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Production-Ready Privacy for Web3: An Interview with Oasis Engineering Director Tadej Janež

Change and growth in Web3 always happens at a rapid pace, but reliable tools for integrating confidentiality into any application and ecosystem are essential for its long-term success. Planning and theorizing about these solutions is not enough. Launching stable, production-ready tools for Web3 developers to use is paramount. 

Tadej Janež, Director of Engineering at the Oasis Foundation, explains how Oasis is leading the Web3 front on better privacy and scalability for protocols and applications in any ecosystem, not just within the Oasis community. Janež also details his vision for why Oasis matters in the Web3 landscape, what new engineers exploring Web3 could focus on, and what excites him about the future of privacy in Web3. Answers in this post are slightly abridged and edited from a live event hosted by the Oasis community. Click here to watch a recording of the conversation. 

What was your engineering background before Oasis? Why did you join?

Janež: My father was a computer scientist, and I was always fascinated by computers and mathematics, even as a kid. Programming came a bit later on for me. It started with a big book on Visual Basic. I ended up studying computer science and mathematics later in school, but I have been passionate about mathematics, programming, cryptography, systems and AI. And a lot of those things are very interconnected. So, if you want to understand supporting algorithms and data structures, it requires a lot of mathematics. 

At first in my education and career, I was not really interested in blockchain or Bitcoin. I recall reading about Bitcoin in a Linux Format magazine, and I thought it was curious but that it would never take off. So, I went back to deep dives in machine learning and AI, and I focused on my passions related to open source and all things related to the cloud. 

For me, joining Oasis came from many things falling into place. 

My interest in blockchain sparked in 2017 during the bull market back then. Bitcoin was indeed still around, and that was the year when I signed up to my first crypto exchanges, I bought my first coins, and all of that. But I knew very little about how to manage self-custody wallets and I was learning from the beginning. My interest in blockchain and Web3 slowly grew. I knew Jernej and some of the engineers working on Oasis from prior work, so when I was looking for my next step in my professional career, Oasis was a natural fit. 

What are you currently building at Oasis?

Janež: At the Foundation, I oversee four different teams. There’s the core platform team that works to make sure the Oasis Network is bulletproof in general. There’s also the Explorer and Wallet developer teams. Oasis Sapphire and the Oasis Privacy Layer (OPL) are a separate team. And lastly, the DevOps team is a bit more internally focused but does a lot of important work too. We’re busy and always building, but I’m very happy to be leading all the talented people on these teams. 

A lot of things are happening at Oasis right now. One important thing for Sapphire and OPL specifically is that we want to build a lot of “demo dApps”, which help people understand the utility of these tools. The demo dApps will serve as concrete examples of how to leverage the unique confidential features of Sapphire. Users and developers can see examples like confidential voting and account abstraction with clean interfaces, and the code is cleanly structured and able to be forked and used by dApp developers. Other demos are in the pipeline, like Key Managers as a Service. 

But more than just demos, our team wants to offer the “whole package” so developers have a great experience on Oasis. The Oasis Explorer is a very natural part of that package, and it’s an important tool for showcasing how Oasis works. And this is just the beginning – we want to add a lot more features for users and developers to get familiar with the network, its confidential features, and see what is confidential and what is not. 

What excites you most about the place Oasis has in Web3’s future?

Janež: The thing that I want to stress is that we want everyone in Web3 to be able to use Oasis. These things will just work out of the box, and the community should be very proud that Oasis Sapphire is the only production ready confidential EVM in Web3.

Oasis has been in “building mode” from 2018. First, we were working on the core architecture of separate consensus and execution layers, which involved building the so-called “ParaTimes.” Then, launching these at Mainnet in 2020 was followed by developing and launching our first EVM-compatible runtime at the end of 2021, Oasis Emerald. Gradually, that product also matured. 

Then finally launching Oasis Sapphire, the first EVM-compatible confidential ParaTime in July this year. We wanted it to make the developer experience even smoother with seamless integrations, upgrades, and more. And this will get even better with the Oasis Eden upgrade. But even now, it works out of the box and people don’t need to trust us on that point. They can run the code and verify from the source code themselves. 

What’s the biggest challenge to winning the fight for mainstream privacy online?

Janež: What’s novel about privacy for Web3 developers is the need to understand or have a good mental model for making private or confidential dApps. Privacy for each of these applications is not black and white, so it takes some understanding of what tools are available and how they can fit into a dApp. Creating this mental model as a dApp developer means understanding how to structure their product so it takes advantage of things like Oasis Network’s confidentiality features. This is an important project we are working on to support dApp developers with efforts like Oasis dApp demos. But also, we just want to be there in the community to support these developers, help avoid pitfalls, and empower them. 

How is Oasis Engineering different from other Web3 engineering teams?

Janež: We have a really talented team building at Oasis. Many of the members have PhDs in various fields, from AI to distributed systems to core algorithms and data structures. There is a lot of expertise in relevant domains for what Oasis is building. 

But people don’t brag about their credentials. They are very modest and have a sense of an engineering family. We have a collegial culture where team members help each other, learn from each other, and grow together. So convincing each other with reasoned arguments or listening to counter arguments about making everything secure and robust is just how the team operates. This sets us apart.

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