Know The Coin: Interview with NavCoin Lead Protocol Engineer Alex Vazquez

alex vazquez

Hey there! This is ChangeNOW, a leading instant crypto exchange service, and welcome to our very own Know The Coin show, where we interview the representatives of all the wonderful cryptos in the space. This episode’s guest is a software developer and an all-around awesome guy, Lead Protocol Engineer of NavCoin Alex Vazquez! Alex was kind enough to sit down with us for a bit and explain to all our readers what NavCoin is all about!

Elevator pitch. ELI5 about Navcoin in a couple of sentences.

Ask yourself three questions. Do you believe in decentralisation? Do you want to use your skills to propel the evolution of a cryptocurrency? Do you want to know your funds are safe, secure, and earning interest while you sleep? If so, welcome to NavCoin, the network with community driven technical and non technical development. Not only are you empowered to propose and create initiatives, but your vote drives community-driven projects through our Community Fund. NavCoin is an open-source, blockchain based Proof of Stake cryptocurrency. Our goal is to offer a sustainable solution to transfer value with strong privacy properties – which gives you, and only you, the power to control your finances. If any of this sounds true to you, you are NavCoin.

Would you mind telling the readers a couple words about yourself, your background, and your team?

My name is Alex and I am one of the NavCoin core developers based in Berlin. I was surrounded by computers early in life. I was introduced to software development very young, my mother always talks about me playing with BASIC at the age of 5. It didn’t take long for me to grow disinterested in classical design software. I’m extremely inquisitive and enjoy challenging questions so learning about cryptocurrency was a natural segue. At first, my involvement was intermittent yet I saw the concepts behind blockchain as a complete game changer. In 2016, my developing passion in cryptocurrency became my full-time occupation as a NavCoin core developer. I’ve been integral in creating protocol improvements for Cold Staking and the Community Fund, along with traditional wallet maintenance. I’ve recently authored a research paper introducing a new method for anonymous transactions, ZeroCT (found here), which will be in testnet in Q1, 2019.  I can’t talk about “my” team and let me explain why. One of the best aspects of NavCoin is our horizontal structure, meaning we have multiple developers committed to bring their skills and expertise to propel our project, including a dedicated community to vastly shape and work on the project both in a voluntary capacity and funding through our community fund. The beauty of this framework is we want to attract some of the most brilliant minds that inherently believe in privacy, POS and decentralisation.

How did Navcoin come to fruition? How did the idea come into your head and who was the initiator?

NavCoin and Bitcoin share an important commonality: both have an anonymous founder. To give readers an interesting but brief history, NavCoin had three major evolutions. What we know of NavCoin today started in 2014 as SummerCoin. A change in leadership and shift into the privacy scene lead to a rebrand called NavajoCoin – the inspiration behind the name being the Navajo code talkers (a captivating history for those who don’t know about them). Another change in leadership lead to the rebranding we see today: NavCoin. Craig MacGregor took the helm in 2016 and I joined shortly thereafter. These ‘takeovers’ if you will are one of the most beautiful things we see happening in decentralised, open source projects like cryptocurrencies. With each leadership change, NavCoin has not only become stronger but also more dynamic and adaptable to thrive in the ever changing crypto space. I’m excited to be a part of the new generation of Navcoiners and look forward to what the future holds for this project.

How many core contributors are there?

That’s hard to quantify. If by core contributors you mean developers contributing to the navcoin-core repo, the number of contributors today as per GitHub statistics is 15. I’d maintain the terminology “core contributors” should have a broad, horizontal structure – to include everyone whose contribution is essential for the development of the project. Thinking about it in this way, our core contributors also include but are not limited to the more than 300 server operators, which help to secure the network, our voluntary contributors who moderate social channels, our community and everybody interested in spreading NavCoin awareness. We want to attract individuals and groups from different backgrounds; whether you’re a developer, videographer, artist, or project manager, we know a strong community has a diverse range of skill sets, and we now have a community fund to compensate and fund initiatives. Our project has never been stronger. Yet, NavCoin has a lot of room to grow and everyone involved should be proud of the team, our contributors, and community. I am.

We know that since NAV is a Bitcoin fork, the initial mining mechanism was PoW. Why did you switch to PoS and how does it fit within the Bitcoinesque style crypto you started with back in 2014?

I can’t speak in depth about this question as I was not involved in NavCoin when these decisions took place. However, if you ask me, one of the biggest issues with Proof of Stake is how you do the initial distribution of the tokens. You need an initial stake of coins to be able to reach consensus through PoS, so starting with PoS is not an option. Because the project had no pre-mine or ICO, the coins had to be distributed somehow. And from my point of view, Proof of Work is the most egalitarian form of coin distribution in the birth of a cryptocurrency. Nevertheless, when a currency is already established, Proof of Stake has proven to be a more reliable and sustainable method to secure networks which are alternative to Bitcoin. We’ve recently seen many small/medium sized projects using Proof of Work getting attacked with a very low cost.

