Guide to Starting a Career in Blockchain

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You could be an expert programmer or developer looking to diversify your skill set. You could be just starting out in the job market, or looking for a change. Or you could have seen the word “blockchain” in the news one too many times, and just want to find out what everybody’s talking about.

Whoever you are, whatever your background, this article is your ticket into what is undoubtedly the 21st century’s most revolutionary technology. By the end, you’ll have a working knowledge of what makes blockchain important, and how you can help it grow. You’ll also learn where blockchain jobs and cryptocurrency jobs are available.

Not Just Cryptocurrency

People usually mention blockchain in conjunction with cryptocurrency, and the two are not inextricable. At its simplest, blockchain is a process for verifying that accurate data gets passed between computers in a peer-to-peer network. The chains of computers form a “ledger,” each entry of which contains the entire history of prior communications to ensure the data is unaltered.

The genuinely game-changing development came in 2008 with the introduction of blockchain to a decentralized network. Leading to the advent of Bitcoin, the most famous application of blockchain technology, the encrypted ledger spread over 35,000 nodes was virtually autonomous. Not only can each new block of data verify all the others, but the decentralized blockchain also is almost impossible to attack given its thousands upon thousands of redundancies.

What’s the upshot of all this? It’s now possible for an entrepreneur to start a business without ever treading on the usual beaten path, which would require them to take out a loan in their nation’s fiat currency, open a bank account, and record transactions. Financial institutions can trade assets while circumventing traditional verification. Encrypted data blocks can be used to deed a house to an owner, secure voting records, and protect ownership of an internet-of-things device. And new applications are being discovered every day.

Most In-Demand Career in the World

There’s no business that blockchain won’t influence. A firm can’t afford to ignore it any more than they can afford not to have a website. Demand for skilled experts is continually skyrocketing; according to a 2018 report from TechCrunch, there are 14 open blockchain development jobs for every qualified developer. An infographic developed by CoinList gives an average base salary of $79,985 for a blockchain developer and $88,488 for a full stack developer who can create both back-end structures and friendly user experience.

Moreover, an article by blockchain-friendly research firm Deloitte suggests that traditional educational certifications are not as important as developing the skills necessary to understand and advance blockchain technology. So if you’ve been wanting to start a career in blockchain engineering but don’t have the time or funds to go back to college, worry not. This exploding business is ready for anybody willing to develop the necessary skills.

What skills are those? Let’s dive in and see.

Things You Need to Know

Know the jargon. Some of these words came up above, but it’s impossible to overstate how important it is to know what you’re talking about when seeking a position in the field. Let’s face it; blockchain is complicated. Even the people who spend every day researching it don’t always understand everything about something based on concepts for which there are no simple words. Learning the following terms is the foundation of blockchain expertise.

Blockchain: A virtual ledger that records every transaction made on it since its original coding.

Block: A package of data added to the blockchain–or, if you prefer, an entry in the ledger.

Decentralization: When a data network has no center but is spread out across many nodes. A decentralized blockchain can also be called a distributed ledger.

Cryptocurrency: Blockchain’s current most popular application. So-called because it relies on tokens transmitted to encrypted wallet addresses, and to distinguish it from traditional fiat currencies that rely on a federal reserve.

Encryption: The critical feature of cryptocurrency and any other transaction that uses a blockchain ledger. Transactions, while recorded by public keys, can only be accessed by their wallet owner’s private key, making them secure.

Smart contract: A blockchain application whereby the ledger can enforce business transactions that once required a third-party mediator.

DApps: Short for decentralized applications. A Dapp is any potential project that leverages blockchain’s broad distribution and transparency. These might include creating a purchasing market for processing power from idle computers, rewarding users with cryptocurrency tokens for choosing to view online ads, or removing national boundaries altogether from trade.

If you want to get the basics down quickly, you could do a lot worse than reading and re-reading the Bitcoin white paper (https://bitcoin.org/bitcoin.pdf) until you understand it backward.

Know the code. Blockchain is a software technology, so coding is its bread and butter. An extremely basic blockchain is easy to build. Expanding it into the world-changing technology we know today is a matter of being deeply familiar with coding languages and their applications. Knowing Python or C++, or both, is critical, and since front-end web design forms a large part of applying blockchain, Javascript, CSS, and HTML skills can be indispensable as well.

