This 19-year-old earns $54,000 a year mining bitcoin as a full-time job — here’s what it’s like
Nick Sears was 17 years old when he helped build a bitcoin mining farm in Dallesport, Washington. He was 18 when he was legally allowed to buy bitcoin for the first time. And now, at 19, Sears has doubled down on his life as a bitcoin miner, saying “no” to college and “yes” to living in a room inside a data center that houses 4,500 whirling ASICs.
“My room is sound-locked,” said Sears of the acoustic retrofitting of his living quarters. “So I can’t hear the machines when I close my door, but they are definitely noisy if I have my door open.”
The machines generate about 80 decibels of noise apiece — but Sears says he likes being as close to the action as possible. It also beats making the half hour commute each way from his parents’ house in White Salmon.
The 19 year-old has spent pretty much every single day for the last two years teaching himself the nuances of how mining machines work – and crucially, how to fix them. He believes his education in soldering and electronics is worth a whole lot more to him than a university degree.
“I don’t think about going to college at all, just pursuing further knowledge in the repairs of the miners,” continued Sears.
CNBC spoke with multiple miners for this story. Many explained that the allure of mining comes from being able to tangibly grasp the power of bitcoin.
“If you’ve been to any of these data centers, the first thing you’ll notice is just how vast and how impressive they are. They’re huge,” said explained Thomas Heller, chief business officer for Compass Mining, which works with Sears’ employer, SCATE Ventures.
“There’s so much noise, and there’s so much heat. There’s just so much action going on. It is quite cool to walk into a data center for the first time that’s mining bitcoin, because you can really connect the intangible aspects of bitcoin as a currency, with the physical nature of these machines consuming power and doing these calculations.”
A day in the life of a miner
Mining for bitcoin isn’t a glamorous job.
“When we first got here, we were setting up racks, creating the network infrastructure for the internet, and we essentially had to wire everything,” he said.
Once the physical infrastructure was up and running, Sears got into more of a rhythm. He’s now up at 7 A.M. everyday and works from eight to four. He remains on site afterwards, just in case of an emergency, and there is a technician who works night shifts so that Sears can get some sleep.
But beyond the hours, there is no typical work day for Sears.
“That’s the cool thing about this job – I don’t have a set routine that I do everyday,” he said. “Every morning, I find what needs to be fixed.”
Some days, that means Sears repairs walls and other physical infrastructure. “If we have to repair a camera, maybe I’m fixing a cable.”
But the biggest part of the job is monitoring and managing every one of those 4,500 Bitmain and Whatsminer ASICs to ensure they are running 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If even one of those machines goes offline, or is only running at partial capacity, the SCATE Ventures mine loses money.
That’s because when someone is mining for bitcoin, what they are actually doing is lending their computing power to the bitcoin network. The more machines you have online, the better your chances at winning bitcoin.
Roughly every ten minutes, 6.25 bitcoins are created. In order to mint these new tokens, a global pool of miners are all contributing their computing power to running a hashing algorithm. But these miners aren’t working in a vacuum. They’re competing against each other to see who can unlock each batch of new bitcoin first.
So the stakes are high for Sears. Being diligent and knowing how to triage issues across the entire facility is critical to success.
Some mining sites use more sophisticated software to monitor the machines, which includes checking the temperature of each hashboard within the individual miners.
But most important for Sears is just figuring out which of his machines aren’t functioning at full capacity.
“Every day, you find the machines that have stopped hashing, then you remove them from the rack, and you troubleshoot,” he explained. “You’ve got to find the problem with the machines. You’ve got to find out why it went offline.”
It could be a power outage, which would affect all the machines, or it could be a network outage which could impact all of the machines or just some.
“Sometimes they just need a power cycle or a reboot,” he said.
But the hardware fix isn’t always as simple as that.
“It could be that the fan on the individual machine that is used for cooling is broken, or maybe it’s the power supply that needs to be repaired or replaced,” explained Heller.
