An introduction to Protocol Specialists at Coinbase Cloud

March 15, 2021

Our subject matter experts support not only the Coinbase Cloud team, but protocol teams and their communities as well

Knowledge base insights protocol specialist header

Each new technological innovation brings with it a new cohort of previously unimagined jobs. Just as the internet created roles like social media manager and app developer, crypto is creating new roles in the same idiosyncratic way. Among those roles is the “Protocol Specialist.”

In this post I will go over the challenges that brought this role into being, and how Coinbase Cloud’s Protocol Specialists work with our team and customers, and protocol teams and their communities.

The Bison Trails platform (now part of Coinbase Cloud) was founded with the aim of supporting and advancing the crypto ecosystem with secure and reliable infrastructure. Part of achieving this goal is running nodes on an ever-growing number of protocols. But with thousands of protocols already operating, and more being built all the time, we have to focus on a handful of chains at a time.

From day one, this search required in-depth research, communication with industry insiders, and quantitative and qualitative analysis. Decisions about which protocols to support had to be made by sifting through a huge amount of information. The Protocol Specialist role was created to spearhead these efforts and enable the team to take decisive action.

The Protocol Specialist’s role at Coinbase Cloud now has three sides: the Watchtower, the Playmaker, and the Trusted Partner. The Watchtower is keenly attuned to emerging market and technology waves. The Playmaker is a key information node for all things protocol. The Trusted Partner works with the protocols we support and their communities.

Protocol Specialists as Watchtowers

Protocol Specialists are living and breathing crypto, keeping up with macro and micro trends. We are the eyes and ears of the organization as we leverage our deep contextual knowledge to filter signal from noise. The end goal of our work is to empower our team and customers with the right insights and analysis to be effective in their goals.

We do this not just by reading news, but by being active members of the communities Coinbase Cloud is part of. Protocol Specialists are not analysts sitting on the sidelines; we are co-creating, making proposals, and giving feedback on new developments as they arise. 

As members of the Keep and NuCypher communities, we were intimately involved in the first proposed decentralized protocol merger, even giving it the codename Keanu! We now support the newly merged network, Threshold. And on eth2 we dug deep to understand, and learn from, incidents like the three largest slashing incidents on the network to date, providing that data to the community via our updates

Protocol Specialists are constantly on the lookout for up-and-coming protocols. We spend a lot of time talking with protocol teams, understanding how their protocols work, their potential and limitations, and much more. We work closely with our product team to prioritize support for protocols on the Coinbase Cloud roadmap.

Moreover, protocols are constantly evolving, so there is no “one and done” approach. Protocol Specialists are vigilant about staying on top of protocol changes that impact Coinbase Cloud customers.  For example, when Bitcoin Cash hard forked in November 2020, we advised our team and impacted customers on which faction was likely to win the hash war, retain the BCH ticker, and could be supported post-split.

As a leading infrastructure provider working with large token holders, protocol foundations, exchanges, custodians, and other service providers, participation in on-chain governance is crucial. We empower our customers with insights (without providing financial advice!) to enable them to have an informed opinion on and participate in protocol governance. 

Arming our customers with relevant information is especially important when weighing the short term vs long term tradeoffs of a governance proposal, as we had to do when Algorand updated its economic policy after launch.

Protocol Specialists as Playmakers

Internally at Coinbase Cloud, Protocol Specialists are the company’s information nodes. We are the owners and source for all information related to the protocols that we support or that we are looking at supporting. But information alone is not enough. Protocol Specialists make this information digestible and usable, enabling our team to do their best work and our customers to make informed decisions.

As Coinbase Cloud supports more than 40 protocols, it's difficult for each team member to be an expert on each of them. Internal documentation on every protocol, created by Protocol Specialists, explains the purpose, features, and nitty-gritty details of the protocols, including infrastructure requirements, economics, slashing, and other information. This documentation is critical to the rest of the company as they pursue their protocol-specific goals.

We also work with our marketing team to make a lot of this content public and available to the community — such as our informational guide to Polkadot, which explains how our customers can participate in the ecosystem, and the possible staking scenarios they could consider.

