Solana developers gather for a month-long coding retreat in Utah just across from a seedy 7-11 and around the corner of a Victorian-style municipal hall, Salt Lake City, Utah.
On Monday morning, “GM,” builders greeted each person who walked into The Shop, this hacker house’s upscale coworking area. Barrett, the ringleader of Snowbird’s ski resort, asked one visitor, “Are we skiing later today?” He’s not creating software to trade tokens that central exchanges don’t touch.
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“Nah,” Barrett replied. His Cypher team had just launched version 3 of its on-chain trading platform. The behind-the scenes needed some risk tuning. He said, “We have some degenerates already on the platform,” to a passerby a little later.
He also said that the 60 inch midweek snow forecast for Little Cottonwood Canyon was absolutely delicious. To make way for powder heaven, it is better to do the backend work early. He explained that he has been known to invert his body from time to time.
Getting inverted is what it’s all about at this code-hard-shred-harder crypto club. Record 250 people applied for this February’s self-proclaimed, “notorious action packed hacker house”, now in its third iteration. The community-run mtnDAO is a seasonal tradition for some Solana developers that started during the chain’s bull run. It continues to this day, even in the shadow of the bear.
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MtnDAO version 3 is putting Solana’s developer community to the test. This will be after a terrible 2022 that was marred by chain halts, and the collapse in FTX. MtnDAO is no longer a Solana-only event. Aptos, a rival platform, now sponsors it.
However, mtnDAO founders Edgar Pavlovsky and Barrett Pavlovsky (from another Decentralized Finance (DeFi) protocol called MarginFi), are still committed to Solana. A sponsor-backed budget of close to $100,000 has been transformed into a one month coworking bonanza, where code regularly ships.
Barrett’s 24 computer monitors control the entire second floor of The Shop. Most of his rented seats fill up on any given day. These twenty-somethings in hoodies hail from all over the world, including South Korea. They drink energy drinks until the early hours, stopping only for lunch or late-night poker games. Many people smoke cigarettes, chew nicotine gum, and smear vapes.
Clickety-clack They walked past three rows hungry devs as Barrett, big-haired and dual-wielding Red Bulls, went to their keyboards at 11 :59 a.m. Monday. The Shop’s third-floor was where ambient alt-rock drifted down, causing pre-lunchjitters. After noontime food delivery (today’s menu: chicken, katsu, and rice), the hacker house horde began to gather and engage in conversation.
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It is somewhat misleading to call mtnDAO “hacker house”. Although some attendees are hackers, most of them are coders. However, Edgar and Barrett haven’t hosted them in their house since 2021’s event’s predecessor. The event was held in the six-bedroom home of a producer of “Nitro Circus,” a high-octane dirtbike TV series. It was 25 former college roommates who stuffed the “kids” into the house. It was called mtnCompound and it was a lot.
Barrett decided to put his idea into “turbo mode”, announcing it to paying sponsors. He didn’t want them to be snubbed by the mansion of Johnny Knoxville, best known for his collaboration with “Jackass” fame. He asked The Shop in Salt Lake City, a coworking space that has 200 members, to host his digital nomads for one month. It offers natural lighting, fast internet, and clean desks.
Anne Olsen is the community manager at The Shop. She is also a member of the Telegram group at mtnDAO. Anne said that the company has never worked with a month-long event for coworking, but they jumped at the chance to bring people together.
Olsen stated, “It’s the first time that a hacker home was brought to a place intended for productivity.”
The atmosphere at mtnDAO differs from Solana’s roaming armada official hacker houses. Every month, Jump Capital and Solana Labs host coding events in different cities around the world. Their guerrilla marketing campaign aims to spread the gospel about Solana’s super fast blockchain by appealing directly at its potential converts.
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According to mtnDAO partisans, these collaborations are more social than working together. They don’t like the Solana hackerhouse’s blazing techno or its insistence on covering desks with enough purple lights to make Barney the Dinosaur blind, but they do not approve of the house’s sonic techno. It is possible to hear your desk-mate in the noise, but organizers must be between panels.
“Here, I feel that people don’t have to listen to lectures. Angelo Boskovic is the head of business development at token management startup Streamflow. He had flown from Belgrade to attend mtnDAO for two weeks.
While tech companies are slowly relocating their workforces for part-time, in-person workweeks in some cases, brick and mortar is not an option in crypto, especially DeFi. Its emphasis on decentralization means that brick and mortar don’t exist. Some employees have never met their coworkers face-to-face because of the scattered nature of mtnDAO’s teams. Do you work in an office? What is your work schedule Monday to Friday? Fuggetaboutit.