“It could be the hashboards themselves,” continued Heller. “Each hashboard has lots of individual chips, and those are the chips doing the calculations. I think with a Bitmain machine, if more than four chips on a single hashboard are broken, the whole hashboard will switch off. So instead of hashing at about 100%, you’re only hashing at two-thirds or one-third.”
Seasonal changes in the weather add a whole other layer of complexity.
Storms can lead to power outages or other disruptions. Heller says that in the summer, the machines can also overheat, especially at the farms which have upgraded to using more powerful units over the course of the last two years.
SCATE’s mine in Washington seems to have found a way around this problem by using its own immersion cooling technology, which involves submerging bitcoin miners in a non-conductive fluid to dissipate heat, rather than relying on fans.
Training up and getting paid
Sears may not need a diploma to mine, but taking online training courses run by Chinese engineers who work for Bitmain has gone a long way toward helping him repair specialized mining equipment.
Last month, Sears and another employee completed a virtual class through Bitmain to learn how to work on the ASIC chips on hashboards, as well as the power supplies of the S17s, one of the most popular machines now used to mint bitcoin.
“I have a certification of maintenance repair, so lately, I’ve just been perfecting my skills in that category,” explained Sears. “It certifies my knowledge and gives me access to buy supplies and material directly through Bitmain.”
Next, he hopes to attend an in-person class in Atlanta, Georgia, to learn more about soldering. “The hard part is learning how to solder and disassemble a circuit board,” said Sears.
Sears’ boss, Scott Bennett, is big on giving his team access to the resources they need to get better at their jobs.
Bennett, CEO of SCATE Ventures, is a self-taught miner who started his business in his parents’ garage back in 2017, just before the last crypto “winter,” when prices of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies plunged. Similar to Sears, Bennett once lived at one of his data centers – only he opted for an on-site camper, rather than a room inside the facility itself.
It helped that he lives within minutes of some of the cheapest power in the world.
“All of our facilities are 100% hydro powered,” said Bennett.
The mining facility where Sears works is next to the Columbia River and directly adjacent the Dalles Dam. “We love that source of power. It’s cheap, renewable, and very abundant,” he said.
As for employee pay, Sears says that he makes $54,000 a year, plus full health insurance, which is paid for by the company.
Bennett also runs some mining machines exclusively for his employees. That amounts to about .02 BTC quarterly, which by today’s price equates to a $788 bonus every three months to Sears.
“With all the miners in China going offline, the difficulty rate has been changing, so the rewards are higher,” said Sears. “The last time we got a little bit more than we did the previous time, which is cool by me.”
It is also possible to become a crypto miner without physically handling any mining equipment at all.
Adam Gitzes decided in early 2021 that he really wanted to mine for bitcoin. After his wife vetoed the idea of installing equipment in their home, he began to look for alternatives.
Gitzes discovered Compass Mining, which allows customers to buy mining machines for between $5,800 and $11,700, then locates them in partner data centers and takes care of the physical logistics.
“I bought the machines on the website, Compass managed the logistics, delivering the machines to three different data centers in North America,” said Gitzes, who explained he spent 1.1 bitcoin — about $60,000 at the time of purchase — on them.
“Compass also configured them the way that I asked.”
So a typical day in the life of a miner like Gitzes consists of waking up and checking online to see how much bitcoin his machines mined overnight and to ensure that none of his units are down.
Gitzes owns six machines that he says are on the “higher end.” When China expelled all its miners, Gitzes says it doubled the amount of money that his machines generate daily.
After paying the mining pool fee of 1.25%, Gitzes’ miners generate about .0055 bitcoin a day, or $216 at today’s prices. Daily electricity costs are about $30, so he’s pulling in roughly $186 a day, or just shy of $5,700 every month. At that rate, he’ll recoup his investment in about 11 months, assuming no major fluctuations in energy or bitcoin prices.
