerned about any technologies or innovations we’re using and how they will impact the world. Going back to how I described the chain. One of the reasons that the chain can become secure is that you’re duplicating that chain on computers worldwide. Then those computers validate that nothing’s been broken, use power to do some processing to have the whole system work economically – because no one wants to do things for free – and support security. These computers are running all over the world to ensure that the whole thing works, and they’re not owned by any company per se. These are public blockchains. There are many cases where it’s a private blockchain. In fact, when it’s a company to a company, those are most often not public blockchains. They are private blockchains that function very similarly but use much different processing. So with cryptocurrencies specifically, they have looked at other models that can reduce power consumption and still make people not cheat. It all comes down to money, power, transaction speed, etc. So yes, the way we currently do things is not environmentally friendly. Still, I have no doubt those issues will solve themselves. There are already proven ways, and some new technologies will take those on. So, to me, that side of the ethical concern is only one piece.
We see ethics in three pieces: the environment, data being forever (stored), and then crime. I hear about the crime one, probably more than the other two. The data is often obfuscated by a long string of codes, so tracking down who that really is would not be something most lay people would ever be able to do. It would be challenging. The crime, on the other hand, is real. We just described money exchange between untrusted parties. So I believe that there are opportunities to utilize that technology in ways that are a crime. Every new technology will have those issues, and you have to manage them. So I’m not saying they’re unimportant, and we don’t want discussions around them. We want to have these discussions, but the beauty of blockchain is actually to reduce theft and crime that is not by the typical criminal. No one looks at what happens in fraud and the business world – how much loss, cheating, and crime is happening in transactions. They only look at the ones that are drug-related or something we perceive as a crime. If we can reduce the amount of fraud that happens worldwide in transactions, it significantly changes the world’s economy in a positive way.
Tatiana: Going into the private blockchains because this is what we work with at Ericsson. We don’t really deal at all with a public blockchain. Again, the main driver is trust and to reduce how much fraud and mistakes can happen because no one is, even big corporations, protected unless we have those mechanisms in place. The private blockchain also helps with energy consumption due to much fewer transactions or high computation consumption: You have a peer-to-peer kind of network, and validation is on a need-to-know basis. So, this is also a nice part about the ethical concerns you would normally have in the public blockchains, where you’re worried about your privacy, and everyone gets the same data. This is not actually the case in a private blockchain. For example, in this finance application, let’s say many banks are already boarded on this blockchain marketplace and platform. Only the parties that each participant defines that have any kind of stake and are involved get to see the data. It just makes life easier to use a platform with others. I think it is also a big Web 3 consideration to have standardization. Suppose everyone has a different blockchain mechanism, a different blockchain platform. In that case, it is hard to guarantee standards, address privacy and security concerns, and ensure the validity of all the algorithms. So standardization helps mitigate some of that.
Another simple example: we don’t tie the blockchain to people or employees. Instead, transactions or proofs need to be generated for the legal entities or organizations. Another thing is liability and responsibility. If something goes wrong, who takes care of what? We have customer contracts that deal with contractual commitments and where we clearly define liabilities. For example, we work with Corda, well-known in the enterprise blockchain domain. They have their own legal agreements as well; it’s very important to know where exactly the responsibility lies.
Zeenat: From the marketing perspective, one issue that we usually face is transparency.
How transparent the project is. Because there are many scams. So, you need to research the project. You need to understand the technicalities of the project. Obviously, money is involved when you register yourself, attach a wallet, and you are linking the digital wallet in real-time; as Lisa mentioned, there could be theft. But blockchain still holds much potential, as hacking is also possible in conventional finance. We should introduce systems so that malware can be detected early and data theft or financial loss can be prevented.
Since blockchain skills are becoming increasingly sought-after, could you recommend some beginner-friendly courses, resources, and communities to learn more?
Zeenat: If you have basic SQL knowledge and are interested in analytics, then you can explore the educational content at Dune Analytics and Flipside crypto. There are two excellent platforms. Courses are also available for Blockchain languages and understanding the development stages. The third phase would be when you have a basic understanding of blockchain. Then you want to interact with people who are crypto enthusiasts and participate in the communities. So for that, you can visit the Layer 3 Platform. There are many communities on Telegram as well. You can explore according to your interest as many projects come around there. To understand which projects are better from the crypto point of view and which project has the most financial worth in the market, you can read Yahoo Finance and CryptoCompare. I usually recommend these to students and people who want to start a career in the blockchain domain.
