The interviewer who appeared on the screen was much younger than me. By seven years I guessed. I’d been used to being the youngest in everything I do. I badly wanted to be relaxed about it but I wasn’t, especially because she was between me and my very first contributor role in the world of web3.
When I tell people I fell into web3, what I mean is that I wasn’t actively trying to break into the space. I did not know much about it at the time (if I did, I’d have been actively trying to break in!). I’d been exploring the freelance, solo entrepreneur life and since many of my friends were in web3, I was pulled towards it.
At the end of November 2021, I left a stable, well-paying yet still highly autonomous job in the corporate world of technology consulting. I had been climbing the corporate ladder for five years before taking nine months off, then leaving altogether.
For years, I persuaded myself to believe that job was it. The best job I’d ever have. But the veneer eventually wore off, and I couldn’t lie to myself anymore. I didn’t hate the job but I’d long ago plateaued in learning and felt a constant nag of being totally bored and uninspired while the company continued promoting me.
On my way out, I took on freelance gigs as a consultant in psychological safety, connection and learning design. They were all focused on online communities. I was an adjunct professor, a coach, a curriculum designer, a cohort-based course manager and a tutor. And I was always on Twitter. I was trying to find my angle and craft my brand. I was exploring, journalling, and pondering.
Two months later, an internet friend I had come to know well and respect deeply for their work in EdTech mentioned that their DAO was looking for a social experience lead. The role would require me to obsess over how to create friends from the DAO's semester II. But not just any friends—I'd have to think about how to develop friendships so deep they would eventually invite each other to their weddings. Given my Twitter bio was literally the job description, I was sold. I just had to sell the interviewer too.
The interview was daunting in a way I had not experienced in a very long time. An extreme extrovert and typical life of the party, I have always felt confident in the eloquence of my speech and the processing speed of my brain. I’m sarcastic, witty and humorous. In short, I felt that I had the gift of the gab and the spoken language was my strength. However, when the interviewer, a senior at Duke, popped onto the screen for an informal chat, I didn't know how to behave. I’d done my due diligence beforehand, I always do, but somehow I still felt underprepared. I tried too hard to impress her and hated myself for it.
I was 25 when I built one of the first teams to bring AI ethics as a discipline into industry. A pioneer in a very hot space, I felt valuable, powerful even. I led a team to build the first tool to quantify fairness in algorithms, taking the discussions from academia into mainstream industry. And received wide media coverage for our work including in TechCrunch and The Voice of America.
During that time, I could tell that colleagues and clients thought that tech was moving too quickly, and they struggled to keep up. Those moments increased the power I felt, especially because I was a young woman of colour and many of them were white men. Now in DAO land, with the tables somewhat turned, I felt sorely unsure of myself. While this may not be true, it felt like everyone was still in university or about to drop out of grad school. I know that I am still young but I finished grad school years ago! Every inch of me was convinced that by entering this space in my late twenties, I had completely missed the boat.
Of course, all of that self-loathing and feelings of inadequacy were just in my head—similar to many experiences before this. Two days later I was offered the role and told I was the clear choice despite the other candidate having lots more experience in DAOs. Sweeping the demons inside me under the lumpy rug along with the countless others I’d conquered before, I beamed and began my role.
To excel in my job I needed to understand tokenomics, NFTs, DAOs, and everything else associated with building an organisation on the infrastructure of web3. I had to understand tokenomics because I get paid in it—my monthly salary is a stablecoin and a token, aka equity, of the DAO for being an early believer.
The purchase of an NFT was how our learners accessed the private member-only experience. We had to be on call when learners had issues minting their NFT so I had to understand it too.
We are a DAO so I had to grasp that too, since the way we make decisions and default to asynchronous communication is the foundation of our day-to-day. This was different from my previous job filled with back-to-back meetings and 'Let's hop on a call?' frequently pinged across Microsoft Teams. The DAO style of working, I quickly realised, was what I had always preferred.
At the best of times, I learn through someone else’s mistake and the learnings they kindly shared. At the worst of times the lessons came from making my own mistakes.
This includes the time, for reasons beyond the scope of this article, I entered the wrong wallet address into our spreadsheet. Combining my mistake with the mistake of another contributor, we ended up having to redo the entire NFT process. Mistakes were happening left, right, centre. We were stumbling our way towards greater comprehension but when I made a mistake, I felt like the sky had fallen and I was the one to pull it down.
Another time, we were configuring a Discord bot called collab.land to token gate our Discord channels. Due to some issues, another contributor tweeted collab.land’s official account to seek help. I monitored the replies and told him that some ‘kind people’ were asking us to fill out a Google form with the issues we were having. The form had also asked for our wallet's recovery phrase, which I thought was odd. As if that didn't signal a red flag. I thought I was being such a team player! Turns out those were scammers. Everyone knew to ignore them— apart from me. Never tweet the word Metamask because the scammers will swarm upon you like bees to a pot of honey.
Being in a nascent space is novel and exciting, but it can also be scary. It is already stressful trying to learn things you don’t know. It gets harder when you don’t know what you don’t know. Web3 is full of those potholes. I came into web3 with half a decade of work experience under my belt and the confidence that comes with accelerated promotions and building pioneering teams, but that experience also means I’m stuck in some of my ways. Learning to unlearn quickly became a skill I rely on. And learning the ways of Discord and web3 from younger natives is immensely humbling.
Disrupting yourself before you get disrupted is a skill that will likely be more and more necessary too. I won't say it’s easy, especially with a critical internal voice. But the way your curiosity gets fed, the people you meet, the projects you build and the possibilities of building a brighter future are damn worth it.
If you enjoyed this, say hi and follow my journey on Twitter here!
Gratitude to the awesome humans at Foster for sharing their thoughts on my piece and editing my work: Jillian Anthony, Padmini Pyapali, Juliana Barnet, Bhaumik Patel, Katerina Bohle Carbonell, Jesse Evers, Jason Nguyen, Stew Fortier and Nick Drage