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Zero-Knowledge Hackathon Insights and Recommendationsby@dariavolkova
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Zero-Knowledge Hackathon Insights and Recommendations

by Daria VolkovaMay 28th, 2024
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Honest impressions and advice for hackers after the ZK Hack hackathon focused on zero-knowledge proofs. Ethereum L2s, Cosmos, and Bitcoin blockchains. Read now!
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Hi hackers, Daria Strategy here 🙌🏻


I’m a Growth Marketer, Brand Strategist and Communications expert working with blockchain and crypto projects. I create additional value and build brand awareness of the Web3 companies among users, developers, and VC funds.


Recently, I participated in the ZK Hack hackathon, which focuses on using zero-knowledge proofs for blockchain-powered projects. It was my first hackathon in which I was not a mentor but a hacker. I have previously mentored blockchain startups and traditional projects at various hackathons and incubators, so the event atmosphere wasn’t unusual for me. However, I want to share my feedback, recommendations, and advice with you if you're going to join any blockchain hackathon.


To begin with, I want to briefly explain zero knowledge and why this mathematical concept is vital to the blockchain industry.


What is zero-knowledge?

Zero-knowledge proof is a cryptographic protocol in which a prover can demonstrate knowledge of a secret without revealing the secret itself, convincing the verifier of its validity. Zero-knowledge proofs were first conceived in 1985 by Shafi Goldwasser, Silvio Micali, and Charles Rackoff in their paper "The Knowledge Complexity of Interactive Proof-Systems.”


One well-known example of a zero-knowledge proof is the "Where's Waldo" example. In this example, the prover wants to prove to the verifier that they know where Waldo is on a page in a Where's Wally? book without revealing his location to the verifier.


Did you find Wally in the picture?


Watch this video to learn more about ZKPs. It’s easy to understand for different ages and tech levels:

ZK-rollups are Layer 2 scaling solutions for blockchain networks that utilize zero-knowledge proofs to aggregate and validate multiple transactions off-chain, improving scalability and reducing transaction fees while maintaining the security and trustlessness of the underlying blockchain.


The L2Beat platform shows L2 networks in the Ethereum ecosystem. I filtered the projects by the “zk-rollup” type. In the picture, you can see the top L2 projects that use zero knowledge to scale Ethereum. Linea, Starknet, zkSync Era, Scroll, and dYdX have the biggest Total Value Locked:


https://l2beat.com, 26.05.2024


ZK Proofs are used in the Ethereum L2 networks and in various blockchains, such as Cosmos and products built on its SDK and Bitcoin blockchain.


Overview of ZK Hack Krakow

First of all, I want to highlight that ZK Hack in Krakow was very welcoming and open to newcomers. I’m not a cryptographer or developer, but the team of organizers did their best to immerse participants and help them understand the main concepts.


This is the first photo from the hackathon with the team members of zkSync. This project is one of the most promising Ethereum L2 networks, focusing on building hyperchains using a zero-knowledge stack. Daniel Lumi is a Product Manager and judge for the hackathon; Andrii Bondar is a UX Engineer, and Estevan Vilar is responsible for Community Growth. The guys were very supportive and helped hackers find a fit between the idea and the ZK tech stack.


zkSync team: Daniel Lumi, Andrii Bondar, Estevan Vilar


The hackathon started with a great intro from Anna Rose and Gaylord. They told a story about ZK Hack and ZKV and described the rules and sponsors' bounties. The total bounty was $100,000.


The list of sponsors is divided by themes


It was nice to see a quote by someone I know - DappaDan, a Technical Writer and Content Creator with rich experience participating in blockchain hackathons:


Anna Rose and Gaylord are opening the hackathon


Thanks to these photos by Agnieszka De Neve, you can feel the atmosphere that reigned at the hackathon's opening and lasted for 2.5 days. She is an Event manager and Producer at @zkv_xyz, @zeroknowledgefm, and, of course, @zkhack.


https://x.com/Agni_deneve/status/1791456390835302661


Agnieszka and her team ensured that all participants, jurors, and sponsors were comfortable at the location. They prepared quality swag and served delicious food, including Polish/Krakow dishes. As someone who often attends blockchain conferences and meetups, I can say that food and drinks play a very important role in the perception of the event.


