Today I am speaking with Saihajpreet Singh, a Software Engineer at The Guild. For those familiar with The Graph ecosystem, The Guild is one of the core development teams actively engaged in building The Graph. In a previous episode, I had the privilege of hosting The Guild’s CEO, Uri Goldshtein.
Today’s interview marks a unique milestone for the GRTiQ Podcast, as Saihaj is the first guest currently pursuing his education at a university. As long-time listeners are aware, I’m always eager to explore what universities are teaching about blockchain and web3, and Saihaj offers an intriguing glimpse into this realm.
Throughout our conversation, Saihaj shares his personal journey into web3, his significant contributions to the GraphQL community, his transition to working at The Guild, and his insights into The Graph. Along the way, Saihaj enlightens us about the distinctions between GraphQL, Rust, and Solidity, his passion for and vision regarding NFTs, and his experiences at the recent GraphQL Conference in San Francisco, where The Graph made a strong presence.
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Saihajpreet Singh (00:00:14):
I don’t have to do all the same plumbing because I was like it’s either I have to build this thing or someone already thought of this problem and they built it. So that’s how I ran into what The Graph is all about.
Welcome to the GRTiQ Podcast. Today I’m speaking with Saihajpreet Singh, software engineer at The Guild. Anyone already familiar with The Graph ecosystem knows that The Guild is one of the core dev teams working to build The Graph. I hosted the CEO of The Guild, Uri Goldshtein, during episode 50. Today’s interview is a GRTiQ Podcast first. Saihaj is the first guest I’ve interviewed who is currently completing his education at university. As longtime listeners know, I’m very curious about what universities are teaching about blockchain and web3. And so Saihaj provides an interesting glimpse into that. During this interview, Saihaj also shares his personal story and journey into web3, his contributions to The GraphQL community, going to work at The Guild, and what he and the team are contributing to The Graph. Along the way, Saihaj will educate us about the differences between GraphQL, Rust and Solidity, his interest in and vision for the future of NFTs, and the recent GraphQL Conference 2023 in San Francisco where The Graph had a very strong presence. We started the discussion talking about when Saihaj first became interested in technology.
Saihajpreet Singh (00:02:14):
So Saihaj, this is the first time I’ve had the opportunity to interview somebody that’s actually still in university. So I’m excited to ask some questions about that. And before I ask you some of that, I do want to ask about your interest in technology at such a young age. I mean you were helping build computers and learning code. Do you remember what it was about technology or these types of things that drew your interest at such a young age?
Saihajpreet Singh (00:03:18):
I think for me it was like I started playing video games and stuff, and then I was always curious, how was this thing working? Or I was drawing on MS Paint because MS Paint was still a big thing back in the day. So it was like, “Okay. How does my mouse work with my computer?” That kind of thing always… Mouse itself is a biggest innovation, I would say. How you can just click around on it, scroll around and it just works. And then I was just trying to explore and learn things. And then my dad would teach me, “Hey, you connect this thing, so this works.” Then I would learn about how printers work. And then I would learn like, “Oh, printer’s a really cool thing. I can type something or I can draw and it can print things out.” So I think that just curiosity just got me into like, “Oh, how can I make my own webpage?” And then here we are doing coding full-time now.
As I’ve interviewed so many people and learned about their background, it’s always a parent or a mentor introducing them at a young age to technology. In this case it was your father. And then this idea of building and taking apart computers is another pretty common theme. It seems like everybody that got into computer science and eventually went to work in tech had an early interest in building and taking apart. So does that check the box for you? Were you building and taking apart computers and playing around?
Saihajpreet Singh (00:04:43):
And why do you think that is? What is it about building it and taking it apart? What’s that extra step of wanting to take it apart and put it back together?
Saihajpreet Singh (00:04:52):
I may not even know the answer because if you ask my parents, if I had a screwdriver, I would open all my toys up. I was just always the kid who will open things up. So I was just like, “Okay. I want to see what’s inside.” So from my remote control cars, I would take the motors out and I would just try to build something. So for me, it’s always just like, “Oh, now it’s a big thing that you can open apart and see what’s inside it.”
I love it. Well, I appreciate you sharing some of that background. And as I said a moment ago, you’re still in university, you’re studying computer science. Talk to us about what you’re studying in computer science. And again, longtime listeners of the podcast know I’ve been trying to track a little bit through guest interviews when things like blockchain and web3 and these types of topics are making their way into university. And so I want to take advantage of the opportunity of speaking to somebody that’s studying computer science in real time presently. Are you being exposed to these things? And if so, in what context?
Saihajpreet Singh (00:05:55):
Yeah. So I took a course last winter actually. So in university, I think this is an advanced course that they teach, it’s like cryptography. So they talk about cryptography and how public ledgers work. So we learn about Ethereum and how Bitcoin work because they’re the big examples of public ledgers and how consensus methods work. So they use blockchains as an example for cryptography on how the data is stored actually on the blockchain or in Ethereum, your accounts, how Ethereum addresses work or all that kind of stuff. But I think most of this, it’s in my senior year, so that’s when they’re covering it. But early on you are not really exposed too much to web3 or blockchains in general.
I think most people who get curious about any of this is hackathons. I think hackathons are a great place where I recall in my first year there were some hackathons I saw where people were talking about blockchains and what you could actually build with blockchains. But then those were more proprietary. They were not public blockchains. But I think you get the idea of, “Hey, this is a blockchain. These are things you can do.” And then taking it to web3, you can explore more opportunities there.
