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Hire mathematician (and computational physicist) to join res[...]

The What

Hi there! You should hire me, Sarang Noether, as a mathematical and cryptographic researcher to keep Monero stable and help it grow long term. I have a strong background in cryptography, data modeling, computational physics, and theoretical mathematics, as well as experience working with the Monero team. My good friend Surae Noether (now identified as masked mathematician Brandon Goodell) of the Monero Research Lab (MRL) team encouraged me to come on board as a full-time researcher.

The Who

Back in the day, I worked on interesting problems for MRL as it was starting to blossom as an integral part of the Monero project. Our team worked pseudonymously and analyzed existing constructions within the Monero standards while working out future improvements and analysis. You may remember me from IRC or the MRL papers. I completed separate M.S. degrees in mathematics and physics, and am set to defend my Ph.D. thesis in computational physics shortly.

My research background blends the dark side of mathematics with the messy side of material science. I use a lot of different numerical and simulation techniques to study how materials degrade, which involves huge data sets and plenty of custom analysis. My analysis is done using custom code in C++ and Python, but I have experiencing coding in ASP, C, Java, JavaScript, Perl, PHP, and other languages. To make a long story longer and toot my own horn a little: I am very good at applying rigorous mathematical and statistical analysis to big and ugly data. Before graduate school, I worked for the United States government (at the Naval Observatory in Washington) on the atomic clocks that power the GPS system, which involved a whole lotta time series analysis and more clock math than you can shake a wristwatch at. Ask me about leap seconds if you're bored sometime. I also developed and manage the cloud data infrastructure that powers the operational analysis tools for a good chunk of the bikeshare systems in the United States. If you've ever rented a bike in this country, there's a good chance it used code that I wrote.

On the side, I teach. I run cryptology courses for the Duke University Talent Identification Program and Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth in the United States and overseas, where I introduce gifted students to the awesome and terrifying world of ciphers. I've even given lectures on Monero and some of its notable constructions like ring signatures in my classes. Aside from this course, I write and deliver courses on algorithm design and scientific computing. I use these courses as an opportunity to stay sharp on the cutting edge of modern cryptography and hone my skills as a technical communicator.

The Why

Why should you support me? I have a history of work with Monero's development and a sharp eye for implementations of mathematical algorithms. Monero has a lot of talented community members specialized in fields like mathematics, applied cryptography, and computer science. What's rarer, though, is someone who has a strong background in all of them. I can look at a construction and proof of security and compare it to what's actually in code. Surae and I consult frequently on issues that the community brings up, new proposals for Monero's future, and independent reviews of existing code. We've caught some less-than-ideal implementations of primitives recently, like nonstandard input concatenation hashes that aren't provably secure and should probably go away. The recent research roadmap (say that five times fast) posted by Surae to the forums is ambitious, and rightly so. Monero has come a long way, but its growth means a larger footprint to keep an eye on, and more exciting developments to thoroughly and formally investigate.

The Proposal

I propose the community hire me for 700 XMR for the three-month period of August, September, and October to conduct applied and theoretical research with MRL. Milestones for the ambitious research roadmap put forth by Surae are necessarily fluid and must adapt to the community's needs, but we should expect regular updates, community interaction, and informal papers on subjects of interest. At the end of the three-month period, the community can review my work and recommend a renewal of the proposal. Besides research into the future of Monero, I like the idea of the community having mathematicians "on retainer" in a sense; there have been unexpected situations in the past that needed fast analysis by trained eyes, and this is the way to do it.

What do I want to accomplish? I want to grow the MRL program as a full-time member of the team. Monero succeeds when its community has complete trust in both the underlying mathematics and its implementation, and hiring strong researchers demonstrates to the world that Monero is serious, stable, and here for the long haul. We have ambitious but reasonable plans to reduce blockchain bloat, continue to check under the rug for existing implementation issues, study constructions like ring signature mix-ins, and ensure Monero will remain safe and reliable in a post-quantum world. I've enjoyed consulting for MRL already, both in the past as a part-time paid researcher and more recently as a volunteer. But the team and community benefit from mathematicians who can devote their full attention to the project. The community's recent show of support to Surae was a good move that confirmed the community places a high value on strong research. The best time to hire a team of mathematicians was at Monero's birth (hindsight, amirite?), but the next best time is now.

