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Existential Crisis of 25-08-2023

When DeGatchi was months deep into building his exploit generation tool he was once incredibly passionate towards fizzles out the further he got into to due to complexity, and maybe due to unrelated irl circumstances.



To give the entire context, let’s start from late 2022. I was living in Australia living with 2 roommates, happily spending my days building projects I was passionate about (TheaterDAO, tools, mev related things). I didn’t have any income, only living on savings, luckily because rent was only 12k AUD per year and I was conservatively speaking, roughly 18-20k AUD per year. I was enjoying life, doing what I wanted to do all day every day. I was talking to my friends on discord near everyday (on blackflag) and life was good! Unfortunately, over time we started hanging out less and less, like those times you play video games with friends and then you all go on different paths. I fondly miss the days of speaking with the same crew every day. And over time I developed this sense of complacency, feeling my personal growth as a human was coming to a halt. I felt my home town in Australia was holding me back due to the limtied geolocation since the majority of the world’s talent doesn’t reside in Australia (because its an isoloated country, far from everything). As with any place you’ve lived in for quite some time, you get sick of it and need a change. So, I finished my lease end of 2022/early 2023 and set off for Tokyo, Japan to go to my first Ethereum based meetup.

Tokyo, Japan

I felt a new found sense of satisfaction in life when arriving in Japan, despite not knowing how to read anything or get where I wanted to go from the airport (lol). Exploring a new society, interacting with people that don’t speak the same language as me, figuring out how to survive in a foreign country for the first time with no guidance. The discovery of country exploration felt amazing. I met so many people and made terrific memories, from taking the bullet train across Japan for weeks on end with a random stranger I met a few days before arriving to living with strangers I met on a telegram chat (who are now great frens now). Another terrific thing was that I met Grug and his frens - one I later on interviewed and have gotten closer to 0x4007, or Alex from Ubiquity. I went out to these small bars to where I met tons of lovely people and made terrific memories. Japan felt very structured and everyone was very respectful and friendly. The atmosphere and architecture is very appealing (to me at least, relative to Australia which is quite boring outside of the city).


Ultimately, all good times must end and I left Japan early May back to Australia and went to NYC a week later. This lasted for 2 weeks and a bit. However, I met up with coworkers at the time and got to experience the irl version of a software team where what you did matters. They were very hospitable towards me, caring whether I was in a good accomodaiton, etc. I got to explore the business side of tech startups in person. This lasted for 2 weeks and a bit. I also got to finally meet very close friends I’ve been speaking to on discord for years, Larkin and Funeral. I can definitely say it’s worth to dox to the frens you have deep connections with.

Rome, Italy

Then it was off to Rome, Italy, as a pit stop before Eth Paris. And oh boy was this an experience. I booked an airbnb with a family 2hrs away from the city via a bus that came every few hours and stopped running at 6pm, to which, only ubers were available. At one point I was on the verge of spending the night on the street. Luckily, I got home. The horrible thing was this airbnb room was basically half a cell and there was no wifi (ikr, in this era??). However, on the first day of attempting to reach the airbnb I found myself near the location and asked a local for help. We exchanged contacts and then I got an airbnb to the airbnb. After a couple days, I was resenting where I was living and was deciding where to fly off to. I decided Thailand! So there were 2 days before my flight. Day 1, that person I ran into previous offered to give me a tour of Rome - we basically saw all the touristy stuff that day and I called it a successful trip (lol). The last day came and I was super excited to go to Thailand.

Bangkok, Thailand

It was June and I was heading to Bangkok, Thailand. The person sitting next to me started to talk to me (they were around the same age as me, in their 20s) and when we arrived in Thailand they helped me get set up at my airbnb, letting me come with them in their taxi to the centre of Bangkok (they are a local). After this they showed me around Bangkok via motorcycles (massive culture shock, for the better!) and got to try a lot of Thai food. During this time I was still working on my tools and trying to figure out what I want to do in life in the short term. Having the constant change of enviornments really helped me get into the zone. I actually enjoy plane rides because it’s a transition into a new chapter in life (at least, each country was a big experience). During my time in Thailand I went to Jazz bars, nightlife with locals and straight up met a ton of people. I thoroughly enjoyed Thailand. It felt like more of a chaotic Japan. During this time I finally responded to an email from a, what I didn’t know at the time, hedgefund and fast forward to this day new opportunities are arising and I’ve met some great people from responding to that email.

