Bitcoin’s lead developer and chief maintainer, Wladimir van der Laan, has confirmed his retirement. He was the second successor to Satoshi Nakamoto and one of the very few in the world to have full access to the Bitcoin Core GitHub.
Longest-serving Bitcoin developer retires
In the entire history of Bitcoin (BTC), Wladimir van der Laan is certainly one of the most important and paradoxically one of the least known names. Initially a contributor, then quickly becoming a lead developer, he has played a major role in building Bitcoin as we know it today.
He is one of the only people in the world with access to the GitHub code of Bitcoin Core, the reference software implementation of Bitcoin. Indeed, although developed in a decentralised, free and open source way, this software has a certain hierarchy and a Lead Maintainer.
Originally, this role was held by Satoshi Nakamoto himself. He handed it over in February 2011 to Gavin Andresen, before disappearing. He finally appointed Wladimir van der Laan as his successor on 7 April 2014. This makes him the longest-serving lead Bitcoin developer, and the second successor to Satoshi Nakamoto.
After eight years of dedicating his time and energy to the successful development of the Bitcoin network, it seems that van der Laan has decided to step down from his position. No successor has yet been named, although Pieter Wuille is the most likely to take over.
There are several reasons for his choice
In January 2021, Wladimir van der Laan had already announced that he wanted to step down from his position. After more years at the helm of Bitcoin than anyone else, including Satoshi Nakamoto, he was expressing concerns about being “a centralized bottleneck” for Bitcoin’s development.
It was only last week, in response to several series of tweets, that he validated the news. Since then, his bio on the bluebird social network has simply been changed to “ex: Bitcoin Core”. Through his posts, van der Laan gave several hints as to the motivation for his departure.
First of all, he mentioned burnout as one of the main reasons. The Bitcoin community has often been considered difficult, even “toxic”, especially on social networks like Twitter. For example, van der Laan pointed out the psychological impact of recurrent criticism of years-old mistakes.
it isn’t one thing! i’m just kinda burnt out, it’s stressful, and tired of the same discussions, the same issues
it’s been a long time! i changed, the world changed, and i feel it’s time for something else
– orionwl (@orionwl) August 9, 2022
Moreover, Bitcoin developers are essentially volunteer workers. It is possible that some receive charitable donations from companies or Bitcoin holders to subsidize their work. However, even with these donations, most network developers are underpaid compared to their counterparts in other industries.
It was this social networking violence that motivated van der Laan to maintain a semblance of anonymity, disclosing very little information about his personal life. He said that in the future, he would like to move away from the cryptocurrency sector, believing he has already contributed enough to the industry.
What happens next
For now, van der Laan has yet to name a successor. According to the hierarchy set up by Satoshi Nakamoto, it is absolutely necessary to have someone in the position of Chief Maintainer of Bitcoin Core. In the current order, Pieter Wuille could take over.
However, it is quite possible that van der Laan decides not to appoint a successor in order to voluntarily end his function. By doing so, he would like to make his last move for Bitcoin, by making it even more decentralised than it is now.
Indeed, van der Laan is the only one who holds the administrative key to the Bitcoin Core GitHub. His ultimate goal would be to make access to this key completely decentralised, so much so that Bitcoin no longer needs a Master Maintainer.
In his first announcement in January 2021, he had already published a plan to achieve this goal. This included the possibility of decentralising development tasks and, above all, no longer depending on GitHub to host code.
After eight years in this position, the Bitcoin community warmly thanked Wladimir van der Laan for his involvement, his time, his energy and the wonderful work he has done to keep Satoshi Nakamoto’s creation alive and evolving.