Moonkyu Song, ICONLOOP’s long-time lead software engineer, is a man who likes to solve problems.
“I enjoy making new things. It’s very exciting,” he says. “Whatever it is, whether it’s performance, usability, flexibility… it’s exciting to improve systems and make things better for other people.”
Song is currently putting his experience and can-do spirit to work developing ICON’s Blockchain Transmission Protocol, or BTP, the technology that will allow ICON to become the interchain network it has always aspired to be. He says, “I’ve always thought this was the technology ICON needed to have.”
A Seasoned Architect
Song joined ICONLOOP in 2018, making him one of the most senior individuals in the company. “I’m not a founder, but I’m close,” he says.
Song came to ICONLOOP after over 15 years as a software engineer at Alticast, a Seoul-based international company offering innovative solutions to television providers. As luck would have it, he was exploring a career jump into blockchain when he received an offer from an old POSTECH classmate of his at ICONLOOP.
But why blockchain?
Song explains he had two options: AI or blockchain. “AI is good for big companies because they have a lot of big data, and AI systems need a lot of big data for machine learning,” he says. “But I didn’t want to go to a big company.”
He had another reason for choosing against AI — age. Though he knew a bit about AI, he felt the sector was a young man’s game.
Blockchain, on the other hand, allows a seasoned engineer like Song to put his experience and architectural skills to better use.
“My specialty is making systems, making frameworks. And utilizing those frameworks for service,” he says. “That’s why I chose blockchain.”
He was also intrigued by what blockchain was doing. “Blockchain is based on cryptographic algorithms,” he says. “It’s reinventing cryptographic usage, not just encrypting and decrypting.”
First Among Equals?
There are 12 people on ICONLOOP’s development team, including Song. In contrast to many Korean tech companies, the development team is rich in experience. Most of the engineers are veteran professionals in their 40s. They’ve been around the block.
This encourages Song to take a different approach as team leader.
In most Korean companies, the lead engineer sets the agenda and takes direct control of the team, while the mostly young engineers simply do what they are told.
But at ICONLOOP, Song constantly asks his team for ideas. “My way is not to make rules. I don’t want to make rules,” he says. “I tell the engineers, ‘You make the designs. I just want to review your design.’”
We Need a Killer Service
While Song loves working in blockchain, he acknowledges there are challenges.
In particular, he points to the lack of so-called “killer services,” i.e., services that everyone uses. “If a system has lots of users around the world, nobody can ignore it,” he says. “But I don’t think there’s a killer service at this time.”
That’s not to say a killer service won’t emerge, though.
Song believes blockchain-based contract services could be a contender. “There’s lots of cheating in real estate,” he says, pointing to double selling and other frequent shenanigans. “If you have a smart contract, and if you have to register your home with the contract when you sell your home, nobody can fool anyone else.”
BTP – It’s Close
Song’s chief concern nowadays is BTP.
He says it’s “close to becoming a commercial product,” but it’s also been a proverbial pain in the backside.
He points to two development challenges. The first was technological, namely, getting the proofs to work. This was solved when the team developed ICON 2.0.
After ICON 2.0 was released, however, a second challenge emerged. This one was operational, and involved the well-known issue involving unsustainable gas fees. Technically speaking, BTP worked, but practically speaking, it was too expensive to use.
As ICONists know, this is what led to the creation of ICON Bridge, the soon-to-be-released “BTP light” interchain solution.
Song explains that BTP was already late, and with other interchain services hitting the market, they needed to deploy right away, even if that meant ditching cryptographical verification, at least for the time being. He’s not particularly happy about this — “It removes everything that makes BTP unique,” he says — but he agrees with the rationale, and it gives his team time to build BTP 2.0, which will solve the gas fee issue.
Development headaches aside, Song says the biggest challenge is explaining to potential customers why they should use BTP in the first place. It’s not always an easy sell, as companies balance costs and security.
Song says BTP’s chief selling point is that in its final form, the solution will be completely trustless. No need to put your faith in a middleman. Just trust the code.
“We trust the blockchain itself,” says Song. “Communication should be made in a cryptographic way so it’s more trustworthy.”
A Blockchain Engineer’s Work is Never Done
Song also works on ICON’s core blockchain engine. This work is closely linked to BTP 2.0’s development.
“BTP 2.0 itself requires a change in the system core,” he says. “BTP 2.0 requires BTP block generation, some kind of Layer 2 generation. The Layer 2 blocks are made by a Layer 1 subsystem. But that system has yet to be developed. So my team is working on that core system.”
Things move fast in the blockchain space. A bit too fast, in fact. “The hardest thing about being a blockchain developer is that a new technology emerges every day,” he says. “There are lots of similar solutions — some are good for one thing, but you can’t use it for other things. But we eventually need to choose just one.”