This merch was cool! https://x.com/Agni_deneve/status/1791700439710536128


I met Armando, a serial hacker with a Python background. He attended many hackathons in Europe, and after ZK Hack, he went to code at ETHBerlin. We brainstormed and decided to try hacking using the code base from the brand-new project, Hylé. Hylé is the core layer for the modular ZK stack built on Cosmos SDK. As a result, Armando won and received a bounty from this project!


Armando and I at the beginning of the hackathon


Not many projects were created on the first day because all participants discussed the documentation and brainstormed ideas. At the end of the second day, the organizers informed about 30 projects. And on Sunday morning, there were already 40 projects (!), which is a lot considering the number of participants (about 150 people).


What did I learn from the ZK-focused hackathon?

  1. Before the hackathon, I read many articles about how ZK proofs work and how projects are built based on this mathematical concept. It was very helpful and informative. So, I recommend that everyone do their homework.


  1. I learned a lot about CLIs like Hardhat, Remix, and Truffle during the hackathon. Now I know where to find Terminal and how to run a smart contract in a test environment. It’s easier than it seems, and I’m sure that non-tech Web3 folks must know how everything works, even if they don’t use code for their work.


  1. Many of my friends who work as CMOs, product marketers, and content managers were surprised that not only techies can participate in the hackathon. There is a common stereotype that ONLY those who are good at math, cryptography and coding can be hackers.


Even if you don’t code, you still can:

  • come up with an idea and find a product-market fit
  • find the necessary information and talk to mentors asking for advice
  • make a prototype design - UX/UI, brand style
  • make excellent slides with good copy, nice colors, and memes
  • present the idea to the judges
  • ask the community for support on social media


Women Power at ZK Hack! With Teodora, the Product Marketer from o1Labs


  1. Another thing that interests me is the brand attractiveness of the sponsors (blockchain networks). Some of the networks didn’t have many projects built on their code base because of small bounties or a low level of awareness among hackers. This highlights the importance of the marketing and DevRel professionals, who must work on brand presence and visibility in the Web3 community and beyond.


This is me sitting in the hacker room


  1. If you don't have a team, it's not a problem. Hackathons are often attended by people looking for a local team or hacking solo. Most hackers are willing to help and open to communication, so don't hesitate to ask for help.
  2. Always connect with new people on social media, not only via Telegram. Many people don’t have avatars and descriptions in Telegram, so you can lose your new friend. Connecting on Twitter, Linkedin, Lens, Warpcast or elsewhere can help you build long-term relations with others.


ZK Hack Krakow Winners

At this hackathon, the focus was on the technical execution of the idea, and only a few points were added for a quality presentation and an attractive UI. This means you must have an MVP of the project that shows your idea is viable. I heard from other hackers that technical implementation is not required at Solana hackathons, but a project with an original idea and a detailed technical task can win.


To win the hackathon, you must create an idea before. It’s naive to think that you can quickly come up with an idea that will win. It’s much better to come to the hackathon with ready-made ideas and validate them with the team and mentors in order to choose the best and the one that will fit the sponsors' bounty.



The winning project is Gemstone Builders, a Factorio-inspired game that lives on the blockchain. You can check the idea by the link: https://devfolio.co/projects/gemstone-builders-885b

A screenshot from the ZK Hack page on X


Check out all 40 projects submitted to the hackathon at Devfolio: https://zk-hack-krakow.devfolio.co/projects


Conclusions

Hackathon (as a part of startup culture) is a great way to stimulate your brain, learn new things and meet like-minded people. Blockchain hackathons attract even more interesting people and give opportunities to solve problems that arise here and now. The Web3 industry is developing quickly, so you can easily find a topic that interests you and that has not yet been addressed before.


Despite blockchain's permissionless nature, there’s a significant cultural, educational, and interest gap; the industry is still not open enough to many builders and non-technical participants. I hope this article will empower everyone who wants to but has doubts about participating in a hackathon.


Will I participate in new hackathons as a hacker or mentor? Yeah! This is a great experience and a chance to test hypotheses.

By the way, ETHWarsaw: The Conference and Hackathon will be held in Warsaw on September 5-8. I joined the team of organizers and will help with marketing communications. If you've been looking for a sign to try your hand at and earn money, this link will give you all the details on how to get involved: https://www.ethwarsaw.dev




Read my previous articles about making blockchain as popular as AI, launching a Web3 Project in 2024, and the Problems in the Crypto Market that EigenLayer Airdrop Has Highlighted.

Follow me on social media: LinkedInX, and YouTube.