As you have conversations with other students or take part in conversations in this course you just described, do you get the sense that the next generation is being pulled in the direction of web3 and blockchain of public ledgers? Do you think there’s interest in younger people pursuing this industry?
Saihajpreet Singh (00:07:35):
I think, yeah, so there’s a lot of interest in the people. I think generally people who take these cryptography courses are excited about learning cryptography and real world use cases. And then the biggest example these days is actually I think Ethereum or Bitcoin kind of thing, because Bitcoin was the era of 2008. That was the starting period for Bitcoin. But most of the mathematics behind how Bitcoin works or how these blockchains work is these courses have been there for ages. But then you see these public blockchains as a good example of those theoretical things.
So I think a lot of people interested in these are usually very interested in how the math part works. And then some people end up exploring, what can we build? I think there’s a lot more. My professor, he’s also very into all this cryptography stuff. He would give us examples of NFTs and what other things people are actually building on public ledgers. So that’s pretty cool. And then I think the other part, I think we also talked about Dexus. But we didn’t touch too much on how D access work. But I think there were a few examples shared in the process about Dexus and NFT projects.
Well, we’re talking today because you work at The Guild and we’re going to double click a ton on The Guild and the things you’ve been contributing there. But I have to ask, so here you are, you’re in this course, you’re getting done with university. And you’re working in web3, you’re working in cryptography. Is that fun for you to be in a course like that where you can kind of say, “I’m actually doing this. I have real world experience with some of these things?”
Saihajpreet Singh (00:09:12):
Yeah. I think it’s a pretty fun and exciting thing. But I think our education systems are not as developed. They still want you to go through the old process of tests and all that. So most real world things actually don’t translate one to one. But I think having conversations with other peers or just professors, it’s a fun thing and they’re also curious what you are doing.
When you started university, what was your vision for what you wanted to do with your degree in computer science? What was the early vision?
Saihajpreet Singh (00:09:45):
In my high school, we had this program. I was in a cybersecurity program where my school I would pair with professionals in the industry. So I was learning about cybersecurity, how security works and organization so people don’t get to a server closet or some things like that, but also on the network, when you connect to a network or logging in or connecting to a wifi. So I think I was pretty curious learning all this kind of stuff about how security works in general. So I thought it would be cool to learn more about security. So I decided to do a computer science degree, even internet security. And then one thing I learned during that whole process was like, how do you actually build systems that are secure? And then I think that’s one thing we touch a lot in web3 is, how do you build safe protocols or secure protocols?
So do you remember when you first became aware of crypto? You got started in tech super early. You’re presently studying computer science in university. When does crypto come into the picture here?
Saihajpreet Singh (00:10:56):
Crypto comes into the picture around 2021 I would say. I’m in my second year of university. It’s the summer when Covid hit. Things are in lockdown and stuff. So how it all started was in that summer my friends introduced me to NBA Top Shot. It was just getting started. And then so we traded cards, we all made some profit. So then I was curious how all this thing works because we all played with Pokemon cards back in the day. And then NBA Top Shot was a digital version of that. So I was kind of curious how all this is working. So that’s where we found out about how NFTs work and the whole ecosystem of what do we see today, people talking about things? So yeah, my experience to crypto was just trading NFT cards. But then me and my friend ended up learning Solidity and then we started build next side projects and just how ERC 721 works.
And then one thing I quickly realized was building a Dapp with JSON RPCs was quite slow. And then other thing was the developer experience was just pretty bad if I’m thinking, how do you build an actual real scale app that could compete with other big apps in the industry today? That kind of intrigued me. I was already big into The GraphQL ecosystem, like GraphQL is just the language to query APIs. So I was like, what if you could just have a GraphQL API to read my NFT project? And then that’s where I learned about The Graph.
I think you’re the second guest, Saihaj, that came into the crypto space by virtue of interest in NFTs. And so it’s not an incredibly common thing, although I guess if we put the timeline into context, NFTs were certainly a big deal around the time that you became exposed to crypto. What are your thoughts about the future of NFTs as somebody that came into the industry by virtue of NFTs? This is quite debated right now. A lot of people are arguing that NFTs are dead. So where do you come in on this debate?
Saihajpreet Singh (00:14:00):
I think the NFT debate when I got into it, I think Bored Apes and CryptoPunks were a really big thing. And then we saw even after that, Bored Apes just moved a lot. A lot of people just got rid of Bored Apes. I think if you think about what artists are getting paid, before that not many artists were actually getting paid. If you just poked around the Ponzi schemes around how NFT projects launched NFTs and then just think about the impact that made on other people’s lives, because I’ve seen many projects where artists were actually… Artists are getting paid right away. And then if you think about it, the biggest paintings that we see today that have a very high value to that art, they’re probably valued way a long time after the actual artist died. But today you can actually see these guys getting paid. I think that’s a pretty big thing.
And then in terms of what people can do with crypto, I think there’s a lot more things that can be explored around how NFTs work. I think in the music space, we see NFTs like artists or something. If you’re collecting NFTs from an artist or a song or something, you can get tickets to a concert. I think that’s a pretty good thing because if you think about how concerts work, let’s use Taylor Swift’s concert as an example here. If you want to get a Taylor Swift ticket, you can’t easily buy it. It’s too expensive or it’s like already bought by a bot. These are centralized platforms. There’s no regulation around all this stuff.
