Robert Wiecko is getting back into playing electric guitar. Armed with his brand new Fender Stratocaster, the COO of DASH Core Group is reliving his youth as a high school student living in Poland.
“It’s an amazing feeling to restart something you loved so much and forgot for some reason.”
Playing guitar gives him a sense of freedom and peace, he explains. Learning to play again is not just entertaining, but acts as a sort of meditation. Focusing on the skill, he frees his mind from the usual demands and stresses of the day.
The notion of freedom is what drew him into the blockchain space in 2011. Working in software development in the financial sector for much of his career, Wiecko recognized serious flaws in the system. “I realized there’s something wrong with the financial system in general. Bitcoin appeared to me as a fantastic thing. Back in 2011, it was for geeks, and I was a total geek.”
Despite this initial fascination with blockchain technology, Wiecko felt he was not up to the task of exploring it initially, due to a multi-year bout with ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory bowel syndrome. “It’s a very nasty disease, incurable for western medicine. My life was almost ruined by the disease.”
But Wiecko was open to exploring alternative approaches to rid himself of the illness. He learned that western doctors only offered medicines to mitigate symptoms, but not to cure the disease. In Poland, alternative medicines were frowned upon and perceived as illegitimate. “I said, ‘Well I disagree with that, I’m not going to be sick until the end of my life and consume chemical substances to maintain the status quo.’”
He did his own research — an oft-repeated adage in the crypto realm — and discovered a range of methods from Chinese and Tibetan medicine that, when combined with a disciplined diet and meditation, eradicated the disease.
After three years of this change in mindset and healthier living, he returned to his doctor who found that Wiecko had successfully cured the illness. “The doctors were shocked,” he explains. Tests found no remaining evidence of the disease.
“Mainly it was the mindset and lifestyle changes that helped me to recover. I’m happy. I’m one of many cured from this type of disease. It’s an unpopular narrative in the mainstream, driven by pharma companies” he says.
Alternative medicine, alternative finance
Wiecko draws parallels between delving into alternative medicine and exploring blockchain technology. An IT expert specializing in Java and Oracle development, the concept of decentralization was a revolutionary idea to him. In its earliest days, the crypto world was filled with idealists: Libertarians, Wiecko explains, were the dominant force in the space. He was excited to join a growing movement motivated by positive ideals.
He briefly tinkered with the speculative side of the industry but found that he was, unfortunately, a terrible trader. Instead, he started to get involved with technical teams. “There was no chance to join Bitcoin teams. I was not sophisticated enough.” But Wiecko found a few small projects where he could contribute.
Unfortunately, most of these smaller projects were really in it for a quick buck, he realized. The formula was becoming familiar: create a coin, make a bunch of money, and abandon the project. “It was not what I was looking for.”
Wiecko expressed his frustrations with the pump-and-dump state of affairs in the crypto market on a Polish forum, where a friend recommended he look into Darkcoin, a fork of Litecoin created by Evan Duffield. The community and vision of the project stood out, and he connected with Duffield to offer his services as a project manager. Even though the team was tiny at the time, Duffield hired him for the project. The Darkcoin name was changed to DASH that same year.
You have no idea… it was pure communism
Born in socialist-era Poland, Wiecko knows a thing or two about the other side of freedom. “You have no idea what life was like in Poland in the 70’s. It was pure communism.”
“America was always presented as an evil part of the world. We didn’t believe it, but the media campaign was always going into your head. It was propaganda.”
The Orthodox Catholic family lived in the countryside of an especially poor region. Despite their struggles, his parents instilled in Wiecko a moral compass that he follows to this day, even though he is not religious like his parents.
Moving to a nearby city, Wiecko had the rare opportunity to experiment with computers when his school bought three and offered programming classes. People were lucky just to have a telephone in their homes at the time, he explains, so owning a personal computer was an impossibility. Gesturing that his head is exploding, he expresses his enthusiasm when first encountering computers, “BOOOOOOOOM! I want to do this!”
“I loved computers from the very first experience. There was a magic behind programming. It was the time I knew my life would be connected to computers.”
The world gets bigger
As communism began its decline in Poland, the west beckoned. While his father went abroad to earn money to support the family, Wiecko attended a technical high school where he learned about robotics and automation. He picked up his guitar habit, jamming on Slayer and Metallica with friends, but dropped the instrument when he dedicated himself fully to his IT studies with a major in software engineering.
His first job as a Java developer in Warsaw was short-lived. He worked with a friend in a startup that failed in its first year, collapsing during the imploding dot.com bubble. Wiecko was in dire straits — he had money for nothing.
“I was literally standing on the street with one bag in my hand. All of my clothes and possessions were in this bag. And I had in my pocket around ten dollars. It was all my money. I could buy a ticket and return home to my parents, or I could start doing something by myself.”
Wiecko called up a few friends who gave him a place to stay until he found a new job with a consulting company. “I’m really grateful to them,” he says, “If you build good relationships, your friends will help you.”
Soon, he was working “from the inside” as a technical consultant in finance for entities such as the National Bank of Poland. As a developer, he was obliged to learn about the inner workings of the financial system in order to develop for the needs of his clients. He began to see that the system was broken. “Being an insider, I started to realize — uh-uh — it’s not so perfect.”
After joining Hewlett-Packard, Wiecko shifted the focus of his work toward less technical elements, working more closely with people as a project manager. He spent more of his time dealing with clients and facilitating cooperation between departments.
Despite his career success, Wiecko was frustrated with his health issues and decided to move out of Poland to Switzerland, where alternative medicines were perceived more positively and the standard of living was much better. As his health improved, he began spending more of his time in the blockchain space, working on a range of projects before landing with the DASH Core team in 2015 as project manager.