Replies: 22
nioc posted 4 hours ago Weight: 500 | Link [ - ]

I have read virtually everything surae has written on IRC at #monero-reasearch-lab as well as all the other monero IRC channels. I watched and heard him speak at the NYC Monero meetup this past May. I have no doubt about either his abilities or motivation.

Sarang has worked with the MRL in the past and I certainly hope he will be able to put greater time and effort into improving the very core of Monero.

I have helped fund surae and I am looking forward to doing my small part in funding Sarang and the MRL.

SarangNoether posted 3 hours ago Weight: 500 | Link [ - ]

Sarang here. I just wanted to chime in and let the community know that I have been reading the excellent comments posted here so far. I apologize for not staying more engaged since posting this, but I've been in China teaching a packed three-week cryptology course. The time difference and crazy workload have been eating up all my time recently. I want to address a few of the comments in one fell swoop, if I may.

As to the rate, what was posted about contractor rates in general is very true. Making contract work a full-time position often commands rates that appear higher than for an equivalent employee position, due to things like insurance and other taxes. But regardless of the reason, we should all be comfortable with the amounts that researchers are paid, and it's definitely a good idea to have a discussion about something like standard rates as we move forward. My request is for an amount that I consider reasonable given my education and background, and I'm open to talking about it openly. But keep in mind that I would like to make this research position my full-time commitment during the contract period, and that would require fair pay for that level of commitment.

To address a related comment about the commitment, I would not have other university employment during this contract work. My university teaching positions are for summers only (like the course I'm teaching right now) and would end prior to accepting any funding. Again, I want this to be a full-time position, and will treat it as such.

The comments about deliverables are excellent, and make good points about the tightrope walk of good research. You don't want to fall into the trap of defining your projects so narrowly that you can't reasonably get any results, but also want to avoid being so broad as to avoid any real focus. Surae and I have been discussing the earlier [https://forum.getmonero.org/9/work-in-progress/87652/hire-phd-mathematician-to-look-into-post-quantum-crypto-zk-protocols-blockchain-bloat?page=&noscroll=1#post-91208](research roadmap), which is chock full of problems to address. Some are going to be more straightforward, while others are necessarily less defined. Open and regular communication with the community will be the name of the game throughout the process, if that helps to alleviate some of the concerns that were brought up.

I'll be finishing up the administrivia associated with the last few days of my course this week, but I'll hop on this thread as I'm able, to talk through any other thoughts or concerns with all of you. Thanks for your patience with my crazy schedule this month!

antw081 edited 1 week ago Weight: 483 | Link [ - ]

I'll be happy to help fund this.

monerodinero edited 1 week ago Weight: 481 | Link [ - ]

"complete trust in both the underlying mathematics and its implementation" This is what MRL needs to produce and publish everywhere. The potential for an order of magnitude in market cap move is here. Sarang already values aspects of our project. Its time to leverage him.

dEBRUYNE edited 5 days ago Replies: 2 | Weight: 480 | Link [ - ]

I like this proposal and thus approve it. However, I have a small remark with respect to the rate. More specifically, why is the rate almost twice as high as Surae's rate? In addition, it's also significantly higher than what top coders / contributors like MoneroMooo and anonimal asked for. In my opinion, the rate is, relatively speaking, a bit too high.

Reply to: dEBRUYNE
endogenic edited 5 days ago Replies: 1 | Weight: 483 | Link [ - ]