But then if you bring an NFT into place, let’s say people have an NFT of a Taylor Swift concert and Swift song. And then Taylor Swift is like, “I’m going to give these holders access to collect my NFTs first because they collected it,” then you can find a value of like, “Hey, I own this thing. I can actually buy that ticket. I’m part of the presale.” Because today how Ticketmaster presale codes work, you just put a code and then you get access. There’s nothing validating it. But with the NFT, I can actually validate that, “Hey, I own this thing.” So I think there’s a whole big space around ownership of NFTs that you can build a lot of products on. So that’s where I see this whole space moving towards.
And I think most people have held that position. I think that’s kind of the fundamental position of NFTs, that it was a lot less about the hype and more about ownership. So a lot more to come on this particular topic. When was the point that you made the leap from NFTs are kind of cool when it comes to collectibles and trading cards to understanding that this whole web3 industry was actually new tech or built on certain type of tech. When did that point come? Was there a specific moment or experience?
Saihajpreet Singh (00:16:43):
So as I was exploring things, just writing Solidity and just putting… I should have a Dapp on my GitHub, my first Dapp where you can just connect your wallet and say hi to me. And then I think around that time I’m like, “There are so many things happening when you’re trying to say hi to someone. How does this wallet work? What is even a wallet? How does that wallet connect?” So there are a lot of moving pieces around all this. But then the other part is if you think about a Solidity smart contract, this code is running somewhere. And you are paying for actually doing something to that smart contract because traditionally what we were used to is if you go to a website, you load the webpage, you’re not really running any compute. It’s the person offering that webpage to you running all that for you.
But now the kind of shift is the gas fee spot is like you are paying for if you need that kind of service. That’s where I got interested in what other things happen, how does it actually happen? Because in any university, I did a course on compilers and stuff. So I was kind of curious how Solidity was actually working and then how they would compile code or run that whole ABM execution. So I read a lot about how execution works in general. Just exploring my NFT project got me just reading a lot more about it.
And so what’s the backstory for how you became interested in GraphQL and became a member of that community?
Saihajpreet Singh (00:18:19):
So it was like the summer. After my first year university shut it down because of Covid, I got back home and then I was just like, “What else can I do? I was kind of bored of playing video games and everything. I just didn’t have anything to do. I think that was normally with everyone, what can you do? You can’t really leave your house. My dad wanted me to figure out something for him. I got into one open source project. And then I was just helping them edit the docs and do things. And then I started reading into how open source works in general. And then open source got me to just reading about how Linux is just an open operating system anyone can use. Most of the world runs on the software and it’s free to use. That was a mind-blowing moment for me.
And then I was like, “Okay, what can I do and then make a change?” And then I learned about GraphQL. I was learning about APIs and how to build APIs and all that. And then when I was building my simple apps, I kind of saw simple things that everyone’s trying to solve. And then I started reading into, “Okay. What if I just want this thing? How can I build validations into my API and all that kind of stuff?”
Saihaj, as you know and certainly listeners know at this point, I’m not technical. So I actually don’t know how to code. And you’re talking about a lot of different coding languages. You’re talking about Solidity. You’ve talked about GraphQL and a couple of these different things. If you don’t mind just providing a very base level introduction, how do these things relate to each other and which ones should listeners who want to get involved, which one should they start with?
Saihajpreet Singh (00:20:39):
So Solidity, it’s one of the languages that you can write smart contracts on Ethereum. So if you’re interacting with any block NFT or a token, it’s probably written in Solidity. Most of them what you interact with are written in Solidity. So that’s the language for writing smart contracts. GraphQL is a query language. It’s more of a language for reading data or interacting with the data that you have to offer. Under the hood, you can actually call a smart contract, read data, and GraphQL can be the language to read. It’s kind like an interface you can build for your own system. So you can interact with a database, you can do a lot of things. GraphQL is kind of a higher level language. It’s just for seeing what is possible with their APIs.
And how does JSON RPC and something like SQL fit into everything you just provided there, which was a great introduction by the way?
Saihajpreet Singh (00:21:58):
Yeah. So how JSON RPCs work, so when you… I’m using Ethereum because I know a lot about Ethereum. So the way you interact with the Ethereum blockchain, there’s this RPC API that’s in the JSON format. JSON is nothing but a format of how you transport data. So RPC is like different methods and ways we can call on the Ethereum blockchain. If you are making calls, let’s say you connect your wallet, right? And when you connect your wallet to some dapp, you are actually making JSON RPC calls to the Ethereum blockchain node. Let’s say your trying to transfer NFTs. You are contacting with a JSON RPC method to Ethereum blockchain where the blockchain node will validate, “Hey, this person sent me a transaction.” They will confirm it and then they will send a response back. So you get the data like, “Oh, this NFT is transferred to this person now.”
So JSON RPCs come a lot in how this whole web3 space works, just reading data from the blockchain, to and from the blockchain. And then SQL is for databases. So if you’re trying to write, “How can we read data?” That’s what we do at The Graph is, indexing different blockchains. So what we’re doing is reading data from different JSON RPCs, pouring them in a database, and then SQL is the language that we use to read that data. And then on top of that, to top it all off with GraphQL, that’s what’s happening when you’re writing a GraphQL query. We’re translating that to a SQL query and that’s how you’re reading the data on The Graph.
And let’s just do one more that’s pretty popular. And again, thank you for indulging me. But what about Rust? How does Rust fit in all of this?
Saihajpreet Singh (00:23:40):
Yeah. So Rust and Solidity are two different worlds we’re talking. Solidity is just this language that most people in the web building smart contracts deal with. Rust is a language, we’re talking about building systems. If you’re talking about let’s say Ethereum nodes that are running, there are projects that are building Ethereum nodes using Rust. So Rust, it’s a low level kind of language that’s used to by many projects. Even at The Graph, The GraphQL APIs you’re contacting, all those things are actually written in Rust. We’re building GraphQL APIs, we’re writing Rust code that lets you interact with the blockchain data. Yeah. There’s a lot of languages that you deal with every single day. There are many terms.
