What do Bitcoin’s Earliest Developers Think of It Now?

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  • Bitcoin has had plenty of developers, but only a handful were there at the very start
  • These OG developers now have very different takes on Bitcoin in 2022
  • We look at the attitudes of those first developers to Bitcoin now

Bitcoin has had plenty of developers in the 13 years since its launch, but only a handful were there in those very early days. Given that much time (and blog posts) has passed since Bitcoin was an unknown experiment, what do some of those earliest developers now think of Bitcoin? Are they proud of what they created, or are they disappointed at its growth into an institutionalized digital asset? Let’s find out.

Gavin Andresen

Satoshi Nakamoto handed the keys to Gavin Andresen before he dropped off the radar in April 2011, leaving Andresen in charge of the developer pool. He left this privileged position in 2014 and has not contributed to Bitcoin since February 2016. Andresen became critical of the lack of progress in scaling Bitcoin in the mid 2010s, and helped put together the code for the first Bitcoin fork, Bitcoin XT, which aimed to solve the scaling issue.

In November 2017, Andresen expressed support for rival currency Bitcoin Cash, stating “Bitcoin Cash is what I started working on in 2010”, and has previously stated (then retracted) his belief that Craig Wright is Satoshi Nakamoto.

Wladimir van der Laan

Van der Laan took over from Andresen in 2014 having first got involved around 2011, and is the current lead developer of Bitcoin Core. He prefers to keep a low profile, so very little is known about him, but the fact he is still lead Bitcoin developer after all these years suggests he is still a fan of the project.

Ray Dillinger

Dillinger was part of a trio, along with Hal Finney and Satsohi Nakamoto, who were around when Bitcoin first launched in 2009. He was reluctant to have the 1MB block limit implemented and only agreed on the understanding that it was a temporary measure. Dillinger became exasperated with many aspects of Bitcoin over the following decade or so, eventually taking to Metzdowd (where the Bitcoin Whitepaper was posted in 2008), to call Bitcoin a “disaster”.

In the message, Dillinger complaining about exchanges (“as long as the “exchange” holds your keys for you, there is no obligation for them to maintain assets equal to the deposits”), the ramifications of its deployment size (“it’s useless for small transactions”), and mining (“Mining is f***ng broken, and ASICs make it actively work against a significant number of its design goals”).

Dillinger summed up by saying that Bitcoin was “a good effort” but that ultimately it failed in its purpose:

It doesn’t scale, except by becoming the very thing it was supposed to replace. The more scalable the network becomes, the more centralized it becomes, until ultimately a “scalable” cryptocurrency would be doing things exactly the same way as a credit card processor.

Not a fan.

Mike Hearn

Hearn says he was “one of the earliest Bitcoin users” and joined as a part-time developer in 2010. By 2011 he was part of the growing cluster who realized that Bitcoin would need to think about scaling sooner rather than later, and became so disgusted with the efforts to do so that he created Bitcoin XT with Gavin Andresen in 2014.

Bitcoin XT failed but Hearn was not done, spectacularly quitting the Bitcoin scene in 2016 when he said in a Medium piece that Bitcoin had “failed” and that its “fundamentals are broken.” Hearn added that the system had become “completely controlled by just a handful of people” and that “the network is on the brink of technical collapse” because of the scaling issue.

Hearn signed off by saying that “whatever happens to the price in the short term, the long term trend should probably be downwards”, that he would “no longer be taking part in Bitcoin development” and that he had sold all his coins.

Principled, but expensive.

Jeff Garzik

Garzik discovered Bitcoin in July 2010 and became a key developer soon after, becoming the third-biggest contributor to Bitcoin’s code. He was another of the group that advocated on-chain scaling early on, discussing it with other developers as early as 2011, but wasn’t as militant as others.

Garzik pushed for on-chain scaling and was the pioneer of the SegWit2x agreement, which was provisionally agreed during the Bitcoin New York Agreement of May 2016 and promised to be Bitcoin’s first on-chain scaling attempt, before being one of the signatories who agreed to scrap the upgrade in November of that year.

Garzik has remained a supporter of Bitcoin’s core principles if not its development, saying in a 2018 interview that while Bitcoin hasn’t “evolved in the direction of high-volume payments, which is something we thought about in the very early days”, it was “unquestionably a success” as a store of value.

In 2019 he reiterated his view that it had “failed on an enterprise level”, but clearly the man who left Bitcoin in 2016 still has a fondness for the cryptocurrency, a rarity for one of the OGs.

Martti Malmi

Malmi came on board with Bitcoin way back in 2009, offering his services as a coder. His offer was quickly taken up and he continued working on the Bitcoin code until 2011, mining (and selling) over 50,000 BTC during that time.

When Satsohi left and Andresen took over, Malmi says he found the atmosphere “less inspiring and exciting than in the early days, when none of the potential of Bitcoin had yet been realized.” Malmi effectively hung up his Bitcoin cap in 2012 but remained in the space, launching crypto-related projects.

Malmi hasn’t talked publicly about Bitcoin in any great capacity since he quit, but from the few interviews he has conducted since his departure he focuses more on his time spent working on the protocol and the positives it brought him rather than the state of Bitcoin itself. In an AMA in 2015 however he did note that “Bitcoin’s consensus by mining is expensive and has seen a lot of centralization”. As for the scaling debate:

“I haven’t followed the debate that closely. Bitcoin is still cool, but I’m probably able to make a bigger difference working on other projects.”

On the fence, perhaps.

Bitcoin is No Longer Loved by its Founding Fathers

As we can see, the majority of Bitcoin’s early developers are no longer supporters of the project, claiming it has changed too much from the original vision. We will, of course, now never know what Hal Finney thinks about how Bitcoin has turned out, which is most unfortunate given that he was instrumental behind the 1MB block being implemented.

Whether those opinions will soften over time we will have to see, but it seems that the Lightning Network is not the answer to the scaling issue that these OGs wanted.