It's well known that moneromooo took a (surprisingly) extremely low rate for a person of his ability. I believe he said part of the reason for that is that he already had received a good chunk of XMR in the past from the community, which I'm sure has provided a cushion of sorts. But he's a very special case. I honestly think it was somewhat unfortunate he asked for such a low rate, not primarily because he could easily justify getting paid 3-5x more, but because his rate therefore cannot be used as a benchmark for anyone else. Where he asked for something like $30-40/hr (I don't recall the exact numbers), a senior developer of his ability (even completely ignoring the extreme speciality of his domain), in a contractual/consulting rather than employment setting, would normally be paid at a very minimum about $100/hr. And that's low for someone like moneromooo. I've seen brash and inexperienced intermediate devs ask for more simply because they think they know how to code in a production setting because they've got a CS degree. I've had some senior devs who were excellent self-managers, who had experienced many things in legit production settings, charge upwards of $200-250/hr. Excellent specialists sometimes go higher, upwards of $400-500/hr, believe it or not. And it's actually often justified, because of the high value produced by their output for their customer. Their work is used to produce a return of multiple times the cost – otherwise it can't really be justified. In fact, one silly metric used to approximate this is that for the acquisition of a team by another company (not talking about any IP, brand equity, products, traction etc), one should multiply the number of engineers on the team by $1M. (This of course is based on the assumption that you only hire solid people.)

I think it's important to look briefly at why rates like $100/hr can be justified in terms of expenses for a contractor. A solid 7-billable-hour day would be $700. (And few can put in a solid day of billable hours without screwing around a bit, or spending their time researching or reworking something they ought to have planned better and therefore shouldn't be charging near their full rate for.) Now let's say this rate is for a month-long project during which the contractor will be working 5 days a week. That nets out at $14k for a solid month of (140) hardcore billable programming hours during which zero messing-about was done. But already, a good 45% of that is going to go to special taxes and operation costs which consultants must pay. Then add on top that they must pay for their own medical/dental insurance. Then add onto that the fact that consultants must do their own bizdev (which in this case takes the form of building community trust, doing the FFS proposal, managing feedback, responding to requests, etc) and generally hop from project to project – which means doing completely unpaid work without any job security for who knows how long. Pretty soon you're not terribly far off from normal employee rates of around $5-6k/mo post-tax. And in terms of where all that goes, a good $2-3k/mo could immediately go to housing alone. Another $700-1k/mo could easily go to food. Then another $500 for medical insurance (since no employer). Another $500 for potential car payments and insurance. Don't forget utilities like internet and cell. Then add on top of that the fact that if he's left with no money at the end, he can't save anything for a rainy day, and working on Monero long-term is suddenly not viable anymore. (So there's also the tangential argument to be made that FFS proposals need to be a viable alternative to good employment or non-money-grabbing consulting.)

Even if we ignore the special costs to consultants (vs employees) and treat it as a simple salary, $150k/year is really not that high for a person of Sarang's (reported) very special expertise. I would venture to guess that if he really went about it the right way, he could end up making a $200-300k/yr base salary as an employee, if not more, depending on experience and ability. Of course, I don't know him personally, and I've never worked with him, so I can't say whether he actually could justify this, but my point is, it's not that crazy at all. It really depends on (a) how seriously he takes the job, (b) how ready he is to live with having to be accountable for every billable hour, and (c) how good he actually is (i.e. his output/hr and the quality of it). If he's ready to have to be accountable for his work output during every billable hour - not that this is an hourly gig! - then it's actually a good thing he charges that much, because that means we know it means he's going to pump out a lot of value over a short period of time and not make excuses. And I get the feeling he is already treating the gig like this given the places he's worked. But if he's not really operating at that level, where he plans to put every business hour into this as a fulltime job, then 700 XMR for three months is too high. So what I think could help here is if Sarang could talk a little bit about how he sees this gig, whether he's going to be putting his all into it, and whether he knows what I'm talking about in terms of value/hr – basically, diligence. Not knowing him personally and not having seen him work, I couldn't tell you that. I just wanted to provide a bit of a reality check that if he indeed operates at that level, the figure is not so crazy. In fact it would be in the community's best interest to make sure he's above the threshold of pay where he no longer has to worry about money, because it means he can worry about Monero instead. And I would say that if Sarang's rate is only able to found to be too high in relation to the rate requested by others, and not in relation to the value he's generating, then it only means we need to start paying Surae, anonimal, etc more so that they don't have to worry about money either.

Hope this is contributive.