How then should someone like myself and listeners that are like me understand the different languages? Why isn’t there just one? Why isn’t there just one way to kind of do all of this? But yet it seems like there’s so many different languages. It’s hard to understand why there’s so many.
Saihajpreet Singh (00:24:43):
Yeah. So I think the way programming languages work is more like they’re optimized for one kind of job. A Rust kind of language is designed for building low level systems that need high throughput in your systems, whereas Solidity is really designed around smart contract and EVM executions. So it’s really just designed for that kind of use case. So all these languages have a particular use case and there was a need that someone taught they should build something. At the end of the day, it’s like byte code, it’s zeros and ones. That’s what a computer understands. But then as a human, what’s easier for us to tell how to do, what to do? So some things are kind of abstracted away so we don’t all run into the same problem. If you’re writing for EVM execution, some things are just kind of abstracted when you’re writing Solidity. Those things are not done in Rust because Rust is a completely different language. So languages are just a mere way to communicate and they’re optimized for some use cases.
Brilliant answer and that helps me make sense of it. So I appreciate you taking a moment here and just talking about some of that. I do want to spend time exploring one other concept. I want to talk about open source. I think based on my experience interviewing so many different people, this is more than just an approach to technology and writing software. This is a philosophical lens by which people navigate the world. So you mentioned in your story there that you started researching, reading up on open source and became interested in it. Talk to us about what open source is. And if I’m right, what is the philosophy here? What is it that attracts people like you to it?
Saihajpreet Singh (00:26:29):
Yeah. So open source is like a philosophy, right? Open source is all about building systems that are transparent. You’re collaborating with the people and then there’s trust that you build with other collaborators. So it’s kind of like building a community that is interested in solving the same problem and then there’s no financial incentive driving any of them. It’s more like there’s one problem they all want to solve, and then how can they all solve that problem together? So it’s just like all the brainpower coming together to be like, “This thing is broken, let’s fix it.” So it’s like everyone taking an initiative of collaborating around the globe and making things happen.
So if there’s no profit motivation, what’s the motivation?
Saihajpreet Singh (00:27:19):
I think making the world a better place. That’s what drives most people. At least for me, the code I write is probably running millions of people. It’s powering millions of systems every day. So that’s what kind of makes me satisfied every day because you can write proprietary code that’s just running on subset of people, or you can write code that maybe potentially is running on code that’s on Mars. So that’s kind of a cool thing to see, hey, you are just making a difference in the world.
That’s an incredible answer. I totally see that. So another question I’ve asked when I’ve talked to people about open source is open source came along before web3. Do you see it as a precursor, like this philosophy about software predating web3, but maybe being a necessary first domino or one of the first dominoes that kind of had to fall in order for web3 to emerge? Have you ever thought about the history and sequence of all this?
Saihajpreet Singh (00:28:17):
Yeah. I think open source has been there since computers were a thing. Early on when computers were developed, it was a very proprietary thing. Not everyone could do things. And that’s what some project decided to do is, what if people can write code and what if we could do this? It was not proprietary. I think that’s how Linux core was going to developed. But then if I think about this whole history, it’s like web3 has all these philosophical commonalities between open source and what open source is all about. If you think about how web3 is, we’re talking about decentralization, right? Decentralization not just means decentralization of running the infrastructure, running [inaudible 00:29:05], but also ownership. At The Graph, that’s a pretty good example. We have seven core dev teams, right? So the ownership is not just the one company behind it. It’s a group of people behind it.
So I think decentralization is a great example. When building systems, usually people I think end up on decentralization on one aspect of interacting with the system, but they’re forgetting about who’s running this, right? So if there’s one entity running this, it’s not fully decentralized because they still control everything. So I think decentralized ownership is the biggest thing in web3, and that’s what powers open source itself because in open source, there’s no one owner about anything. It’s a group of people who collaborate and they vote on things. We’re talking about censorship resistance. It’s a big storm in web3 too. And in open source, if we’re talking about building something, the censorship is more like the rules that the community decides. It’s the code of conduct that communities make. And that’s the similar thing we do in web3. And then we all welcome anyone to contribute and that’s the philosophy in web3 and also in open source.
So I think pretty much aligns with everything that open source does. web3 has all those features. But then web3 is taking it the next step to, how can we build a world… Everyone’s trying to build this whole permissionless system that anyone can interact, where anyone can build on it, and then it’s transparent because prior to this transparency is like… You are not owning your own data. I think that’s the biggest thing that sparked web3 is, how can we make it that you own your own data? I think Lens Protocol is a great example. They just built a protocol for social discovery and now there are many different apps. So I’m not bound to just one app. I can use any app I want. I can take my data with me. I think that’s the big difference that web3 brings to the whole world.
I want to double click on that if you’re willing because I think people understand this idea of data ownership to a certain extent, but not in depth enough to really appreciate what’s going on here. So I’m going to explain kind of my understanding of it. And then using everything you just said there and all your experience, correct and fill in the gaps. But web2, I don’t own my data because Facebook does or some other web2 company. And they’re able to sell that, use it for advertising, and that really becomes the center of their business model in their revenue streams. When it comes to web3, you’re saying that I own my data and I can take it with me. How is that the case? I mean, when I’m using Lens or I’m using The Graph or anything else, I’m still creating data, so to speak. I’m still creating a footprint. So how do I own that and how am I able to take that with me? Do you mind explaining that?
