In an interview, Ms. Alice Henshaw explains her journey through tech and the current scenario surrounding the blockchain industry.
Q: Alice, you have made a name for yourself in the cryptocurrency industry. Can you tell us more about how you got to where you are now?
A: I discovered blockchain about 3 years ago whilst researching hash functions for Hewlett Packard Enterprise. I was completely fascinated and spent every spare moment I had reading about all aspects of the blockchain. After that, I spent a year or so researching cryptographic security and cracking hash functions before becoming a smart contract engineer. I now split my time between researching new developments in the blockchain space and creating Ethereum smart contracts for various use-cases.
Q: Can you let us know about what you are working on these days?
A: I’m working on the tokenization of securities. The term ‘security’ can refer to a number of different assets, but it largely breaks down to equity and debt. Tokenization of such assets involves creating a digital representation of them that can be owned and transferred between individuals. This industry is made more complex by the many securities regulations around the world – any tokenized securities also have to abide by all of these regulations too.
Many securities have additional requirements connected to them that must also be possible on-chain. For example, as the owner of equity in a company, you might be eligible to receive dividend payments or to take part in a shareholder vote. These functionalities are all things we can write into smart contracts and put on-chain. Whilst working at ConsenSys, I recently published a concept paper on working towards making securities “fully-functional”.
Q: What are your thoughts about the current blockchain industry and how do you think it can be made better?
A: One change I would love to see is further advancement of developer tools in the space. Currently, the methods used to deploy and interact with smart contracts on Ethereum can seem complex, and if something goes wrong in the process it can be difficult to figure out how to fix it. This makes the space less accessible to the software engineers in roles outside of blockchain – engineers who I hope one day will join the blockchain industry.
It’s important to note that there’s naturally a lot of discussion about what needs to be improved in the industry. Discussions about scalability, regulation, accessibility, and privacy are practically constant and truly are crucial if blockchain is going to be successful on a large scale. These negatives are especially emphasized by those who don’t see blockchain as an integral part of the future of the web. However, I think it’s easy to get caught up in issues and to forget how far we’ve come in the last few years.
I’m a big fan of the analogy that compares the development of blockchain to the development of the internet. We’re in an age where technologies are expected to improve at a tremendous pace but in reality, blockchain is still in its early years – it hasn’t even been 3 years since the DAO hack happened. It’s like being in 1995 and expecting fiber-optic broadband in your house.
Q: You are a strong proponent of Women in Technology. Can you enlighten us about the current scenario in the blockchain space when it comes to women?
A: As a lot of people are aware, sadly there is an underrepresentation of women in the blockchain space. This has definitely been true of the teams I have worked on so far, which have together had just one other female developer compared to 20+ male developers. Yet despite this, I have had a largely positive experience in the space so far, and have not felt that being a woman has held me back. I have had the pleasure of working with a number of intelligent and influential women, and the teams I have worked with have been forward-thinking and inclusive. Many teams are making a concerted effort to increase diversity across all minorities, though it is a challenge as there isn’t always a diversity of applicants.
The environment in which I have personally experienced issues has been outside the workplace at conferences or other events. I think that this is due to the fact that such events tend to be a more relaxed and social environment where people act differently to how they might with their colleagues. Whilst networking at conferences I’ve been told I’m “hot”, “love at first sight”, and been asked to multiple hotel rooms by men. Recently at a conference, I was on a panel discussing the tokenization of finance when another panelist was asked about aspects of finance that he thought wouldn’t be touched by blockchain. He answered, “women, I hope”. Whilst these situations are atypical of the day-to-day of working in the space, I know other women who have had similar experiences. I think it is incredibly important that everyone is made to feel welcome at events if diversity is to continue improving.
Looking at web 2.0 as it is, it was largely designed and built by men and it is too late to do anything about that. Moving forward, I am therefore very passionate about ensuring web 3.0 has a diverse set of designers and builders who all feel included in the process.
Q: Do you have anything to say to those interested in entering the space?
A: Don’t be afraid to ask questions. It’s such a young space that 95% of the people you meet only discovered blockchain within the last few years. They will remember being exactly where you are now and having the same questions themselves – from my experience people love to help.