Protocol Specialists actively collaborate with each team within Coinbase Cloud on an almost daily basis. However, we do not only work internally. Protocol Specialists are also often brought in as resident protocol subject-matter experts on sales and customer interactions, to explain protocol details, discuss strategy, and, ultimately, help our sales and customer success teams succeed.

Protocol Specialists as Trusted Partners

Protocols, blockchains, networks — whatever you want to call them — are the lifeblood of the crypto ecosystem. They are commonly owned, open-source, public goods, which makes them incredibly powerful. But this status also means community members must actively maintain and support them so they do not fall victim to the tragedy of the commons.

As Protocol Specialists, it is our responsibility to be trusted partners to — and good stewards of — the protocols we support, as well as their communities. One of Coinbase Cloud’s aims is to advance the crypto ecosystem with secure and reliable infrastructure on multiple blockchains. We would not be able to accomplish this if the protocols we supported were not successful.

Protocol Specialists have seen the gamut in protocol design, incentive models, incentivized testnet structuring, mainnet launching, and so much more. We bring this expertise to bear with each new protocol Coinbase Cloud supports, by actively serving as a resource and trusted partner to protocol teams. For example, Celo’s uptime and slashing parameters were an outlier among protocols due to their severity, so we updated Celo’s infrastructure requirements to enable operators to safely perform maintenance and upgrade validator infrastructure without harsh penalties, ultimately making Celo more secure.

On- and off-chain governance is incredibly important, but oftentimes suffers from low participation and community apathy. Protocol Specialists are active participants in driving meaningful changes on the protocols we support. As part of the NEAR Validator Advisory Board, Bison Trails, at the time, proposed criteria to move the network forward to a fully decentralized mainnet launch via community governance. NEAR was the first time we’ve seen a protocol launch in a completely decentralized way. Having been part of so many mainnet launches previously, we stepped up to provide guidance and drive the conversation to make sure this launch went smoothly as well.

We further seek to empower all protocol community members through protocol guides, data-driven insights, and regular updates that we publish on our site and are freely available to everyone. Just as we filter signal from noise as Watchtowers, we aim to broadcast signal, not noise, as Trusted Partners for protocol teams and their communities.

Lastly, Protocol Specialists are responsible for Coinbase Cloud’s engagement with blockchain (technical) communities. Community is at the heart of a protocol’s success, and we view it as our responsibility to be active community members. We attend events, talks, and conferences where the majority of tacit knowledge in the ecosystem is shared. We also assume leadership roles or assist in organizing keystone community events, serving as organizers on premier conferences and hackathons including ETHDenver, ETHNewYork, and the Lightning Summit


It is our duty and honor to serve as Watchtowers, Playmakers, and Trusted Partners for our team, Coinbase Cloud customers, and the protocols we support. Protocol Specialist is a role born out of necessity, and we hope it will continue to be key to the success of Coinbase Cloud and the entire crypto ecosystem.

Protocol Specialists at Coinbase Cloud: then and now

The Bison Trails Protocol Specialist team was founded by Viktor Bunin in March 2019. Elias Simos, the team’s second Protocol Specialist, joined in August 2020. Bison Trails became a part of Coinbase in January 2021.

Viktor previously worked at ConsenSys, a crypto venture studio, where he advised clients on blockchain strategy and designed economic incentives for network stakeholders. He also co-founded Parea, a blockchain advisory, and consulted at EY on user experience, digital strategy, risk, and regulatory compliance for leading financial institutions. Viktor, his wife Lisa, and his dog Korra, live in Brooklyn, NY. 

Elias previously worked with Decentral Park Capital, a crypto-asset fund, as Head of Research. During his time there he built the Product and Research functions from the ground up, and was active across the investment stack in the crypto-asset space. Elias started his career as an EIR for Rocket Internet, and later built and ran two event production companies while touring as a music producer. He is also a mentor at the Outlier Ventures Basecamp accelerator, and an angel investor.

Work with us

At Coinbase Cloud we are continuing to invest in our team of Protocol Specialists, and will be hiring for more roles in the coming months. Please keep an eye on our careers page.

We also love talking to protocol teams. Please contact us.

And you can also always reach out to Viktor and Elias directly on Twitter.