They also work Saturdays and Sundays at mtnDAO.
Lee Tirrell, a full time data scientist, said that “every night I’ve come here late”, and that he flew from Oregon to work on his crypto side hustle. Spire, an analytics product based in Solana, was named after him. He recognizes his fellow developers using their “monkey JPEGs” on the internet, not their faces. This is a first for a crypto conference attendee. After hearing about mtnDAO via Twitter, he decided to attend.
Nearly everyone who attended this winter’s MtnDAO learned about it via Twitter or word-of-mouth. Edgar and Barrett spend no marketing dollars (aside from paying three interns to help organize events and take photos, and send out promotional tweets).
Harry Swales, the mtnDAO’s chief tweeter, stated that “my strategy here is memes, and s**tposts.” He said that he is selling the experience but that the experience is completely free.
Attendance at mtnDAO is free. One month of unlimited coffee, ski lift tickets, tables in clubs, mountains of swag, and enough Red Bull for Cocaine Bear is included. Solana is one of the sponsors.
Conversations in the community
It’s the type of place where dinner conversations spiral between crypto idealism’s quixotic futility and the endless speculation about when the next bull market will strike.
“Everyone wants to make democracy happen through DAOs, and democracy is what they are trying to achieve.” [damned] “Rapid – You need a chain of commands,” said a mtnDAO developer during a recent taco on Thursday. He was referring to autonomous decentralized organizations. Later, he described the project’s somewhat questionable tokenomics as: It grew its value by accruing new value for the benefit the first-in token-holders.
Builders shared their secrets to getting work done quicker over meals and in between meetings. ChatGPT is a generative artificial intelligence program (AI), that can be used to create tailored poetry, essays and restaurant reviews. It also has a lot of front-end code to build a Web app.
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They were able to share the meme-laden internet-speak these builders boast online. You can say, for example, that if something goes wrong, you get rugged. It was almost as if they had never stopped text-based conversations.
However, not all of the attendees were captivated by the energy at mtnDAO. CoinDesk was told by one visitor that the whole event felt muted. This could be attributed to Solana’s slightly depressed state.
The crypto bear market is hitting the chain harder than others. This manifests in falling network usage statistics as well as the battered price for SOL, which has been one of the worst major token performers in 2022 (the asset has fallen 38% since November’s collapse of FTX). Despite this, Solana’s developer community is the largest and most active outside of the Ethereum community.
MtnDAO was originally a Solana-only event. The vast majority of the members of this rendition were using Rust as their base coding language. A few are focused on Aptos. This network was a co-sponsor of mtnDAO version 3. It sent representatives to hold workshops with attendees and provided swag to them to wear during “Aptos week”, which included a trip to Snowbird.
Barrett stated that the only thing they changed was to make it multichain.
This success has inspired Barrett and Edgar to make mtnDAO corp a reality. According to state records, mtnDAO LLC registered in Delaware on February 6. Barrett suggested that mtnDAO may “go multi-location” in future iterations. v3 won’t be the last. He won’t stop at The Shop.
Anne Olsen, community manager, stated that The Shop is still eager to host the strange and scattered group of globetrotting hackers. She assumes that mtnDAO will continue to happen with the changing seasons, i.e. winter, summer, and winter again. She and the Shop don’t know when the swarm will arrive.
She discovered that v3 was being conducted via Twitter.
Barrett stated that he is still committed to Cypher on Solana even though his event money comes in from a chain some consider its rival. He explained that he wanted to make mtnDAO more inclusive for crypto builders. After all, some Solana builders had left for Aptos in the recent months.
MtnDAO’s model is now available to the entire Solana ecosystem. Dean Pappas, a Solana developer from Greece, is hosting his second annual AthensDAO hacker house. It was inspired by mtnDAO. Pappas stated that AthensDAO follows a set “environment” guidelines provided by the Solana Foundation – “being opened, lighting, seating, and desks” – in return for funding, merchandise, and the Foundation’s approval.
Barrett laughed when Barrett was asked if Solana’s leadership would be interested in obtaining the “hacker houseX” designation. Barrett said that the brand was too valuable, and was proud of mtnDAO being independent.
A few teams that were formed or built here have won hackathon prizes or received funding from venture companies.
Barrett stated, “It’s great to see what we did inspire others to take the initiative and stop waiting for Solana’s hacker house to be hosted in their city and just do it yourself.”