Reply to: endogenic dEBRUYNE
ferretinjapan posted 5 days ago Replies: 1 | Weight: 490 | Link [ - ]

I'd be fine with the rate, but what I'm less enthusiastic about is the defined deliverables. This is a lot of money and I definitely think Sarang is deserving of such a rate, but apart from helping Surae, there's little in the form of a tangible set of deliverables. I also think that being hired the equivilent of a full time wage clashes with the fact that Sarang does have a university position. How can we justify paying an hourly rate equivalent to a full time position, while he also gets a paid role at Duke University?

I think this proposal needs some better defined deliverables (something that can actuially be measured) and a proper definition of what role Sarang proposes to act as, as well as making sure that he can fit this role in with his other University work (because lets be honest here, his Uni life, WILL take priority over obligations to the FFS contract. I think users need to be assured that he can incorporate his obligations to the FFS as well as his daily obligations as a University employee.

Now, as a (yet to be anointed PhD) researcher myself, I know its tough to define research deliverables (real tough) because research almost always doesn't play nice with deadlines, but even still, I think this proposal needs more detail and focus. For example, lets at least set out hours per week spent working as an MRL consultant at a bare minimum in this proposal.

Reply to: ferretinjapan endogenic dEBRUYNE
suraeNoether posted 1 day ago Replies: 1 | Weight: 498 | Link [ - ]

Your concerns are justified, and the situation could be clarified a bit. For one thing, if the community wants, we can perhaps move MRL to a model where individual researchers are not funded through FFS, but a certain group of participants in MRL are decided upon as the lab coordinators, and the lab is collectively funded. This could eliminate questions about how individual researchers decide on funding amounts, etc, and will allow folks who want to participate in MRL who have academic experience can actually engage in productive negotiation about salaries and funding. This is the direction I plan on taking MRL eventually, especially if we get any grants. But this is a rather higher-level thing that will require a lot of discussion. In particular about Sarang... If your concern is that Sarang's proposal is not well-defined, I refer you to my previous posts in my own funding thread about the MRL research roadmap. MRL is trying to get those things done. Sarang is offering his assistance in that road map and in granting his considerable expertise while modifying the road map as the journey unfolds. I invited him to apply specifically to assist me with that roadmap.

In terms of deliverables... Well-defined deliverables are nearly impossible in research. Maybe you think our deliverables should be published papers. This incentivizes least-publishable-units, which are crappy little tiny math papers that have literally the least amount of information possible in order to get past reviewers. Maybe, as you say, you think deliverables should be measured in hours of work. This simply leads to a "billable hours" situation, which no one really wants either. Maybe you think the deliverables should be some new cryptoscheme. It's entirely possible that, as mathematicians, Sarang and I put in 40 hours a week each for 2 months working on a scheme/set-up. Then, last minute, one of us notices a small math mistake, because we have PhDs, and we scrap the entire project because it's irreconcilably insecure. The desire for well-defined deliverables in this case incentivizes us to push out insecure or under-vetted schemes. If the community gets pissed off and deprives us of compensation for lots of PhD-level work because it didn't result in a deliverable, this would be wage theft if the FFS were a company liable to being sued by its employees.

Maybe you think "Okay, well, if we can't have very well-defined deliverables and we are paying for abstract research with no guaranteed payoff, maybe we only need one mathematician." At which point, I can say confidently: okay, well some of our plans are going to take years and years to get off the ground. To give you an idea, five (count 'em: FIVE) mathematicians at a Chinese university just put out a new paper on zcash with a new scheme for fast transaction processing (here)[https://eprint.iacr.org/2017/684]. Monero is not going to keep up with only one mathematician.

We have several people with lots of crypto and CS experience already contributing to the team. They are INVALUABLE. But we are in an arms race (literally: the bad guys want to break our crypto, and we want to make it stronger). If we want to put any sort of reasonable dent into any sort of research roadmap, we have to accept the notion that we need several people. Moreover, in my opinion, we need to accept the idea that research and "deliverables" are often competing ideas that aren't directly resolvable.

