Foundational Knowledge: Getting to Know Chris Pinnock, Head of IT and Chief Baker at the Tezos Foundation
Tezos Foundation's Chris Pinnock on Tezos baking and the important role of the Tezos Foundation in helping make the Tezos ecosystem run smoothly and efficiently
1,450 words, 8 minute read
When it comes to learning about exactly how the Tezos ecosystem runs and what part Tezos baking plays in its notoriously smooth operation, there aren’t many more knowledgeable people to talk to than Tezos Foundation’s Chris Pinnock.
As Head of IT and Chief Baker at the Tezos Foundation, Chris plays a crucial role in building out the Tezos ecosystem’s robust digital infrastructure and scaling its capacity for the Web 3.0-driven future ahead.
And, while a career in Web 3.0 and blockchain technology might not have been exactly what Chris envisioned when he first stepped forth to make his mark on the world, his ongoing journey into this dynamic space has brought him to exactly where he needs to be…
“I started off in academia. I did a PhD in pure mathematics. I wanted to work in a university. I wanted to become a lecturer and do research mathematics, but university jobs were scarce. I’ve always used computers since I was 8 and I was working with Linux at the time, and an opportunity came up to work in a telecommunications company called Interoute as a system administrator. I ended up working with that company for 14 years and I eventually became the Vice President of Systems running the IT team. The company built the largest fiber network in Europe. After this I went to do some IT consultancy for a few years. In 2021, I was in touch with the Tezos Foundation about an infrastructure contract. We spoke for a couple of months, and then, as these things do, it turned into a bigger role, which is the role I’m doing now. I run the Tezos Foundation Bakers, run the IT for the Foundation, and also I perform technical grant reviews and sit on the Technical Advisory Committee. Two years have gone by, and I’ve enjoyed every day.”
A key player in one of the Tezos ecosystem’s most important organizational bodies, Chris has spent the past 2+ years learning everything there is to know about the ongoing evolution of the Tezos ecosystem and its underlying infrastructure and has helped it make massive strides toward scaling for the Web 3.0 revolution to come. As Chris has learned during his time with the Tezos Foundation, however, there’s a lot to do and a lot to be considered in this critical ongoing endeavor…
“The Tezos Foundation is a Swiss foundation set up to manage the money from the Tezos fundraiser. Its remit is to support the Tezos ecosystem and promote its growth. We do this in a number of ways, including grants — organizations apply to us for a grant and we evaluate them in the context of the ecosystem. We also invest in businesses that have a sustainable positive effect on the Tezos blockchain. We have to follow Swiss regulations and we are fully audited to make sure that we’re not just sitting on a fund and handing money out. “
As for what role the Tezos Foundation’s head of IT and chief baker plays in maintaining and supporting the day-to-day operation of the Tezos ecosystem, Chris has his talented fingers in many different Tezos ecosystem pies…
“Day-to-day, I manage the foundation’s bakers — we have 8 of them. We participate in the test networks and help validate new versions of the blockchain software. We also maintain some live copies of the blockchain. We have a live copy on every continent except Antarctica and on two different cloud platforms. I also manage the security audits for some of our ecosystem software.
Additionally, I’m currently working on an exciting project that’s part of the next generation of the Tezos ecosystem called Etherlink. This will bring an Ethereum-compatible smart rollup to Tezos. I’m working on the supporting infrastructure with the talented folks at Nomadic Labs and Trilitech.”
Like everything else in the Tezos ecosystem, however, Chris’ role is a quickly-evolving one. As the ecosystem and the technology underpinning it move forward, so, it turns out, does Chris’ role, something Chris spoke about during his recent appearance on TezTalks Live…
“Bakers are the Tezos equivalent of miners. The bakers on the network record all of the transactions and verify that the other bakers are doing the right things. When we launched the chain, there were just the foundation bakers. They were doing all of the baking, making all of the blocks. As coins have been issued over the years and we’ve been listed on more exchanges, more bakers have come on board.
Tezos Foundation currently holds roughly 15.5% of the network’s staked tez, and that’s spread over the 8 bakers. This is for stability reasons — I can take one of them down for maintenance and not affect the network. By baking, we guarantee a stable network, but we also drive behavior. Some members of the community wait for the Tezos Foundation to upgrade before they upgrade afterwards. Whilst we hold tez, we will continue to bake. In the future, as our funds are reduced, we will bake less, and one day the community will be self-sufficient and bake for themselves.”
Having dipped his toes into the Tezos ecosystem and begun to explore its infrastructure and community, Chris found a lot to like. His decision to take on a larger role and become ensconced in the Tezos ecosystem was one he made with very good reason…
“The thing that got me on the hook was the fact that it was a large AWS infrastructure contract using tools like CloudHSM, which you don’t often get a chance to play with. Once I started doing the research on Tezos, there were a number of things that were important to me.
The first one was the governance process — the fact that every baking participant can vote and decide what the future of the chain is. If you compare that to other chains, where you’ve got to convince everyone to upgrade the software — and that has all sorts of other problems associated with it — this is a great thing, because people get to participate. The other thing is the low barrier to entry. In the first weeks, I found it very easy to install our software, configure it, and get going.
Also, we are environmentally friendly. Because we’re proof-of-stake, the mining is scheduled, so there’s no competition generating the blocks. Consequently, Tezos doesn’t need as much computing power as other chains.
These are still the differentiators that I like about Tezos, but now also I would include the small transaction time — our transactions are now settled within about 30 seconds.”
Today, with 2+ years working in the Tezos ecosystem under his belt, Chris has witnessed big changes. And, with 2024 on the horizon, he’s extremely positive about the changes ahead…
“The Tezos ecosystem has had a massive amount of change in the last 2 years. In my first week, liquidity baking was released, and then in the first year we changed to a new faster consensus algorithm. We moved from a consensus algorithm of 5 blocks to one of 2 blocks. We’ve also reduced the block time again and again and again. When I came in, a transaction was probably settling in minutes, now it’s settling in 30 seconds .
We are working on the next generation of the chain called Tezos 2.0. It will have a smaller block time and we are planning a reduction to 10 seconds.
We’ve also developed smart rollups. We’re removing the load from layer 1 to make the next generation of Tezos scalable and performant. We’re doing it earlier than we need to so that we get it right. And the EVM-compatible rollup is coming very soon, which is very exciting.”
As 2024 dawns, the ongoing evolution of the larger blockchain ecosystem should be expected to continue its acceleration toward the Web 3.0-driven future ahead. And, with talented folks like Chris at the Tezos Foundation keeping a close eye on things and keeping Tezos at the bleeding edge of the blockchain technology space as this acceleration takes shape, the Tezos ecosystem stands poised to play an increasingly important role within that evolution moving forward.
The Tezos Foundation’s endeavor to support the growth of the Tezos ecosystem and maintain the infrastructure required to keep it operating smoothly, efficiently, and effectively at all times can be counted as one of the many important reasons Tezos has managed to make such notable progress in its relatively short time in the blockchain game. Better still, the Tezos ecosystem’s steady progress toward the front of the blockchain pack stands as testament to the impressive efforts of amazing folks like Chris Pinnock working behind the scenes and ensuring the brightest possible future for those building, developing, and working here in the Tezos ecosystem.