Gitzes was so impressed by the Compass business model that he quit his job at Amazon to join the team in March. “The mission to decentralize mining and make it so that everyone can participate is something that I find really important,” said Gitzes.
Alibaba to split into 6 units and explore IPOs; shares pop 9%
Alibaba has faced growth challenges amid regulatory tightening on China’s domestic technology sector and a slowdown in the world’s second-largest economy. But analysts think the e-commerce giant’s growth could pick up through the rest of 2022.
Kuang Da | Jiemian News | VCG | Getty Images
Alibaba said Tuesday it will split its company into six business groups, each with the ability to raise outside funding and go public, in the most significant reorganization in the Chinese e-commerce giant’s history.
Each business group will be managed by its own CEO and board of directors.
Alibaba said in a statement that the move is “designed to unlock shareholder value and foster market competitiveness.”
Alibaba’s shares popped more than 9% in pre-market trade in the U.S.
The move comes after a tough couple of years for Alibaba which has faced slowing economic growth at home and tougher regulation from Beijing, resulting in billions being wiped off its share price. Alibaba has struggled with growth over the past few quarters.
Alibaba is now looking to reinvigorate growth with the reorganization.
The business groups will revolve around its strategic priorities. These are the groups:
- Cloud Intelligence Group: Alibaba CEO Daniel Zhang will be head of this business which will house the company’s cloud and artificial intelligence activities.
- Taobao Tmall Commerce Group: This will cover the company’s online shopping platforms including Taobao and Tmall.
- Local Services Group: Yu Yongfu will be CEO and the business will cover Alibaba’s food delivery service Ele.me as well as its mapping.
- Cainiao Smart Logistics: Wan Lin will continue as CEO of this business which houses Alibaba’s logistics service.
- Global Digital Commerce Group: Jiang Fan will serve as CEO. This unit includes Alibaba’s international e-commerce businesses including AliExpress and Lazada.
- Digital Media and Entertainment Group: Fan Luyuan will be CEO of the unit which includes Alibaba’s streaming and movie business.
Each of these units can pursue independent fundraising and a public listing when they’re ready, Zhang said.
The exception is the Taobao Tmall Commerce Group, which will remain wholly-owned by Alibaba.
$600 billion wipeout
Around $600 billion of value has been wiped out since Alibaba’s share price peak in October 2020. Since then, the Chinese government has cracked down on private technology businesses, introducing a slew of regulation and increasing scrutiny on the practices of domestic giants.
Alibaba’s fintech affiliate Ant Group was forced by regulators to cancel its mega public listing in November 2020. And in 2021, Alibaba was fined $2.6 billion as part of an antitrust probe.
Alibaba is now looking to reinvigorate growth. The company has grown into a giant that encompasses businesses from e-commerce to cloud computing to streaming and logistics.
The company sees the creation of the six businesses as a way to be nimbler.
“This transformation will empower all our businesses to become more agile, enhance decision-making, and enable faster responses to market changes,” Zhang said in a statement.
The reorganization also comes at a time when there are signs that Beijing is warming back up to technology businesses, as the government seeks to revive economic growth in the world’s second-largest economy.
Jack Ma, Alibaba’s outspoken and charismatic founder who was out of the public eye and travelling abroad for several months, has returned to China, in a move perceived as an olive branch from Beijing.
4G internet is set to arrive on the moon later this year
Nokia hopes to install a data network on the moon sometime in 2023, an executive told reporters.
Thomas Coex | AFP via Getty Images
Nokia is preparing to launch a 4G mobile network on the moon later this year, in the hopes of enhancing lunar discoveries — and eventually paving the path for human presence on the satellite planet.
The Finnish telecommunications group plans to launch the network on a SpaceX rocket over the coming months, Luis Maestro Ruiz De Temino, Nokia’s principal engineer, told reporters earlier this month at the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona.
The network will be powered by an antenna-equipped base station stored in a Nova-C lunar lander designed by U.S. space firm Intuitive Machines, as well as by an accompanying solar-powered rover.
