Barbara Bickham recently spoke to BlockLeaders about her passion for technology, her tireless dedication to blockchain technology, a jam-packed life-work schedule that keeps her up until the small hours of the morning sometimes, and also discussed her work for Hyperloop, the high-speed transportation system of the future.
In fact, the first time I made contact with this remarkable woman was at the ungodly hour of 2am over in Los Angeles. Barbara's mind and body were still awake at a time when most of the city slept around her.
Barbara's life is a hectic one. She's involved in so many projects, organization, and causes that her resume and life trail would almost span the length of a novella. Yet, she's a rather calm and well-spoken woman who exudes hard work, but also a keen affinity to well-earned family time.
But what is it about technology that attracts Barbara's attention? The story I heard was quite memorable and poignant.
"I was first introduced to technology when I was 12 years of age. I took a computer class in high school, and we had an assignment to do. The assignment was to write a program in BASIC, and this program would make a flowchart for the area of a circle. I did that, and I thought to myself, well, that was kind of simple. I went ahead and expanded the program, In the end, my program did the area of a circle, the area of a rectangle, and the area of a triangle. And I have to say, I got an A+ on that assignment!
"That's how I was introduced to technology really, and that was it for me."
A school assignment helped Barbara find her true calling, which she would nurture and develop as she grew up. Barbara has worked in a wide variety of projects across many different industries: FinTech, Fashion, Wearables, Wireless, Security, Media & Entertainment, Artificial Intelligence, and of course, Blockchain.
Such busy work schedule surely leads to a hectic life, so this made me wonder about how Barbara managed her work/life balance, particularly bearing in mind that it was 2am the first time I ever got in touch with her.
"I love what I do, you see, so I don't look at it as work. It's fun for me, I enjoy what I do. Regarding work & life balance, I understand myself. I'm a senior developer, and as most people who have been in the industry for as long as I have, I like working at night. So being up at 2am is not that unusual in my world. It's just how I work, I've always been a night person.
"How I balance that, well, I do certain things in the morning, certain things in the afternoon, and certain things at night. I've learned that routine working over the years.
"I like to think that I'm highly efficient, and semi-automated at this point. Working in technology, one learns how to use certain tools to help us live and work."
The entirety of Barbara's resume is a kaleidoscopic mix of technological marvels, but if there is one aspect that stands out from the landscape of Barbara's professional life is her passion for blockchain tech. So I wanted to know how did she become involved in blockchain technology to begin with, and how she came to embrace it so completely.
Speaking about blockchain, she said that "I'll tell you how I got started with it. For me, blockchain is the ultimate intersection between technology and money. I have a background in finance, don't forget. I've done private equity, ran an Angel group here in LA, and so on. And I have a very strong background in tech, too, as you know, so blockchain intersects both of these worlds.
"How I got into blockchain in the first place, well, I know a lot of the people who were early adopters. So around 2012, they asked me to come in and work in the space. I was pretty skeptical at first, to be honest, so I didn't do much about it at the time. Fast forward to 2015, I got re-introduced to blockchain. Somebody gave a really powerful talk about how money works, what money is, that sort of thing.
"So I thought to myself, wow, this is super-fascinating. So in 2017, I got my first blockchain client. The rest is history really. I decided to stay in the technical side of blockchain, because of my background, and because I find it more interesting. There are more interesting aspects to solve, from my own perspective.
"It's the early evolution of what the blockchain is going to become. We're still in blockchain infancy, so to speak. How it's going to mature and evolve into a more substantial product, from a technical standpoint."
The blockchain space in the Los Angeles area
Los Angeles is normally associated with movies, extravagant wealth, and such cliches. But there's more to the City of Angels than just movie sets and expensive cars.
I wanted to know how blockchain has thrived in such environment.
"I'll tell you, a lot of the blockchain pioneers came from this area, I know several of them. Part of the EOS community is here, for example. In fact, there's a huge blockchain community here in LA. Generally speaking, blockchain is beginning to get more adoption across the United States, and everywhere else for that matter.
"Nevertheless, other nations have embraced blockchain more readily than we have, but an increasing number of individuals and companies are starting to look into blockchain more seriously, trying to see how to implement the technology in their current projects, and so on.
"When the crypto markets went down, a lot of people -including investors- thought that blockchain wasn't perhaps something worth looking into. I personally had a couple of projects cancelled for such reasons. But you know, the strongest are the ones who survive, and blockchain does survive."
Blockchain adoption is indeed on the rise. As more and more operators choose to embrace this nascent tech, more projects will see the light of day.
But blockchain is still relatively new, so many are still unsure of what it can do. I wanted to hear Barbara's opinion about how blockchain can make a difference.
She said "let's take Healthcare. There are a lot of companies working on healthcare, for example. A use case is in opioid addiction. Say that someone goes to a doctor and gets a prescription. How do we then prevent that someone from going to another doctor and get the same prescription? Believe it or not, there are a lot of medical practitioners out there who still use a lot of paper for this stuff. So how do we prevent this type of fraud? Blockchain could certainly help with that.