Saihajpreet Singh (00:31:59):
Yeah. So I think you gave a great example of Facebook. Facebook is a known for censorship a lot. If you were to post something in one country, it may not be visible in another country. It’s like the very common problem. And there’s no answers you will get from that. And then if we take the ownership part, if we’re talking about web3, yes, you are building on let’s say Lens Protocol. Lens protocol is just like the data you’re putting out, it’s out in the public. It’s not running a Facebook’s computer that you don’t have access. You’re putting out on Ethereum blockchain or whatever the blockchain they’re using. You’re putting on a public ledger. And then all that data, you can read it to yourself. You don’t need The Graph. You can build your own version of The Graph to read that data.
The reason we exist is people who built The Graph, we all saw the same issues. We can’t build slow interfaces. If we’re trying to build the next generation of user products, it needs to be fast, it needs to be reliable. And then these are the things when The Graph started is they saw this as an issue and we can’t scale. So for us it’s like we’re trying to solve a problem so you don’t have to solve it. But you can actually read all that data with the JSON RPC. You can run your own Ethereum node and read the data yourself from the Ethereum node. No one’s stopping you doing that. In a grand scheme of things, not everyone will be able to just do all that. You won’t be able to give an optimal experience to every user.
So these products building on top are not hindrance. Anyone’s free to just take that thing. To summarize, it’s like your data is sitting publicly. Anyone can go read it. And then in the web2 world, all that data is behind someone’s private servers. You’re not allowed to read that. I think that’s the biggest ownership difference.
So let’s go then back to your personal story. And eventually you take a very formal step and you go to work in web3 and you go to work on the team at The Guild. As we’ve already said, you’re still full-time in university. So this is probably something you’re doing as a “part-time” or side hustle, although I know web3 hours are incredible, even for full-time students. I’m sure you’re working all the time. But what was that first formal step and how did you get working with The Guild?
Saihajpreet Singh (00:34:25):
Yeah. So I was part of The GraphQL GS working group. So I have interacted with Uri a lot in just working groups and talking to him. I had interacted with Uri a lot of times. And then one day Uri just reached out to me. He was asking, he was like, “You want to work for The Guild? Let’s get on a call and talk about it.” I was like, “Sure. This sounds like a great opportunity.” So I got on a call with Uri. He didn’t knew much about me, I didn’t knew much about what he was doing. So it was like we both learned about each other. We both were impressed. So he was like, “Okay. I will support you, whatever you are doing.” So I wasn’t really getting paid until that point. And then Uri came in and he was like, “I want to support you or whatever you’re doing because you are making a difference in the world.” I was like, “Sounds great.”
No one pays you for doing open source. Doing what you love to do and someone’s paying for you, that’s the best thing you can ask for because all I was doing is I was just trying to just write code and learn, maybe end up with an internship somewhere. But a job kind of walked in for me. So that was really great. And then Uri was like, “You are free to explore all the other projects we have at The Guild. We have more than 20 projects in The GraphQL ecosystem.” So it was a great opportunity for me. I was like, “There’s a lot more that I can learn, take from really smart people.” So here I am working at The Guild.
And longtime listeners will know that I had the opportunity to interview Uri Goldshtein for episode 50. So for anyone that wants to learn more about Uri, I encourage you to go back and listen to that episode. In preparation for this interview, Saihaj, you shared that one of the first things you worked on with The Guild was GraphQL Yoga, an incredible way to get started. What is GraphQL Yoga?
Saihajpreet Singh (00:36:19):
Yeah. So GraphQL Yoga is a GraphQL server. In 2018, GraphQL Yoga was this project that most people were using because it was very easy to use and get your GraphQL server up and running in four lines of code. And then two years passed by, the maintainers dropped support for GraphQL yoga. They’re like, “This project had over 5,000 stars on GitHub.” A lot of people were using this thing. There were millions of downloads every week. And then this thing was abandoned. We wanted to fix this thing. And then Uri was like, “Do you want to help us out?” I was like, “Sounds really fun problem,” because many people are just stuck on, how can they move on with this thing? Because no one’s getting answers because the maintainers, they went on doing other things. So when we took on GraphQL Yoga, our goal was like, how can we make building GraphQL servers easy for anyone to use?
The goal was like it needs to be something we will ourselves run in production and then something we can tell people running in production that you can use it, but also easier for beginners. I had to just think through, how can I make a thing that’s just four lines of code. But also not it’s just four lines of marketing, but actually I would run it myself for an actual product. So that’s where this whole kind of research started. What can we do, what’s needed in a production ready server? So I think, yeah, I explored a lot about different things running in the ecosystem. And then we have this plugin system that we built in the time. We still use it. It’s Envelope. That’s what I started working on. So GraphQL Yoga and Envelope are the big things I kind of started to work on when I started at The Guild.
And yeah, that’s where I started doing things on The Guild. But then nowadays I maintain GraphQL code gen. I think code gen is a really cool project that most people getting into GraphQL end up using because the whole idea behind Graph scale is like I ask for this data. And as a developer, how can I improve this experience of building my application? So code gen, it fills in the gap for the developers. It improves the developer experience for building on a GraphQL API. So that’s what I do these days.
[NEW_PARAGRAPH]Hi, this is Saihajpreet Singh from The Guild. If my conversation with the GRTiQ Podcast has been helpful to you, then please consider supporting future episodes by becoming a subscriber. Visit GRTiQ.com/podcast for more information. That’s GRTiQ.com/podcast.