Dubai, UAE

After Thailand, I went to Dubai, UAE. This was my final stop. I offically relocated countries. This. Was. Insanely. Stressful. The first 2 weeks I had massive regrets of my decisions and was contemplating reverting back to going to Australia. There are trade-offs for everything in life. One trade off I think of moving countries by myself is leaving my family and friends. This is the only regret I have for moving countries as i’m not spending time with them more often. Ultimately this can be fixed with frequent plane rides home, calls, etc. But, I stuck with and thought “I should just see how it goes for a couple weeks, give it a chance.” I decided to start my own podcast, Scraping Bits, and within 2 months I’ve recored 60+ episodes!

2 months in I finally leased out my first solo apartment, and holy fxck is it expensive, relative to my previous Australian rent. 25k USD vs 12k AUD, but I guess that’s the cost of opportunity shrug. The entire point of relocating was to capitalise on the opportunity I thought I had (building my cybersecurity tool) and maximise the profit since Dubai has 0% income tax and Australia has 50%. And so I set up a company and sponsored myself so I could get a visa for 2 years.


Fast forward to today, I find it incredibly difficult to make friends here since I don’t leave my apartment (because its so hot and humid outside, 40 degress C outside each day). Depsite making great progress in my cybersecurity tool I often think whether what I’m working on will become redundant in the next couple years to AI (from speaking to the same frens each day that are heavily experienced with AI). This feeds into my extreme anxiety of “is what im doing pointless. should i be learning AI to hedge against this potential outcome. do i try to finish the tool and sell it to make enough money before an AI revolution. etc.” But obviously this is biased in some ways because im lacking persepective from the opposite side. And i’m limited to my decision making because I don’t know enough about the topic at a deep enough level to be able to predict whether x is true or not.

But to give some context of my cybersecurity tool:

  1. it is capable of finding exploitable paths within a smart contract - all heuristically (since I know how things work at the bedrock level, I know patterns, etc).
  2. it’s 90% done and just requires fine tuning to get to MVP
  3. I already have mass interest from large institutions, frens with government connections and a hedge fund willing to BUYOUT the tool.
  4. I have mass interest from protocols, companies and frens wanting to USE or LEASE the tool.

However, from an emotional, subjective POV I’m having a somewhat career identity crisis in terms of what I want to do in my life, regardless of money in terms of:

  1. Do I finish my tool so it’s a viable product in some sense and continuously expand upon it, since I have very in-depth knowledge of how contracts interact on the bytecode level and security side of things, and eventually monteise this thing ive been working on for 10 months.
  2. If I do decide to finish the tool, should I cease any other endeavours (freelancing, contracting, AI learning, etc) to go full time on it and double down.
  3. Don’t finish the tool and start learning AI.

From an objective POV the answer is finish the tool. If you start anything, you should be thinking that will go through with the decision and reach it’s end or you should not do it to begin with. You’re 10 months deep and are very close to the MVP with already product market fit and and exit strategy. If HEDGE-FUNDS and large institutions are interested in using/buying it, that inheritely means the tool holds a fxckload of power, especially since it’s something that isn’t easily replicated. To solve the issue of learning AI and finishing the tool, you can spend an hr or two per day learning AI in whatever capacity, spend 6hrs working on the tool, and the rest you can work on freelancing/leisure/self development accordingly. Then you’re hitting everything to some extent. But also, it’s obvious that you need to make time to socialise otherwise you will burn out. Being isolated in your apartment 24/7 is not good for a human. We are social beings. Build those personal relationships because without friends and family, what is the meaning of life. Innovation is great but then who can you share those achievements with, right?

Developing Software

On the topic of building my tool, it’s an often occurance that when I’m implementing a new feature I think of more features to add. It’s a constant battle of attempting to get over the line for the first iteration, that doesn’t have all the features verses add this one feature that might be useful later down the line. However, the better approach is get to the finish line of the first marathon and write down what can be added in a brain dump markdown folder for later revision so your mind isn’t overwhelmed with “I could add this feature here for when x happens down the line”. A great anology Sam Bacha mentioned to be was, an engineer is a gardener. You plant the seeds (idea) and water (build) each day to get the tree (product) to grow. You can’t expect to have a tree overnight. A tree grows at it’s own rate. When you plant 10 at the exact same time, you’ll notice some take longer to emerge out of the soil than others. The same is with software. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else. We all go at our own pace. When you think about working for someone else, realistically you cannot finish it in a predetermined time since there are so many factors in play that affect the speed of progression, e.g. understanding, skill, body-clock, etc. Work is never going to leave. It will be there in 1hr, tomorrow, next week, next year, etc. Don’t beat yourself up for not working 24/7. I’m like this because I have extreme anxiety of the future and this gives me a fear and sense of urgency (not voluntarily) to get a product out the door to “secure” myself and escape the matrix. I’m not sure how to change this way of thinking but it would be nice if everyday, from the time of waking up until bed, I wouldn’t have a nagging thought in the back of my head that haunts me if I don’t work/progress in a “productive” form, career wise. From what I’ve noticed, socialising removes this edge, in terms of going out or traveling, all the worries go away. But at the end of the day, it will always be there until money is no longer an issue.