Resources shared by the panellists:
4. Ericsson use-case discussed in the session https://www.ericsson.com/en/cases/202…
When? July 20th, 2022 12:00 PM in Pacific Time (US and Canada)
Blockchain technology is a mysterious topic for many. Is it a network? A database? A cryptography algorithm? Is it the same as cryptocurrency? In this episode of “ACM-W Celebrating Technology Leaders,” we aim to demystify blockchain technology with the help of leading women technologists in the field. Join our panel, with host Bushra Anjum, as we talk about the core concepts, and learn how to differentiate blockchain hype from reality. We will also explore what problems are good candidates to be solved with this emerging technology.
Lisa Calkins | CEO HalfBlast Studios
Tatiana Zander | Director Technology Innovation Ericsson
Zeenat Anjum | Founder & CEO Digiwrite
with host Bushra Anjum
Resources shared by the Panelists in the session:
4. Description of the Ericcson use case discussed in the session, Remote Acceptance
When? Mar 16, 2022 12:00 PM in Pacific Time (US and Canada)
Whether it is the stress and responsibilities of ordinary life, job-related pressures, or pandemic created conditions, numerous stressors challenge our mental wellbeing. In this episode of “ACM-W Celebrating Technology Leaders,”, leading women technologists open up on the issue of mental health and wellbeing. They share stories of personal struggles, growth, and resilience and provide strategies for managing such challenges. We also explore the topic of self-care, small steps you can take yourself, and when you may need professional help.
Join host Bushra Anjum and her panelists for an honest and timely discussion on recognizing the signs of mental distress in yourself and some of the best practices for supporting personal wellbeing.
Tertia Labuschagne | Digital Transformative Executive at Massmart and Independent Holistic Health Coach (INHC)
Katie Panciera, Ph.D. | Assistant Professor at Milwaukee School of Engineering
Courtney Thurston-Del Buono | Software Engineer at Microsoft
Virginia Grande | Ph.D. Student at Company NameUppsala University
with host Bushra Anjum
Previous episodes of “Celebrating Technology Leaders” can be viewed here.
So what is the gap between the popular (mis)understanding of ML potential and what the tools can actually deliver today? In the next episode of ACM-W “Celebrating Technology Leaders”, scheduled for October 20th at 3:00 PM ET/12:00 PM PT we seek practical guidance and pointers for our future ML workforce.
Join us for a panel discussion with successful ML professionals, Dafna Shahaf (Associate Professor, Data Science, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem), Dhivya Chinnappa (ML Research Scientist, Thomson Reuters), Fatma Tarlaci, Ph.D. (Machine Learning Scientist, OpenTeams), and Koyuki Nakamori (Head of Machine Learning, Headspace) where we focus on:
1. How to best identify problems that are suitable candidates for an ML-based solution?
2. How do we determine the “success” of an ML-based solution?
3. What mindset shift is required as we move from course work and projects to solving real-world business problems?
4. What does it take to successfully maneuver a career in the ever-changing ever-evolving landscape of ML?
Together, we will find our nuggets of wisdom and inspiration from our panelists’ personal stories and professional opinions.
with host Bushra Anjum [Register Now]
Wednesday, August 18th at 3:00 PM ET/12:00 PM PT, a panel discussion featuring
Kristi Lamar: Managing Director | Monitor Deloitte
Maryam Shabbir: Business Development Consultant | SybridMD
Christine Winston: Vice President | Path Forward
Jossie McManus: Software Engineer | VMware
with host Bushra Anjum [On Demand]
Wednesday, June 9th at 3:00 PM ET/12:00 PM PT, a panel discussion featuring Sara Hall (Deputy CISO and Head of Security Operations and Engineering, MassMutual), Sepideh Ghanavati, Ph.D. (Assistant Professor, Department of Computer Science, University of Maine) and Cimone Wright-Hamor (Graduate Research Assistant, Computer Engineering, Iowa State University), with host Bushra Anjum [On Demand]
Wednesday, March 31st at 3:00 PM ET/12:00 PM PT, a panel discussion featuring Laura Stelzner
(Principal Robotics Software Engineer, RIOS Corporation), Sarah Gibson, Ph.D. (Senior Engineering Manager Robotics, Unity Technologies), and Tessa Lau, Ph.D. (Founder & CEO, Dusty Robotics), with host Bushra Anjum [On Demand]
What is your vision for the new ACM-W webinar series “Celebrating Technology Leaders”?
