The decentralized finance (DeFi) industry keeps on booming. As such, there is a surge of interest in becoming a DeFi developer and being able to help create the DeFi ecosystem of tomorrow. Perhaps one of the most well-known DeFi developers in the space is Andre Cronje, the prolific coder and creator of Yearn Finance and the YFI token, a yield aggregating platform that took the decentralized finance (DeFi) world by storm earlier this year.
So, let’s take a closer look at Andre Cronje, and see how you can become a DeFi developer like him. Originally hailing from South Africa, Cronje made his way to the DeFi space in a somewhat roundabout way. First, he started in pursuit of a law degree but opted out to instead focus on computer science. He finished a computer science program in only six months and then worked in FinTech, before ultimately becoming captivated by the DeFi industry.
To preface this discussion, however, we strongly urge you to take a look at the various DeFi courses available on Ivan on Tech Academy. Ivan on Tech Academy is one of the best platforms for learning blockchain, cryptocurrency and decentralized finance. Additionally, it’s the perfect starting-off-point when you want to get into the crypto space. So, without any further ado, let’s look at who Andre Cronje is and how to become a DeFi developer like him.
Cronje had already earned the respect of his peers for his incisive code reviews before becoming a DeFi developer and launching Yearn. By dissecting other people’s code he learned how to better code his projects.
He started out handling money from family and friends and moving it around in search of the best yield. But, he soon learned that manually chasing yield across the various DeFi protocols was a tedious, time-consuming, and redundant affair. So, he built a system that could automate the process of finding the best returns. If you’re not familiar with the concept of yield, check out our article What is Yield Farming.
It’s no secret that Cronje tests in production. His Twitter bio confirms as much, stating “I test in prod”, short for testing in production. This means that Cronje likes to develop in a live environment following these six stages of testing:
Stage 1: Local Testing
Stage 2: Interaction Testing
Stage 3: Composite Testing
Stage 4: Fake Prod
Stage 5: Integration Testing
Stage 6: Prod Deployments
In a nutshell, Cronje first tests to ensure that everything works as planned. Next, he makes sure everything works from a user interaction perspective. He then compares the interaction between multiple parties before deploying to the mainnet for real-world testing. Although this development process is undoubtedly effective, it has attracted attention due to being somewhat controversial.
Perhaps most famously, Cronje is behind Yearn Finance, a DeFi aggregator gateway which became hugely popular earlier in the year. Moreover, you may know that Yearn Finance uses the YFI token.
Speculators took a liking to Cronje’s YFI governance token early on and quickly rocketed it past the price of Bitcoin to an all-time high of over $43k back in September.
As great as all this sounds, however, this success only brought the prolific developer more headaches. After all, he was more interested in building things than pumping his token for the benefit of speculators.
These distractions proved to be a little overwhelming. And on more than one occasion, Cronje threatened to quit: “Close to rage quitting again. So sick and tired of this space.”
But no one ever said that the life of a DeFi developer rockstar will be a bed of roses. What’s more, things got even worse while Cronje was developing the Eminence Finance game project.
So, what went wrong? Well, it all started when Cronje deployed smart contracts for an upcoming gaming multiverse on the Ethereum mainnet, which was known as Eminence Finance (EMN). He deployed the smart contracts in his typical “test in prod” work style. Nevertheless, observers were aware of this, as Cronje sent out a series of tweets announcing it:
“Yesterday we finished the concept behind our new economy for a gaming multiverse. Eminence. As per my usual methodology, I deployed our staging contracts on ETH so we can continue developing on it.”
“These contracts, nor the ecosystem are final…this is my usual ‘test in prod’ process.”
“Eminence is at least ~3+ weeks still away.”
However, even with all that made public, some overzealous speculators took it upon themselves to uncover the smart contracts and pump millions of dollars into them to get into the project at the earliest possible . Cronje describes the fateful evening as it unfolded:
“We posted the first clan Spartans. And I went to bed.
Around ~3 AM I was messaged awake to find out:
The Spartans clan tag shared by Cronje
To put it simply, speculators found Andre’s “test in prod” environment. They put money into smart contracts before they were fully tested, vetted, and audited. A hacker then took advantage of this, robbing these daring early investors of the $15 million worth of DAI previously deposited.