An LTE connection will be established between the lander and the rover.
The infrastructure will land on the Shackleton crater, which lies along the southern limb of the moon.
Nokia says the technology is designed to withstand the extreme conditions of space.
The network will be used within Nasa’s Artemis 1 mission, which aims to send the first human astronauts to walk on the moon’s surface since 1972.
The aim is to show that terrestrial networks can meet the communications needs for future space missions, Nokia said, adding that its network will allow astronauts to communicate with each other and with mission control, as well as to control the rover remotely and stream real-time video and telemetry data back to Earth.
The lander will launch via a SpaceX rocket, according to Maestro Ruiz De Temino. He explained that the rocket won’t take the lander all the way to the moon’s surface — it has a propulsion system in place to complete the journey.
Anshel Sag, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, said that 2023 was an “optimistic target” for the launch of Nokia’s equipment.
“If the hardware is ready and validated as it seems to be, there is a good chance they could launch in 2023 as long as their launch partner of choice doesn’t have any setbacks or delays,” Sag told CNBC via email.
Nokia previously said that its lunar network will “provide critical communication capabilities for many different data transmission applications, including vital command and control functions, remote control of lunar rovers, real-time navigation and streaming of high definition video.”
One of the things Nokia is hoping to achieve with its lunar network is finding ice on the moon. Much of the moon’s surface is now dry, but recent unmanned missions to the moon have yielded discoveries of ice remnants trapped in sheltered craters around the poles.
Such water could be treated and used for drinking, broken up into hydrogen and oxygen for use as rocket fuel, or separated to provide breathable oxygen to astronauts.
“I could see this being used by future expeditions to continue to explore the moon since this really seems like a major test of the capabilities before starting to use it commercially for additional exploration and potential future mining operations,” Sag told CNBC.
“Mining requires a lot of infrastructure to be in place and having the right data about where certain resources are located.
We’ll need more than just internet connectivity, if we’re ever to live on the moon. Engineering giant Rolls-Royce, for example, is working on a nuclear reactor to provide power to future lunar inhabitants and explorers.
WATCH: Three decades after inventing the web, Tim Bernersr-Lee has some ideas on how to fix it
Elon Musk says only verified users will show up in Twitter’s recommendation feed in further shake-up
Elon Musk Twitter account seen on Mobile with Elon Musk in the background on screen, seen in this photo illustration. On 19 February 2023 in Brussels, Belgium.
Jonathan Raa | Nurphoto | Getty Images
Elon Musk said that only verified accounts will appear in Twitter’s recommendation feed, as the billionaire further shakes up the social media platform.
Twitter’s “For You” tab shows users tweets from people they don’t follow, but that are recommended to them by the social media firm’s algorithm. To date, this has showed accounts from any Twitter users, whether they are verified or not.
But Musk announced in a tweet late Monday that, going forward, only verified accounts will show up in the “For You” section of the site.
Musk claims the move “is the only realistic way to address advanced AI bot swarms taking over.”
Musk also said that only verified users will be able to vote in polls.
Since buying Twitter last year, Musk has sought to shake up the way the company does verification. Before Musk’s acquisition, Twitter used to verify users with a blue check mark as a way to identify the account matches the person or company it says it is. This process was free and applied to celebrities, journalists, government officials and organizations.
Musk introduced a subscription service last year called Twitter Blue that allows a user to pay $8 per month to be verified and obtain the blue check mark.
Twitter said last week that it would begin to wind down its “legacy verified program” and remove “legacy verified” check marks on Apr. 1. The company is prompting people with the legacy checkmarks to sign up for the Twitter Blue subscription service.
Musk has been trying to find ways to generate new revenue streams at Twitter, with paid verification being a flagship policy. But the company has reportedly lost a huge amount of value.
Musk told employees last week that Twitter is now valued at $20 billion, according to an email sent to employees and seen by the New York Times. That is down more than 50% from the $44 billion Musk paid for company last year.
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