Catching-Up with Austin hackathon winner Matt York and the evolution of Factom’s Smart Contracts

A few months ago, we interviewed software engineer Matt York, who had just won two Austin hackthons and $7,000 using the Factom protocol. It was through his idea of incorporating the use of petri-nets on top of the Factom protocol; that he successfully managed to create winning designs that solve real world problems.

What happened after is no surprise, Matt was offered a position with Factom, Inc. Upon hearing the news, we had to catch-up with Matt about his new role and find out how his research (that started as a side hobby) is now being used to help advance the development of Factom’s protocol.

We we were excited to hear you were brought on to assist with Factom’s development, how did the job with Factom Inc. come about and what is your role?

I was contacted by Paul from Factom,Inc. a couple of weeks after the hackathon. As I told you before, I was exploring the use of petri-nets to not only write program that would be compatible to use with any blockchain, but is also able to publish event data to the chain in a way that is meaningful.

Paul wanted me to continue building on the work I had already been doing. I was excited to take what I was working on as a side project and be able to focus on it in a greater way.

Also, as I got to learn how Factom and the wider blockchain were related, I became more interested in joining them. I think the whole idea of having a self-funded blockchain that is run by different ANOs with a two-token system that runs the entire eco-system; is something bigger than just Factom,Inc. and it’s exciting to be part of something like that.

As a senior developer, I’ve been primarily asked to maintain factomd which is the main open-source piece of the Factom blockchain.

How does Factom Inc. see your idea of using Petri-nets to further the protocol?

My research of using Petri-Nets to describe a series of events that can happen, that then publishes those events with the creation of a new chain, creates something of a smart contract that can live on top of Factom’s blockchain without having an execution engine like Ethereum.

We are trying to implement this technique towards Factom’s smart contracts. That’s not to say that is the only way to to do it, but I hope Paul agrees that this (petri-nets) is a good way to do it.  There are a bunch of other good ways too, but it’s cool to be able to see how far we can take this idea.

How do you see Factom’s Smart Contracts revolutionizing enterprises?

One of the things I think Factom will be very good at is modeling things out in the world beyond who just owns an asset.

There are several parts that form a contract. When you complete a contract the settlement part has already been very well explored in the form of cryptocurrency. Tokens and different currencies already exist as forms of payment.

But, there is another aspect to contracts that is called: assurance. Assurance records all the data you need to prove that you are maintaining your responsibilities for that contract.

In a general sense, Factom already very easily is set-up to log data on the blockchain. What I think is going to evolve out of all of this is the standard for encoding this information. This will fit very well in any supply chain oriented environment or any situation that involves a contract that is not a straight buying and selling situation. A more elaborate contract that involves a lot of different points of contact, is what I think this technique is really good for and will really make Factom standout.

What do you consider the primary challenges facing Factom’s core development right now?

Our immediate focus is on stability and security of the network. In the near term we will be trying to increase the efficiency of it to allow for sharding of data and making it able to scale in the way that we need it to.

The question of sharding is on everyone’s mind, do you know when the process might start?

It’s on the official roadmap, but I don’t know exactly how far out it is. The major obligation that we are trying to meet right now is to hit a speed increase.

What are some of the risks involved with the core development strategies; because it has been slower moving than anticipated?

Because I’m I newcomer, I don’t have a really clear picture of it. But as a developer, things never seem to go as fast as you would like them to.

Aside from the network trouble we have had, I think we are in the process right now of bringing more developers that are associated with the ANOs into the development process. I think the developer audience is expanding and this should help in terms of development.

What most excites you about working for Factom Inc?

It’s that I get to talk to people every day who are as interested in blockchain as I am. I’m excited for all the things that I am going to learn, and to make things that don’t already exist.

I feel like this time in blockchain is similar to the time of the early internet. I’m not old enough to experience the invention of the internet, but this feels just as big.

In regards to your personal goals and motivations, does working with Factom empower you to go further with your own ideas; particularly with the pet records software?

I think all the experience I am getting with blockchain technology is completely relevant to creating a good practice management software for veterinarian clinics.

I think you could immediately take that same sort of self-funded network model (as soon as we have figured out how to do it correctly) and run any sort of business in the same way.

I’m imagining that at some point I will be able to make this veterinary software, in an open-source way and fund it using blockchain technology. I would say my work with Factom,Inc. is definitely a stepping stone to doing that in the future.

Matt is extremely talented and an asset to the Factom Protocol. We would like to give him a big thanks for chatting with us again. Matt we wish you all the success in your new role! We are certainly excited to see the continued development of Factom’s Smart contracts and how they will revolutionize industry practices, while continuing to keep the world’s systems honest.