As most listeners know, The Guild is one of the core dev teams building The Graph. For anybody that hasn’t heard that Uri Goldshtein interview, and maybe this is our first introduction formally to someone with The Guild and what The Guild is, do you mind providing just a quick overview of who The Guild is, what they’re working on as it relates to The Graph?
Saihajpreet Singh (00:39:24):
So as a guild, we’re a group of open source developers. That’s what got us all together. We’re a group of open source developers. We maintain a lot of projects on The GraphQL ecosystem. And then whatever we do is open and public. We have a SaaS product that we’re running today. It’s all public. Anyone can use the SaaS offering or they’re free to just to run that SaaS offering themselves. So we really believe in open source. That’s what got us who we are today. And then what do we do at The Graph, we focus a lot on developer tooling and the developer experience building on The Graph and the experience link, just interacting with The Graph. There are other teams making ways to go subgraphs… reading the data on the blockchain faster. If you know about streaming fast, they’re building ways, how can we read the blockchain data faster?
But what we’re trying to do is giving you a way to read all that data that they stored in the database. So that’s where The GraphQL layer comes in. So we add features to The GraphQL layer and security things that we can do to improve The Graph. But the other part is building subgraphs. A lot of people building on The Graph are building subgraphs. So how can you make a good developer experience for them? So we work on the CLI tooling. Or building Dapps around The Graph, the whole point using The Graph is you can build a decentralized Dapp, meaning if one API goes down, you can use another API, right? So with multiple subgraphs running on multiple Indexers, so we have this tool called The Graph client. So Graph client makes it easier for anyone to use The Graph and get all the features that we have to offer in the decentralized network.
Do you remember when you first became aware of The Graph? You’ve done a good job talking about when you first became aware of GraphQL and open source, Solidity, all these different things. What about The Graph? When did you first become aware of it?
Saihajpreet Singh (00:41:19):
It was the summer 2021. Sometime in the summer when I was working with my friend on our project, we saw the same issue of, how do you read the data in a more reliant way? So I don’t have to do all the same plumbing. I was like, “It’s either I have to build this thing or someone already thought of this problem and they built it.” So that’s how I ran into what The Graph is all about.
I think when people like myself come in contact with The Graph and start getting deeper and deeper into how all of it works, sometimes there’s this presumption because of the similar name Graph that GraphQL and The Graph are related. But as I think you’ve articulated here, they’re certainly not the same thing and in fact they’re separate entirely. Do you mind just explaining how they relate to each other, how people are using The Graph, and then using this GraphQL thing, which is totally separate and lives in its own kind of world, if you will?
Saihajpreet Singh (00:42:18):
So what we’re trying to build up The Graph is we’re trying to actually… Let’s just say Google. We’re trying to build a system that reads all the blockchain so we can aggregate all the different protocols across the internet because how blockchains work, they’re not easy to read the data on. And then we’re just making it easier for you to read the data. So we are just solving that problem for you. But then how GraphQL comes in is like GraphQL is just like a language that’s just easier for anyone to write. All the data we have at The Graph, GraphQL is kind of the language that’s used to read that data. The Graph itself, Graph is trying to be The Graph of all the data of public ledgers, whereas GraphQL is just like, how can we read all those public ledgers?
As a core dev team, The Guild is a member and a well-known member of The GraphQL community. But beyond that, The Graph community and The GraphQL community recently collided at GraphQL conference 2023 in San Francisco. You recently attended that. What can you tell us about GraphQL conference this year and what it was like to see The Graph there for the first time formally?
Saihajpreet Singh (00:43:32):
It was actually the first ever GraphQL Foundation sponsored GraphQL conference. So our team worked day and night to make this event happen. The Graph was also a sponsor for this event. Just like The Guild was a sponsor for the event, The Graph was also a sponsor for this event. There we had workshops from Kevin Jones. He’s a developer from Edge & Node. He gave a workshop, how does The Graph work, how to build a subgraph and how to read from a subgraph. So he did a workshop on that. There was a UTO video that I can share. And then we also had a GraphQL meet up the same day where Pedro talked about what The Graph is all about and what we’re trying to do. So it’s just the same thing, what The Graph is and what are we doing? So we answered those questions.
So there were attendees from all these big organizations because many companies are trying to get into the whole blockchain and web3 ecosystem. As The Graph, we’re just providing APIs to read the blockchain data. So our tools help you read public ledgers. So we’re there to tell them, “Hey, these are the tools we’re building. And then if you run into the same problem, you can use us instead of just trying to reinvent the wheel. You can just use what we built.” Yeah. It was a more educational thing for The Graph to tell, “Hey, this is a thing that exists and you can use.”
Was there any big news out of The GraphQL community during this? I know Uri gave three presentations. I think Dotan, another member of The Guild team had a presentation. I’m not sure if you did, so you’ll have to forgive me and correct me if you did. But any big news or any exciting things come out of GraphQL Conference 2023?
Saihajpreet Singh (00:45:11):
Yeah. Most of The Guild was actually speakers and we ran workshops there. And then I think the big news is like, so we announced a new GraphQL gateway that we’re going to open source in coming months. This will be something we will also bring to The Graph itself. This is a gateway. As we work with different clients of The Guild, we learned everyone’s trying to solve the same problem. And we decided we all don’t need to just reinvent the same wheel or just copy the same code. Why not just make something that anyone can use? So that’s what Dotan’s stock was all about. I’ll share the link and you can look upon the transcript notes. But he just talks about the problems, people end up building a GraphQL gateway and the problems every GraphQL gateway is trying to solve and that those are things we just want to solve out of the box.