Working in the traditional finance industry for UBS by day and then fighting the system in his crypto work during evenings and weekends, Wiecko felt a sense of schizophrenia. He decided to leave his traditional bank job to dedicate himself fully to crypto. “I loved crypto. I loved the libertarian ideas. At that time, everyone was talking about freedom, about privacy, about the necessity of changing finance, about giving back financial freedom to people. I really believed in that and I still believe in such ideas.”
That’s why Wiecko is involved with DASH, he explains. He sees a genuine vision behind the project, one whose goals are not just about making fast money. The creator of DASH, Evan Duffield, had proposed ideas for innovating on Bitcoin, but was not heard, he says. So, he started DASH, forking off Litecoin as Darkcoin. This enabled improved speed, privacy, and governance, making the technology useful — not just for trading, Wiecko insists, but for everyday applications.
“When I heard this for the first time, I realized okay, this is the project and place for me. They have clear business goals and a vision on how to get there.” In 2015, he says, Bitcoin had a clear vision, but most other coins were merely about speculation. “I could say, at that time, 95% of them were trash.” DASH stood out to him as one of the few exceptions. Even to this day, Wiecko admits, “The ratio has improved, but not by much.”
Master nodes and Bitcoin tickets
A major innovation of DASH is the concept of master nodes, Wiecko explains. At the time of its inception, projects were mostly similar to Bitcoin, having only a single layer of nodes. The DASH team realized that a second layer of master nodes could enable enhanced privacy with low-cost, instant transactions and a range of more sophisticated features. The layer could be incentivized to make it self-sufficient and decentralized. While standard nodes would provide hash power and a layer of security, the master node layer could provide a much greater range of software services.
Over the course of time, DASH master nodes have evolved to become a decentralized protector of the network, with 5,000 master nodes distributed around the world ensuring security. ChainLock technology prevents any possibility of a 51% attack on the DASH network. An upcoming new release will allow developers to create applications on the master node layer. He expects it will be released to testnet by the end of this year.
Now the COO of DASH Core Group, Wiecko works less directly with projects, but maintains a substantial list of responsibilities including managing procedures, QA and infrastructure, communicating with teams, complying with regulatory requirements, and even managing a service desk. Uniquely, DASH users can submit tickets to the service desk and receive support for technical problems. With Bitcoin, he says, “if you have a technical problem, where do you submit your ticket?”
Wiecko explains the company’s goals focus on the user, eschewing the usual hype and subsequent price speculation. “Most of the time it’s about the price. We want to change this narrative and present crypto as user-friendly. It’s actually an alternative for a person. The greatest example of this is Venezuela.”
DASH successfully provided a fast and cheap alternative for users to transact value in the hyper-inflated economy, Wiecko says. “For these poor people who earn five dollars a week, or even a month, this was something really great. They could not rely on their own currency. The dollar was not really available. Bitcoin transactions were expensive as hell…”
“For you and me,” he says, “if a Bitcoin transaction costs a dollar, it’s a cost we can afford.”
“But for those people who live from one dollar a day for an entire family, this is one day of their life. When the transaction costs five dollars, that’s a disaster.” In such situations, Bitcoin is not useful, he says. It can successfully store value, but it can not be used for quick and affordable transactions. Venezuelans needed an alternative and, he says, they found it with DASH.
DASH Core Group continues its focus on everyday utility and accessibility, sharing information about development progress with quarterly calls. These meetings provide transparency to the community who can be updated on the project’s progress and the challenges it faces. The focus, again, is on the user, Wiecko reiterates. “It was a conscious choice, we have chosen to spend our time developing user-friendly solutions and not focusing on charts, CoinMarketCap, volumes, prices, etc. but just to provide solid software.”
A shift in the narrative
Wiecko observes that the industry has changed in recent years, shifting from ideals centered on freedom to an obsession with speculation and more recently, regulation. In the earliest years, everyone was talking about freedom, alternative finance, helping the unbanked, and enabling financial freedom, he says. “It was the time when people in jackets and ties started to appear at the meetups and conferences. Two years later in 2018, everything switched to regulation, compliance.”
He explains that he understands the reason behind the shift, but he is not happy that the industry is so heavily focused on trading, banks and regulations. “People forget this first goal; why Bitcoin has been created. Bitcoin is the father of all cryptocurrencies. I have a lot of respect for Satoshi, to all the old timers and current Bitcoin development teams. However, sometimes I feel that the entire space forgot why we have been working so hard for such a long time. It wasn’t for trading. It wasn’t to be compliant. Totally not.”
Wiecko hates the “Lambo” narrative, he says, but acknowledges that it brought many people into the space. He hopes the get-rich-quick sentiment will fade over time and give way to true utility instead.
Crypto in general, he says, remains horribly clunky from a user perspective. It’s too complicated and technical for the average person, with horrible addresses that are not understandable. DASH Pay Wallet is designed to make this process much easier and more intuitive. Wiecko enthuses, “it will be a game-changer.”
He believes that crypto needs to innovate not to please banks and regulators, but to please the user. It can serve as an alternative financial system in the western world but much more so in the unbanked world. Mobile devices open up possibilities for users to gain more independence and freedom, accessing crypto technology in their everyday lives.
The concept of freedom becoming widely available to people everywhere really gets Wiecko excited, as he recalls his youth living under an oppressive regime. “I can not understand how some people nowadays say openly that they want socialism. I was living in socialism. You have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“I remember deaths on the streets. I remember total control of everything. And that’s why those libertarian ideas are so important for me. Everything I do, I am focused on freedom, liberty, and human rights.”