We were thrilled to have a special guest visiting us at TSA a couple of weeks ago. Let us introduce you to Philippe Bidinger, a Software Engineer at Nomadic Labs. Philippe earned his PhD in Formal Methods from Inria, the French national research institute for digital sciences. He later went on to Stevens Institute of Technology for his Postdoctoral Fellowship where he participated in a research project on “Mobile Access Control”, in which he contributed to designing and implementing formal models to study role-based access control policies in mobile contexts.

Before joining Nomadic Labs, Philippe was an Associate Professor at the University of Grenoble Alpes. He researched into formal methods and languages for modeling, programming, and verification of concurrent and distributed systems. More excitingly, this September marks his first year of working at Nomadic Labs! 

We talked about what he is currently working on at Nomadic Labs and his transition from being in academia to developing on blockchains. 

 

Celine

So, Philippe, how did you first find out about Nomadic Labs? 

 

Philippe

Throughout my years in academia, I specialized in OCaml programming language and I got introduced to Diego, who was at the time hiring for Nomadic Labs. That is how I got myself involved in the Tezos ecosystem, and it has since been a year. 

 

Celine 

Congratulations on your first year with Nomadic Labs! Could you tell me how this past year with them has been? What is it like working with the team there? 

 

Philippe

Nomadic Labs is headquartered in Paris, but I work in the Grenoble office instead. It’s a small team; just the three of us. We often travel to Paris, and we have a few other employees who work remotely, but most are in the Paris office. Well, this past year has been really exciting and something different from what I was accustomed to. As I have mentioned earlier, I spent most of my professional years in academia, so this change is refreshing. Nomadic Labs is a young company, so there’s a lot of different things going on at once and initiatives are always encouraged. Unlike in academia, there is less administrative overhead in a young company. Nonetheless, there are similarities too, many employees here have an extensive academic background. So, it’s still a familiar environment.

Before I joined Nomadic Labs, I have little-to-no knowledge of what blockchain is all about, so all of it was very new to me. Then, I came to learn that blockchain technology mixes different kinds of computer sciences – distributed systems, designing new programming languages, formal methods, and cryptography, just to name a few – sparked more interest and excitement in me. Being part of something that involves such a broad array of fields is what makes my job at Nomadic Labs so fascinating. 

 

Celine

Great! I am glad to hear that you are enjoying your time with Nomadic Labs and also to have developed an interest and passion for blockchain. Could you share with us what you are currently working on for Tezos and what are some challenges you are facing or have overcome? 

 

Philippe 

I’ve been working on a  variety of things! I started on designing a new testing infrastructure as I thought the project could benefit from a better system testing, and it was a good way to get a better understanding of the system. I am also involved in the training sessions organized by Nomadic Labs for people who are interested in learning about our systems. Furthermore,  I’m interested in improving the documentation too, as I believe doing so will ease the development of tools interacting with the Tezos node. Particularly, we’ve been working on a series of tutorials on how developers can write their own economic protocol. 

I am currently working on the peer-to-peer (P2P) layer which is in charge of establishing and maintaining network connections to exchange information with other nodes. One of the challenges that I had initially faced was with getting accustomed to the Tezos codebase. Some parts of it lacked documentation and it also uses advanced features of the OCaml language that I was not quite familiar with then. 

 

Celine

What made you decide to work on the P2P layer? 

 

Philippe

I had previous experience with distributed systems, notably, I had developed a BitTorrent client in OCaml, so I was interested in working on this part of the code. I’ve mostly worked on refactoring as I think it was a necessary step to take before tackling the more major developments.

Future work will focus on benchmarking and enhancing performance. Another point is to work on peer selection heuristics, to make sure that each node has access to diverse and “high-quality” peers, which is important for both performance and security. Additionally, I’m keen on writing better specifications of the P2P protocol, possibly using a formal language such as TLA+. 

 

Celine

That is important work that you are doing – helping to ensure that the system maintains a high level of security and stability. I am curious about the training sessions that Nomadic Labs holds for interested developers out there. I am sure many developers would be thrilled to find out about this, could you tell us more? What can developers get out of these sessions and how are they conducted? 

 

Philippe

The first training session was held for new hires one year ago where I was one of the students. It started with a general presentation from Arthur Breitman, and went from general blockchain concepts, such as proof-of-work/proof-of-stake consensus algorithms, to the internals of the Tezos node. As more and more people in the local blockchain ecosystem started to express interest in Tezos, we decided to offer a similar, albeit less technical training session for them. It covered subjects such as interacting with a node using RPCs or writing Michelson contracts. The interaction with the trainees was fruitful as we learned from them for instance, how they are planning to use the Tezos blockchain, or what features interest them. 

The next session which will be held in a couple of weeks will have a slightly different syllabus, with emphasis on writing smart contracts in higher-level languages and interacting with the Tezos node using external libraries. We will be helped by other actors in the community. This change of syllabus reflects how our users’ needs are evolving. It’s exciting to see how in just a few months, a lot of tools around Tezos have emerged and thereby allowing users to write more complex applications.

 

Celine

Understand that you’ve spent most of your professional years in academia, do you have any advice to give to computer science students who are keen on developing blockchains? 

 

Philippe

I would first encourage them to run Tezos nodes, then learn how to interact with them, followed by starting to write smart contracts. There are plenty of tutorials available online. The next step would be to contribute to an open-source project. For instance, most code related to Tezos is open-source and new developers are always welcome! They could contribute to the Tezos node, to compilers for the Michelson language, or to libraries for interacting with the node and so on.

 

Celine

Great! Moving on, what do you look forward to in the Tezos blockchain, and what do you think we can do more as part of the Tezos community? 

 

Philippe

The on-chain governance in the Tezos protocol sets Tezos apart from other blockchains. The on-chain governance has been working well as demonstrated in the Athens protocol upgrade and I am looking forward to see the adoption of the Babylon protocol. As for what I think we can do more as a community, would be to have more readily accessible resources and tools on getting started with Tezos for developers all around the world, so that we can increase our developers base. 

 

Celine

Thank you for taking the time out to explain to us what you do at Nomadic Labs and the importance of your role in contributing to the Tezos ecosystem. Let’s move onto something more lighthearted – what brings you here to this sunny island, 12 hours away from France? 

 

Philippe

Being a part of the Tezos community for a year made me curious about finding out what the different actors and Tezos organizations in Asia are working on. I would love to meet the different teams and see how we can better collaborate to further expand the Tezos ecosystem. I hope to discover the different perspectives that the various teams have on Tezos. For example, Tezos Southeast Asia (TSA) is working on Tezos.ID and it will be good to get a better understanding of how Tezos blockchain is interpreted and used by them, as well as any difficulties that they have come across. 

Since Nomadic Labs focuses on building the core of Tezos blockchain, it will be beneficial to get perspectives from developers who are building something on Tezos or using Tezos for their applications. We will then be better equipped to propose finer protocol upgrades. 

And yes, I am far away from home but I like Asia! it’s so different from Europe – the food, the sights and the culture! I will be in Singapore for a week and then I will go to Taipei to visit and learn from the team there. I would also like to thank everyone here at TSA for giving me such a warm welcome and a lovely stay. 

 

Celine

That’s no problem! We loved having you here; it’s our pleasure to make you feel at home. Thank you for your time and we hope that you will enjoy your little visits in Singapore and Taipei!

       – END – 

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