That was one of the biggest things. The other one was like, I think it’s a pretty big thing these days, composing different APIs together. That’s what our tool GraphQL mesh. So GraphQL mesh and Graph client are essentially same things because what we’re trying to do at The Graph is if we’re talking about composing multiple subgraphs. We’re talking about just composing different APIs. So we demoed how GraphQL mesh works and how people can be using it. And then The Graph workshop was a great example because people could see this is being used in production because a lot of people are using The Graph every day and how they are using it. So it was overall a great educational thing.
Since the time you first became aware of The Graph and have gone full-time in working with The Guild as a core dev, what have you learned about The Graph, either its community, the other core devs, or even just the nature of the problem it’s solving, like the importance of what The Graph does for web3? Take us through that. What have you learned?
Saihajpreet Singh (00:47:03):
I think indexing itself is a really big problem. The data on the blockchain is not something… If you’re just trying to read, it’s not easy to read. And then what we’re trying to solve is, how can we make it easy to read? And then this whole problem blows up the scope of there are different blockchains that we want to support. We just don’t want only Ethereum. We want Solana or other blockchains. So I think there’s a lot of complexity because every blockchain is kind of different in how they operate. So there’s a lot of differences on how all these work. So there’s a whole problem space that’s like there’s a lack of specifications around how you interact with blockchains because if it’s a completely new blockchain, it’s a completely different thing. So I think there’s a lot of problem space that we get to solve on that most people don’t really need to solve once we solve it, because we have solved most of these problems for you.
Every core dev has a different purpose at The Graph. What we’re trying to do is, how can we make the developer experience better? That’s what we know a lot about. We know a lot about APIs. So how can you interact with the APIs very efficiently? So that’s what we’re trying to solve. If we’re talking about streaming fast, streaming fast is like they want to solve the indexing problem. How can we index the subgraphs really fast? Streaming fast, this demo of Substreams, this a new technology that they have been working on with The Graph to make indexing faster. What it means in just the numbers is a subgraph that used to take two to three months to sync from genesis to the head of the blockchain takes like 20 hours. So that’s pretty big improvement. And then if we’re talking about Graph ops, Graph ops is making it easier for Indexers running Graph nodes around the globe because The Graph is about building a decentralized network.
And then how edge node comes in is like edge node is trying to build a base. How can other developers explore what The Graph has to offer or how can you interact? So they’re doing a lot of many educational things, but also building experiences that make it easier for developers to come on with The Graph. And then Finex is a new core dev team on The Graph and Finex is providing the infrastructure that’s needed to run. They help with all the support for all that infrastructure that’s needed to index blockchains or even run blockchains. And that if you talk about semiotics, semiotic is like they do research and then they do a lot of… They’re finding ways like, how can we make our Indexers get paid even better? How can we make it more decentralized?
So there are many problems we’re trying to solve. And at the end, our goal is building an ecosystem, building a community that’s that price for a long time. And then we all are not here to stop any innovation. Many of the ideas actually come from The Graph forum. People give a problem. We’re trying to solve all those problems. It’s very community driven.
Saihaj, I only have a few more questions for you before I ask you the GRTiQ 10. The first one I want to ask is just about how you balance your time. You’re clearly still in university and that’s a very busy thing to be doing. But you’re contributing a ton to GraphQL, to The Guild, to The Graph. How do you balance that time and make sure you don’t burn out?
Saihajpreet Singh (00:50:33):
Yeah, so it’s a great question. I think it takes time. I kind of found some life hack on how to actually be successful in university, but still have a job that you can keep doing things. It’s more about how you organize yourself. I think that’s the biggest thing. I have a full schedule of, “This is a time block of this thing. I need to get it done.” And I am pretty oriented on my calendar. If you see my calendar, everything is dotted. I need to get it done. And then I try to keep my weekends empty just so I don’t over work. But there are some times I will still do some things. But all my weekdays, my mornings are like, “Okay. I’m going to do some school things,” or at night I’m going to go do some school things because most of my school classes that I’m in, they’re all online.
And then most of my deliverables are just doing assignments. So that makes it easier for me to be doing other things and collaborating with other people. But then in terms of work-life balance, the Guild is always very open about if I need a time off just because I have other things happening in life, that’s totally okay.
The second question I want to ask is about your father. So you mentioned that he was an early influence in you getting into technology. And I can tell just by the way you’ve talked a little bit about that relationship that you’re probably close with your father. What does he think about the fact that you grew up and you’re at university and it seems like you’re pursuing a career in this novel emerging industry, web3 and blockchain?
Saihajpreet Singh (00:52:05):
Yeah. He’s really happy for what I’m doing and he understands the things I’m trying to solve and he’s always supporting me, whatever I need. And I still ask him a lot of… because there are many things he’s good at. For all the infrastructure needs, if I need to learn anything on how these things work, I still go to him and ask him questions. So we still talk about how things work and he helps me around. And then I’ve explained him how The Graph works. So he’s pretty excited to see what I do in the future and where it all goes.
And that’s actually a good segue into my final question, which is about your future. So you’re young, you’re still getting started in life in a lot of ways. You’re going to be done with university soon. You’re having a huge impact at The Guild and on The Graph and got a lot of thought leadership and contributions in The GraphQL community. What is your future? What do you want to do with the rest of your life?
