What is Kernel? A refreshed definition for KB8
    Jess Sun
    November 15, 2023

    Written by Vivek Singh and Jess Sun

    What is Kernel? A refreshed definition for KB8

    This summer, at a mixed gathering of Kernel Fellows and non-members, “What is Kernel?” was asked a lot. The varied answers we heard were revealing. What exactly is it that’s managed to bring 1,800 Kernel Fellows together since 2020?

    Kernel is a custom-built internet age institution dedicated to building a better web, together. It unfolds around biannual eight week blocks, each representing the latest and greatest iteration of our participatory peer-learning environment. A Kernel Block welcomes a variety of talented people to build, cultivate and mold projects, while building relationships with the web, each other, and themselves. But these words alone don’t necessarily do Kernel justice: those who know it know it’s so much more.

    Kernel is deep inquiry, time well shared, a locus of enduring relationship, and a place where excellent work is pursued.

    In this post we’ll expand on these ideas to better answer the question, “What is Kernel?”

    What is Kernel? A moment in time.

    8-week semi-annual blocks

    Like blockchain, Kernel is made up of eight week “blocks.” Blocks are how new Kernel members, Kernel Fellows, are introduced to Kernel. They happen twice a year and consist of several hundred Kernel Fellows each. We’re currently accepting applications for Kernel Block 8, known as “KB8.” So many things are going on in the world and our worlds. Kernel Blocks are an opportunity for Fellows to focus their attention, experience deep time, and pursue your best work.


    Self-directed adventures

    Kernel Blocks feature practical education and support that’s customized to each Fellow and their chosen “adventure.” Adventures are individual or group projects that often involve MVPs, research reports, poem writing, thesis making, or job searching. We then hold weekly check-ins for accountability and offer peer mentorship from a pool of 120 for coaching and guidance. Projects that began or meaningfully participated in Kernel include Phantom, Toucan, Sherlock, Alexandria Labs, Bonfire, Llama, Coinshift, HaloFi, Chaos Labs, Future Primitive, and Verses. Almost 100 Kernel adventures have raised significant funding, in the range of $1MM-$10MM. There have also been PhD theses written, art installations created, and DAOs begun in a Kernel block.


    An ecological approach to technology

    A Kernel Block’s eight weeks correspond to the eight learning modules in Kernel’s open-source syllabus. Each module is broken down into original readings and curated resource briefs exploring classic texts from disciplines like anthropology, game design, finance, literature, poetry, and of course, technology. In contrast to most crypto/web3 curriculums, Kernel’s syllabus is focused on cultivating wisdom and propagating ecological patterns in our products and our own lives.

    Though it can get highly technical, Kernel’s syllabus is primarily concerned with the historical, philosophical, societal, and even personal aspects of the web, web3, and technology. Those who find value in sitting in ambiguity, questioning assumptions, following an intuition, or surrendering to awe and wonder are likely to enjoy Kernel’s syllabus. We believe technology isn’t neutral, but rather defined by the humans who use it and the context from which it comes. Looking at technology through the lens of human society, we come to see crypto and web3 as related to a greater evolution — of our local and global webs, financial systems, monies, and institutions.


    Group sensemaking

    Every Thursday, we gather for firesides, where Kernel Stewards facilitate a discussion based on the week’s learning module. These discussions are usually seeded by guest speakers and then opened up to the whole group, complete with a live chat going the whole time. Firesides conclude with small group breakout sessions so quieter, more specific discussions can form. Past fireside guests have included Toby Shorin (Other Internet), Kevin Owocki and Scott Moore (Gitcoin), Xochitl Cazador and Sep Kamvar (Celo), Brewster Kahle and Mai Ishikawa Sutton (Internet Archive), Sam Wiliams (Arweave), Kei Kreutler (Gnosis), Yancey Strickler (Kickstarter, Metalabel), Vitalik Buterin (Ethereum), and Britt Harris (Titans, the inspiration for Kernel).


    Horizontal dialogue between peers

    More important than office hours and firesides are the conversations suggested and convened by Kernel Fellows. These active learning sessions are facilitated/crowdsourced/open-sourced via Kernel’s homegrown ‘Convo’ app. These sessions are the heartbeat of the block and often lead us beyond the block into the ongoing Kernel — more on that in the next section.

    What is Kernel? An ongoing environment.

    Local and global gatherings

    Kernel Convos are online and IRL events that happen anytime, regardless of whether a Block is active. Convos are modeled on Benjamin Franklin’s weekly mutual improvement club, the Junto, whose meetings consisted of discussions based on a series of questions. Any Kernel Fellow can organize a Convo for any topic through Kernel’s Convo App, as long as it brings Fellows together for a common goal. Some popular Convos have included jams on funding, “Body Mind,” “Solidity Sundays,” a Merge watch party, “Death Junto,” Smart Contract Auditing, a full moon ceremony, Work in Progress Wednesdays, and poetry exchanges.

