By Megan Wagner, MH ’16
Computer science major Clarissa Skipworth, BA ’22, interned with Associate Professor of Cybersecurity Renita Murimi, Ph.D., CISSP, as they launched the blockchain company WildChain. Using blockchain technology, they are aiding global conservation efforts. We wanted to learn more about Skipworth’s unique opportunity and what she’s learned on the job.
How did you choose computer science as a major? What are your other academic areas of interest?
I remained undeclared for my first year at UD while I took a lot of Core and some upper-level STEM classes to help me discern my major. I was torn between my passion for languages and the appeal of mathematical logic. I tried out computer science in my second year, and proceeded to adopt it as my major when I realized it was the intersection of these two passions: a way of communicating logic through programming languages. I’ve continued to study natural languages on the side, with Korean as my long-term focus and Russian as my more recent challenge.
What are your goals and plans after graduation?
I am Class of 2022, but I managed my credits so that I will be finishing classes a semester early, this December 2021. I will hopefully be returning to campus for the graduation ceremony in May though! After graduation, I am planning on working full time as a software developer, God willing at WildChain, where I am currently still continuing part time. I also hope to live abroad in South Korea at some point to gain language immersion.
How did you first hear about WildChain?
I was actively searching for and applying to software development internships when my adviser, Dr. Hochberg, announced the position in class one day. He sent me information about the startup and helped me get in touch with Dr. Murimi. I had never heard of blockchain or the rising NFT market, but I was excited to try something new at WildChain. I was hired for the remote job after interviewing with her on campus.
Briefly describe your internship. How many hours per week did you work? What kinds of tasks were you doing to contribute to the development of WildChain? What was the most exciting part of the internship for you?
My internship lasted from May to June, during which I worked 20 hours a week remotely from home in Washington State. Our team had brief daily “scrum” meetings where the other intern, Minh Ly, and I would share progress and collaborate with Dr. Murimi to shape the prototype to fit the company’s growing vision. The process of building this prototype involved writing code for both front-end website design and back-end functionality that interacts with contracts and transactions on the Flow blockchain.
I also had the opportunity to work on some more creative projects for the company, such as creating its first logo and recording and editing some prototype progress reports that went to prospective shareholders. Working on every aspect of this creative process and sharing each milestone and success as a team with Dr. Murimi and Minh was a uniquely immersive internship experience only possible because of WildChain’s startup nature. Going forward, I’m most excited about learning the UX/UI aspect of designing our website so the marketplace better appeals to users.
What have you found to be extremely valuable about this internship opportunity — something you think you could not learn in the classroom?
What I personally valued most about my internship experience was the freedom to grow in practical software development and to conquer my insecurities as a prospective professional. Although there may be clear expectations for a project in class, developing a new prototype with a team involves lots of research of often equally good options.
Working at WildChain specifically was an even more unique internship opportunity because I got to explore the blockchain field in the context of a startup. I appreciated how failure of one design was framed as a success because it narrowed down our choices and added detail to our project’s vision. Getting to work with Dr. Murimi meant experiencing daily collaboration, mentorship and accountability in a positive environment, which further encouraged me to develop my skills in ways that could best serve our team.
Is there anything else you want us to know?
Once I started to understand the potential of decentralized systems and finance in the context of computer science, I couldn’t stop thinking about how quickly it can and probably will change the global digital marketplace in the very near future. Blockchains like Flow keep unchangeable records of transactions as approved and maintained by a peer-to-peer network, meaning almost no fraudulent purchases should have the opportunity to occur.
Further, NFTs have the power to revolutionize the world of digital assets. Absolutely anything can be tied to an NFT, which at its essence is an ID that proves ownership. Even if there are thousands of copies of the exact same bunch of pixels of a particular image floating around on the internet, if you own the NFT for that image, you have the claim to its ownership title. A lot of the recent news covering NFTs tends to scoff at and underestimate this model, but it is very likely to become the backbone of transparent universal trade in an increasingly digital world. Possibly the only thing holding the world back from jumping to this shift in digital economy is the reticent societal level of trust in newer cryptocurrency, and a lack of awareness of NFT potential. It’ll be a race to see which companies can snatch up possible avenues for NFT marketplaces first.
What I was most impressed by, though, was how blockchains like Flow are working hard on making digital money and NFT ownership more and more intuitive and secure. Flow in particular has designed their contract language, “Cadence,” to only allow users who first have a token in their “wallet” to be able to interact fully with that token. The user accesses their wallet with a once-generated secure key. This way, if the item’s transaction code is viewable in its entirety online — even including the NFT’s full ID number! — only the user who has that NFT stored in their wallet can fully use it.
I had never before seen code that worked in quite this way, where objects are treated not merely as replaceable variables of data but as rare physical objects. The model is strikingly similar yet entirely unique from the real-world function of physical currency. This resource-oriented approach is perfect not just for the current world of collectibles, but for any future exchange of a valuable digital asset. It has been incredibly exciting to build our prototype on these new models of programming.