Due to the hackers sending roughly half of the funds, or nearly $8 million worth of DAI, back to the Yearn deployer address, some speculators quickly began pointing fingers at Cronje, accusing him of somehow being involved with the hack. This forced Cronje to respond with a series of tweets, clarifying the situation:
“Given some of the responses, let me be clear, do not use random contracts I deploy unless I reference it in a Medium article,” and “Please wait for official announcements.”
Eventually, after an onslaught of verbal abuse, death threats, and even pending legal action, Cronje threatened to quit again. CoinDesk quoted him as saying, “I’m not building anything at all anymore. I do it because I’m passionate, but if people are going to use my test environments, then lose money, and then hold me liable, it means there is 0 upside and only risk for me.”
When the community saw their founder under attack, they retaliated with a thread called “Love Letters for Andre”, showing their appreciation for the DeFi developer.
“We love and miss Andre. But it seems the most vocal individuals recently are the EMN Degens that have taken things too far and sprayed some serious hate at Andre.”
Specifically, the Yearn community went on to brand these Eminence Finance interlopers so-called “EMN Degens.” “DeFi Degens” is crypto slang for degenerates, as in “degenerate gamblers” (compared with responsible gamblers) looking to get into DeFi projects at the earliest possible point, many times foolishly so, and gamling with funds they cannot afford to lose. So, an EMN Degen would be an even more specific type of DeFi Degen.
The hacker, as previously mentioned, strangely transferred $8 million of the stolen Emergence funds back to Cronje, who directed the yearn.finance treasury to return it to the EMN Degens who lost their money. Unsatisfied with half their money, the Degens started crowdfunding a lawsuit against Andre Cronje calling the EMN protocol a “rug pull.”
Yes, the Eminence project went awry. However, Cronje developed it the same way he always had. Things went badly when these, so-called “EMN Degens” or overzealous investors, got wind of the project and started prematurely sinking funds into EMN smart contracts.
Everyone else was waiting for the official launch, but the EMN Degens figured they could make a fortune by jumping in ahead of everyone else. They tried to “cut in line” so to speak.
Unfortunately for the EMN Degens, greedy speculators weren’t the only ones circling Cronje’s fledgling project like sharks to chum. The red ocean also attracted the attention of at least one attentive hacker.
“Never underestimate the predictability of stupidity,” is a famous quote from “Bullet Tooth Tony” in the cult-movie Snatch. What’s more, this is likely something that was also uttered by the cybercriminal/hacker who saw unsecured EMN smart contracts pumped full of millions of dollars for the taking. The hacker must have felt like a kid in an unattended candy store.
However, like most degenerate gamblers, the EMN Degens quickly blame-shifted their reckless behavior onto the developer, Andre Cronje. This escalated to physical threats and ultimately into talk of a pending lawsuit.
It was reminiscent of the 2008 financial crisis, as major financial institutions expected to keep all their gains whenever their high-risk plays paid off. However, they also wanted full compensation when they failed. And that, folks, is what we call a “moral hazard”.
If Cronje had thought about leaving the space before, the Eminence Finance latest incident could have been enough to push him over the edge. There was no official announcement, no documents, not even a website to explain the mechanics of Eminence. And yet, just a whiff of the project propelled overzealous investors to jump in with both feet while the project was still in the testing phase.
So, while it can be flattering to Cronje that people would put so much faith in a developer to sink money into his smart contract before it’s officially launched, it’s also a bit unsettling.
If you’ve ever been to Las Vegas, you might have seen the original degenerate gamblers, or the original “degens”. You’ll find them at the gambling tables with bloodshot eyes up way past their bedtime. Eventually, such gamblers gamblig will use their last paycheck, child support money, or even the kid’s college fund. All of it goes into the pot for that one huge payout that forever eludes them.
And what happens when they lose? Well, they blame the dealer, the casino, the other players at their table, the waitress - anyone within earshot. It’s everyone else’s fault. That’s because to do otherwise would force them to take a long look in the mirror and admit they have a problem with their greed, their get-rich-quick fantasies, and their impulse control. This can easily be likened to those gambling on DeFi projects that have not officially launched yet.