    Many of Kernel’s IRL Convos take the form of a meal. A Kernel lunch or dinner is usually organized at every major crypto conference. An unofficial Kernel principle is, “There’s nothing like the magic of a good meal with good friends.” Because of the power of a shared meal to slow people down and help them enjoy each other, Kernel sponsors food at IRL Convos that have a minimum attendance of three Fellows, no questions asked. Eating isn’t the only Convo activity Kernel will sponsor, however. Shared learning experiences like art or yoga classes are supported too.


    Perpetual blocks

    Kernel doesn’t end when blocks do: all Fellows are encouraged to participate in future blocks when it feels right for them, which affords the opportunity to experience the familiar in a new frame. To sign up for new blocks, all current Fellows have to do is let a Steward know. Beyond block participation, we rely on existing Fellows to recruit, review, and peer-mentor new ones. This act of giving tends to be just as — if not more — educational and fulfilling than receiving. It also ensures that future blocks are shaped by previous ones in a more and more decentralized manner. Blocks are a special time, so we don’t expect Fellows to want or need them constantly. But they’ll always exist for Fellows to come back to after venturing out in the world and finding themselves seeking simple conversation with old friends.


    Community tooling

    Last but not least of Kernel’s evergreen programming is the information and communication channels we make available to our Fellows. The messaging platform we use is Slack, where Fellows are free to message each other and form new channels. Existing Slack channels new Fellows will find include ones for geographic localities and various interests like regeneration, indigenous protocols, artificial intelligence, gratitude, open data, DeSci, collective intelligence, art, design, writing, saying gm (yes, we still say gm every morning), and gratitude. We also maintain a database of Fellow profiles and their offers to the community. Though our Stewards and Fellows are active in helping Fellows find each other and the help they need, bios and offers spark and satisfy new curiosities. Even more tooling for Kernelers is always in the works. Next up on the current roadmap are an improved All Fellows Directory and a job board to support job seekers.

    What is Kernel? A pattern that propagates.

    Now that we’ve laid out Kernel’s primitives, we can explore its alchemy — how it makes 1+1=3.


    Good people, better company

    On their own, Kernelers already amaze us. Kernel Fellows have exceptional skills and experiences, are thoughtful and self-aware, and are likely to use their success to help others. Wealth, for most Fellows, goes beyond the financial, and means ‘having enough to share.’ They come from 50 countries and represent a variety of top universities, companies, and institutions, but transcend their labels too, leaving them at the door during Kernel. They have vocations as diverse as circus director, (bestselling) author, (Bollywood) actor, ecologist and nature guide, documentary filmmaker, musician, and anthropologist. Kernel being a technology program, there are an incredible number of talented software engineers, designers, and internet natives. 40% of us belong to underrepresented groups. When we’re together, there’s always new surprises and unexpected commonalities to uncover.


    Internal transformation

    When describing the Kernel syllabus above, we mentioned the personal aspect of our study, which may have led to a confused pause. What does technology have to do with our personal lives? Technology has an undeniable influence over us. It amplifies our internalities and how we relate to each other, for better or worse. For open-source, peer-to-peer networks based on consensus, perhaps even more so. Building a better web and becoming better humans are two sides of the same coin. What does bettering yourself mean to us? Simply that you’re honing your innate strengths and aligning your service to those gifts. Your path is only yours, and Kernel helps you find it.


    A refuge from market cycles and speculation

    Two things often heard in the bigger crypto world right now are, “Where has crypto’s initial ethos gone?” and “Those still around in a bear market are those who really care.” Kernel is beautifully insulated — not because these swings don’t affect us, but because relationships are the antidote to feelings of overwhelm. Amidst the cyclical nature of crypto, values like decentralization and positive sum/infinite games have always been, still are, and will continue to be front and center for Kernel. As a result, a lot of crypto’s ups and downs, both toward FOMO or FUD, are kept more clear.

    Kernel is many things: an experience, an education, a long conversation, a community. An underground stream feeding intentional people and projects. A place for honesty, trust, excellence, clarity, and heightened awareness. A place to practice, serve, and care for one another. The search for truth, the chance to speak it with love, and an act of remembrance: that we are who we are through others, and others are themselves through us.

    Kernel applications close December 1, 2023. If that sounds exciting, we invite you to join Kernel Block 8.

    While there is a one-time fee of $500 USDC/the equivalent in ETH once accepted to Kernel, we have an extensive scholarship program based simply on need. We never want money to be the reason you don’t apply.

    If you have any questions about Kernel or the application, please reach out to us at We’re happy to chat!


    This article is possible with a little help from friends.

    Vivek Singh

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