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Meet the Herd: Engineering Manager Sasha Semenyuk

An interview with Bison Trails’ first employee: how Sasha got into blockchain, his interest in creating a culture of learning at the company, and his thoughts on what protocol teams have done well.

Meet the Herd: Engineering Manager Sasha Semenyuk

By Bison Trails · Jul 17 2020

Each profile in Bison Trails’ “Meet the Herd” series is the story of a member’s professional path: how they started their career and made their way to the world of blockchain.

Q: How did you get into blockchain technology?

A: I first heard about cryptocurrencies around 2012, and thereafter I followed the development of the space without delving too deeply into the technologies operating on these protocols. It wasn’t until the later half of 2018 that I started to build a deep understanding of the consensus mechanisms, network topologies, and value propositions of the protocols that make up this ecosystem. It all seemed very daunting at first, but I was pleased to discover how many other ideas from tangential technology fields had made their way into the blockchain space.

Q: How would you describe your team at Bison Trails and what you do?

A: I would describe my team as the best; it takes a smart, talented, and motivated group to constantly learn new technologies and be the first to solve challenges this space has never seen before. As to what we do, the Protocol team at Bison Trails is responsible for learning about, evaluating, and integrating new protocols into our platform.

In the course of a typical 6-8 week project cycle, our engineers become experts on their target protocol; finding all the edge cases and points of complexity, abstracting them away through the process of Infrastructure as Code, joining and becoming active participants in the protocol community and becoming teachers to others, whether that's clients or other engineers at our company.

Q: Tell us about how you’ve evangelized a culture of blockchain learning at Bison Trails.

A: “Always be a student” has been a guiding principle I brought with me to Bison Trails, and I think it pairs really well with our company motto of “be the expert.” The way I see it, it’s incredibly important to keep learning at any stage of your life, and when it comes to the blockchain, you often have to become your own teacher.

At Bison Trails, I encourage everyone to take on a learning track as part of their day-to-day and then teach others what they’ve learned. We have our team members teach by presenting at a Lunch & Learn or Block Hang or by creating documentation material on our company wiki. Documentation days and topic-oriented working groups are another way we come together to learn and teach, letting us map insights from one domain to another and be creative in our work.

Q: How important is it for someone considering joining Bison Trails to have extensive blockchain experience already?

A: I think it varies from role to role. It definitely helps to have some background in blockchain and any previous experience goes a long way towards quickly ramping up during onboarding. However, a willingness to learn goes a lot further. For some projects everyone starts at square one; learning the in-and-outs of a new protocol, its community and token economics, so the desire to look, ask questions, and not get discouraged when the answer isn’t readily apparent is really important. I think that “I don’t know, but let's find out together” is a perfectly valid answer to a lot of questions in this space.

Q: You’ve worked with a lot of emerging protocol teams. What are some of the things you’ve seen protocol teams do very well?

A: A team focused on building out a protocol can sometimes forget they will not be the ones running the nodes, building the apps, and transacting using the protocol. The best protocol teams I’ve worked with were the ones that put in extra attention into building their communities, creating robust documentation, and being open and responsive to community input.

Q: Which upcoming network launch are you most excited about? Why?

A: I’m really excited to see eth2 launch and advance on the goals outlined in their roadmap. I’m a believer in their ambitious proposal that seeks to transition and scale an already wildly successful Ethereum protocol to proof of stake and democratize access to the nodes that will run to secure the network.

Q: What are some of your interests outside of work?

A: In the winter months, I love to ski. In late spring and summer, I work with a collective on large-scale art and infrastructure projects for Burning Man. Year round, I make time for daily reading and photography. For the past several years I’ve had some great opportunities to travel, experience new places, and capture what I saw on film. Following the onset of the covid pandemic, I’ve gotten into cycling and playing the hang drum.


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