DeFi is a great space to be in. But the allure of quick riches will also attract its fair share of degenerate gamblers.
As the old saying goes, “A fool and his money are soon parted”. One could argue that to blame Cronje for this loss is like a wingsuit flyer blaming the experimental manufacturer for his crash, because he snatched a flying squirrel suit from the research and development department and jumped off a cliff. Wingsuit flying is dangerous enough even with a finished product that’s been tested.
Likewise, piling all of one’s money into a DeFi protocol that’s finished and audited is risky enough—much less one that is still in production. Yet, that’s what some of these people did and they were the first ones calling out Cronje on Twitter that their kids could no longer eat.
Well, if you’ve been smart enough to watch Good Morning Crypto regularly, then you already know about solid trading concepts like risk management, dollar-cost averaging, and of course, putting on the “Big Boy Pants.” So, while all this drama helps make this such an exciting space, let’s get back to DeFi developers and how to become one.
What’s more, you should also check out Ivan on Tech Academy to learn basic techniques for getting into the crypto and DeFi sector, and even learn concepts such as technical analysis. Right now, you can also get 20% off when using the promo code BLOG20 when enrolling in the Academy.
When Cronje released the YFI token into the wild, he didn’t keep any for himself. Three days after its release, YFI pulled in $15 million in market capitalization. The price rocketed early on and if Cronje was only out to enrich himself or engage in “rug pulling,” then that would have been the time to do it.
Instead, many comment that Andre Cronje likes to build and develop things continuously. And what he has proved to every start-up in the DeFi space is that a multi-million dollar platform can be conceived and built by one single developer.
If you follow @Naval on Twitter you will hear him talk about obtaining leverage through “code and media.” With DeFi (and crypto in general) individual developers or those with small teams can leverage their ideas like never before.
Most startups struggle with scale. It’s hard enough to succeed, but when they do they have to incrementally hire more workers to meet the demand. It’s a tricky position to be in. But for yearn.finance, hiring, and scaling have not been a problem.
First, let’s look at what Andre Cronje did and did not do when starting.
What he did NOT do:
What he DID:
We’re still early in the DeFi solution space and the Ethereum network has been likened to an amplified App Store. Developers can seemingly do anything with it. There is a massive amount of freedom. People have the freedom to build something incredible, freedom to waste loads of time creating something nobody wants—and even the freedom to behave like an EMN Degen and jump off a financial cliff with a wingsuit that’s not ready for prime time.
Just be prepared, because as a developer, you’ll find that creating a new protocol isn’t always a linear process. Things don’t always flow perfectly from A to B to C as planned. Sometimes you may need to jump from A to D and then circle back to B or C.
Also, as Andre Cronje has discovered, creating the latest, greatest platform means risking being unpopular. And when you look at innovators like Elon Musk and his buddies in the "PayPal mafia", many are unpopular yet fearless when it comes to holding their unpopular viewpoints.
The DeFi sector is growing rapidly, and DeFi developers are becoming more common. However, Andre Cronje is getting a taste of what it is like to be unpopular in certain segments of the DeFi space. Nevertheless, even more people disagree with this and support him - and getting such a strong reaction arguably goes with creating something spectacular.
Some of the best start-ups were developed by founders who don’t fit the mold of what the mass public thinks a founder should be. Geniuses and madmen can be hard to distinguish until after they’re validated.
Andre Cronje has stated that he does not build for speculators. Because, when speculators get involved, the incentives get out of whack. He also humbly admits to failing more times than he’s succeeded. But, his goal is to enable other developers to build and design from what he’s already started. And that is a worthy one.
If you want to learn how to become a DeFi developer, then the time to start is now. You can spend years in university racking up student debt, or you can spend hundreds of hours searching the internet for free tutorials. But the superior solution is to fast track your education and start learning how to become a DeFi developer today with minimal expense.
Some of the most successful people out there in crypto are builders, not traders. I’m talking about people like Vitalik Buterin and Andre Cronje. To jumpstart your blockchain education, whether your focus is DeFi or elsewhere, be sure to visit Ivan on Tech Academy today!
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