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"Another way in which blockchain could make a difference is in record tracking. For example, I live in LA and move to the UK. All my medical history is here in Los Angeles, so how would the UK doctor figure out what's going on with me, unless I bring along years worth of paperwork? That's another problem that blockchain could solve.
"Generally speaking, a lot of the blockchain products I see are focused on attribution. Proving that you are who you say you are, basically, and proving that this content is mine, or this piece of art was made by me. Attribution, identity, and verification are key aspects of blockchain right now."
One of the most striking aspects of Barbara's resume is her involvement in the Hyperloop project.
The idea of the Hyperloop as a transportation method is to move people and cargo at hyper-speed on a 'pod' or train-like vehicle travelling inside a vacuum tube. Such idea remains very much theoretical at present, as there are many engineering issues to overcome if such method of transportation is to be efficient and safe.
Still, I felt curious about Barbara's work there.
"I did two things for this project. One, I did a lot of the Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality (AR/VR) experiences for this project. Essentially, how do you go about envisioning what you're saying. For example, what does the Hyperloop look like, how far it moves, how much it accelerates, etc. Creating a passenger experience, as in how close would seats be, and so on.
"And the second thing I did was helping them to create ecosystems, which they called 'strategic partnerships', to move the Hyperloop project forward. Hyperloop is a mere startup, let's not forget that, so I helped them to protect their position inside the market. I'm talking about patents and stuff like that. You have to create an ecosystem to do that, which means bringing partners and synergies together in order to move your entire project forward.
"So for the Hyperloop, if you're moving the transportation sector forward, how do you go about doing that? This is a massive project, obviously, so how do you go about moving the project forward while protecting yourself?
"Actually, blockchain and Hyperloop are similar in a way. I'll explain. Yes, there are a lot of technical issues to be resolved before Hyperloop becomes a reality, and just like in the blockchain space, you have to bring a lot of different people from different industries together to solve those problems.
"That's one of the reasons why I worked in Hyperloop, and why I work with blockchain too. There's some very great technical issues to be solved in both. That's why a lot of bright minds are working on these two landscapes, because they see great challenges to overcome.
"And you need all types of people to solve this issues. Not only engineers, but game designers, user interface people, all sort of creative individuals coming together. You need different viewpoints to solve problems."
On TravNow: Travelling, blockchain style
Most people love travelling. New places, new faces, new stuff to do and see. Blockchain tech can be an asset to the regular traveler.
Barbara is involved with a project called TravNow, a rather unique project for the travel community.
"So we're creating a travel ecosystems for people to be able to book and get discounts via blockchain. So say that you're a broker in the TravNow ecosystem. You can refer companies, etc. into the ecosystem, so members can get discounts when booking with those companies, and brokers get a commission. So we use blockchain to track commissions, bookings, discounts, and a lot more stuff.
"We're using blockchain for a lot of that project, but we'll stop short of putting a whole booking engine there. We want to use Artificial Intelligence as well.
"Our uniqueness is that we'll reward people with our profits, so that they keep using our ecosystem. So people can book dining, or a cruise, or many other travel arrangements, depending on how their membership is set up."
On engaging audiences
Barbara is a well known and much sought-after speaker, so I was interested to know how she engages audiences.
"So for instance, if I am talking about complex technological stuff, I tend to use a lot of pictures, or videos. You definitely want to do visuals when you do technical talks, because things are simpler to explain that way.
"But if I'm just doing a panel, or normal kind of conversation, I'm usually more interactive. It's about getting a natural flow of conversation going, with people asking questions, etc. I'd rather do it that way than just stand there and think 'I'm going to tell you everything.' If you think about, when you're having a conversation, all participants contribute. You say something, the other people say something else, etc. So I'm usually very interactive with my audiences."
Barbara represents the quintessential entrepreneur. She is, or has been involved in a myriad projects and enterprises, so I was sure she'd have a lot to say about the entrepreneurial spirit.
"That's a tough question, have not been asked that one recently! Well, being an entrepreneur has nothing to do with starting a company, that's just part of it. What inspires you to create that company is the important part. What drives you to go down that road. I think that entrepreneurs are naturally born leaders, they like to shape and mold things. They are naturally curious people. They ask a lot of questions. And they are very clear on themselves. They clearly know their vision and mission. And they like to have people come along and help them.
"Entrepreneurs have grit and persistence. They do they things that most people won't be doing. So for example, when you got me at 2am in the morning, that's part of being an entrepreneur. You're going to go that extra mile for yourself. If you think about it, entrepreneurs enjoy helping people. Think about all the people they employ, all the people they mentor and teach.
"People think that entrepreneurs live a glamorous life, but it's anything but. It requires a lot of hard work and dedication."