In addition to all these, new languages are arising to fulfill the requirements of smart contracts directly. First among these is Solidity, built for deals with the Ethereum cryptocurrency. Knowing this will give you a definite edge.

If you don’t know the code, you still might be able to leverage other in-demand skills to start a blockchain career. For example, a stockbroker, asset trader, or financial advisor can provide substantial benefits to themselves or their clients by merely knowing what blockchain is and how to talk about it. Blockchain advisors will be increasingly important as the technology grows to touch more areas of life and more people who may not be equipped to understand it.

Know cryptography. Blockchain revolutionizes the economy by its ability to record and protect assets through verified encryption. The basics of online security are so crucial to its application, and the risks from a mistake so immense, that an understanding of those can lead to more opportunities. After all, nobody wants to get caught running the encrypted wallet service that someone managed to hack.

Know the soft skills. In an industry as nascent as blockchain, the paths forward will depend on what strong leaders arise to direct them. It’s one thing to be able to code a revolutionary distributed network, but quite another to be able to sell it to venture capitalists, other engineers, and the public. Don’t neglect social networking skills, marketing abilities, event coordination, outreach, and leadership skills. These are harder to certify than coding prowess but could mean the difference between just starting a new job or beginning a career.

How to Get Hired

First things first, you’ll have to choose a specialty. The blockchain industry has a lot of moving parts and features multiple possible entrances for a skilled applicant. Before thinking about this, though, take some time to recognize that traditional career paths, which require you to go to college, get certified, start at entry level, and work your way up, don’t always apply in this world. If you spend four years at school, the market may become unrecognizable by the time you get out. You’ll be better served to pick an access point and going boldly toward it.

If you have the soft skills but not the engineering know-how, create a resume that highlights what experience you’ll draw on as a blockchain consultant. After all, you’ll be asking a company to take you on based on your communication, problem-solving, and forward-thinking abilities alone, so make sure you’ve got CV items that can prove all those.

If you’re setting out on the technical road, you’ll be following a career similar to that of a software developer. Though there are some crucial differences, as explained in the next few paragraphs, some ways of acquiring work will be familiar to seasoned developers. Blockchain and cryptocurrency openings have blown up on traditional job boards such as LinkedIn, Upwork, AngelList, and Ripple. Blockchain careers are so in-demand that job boards have sprung up catering primarily to them and them alone.

Smart contracts are the “user interface” of blockchain, the main utility an end-user needs; therefore, if you like coding for users, consider applying for smart contract developer openings (especially if you can demonstrate a knowledge of Solidity!). Here, you’ll work to create an environment for secure, transparent transactions that circumvent the unwieldy requirements of a traditional business.

On the other hand, if you have a talent for creating infrastructure, apply to be a blockchain developer and build the full stack of software for a new Dapp. Here, you might find yourself working for a startup like Augur, a financial prediction market that uses data stored on decentralized blockchain ledgers. Or, by the time you’re ready to start your new career, some other fascinating project might be in the works.

Of course, the best way to predict the future is to create it. If you have an idea, and you’re ready and able to be a software architect for a new age, read on.

Create Your Own Opportunity

If you’ve got a blockchain application that you think the world needs, you could start your career at the top, building toward an entirely new use of the technology. That could involve either traditional venture capital or crowdfunding. Either way, the first thing you’re going to need is a white paper, i.e., a statement of what problem your Dapp is going to solve and how it’s going to do it.

After that, community building is vital. That is where those soft skills come into play. Use social media and in-person networking to make sure you have a community around your idea. Once you’ve got that established, crowdfunding is ready to go to turn your dream into a reality. And if you decide not to go the Kickstarter route, you’ll still have an enthusiastic group of early adopters ready to go.

The Time is Now

Blockchain is developing whole new sectors of an industry so rapidly that you can hardly blink without a new one springing up. If you think it’s the career for you, there’s no reward for waiting–just for careful and strategic planning as you forge ahead. Like planting trees, the best time to do it is last year; the second best time is right now.

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