Saihajpreet Singh (00:53:00):
That’s a great question. That’s something I also end up thinking on the weekends. And that’s something I’m still trying to figure out. I think I want to keep continuing exploring different problems. But I think within web3, I think there’s a lot of problems. I see user onboarding. If we’re talking about onboarding next billion people to web3, how can we make that happen? That kind of whole problem space excites me about, how can we make it easier for people to use web3 products? Using web3, your data ownership, that’s what I’m really talking about. How can we make products and experiences for people to use the tools we have built in a way where they don’t even have to think.
Let’s just use, you sign in with Google. In normal web2 world, you sign in with Google and things work. How can we build that experience that where you’re using everything in your everyday life? So my research, what I’m trying to explore is, what are things that we can change from this web2 world and use the web3 world, bring all that in without anyone having that huge leap of learning MetaMask. I think that this whole problem space in crypto is not solved and we need to solve this problem. So I think this whole user onboarding is what I’m trying to see what in this space I can kind of do and then take it from there.
I guess I have one last question. But do you think we’re getting better at that onboarding thing? Do you think that’s a problem? The industry’s doing a good job of at least trying to address?
Saihajpreet Singh (00:54:38):
I think people know the problem. There are many projects I have seen and worked with who are trying to solve this problem, but we’re not at a scale. I think we will know the answer in a couple of years. I know these things, it’s not like one day it’s going to make a change. In next three to four years, we probably will see the impact of how better we got because based on the adoption, because I think most people today get scared off with cryptos nothing but NFTs and a Ponzi scheme on coins. I think that’s not the reality. And I can’t change someone’s mind. But I want to see more products and see what more useful things we can do with the crypto space.
Saihaj, now we’ve reached a point where I’m going to ask you the GRTiQ 10. I’m very excited to hear your answers to these questions. This is something we introduced to the podcast to help listeners get to know the guests a little bit better. But also a lot of these answers can help listeners learn something new, try something different, or achieve more in their own life. So are you ready for the GRTiQ 10?
Saihajpreet Singh (00:55:37):
What book or article has had the most impact on your life?
Saihajpreet Singh (00:55:52):
Strategy Rules. It’s a book. It’s a book. It’s from the top five CEOs. So I think it has a lot of learnings on… Because if we talk about Microsoft, Apple, IBM, they were revolutionaries back in the day when this whole computing industry was starting. And then I think there are a lot of learnings. Like what they did, we’re trying to solve the same problems 20 years later on a different scale. So just learning from them, I think this book gives you insights on how can we strategize and build to do things.
Is there a movie or a TV show that you would recommend everybody should watch?
Saihajpreet Singh (00:56:31):
I like the series Blacklist. I think it’s just like crime action. I kind of watch crime action stuff, so that’s what I recommend to people because I like this show a lot. This has a very fictional aspect of the world is run by a group of powerful people. And then I think we see those kinds of things happen today. I don’t know how fictional it is on how nonfictional it is. It’s a good show in my opinion that people should watch.
If you could only listen to one music album for the rest of your life, which one would you choose?
Saihajpreet Singh (00:57:05):
So it’s PBX 1 from Sidhu Moose Wala. He’s a Punjabi singer and I like him a lot. So yeah.
What’s the best life advice someone’s ever given to you?
Saihajpreet Singh (00:57:17):
Be nice to everyone.
What’s one thing you’ve learned in your life that you don’t think other people have learned or know quite yet?
Saihajpreet Singh (00:57:24):
One thing I’ve learned, I think crypto is not about NFTs. There’s a lot more to NFTs than crypto. And I think that’s one thing I have learned is there are more practical use cases, like the examples I early on gave with music space. I think there’s a whole world we can explore with just NFTs and what we can build, which is just unexplored territory. So if anyone thinks that crypto is NFTs and it’s a Ponzi scheme, I think that’s just a bad take and you need to be open to learn a lot more new things.
What’s the best life hack you’ve discovered for yourself?
Saihajpreet Singh (00:58:03):
Work smart and hard, but work smarter. So yeah.
Based on your own life experience or observations, what’s the one habit or characteristic that you think best explains how or why people find success in life?
Saihajpreet Singh (00:58:18):
Yeah, working smart. You can work hard all day long, but then you need to optimize for some things in your life. So I think if you can work smart, if you know how to delegate work or how to ask for help, I think those are big things. If you see any of these big CEOs, how did they become big? It’s like they found people who were good at the problem or they found people who were more passionate. So if I don’t know something, I’ll probably go ask someone. I think that’s one thing that people should do more to be more successful.
And the final three are complete the sentence type questions. The first one is, “The thing that most excites me about web3 is-“
Saihajpreet Singh (00:58:58):
Ownership, decentralized ownership.
And the next one, if you’re on X, formerly Twitter, you should be following-
Saihajpreet Singh (00:59:06):
You should be following me. So Singh_Saihaj. And then you should also follow The Graph and The Guild.
And the last one, complete this sentence. I’m happiest when-
Saihajpreet Singh (00:59:15):
I solve a problem which I have been staring for a very long time.
Saihaj, thank you so much for joining me for the GRTiQ Podcast. It was incredible to meet you and to hear a lot about your story. Good luck with the remainder of university, and if listeners want to learn more about you, stay in touch with some of the things you’re working on, what’s the best way for them to stay in touch?
Saihajpreet Singh (00:59:42):
You can go to my website, saihaj.dev or you can go to my GitHub. You’ll find all my contact information there. You’ll find all my projects on my website or on my GitHub. So feel free to reach out anytime. And thank you so much for having me on the podcast.
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