Some of ACM-W’s most successful events and panels in the past (chapters, celebrations, etc.) were focused on career advice, especially non-academic careers (industry, research labs, government, non-profit, etc.). However, the unfortunate outbreak of COVID-19 has halted such meaningful events. Furthermore, stories and survey responses from our members tell us that younger professionals want to hear from people with non-traditional career routes, moving between research labs, academia, industry, government, or non-profits. These needs became the motivating factor as I proposed a new initiative to the ACM-W global leadership, a web series “Celebrating Technology Leaders.” The idea is to bring stories and advice from engaging speakers, with diverse careers in computing, directly to our global audience. I am truly grateful that my proposal received approval and support not only from the ACM-W leadership but also from the ACM Education and Professional Development, and ACM Marketing. I would also like to acknowledge our partners CRA-WP and NCWIT, who recently came on board to help spread the word and increase the efficacy and reach of this ACM-W initiative.
It is my privilege to drive this project and serve as a host for Celebrating Technology Leaders.
What will the attendees gain by attending the Celebrating Technology Leaders sessions?
We have designed the series so students and early career professionals can expand their horizons, learn about the multitude of career options available, and make informed choices about the next step in their professional journeys. At the same time, staying true to the ACM-W mission, we aim to celebrate women in computing. Thus in each episode, I invite women in computing who have excelled in their careers for an online panel discussion. We feature panelists from all career levels in research, industry, government, and non-profits. During the one hour conversation, we highlight their journeys, share inspiring stories, and learn what it takes to succeed in their career of choice.
While choosing our panelists, we emphasize the diversity of backgrounds and experiences of the panelists so that our discussion is applicable and relatable to a wide variety of listeners. The series is geared towards students and early-career professionals, and we’re hoping to provide valuable experiences for anyone considering switching their career path in a technical direction. For example, our earliest panels have discussed the bond between academia and industry (Session 1), experiences in entrepreneurship (Session 2), opportunities in the growing world of User Experience / User Interfaces (Session 3), and most recently, the career opportunities in Data (Session 4).
Where can we find more information on Celebrating Technology Leaders, and the future sessions?
The series is free and open for public viewership. We organize one session every 6 to 8 weeks. Each session features a 45-minute discussion followed by a 15-minute interactive Q&A session. You can view our past sessions on YouTube.
Additional details can be found on our webpage. We will also be announcing our future sessions.
If you have any suggestions on topics and speakers, please do reach out to me at https://www.bushraanjum.info/contact.
Bushra Anjum, ACM-W Standing Committees Co-Chair
Wednesday, February 3rd at 3:00 PM ET/12:00 PM PT, a panel discussion featuring Samia Khalid (Senior AI Engineer at Microsoft), Lilla Czako (Data Engineer at Doximity) and Liza Layne (Lead Data & Analytics Manager at Eurostar International Ltd), with host Bushra Anjum [On Demand]
Thursday, December 10 at 3:00 PM ET/12:00 PM PT, a panel discussion featuring Evren Holland (Head of User Experience and Design, MotiveMetrics), Eunjoo Kim (UX Design Lead, Google), and Iram Mirza (UX lead for Play Store and Monetization), with host Bushra Anjum [on demand]
Wednesday, October 14 at 3:00 PM ET/12:00 PM PT, a panel discussion featuring Shanea Leven (Founder and CEO at CodeSee), Rebekah Bastian (CEO and Co-Founder of OwnTrail), Heli Helskyaho (CEO Miracle Finland Oy), and Nina Bhatti (Founder and CEO Kokko Inc), with host Bushra Anjum. [on demand]
Wednesday, August 26 at 3:00 PM ET/12:00 PM PT, a panel discussion featuring Jodi Tims (ACM-W Chair), Reyyan Ayfer (ACM-W Regional Activities Chair), and Amelia Cole (ACM-W Treasurer), with host Bushra Anjum. [on demand]