Are NavPi nodes used only as full sized wallet and payment nodes? How else can you use them?

Yes, they are full-sized nodes so you can do with them the same as you can do with a regular full size node. Whether that is to transact, interact with the blockchain, participate in the governance process or gain staking rewards through securing the network. The only difference is a reduced power consumption at the cost of running the wallet in a less-powerful device so the performance can be marginally lower, but still usable.

Speaking of NavCoin storage and cold staking, what are your thoughts on a dedicated NAV hardware wallet? Is it on your roadmap?

I (and a big part of the community) would be happy seeing Nav supported in HW wallet devices like Ledger. There’s interest in recruiting someone to assume that task – so please get in touch if you’d like to get involved. At the moment, creating our own device is not on our roadmap.

Any thoughts about NAV mass adoption? Have there been any solid NAV everyday life use cases so far?

There are many merchants which accept NAV as a payment method. An updated list can be found on navcoin.org, so if you accept NAV and you’re not on this list please let us know in our discord channel. Within our ecosystem, we have very strong local communities throughout the world. For instance, our Italian group is particularly strong and they’ve managed to get diverse businesses in Italy to accept NAV. We are excited about these grassroot efforts and are proud of our organic growth. As a merchant it is very easy to add NAV since we are on CoinPayments. Individuals can even buy popular gift cards with their NAV using the service Bidali.  Ultimately, we see these community efforts as key to adoption, but we are keenly open to collaborating with other projects and initiatives.

As I’ve mentioned, privacy, POS and decentralisation are important to us. If we look at the technology from this point of view, we have a lot more work to do to ensure our transaction flows are at the level of fiat payments. The current system would literally collapse, but our desire is to reach levels as close as possible to that flow in a sustainable and decentralised way.  From a privacy standpoint, it’s important to have a system without giving too much data away about yourself to private companies or government agencies. Our existing protocols offer a definitive level of privacy and the research paper I authored explores this topic in a new and more robust way.

From a realist point of view, crypto is not for everyone and that’s ok. My grandmother is and will still be happy using a traditional bank. Coin custody is a very critical point and traditional trust-based systems are better positioned to offer a financial product which won’t stop a non technical person from sleeping tight. And we can’t fight against that, I don’t pretend everybody will want to be part of an alternative financial system. Human nature is what it is. Humans tend to follow the path of least resistance, specially in intellectual terms. The goal for me and many others in cryptocurrency is to offer a way for people to free themselves from the status quo because freedom can only exist when alternative choices are available. In this respect, crypto is the winner. I’d rather have ideological contestation over coercive rules.

Now, let’s talk about the market for a bit. What do you think is happening with this cryptowinter and will it clear up any time soon, in your opinion? Maybe there are any services or projects you have faith in, as in those that will be seen as market growth points any time soon?

It would be naive to think the market collapse is not part of a natural process. Simply, it was unsustainable. There were many new projects whose fundamentals were immensely weak in the best case. And the whole industry was being valued as if it was ready for mass adoption (which it was not at the time!). When you see people in a manic phase throwing money in projects which promise to cure the worst of the diseases you can unequivocally say a correction is going to come. Speculators took profit. And I’m sure speculators are loading their bags now. It’s just a cycle which will get repeated again and again. But I’m not an economist or speculator myself, I’m sure if I try to predict a timespan of when this would occur, time would show I was wrong.

What do you think about NAV’s situation? What are your hopes for the future?

As I’ve mentioned, NAV is stronger than it has ever been. We’ve been active during the bear market when most people and projects tend to be less motivated and involved. That’s a big win for us and very encouraging for all involved in our community. In fact, our biggest protocol improvements happened in the last months: cold staking, open alias, and our community fund. From a technical perspective, we are very well positioned once the market enters a new discovery phase. Our unique features will be mature enough to deliver a solid alternative for individuals. This in turn will cause people that adhere to our ideals to embody our vision, contribute their skills and shape the future of the project.

Speaking of the future, will we be able to see any NAV updates any time soon?

To be direct, yes. I expect to see a strong interest around my new privacy proposal, ZeroCT, and I’m eager to see what the practical implementations look like, particularly as a testnet will be out in Q1, 2019. Besides that, our community fund is experiencing a flow of proposals, which will undoubtedly shape the future of the community in the near, mid, and long term.

Speaking of privacy, can you talk about your privacy research paper ZeroCT? What makes it different from other privacy focused projects?

ZeroCT is an extension to the Zerocoin protocol, which is the precursor of Zcash. Speaking in very high level terms, the original implementation worked as a “coin mixer” – if you wanted to privately send coins you had to firstly “mix” them before being able to anonymously transfer, the transaction amount was only lightly obfuscated and limited to whole values.

Thank you so much for your time! Is there anything you’d like to add?

A big thanks to ChangeNow for giving some exposure to NAV. I’ve included links to the Navcoin project if readers want to learn more and or get involved. Here’s to a strong 2019!

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