As a final note for clarification... Sarang teaches in the summer for a teaching program hosted by Duke. He is a seasonal employee there in the summer for a few weeks at a time, not full-time or salary. He is in China right now for that program. I also plan on teaching for this program (Duke TIP) next summer; I'm going to see if I can specifically teach a course on cryptography and cryptocurrency, for example. I certainly won't be seeking funding from MRL for that time, but Sarang won't be seeking funding while he is teaching either, AFAIK.

Reply to: suraeNoether ferretinjapan endogenic dEBRUYNE
ferretinjapan posted 23 hours ago Weight: 498 | Link [ - ]

Thanks for the input. And I agree the deliverable part is not going to be easily defined, I mentioned it in case it could be defined. If it can't be because the nature of the work makes it impossible, thats fine, it wasn't so much a criticism, but more a "it would be nice if". So I appreciate that this can't be done, but I'll make mention that the proposal itself does not tell me exactly what he was trying to get funding for. You mention that he will be assisting you? Then a link to your funding page where everyone can see what you are working on would be appropriate. I think that'd help get it funded faster too. I'd hate to see the proposal flounder for weeks because people are hesitant to contribute due to lack of information.

Also, as I said in my original comment, aside from the work, its important to know that he actually has time to do this work if he has other unrelated employment obligations. I don't want to raise expectations for him being paid to fulfill the equivalent of 40 hours work a week on Monero when he in fact has a full time position at Duke as well. That's not clear in the proposal (thankyou for clarifying his circumstances though) and I think it is important that users that fund this commitment have clarification that he is not being overly burdened. I very much want Sarang to be a part of this community funding effort, make no mistake, but I think communication of what is going to be involved in this funding is important and I think little things like this will make a big difference. That way no one is left in the dark and you guys can get funded in a flash and focus on more interesting topics. :)

Reply to: dEBRUYNE
astro11 posted 1 week ago Weight: 478 | Link [ - ]

What do you think it would be a fair rate? Just wondering.

lethos3 edited 1 week ago Weight: 479 | Link [ - ]

MRL is one of the reasons Monero is the most advanced cryptocurrency and improved massively over cryptonote, I absolutely support the idea.

rehrar edited 1 week ago Weight: 479 | Link [ - ]

I am rehrar, and I approve this message.

astro11 edited 1 week ago Replies: 1 | Weight: 479 | Link [ - ]

I would be more than happy to donate a fixed amount every month to keep competent people with good intentions working on the Monero project. It's very important to add the financial variable here because I, at least, don't expect people working for free in a project when everyone have bills to pay.

Reply to: astro11
suraeNoether posted 1 day ago Weight: 498 | Link [ - ]

Thank you for this. I personally would prefer to move to a more stably-funded MRL, and I may have some ideas after my first three-month period comes to an end.

monerodinero edited 1 week ago Weight: 479 | Link [ - ]

I believe Sarang will add considerable value to the project. His skills are impressive, and we need him in our MRL to keep our project set apart and bleeding edge crypto. I personally will contribute, but I'm getting beat up in this bear market. Many of the monero I've purchased at a significantly higher price than where we are now.

scoobybejesus posted 1 week ago Weight: 479 | Link [ - ]

This is awesome, though I have a question. Would you be willing to start early, if this is funded early? That is, the August - October period would be the period you're paid for; but it would probably make a lot of us more comfortable about this pay rate if you would make yourself available in advance of your FFS work to assimilate and catch up. This proposal is quite a bit more than what Surae asks for, so perhaps it would be like a gesture of good faith that you make a community presence and assist Surae in his MRL endeavors. And then when August 1 comes, you'll already have picked up a head of steam.

unknownids posted 1 week ago Weight: 478 | Link [ - ]

Absolutely! This is great news :D

andreabdel27 posted 1 week ago Weight: 478 | Link [ - ]

"complete trust in both the underlying mathematics and its implementation" This!!

JollyMort posted 1 week ago Weight: 478 | Link [ - ]

Nice, would love to see this funded!

drfred posted 1 week ago Weight: 478 | Link [ - ]

yes, please! will donate ofc.

euanlaing posted 1 week ago Weight: 478 | Link [ - ]

I support this. I'll chip in what I can.