Setting Goals

It is clear that if you have a target you know what to aim for, otherwise what are you aiming for. And to hit the target, you have to come back (fail) to go forward 10 fold (succeed), like a bow and arrow. I come across super complex problems everyday that fatigue me just thinking of possible solutions. The biggest thing that any engineer should learn is prompt engineering. Why? because it will force you to simplify big problems into progressive, easy to follow steps, which enhances your understanding of said problem and gives you a clear target to achieve. For each step has underlying motivation and will propell you to the next step in terms of wanting to do the next thing and also in the preset state of mind to continue.

Invest In Yourself

Another thing ive learned over the past months is that you shouldnt penny pinch when accounting for tools that will help your production and health. Don’t skip these as they’re non-negotiable. If it helps you create value faster or easier why would you not get it? The long term results, or even short term in cases, means you’ll get your moneies worth. Money is a tool and should be used as such to enhace a life. So do exactly that. For money is paper that is exchanged for goods and services. It in itself is not a good, it can be created infinitely out of thin air to capture the time of others, e.g. employees. And what ive realised is that if someone wants to buy out your product with a very large pay check or hire you, its because you or the thing you’ve built is inheritly very valuble. And before signing any legal contract, get a lawyer that understands wtf is going on and dont enslave yourself or accidentally lose all your IP.

How Success Is Curated

Success is something you attract by becoming an attractive person. For example, if i can provide a service with consisten results people interested in that service will be begging to use it considering its consistent. Same goes with getting a job. If you have a specialised skillset, someone who needs that skillset will pay very highly since it takes a lot of time and effort to get to that stage.

Over time you’ll work on a multitude of projects. Maybe each one connecting in some way, like me with solidity -> mev -> huff -> reverse engineering -> exploit generation or maybe they wont. As long as you have a strong interest in it and the thing you’re working on isn’t useless then you have potential for innovation. But having a strong desire to do it is what matters. There’s no point doing something you don’t want to work on. It’s all a time trade-off at the end of the day and investing in the things you think will pay dividends in terms of compensation and satisfaction. This is why people pay large amounts for jobs - so they can acquire someone with a desirable skillset to do something they don’t necessarily want to do. Money is the only convincer in that scenario. If you remove money from the equation, people would only work on things they’re interested in.

A Week Later

As of 02/09/2023 I no longer work full-time for the company. Now I’m working on my tools again full-time. Despite making great progress today, I started the fuzzer and it’s progressing, I still face the difficult task of solving conditional statements with multiple mutable dependencies, e.g. requiring [sload(0x00), calldataload(0x00), shr, sload(0x20), gt]. Despite this being the final piece of the puzzle, I face a severe existensial crisis where the work I’m doing doesn’t matter at all in the grand scheme of things. Sure, if i finish it i would have the ability to withdraw millions/billions of dollars from protocols and disrupt the entire crypto network for better or worse, but there is still something within me contemplating what is worth persuing in life. I want to get into building weaponised robots eventually, however that doesn’t relate to this task at all. Although there is the pathway of going from fuzzer to AI agent fuzzer which would be a gateway into the AI side of robotics, which is a quite obvious path.

However, despite this clear path I still feel…something is wrong.

It could possibly be the isolation of living by myself w/ my family and friends across the world. It could be burnout / something mental related. All-in-all the burning passion isn’t as lit as it once was. I think the main reason is that the complexity is getting me down, despite simplifying quite far. I tell myself it’s the startup process. You must go through pain and suffering to get to the destination. I am definitely feeling the full effect of that saying at the moment. Im sure if i just keep pushing through it all ill get there. As long as i get something working i can improve it iteratively. Human biology is quite interesting how you can have such a strong desire to do something then it fades away for some time and comes back just as strong in due time.

I also want to mention that I have no consistent income after moving countries, so the financial stress of it all is another factor. Maybe theres just so much pressure relying on the success of this project. A real fear of if i dont get it to work in some capacity i will have to go back to working, in which i mentally cant handle it if its something im not interested in - im someone that needs constant change, sticking to the same problem where the simplicity derivites are quite similar (e.g. to solve x you must do y but y is also quite boring) is incredibly mundane and i need to be challenged with many difficult problems that are related but not entirely, e.g. to generate exploit paths you need to generate contracts, discover what paths are possibly vulnerable, etc. Ultimately, lets just see how this goes. Ill press on and probably have another crisis down the road, lol.

I hope for the best.

Thanks for reading, anon.

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