The blockchain and cryptocurrency market has seen a surge of interest in the past few years, catapulting a specialised industry into something that is now worth billions of dollars. Yet, while interest has primarily been targeted toward cryptocurrencies, the appeal of a steady job in the blockchain industry is growing as more and more companies invest in it.
Research from employment site Glassdoor noted in 2018 that there was a 300% increase in the amount of blockchain-related jobs in August compared to the same period in August 2017, when there were only 446 job postings. Some of the employers include Accenture, Circle, Coinbase, ConsenSys, IBM, JPMorgan, and Kraken, to name but a few.
Not only that, but the median salary for blockchain-related job openings was reported to be $84,884 per year. Considering this is 61.8% more than the US median salary, according to Glassdoor’s Local Pay Report, it’s not a bad start to a career.
“The median salary for blockchain-related job openings was reported to be $84,884 per year… 61.8% more than the US median salary”
However, that’s not to say it’s easy getting a foot in the door. The findings were that most of the blockchain-related jobs on Glassdoor were technical, with software-engineer positions being the most common, at 19%. Other jobs ranged from front-end engineer to technology architect, showing the breadth of talent required to continue advancing the technology.
So, when it comes to forging that career in blockchain, what programming languages does one need to know? And is that all an applicant requires?
Stepping into Blockchain
According to Damien Ducourty, Co-Founder of online education provider B9lab, working in blockchain differs substantially from the environments with which most developers will be familiar.
“It’s less important which programming language you learn and more important to be flexible and be able to apply it in a different paradigm,” he explained, speaking to Binary District Journal. “There are myriad different frameworks and they all have a different approach. Some have opted to develop their own languages for smart contracts, others use subsets of existing languages.”
“It’s less important which programming language you learn and more important to be flexible and be able to apply it in a different paradigm”
He went on to caution that developers trying to make a career in blockchain need to be adaptable as well as willing to work with constantly shifting environments. “The technology hasn’t settled yet – it’s still bleeding-edge, so there isn’t one big winner in the space.”
Patrick McCorry, Assistant Professor at King’s College London and the UK’s first cryptocurrency PhD, agrees.
“Development for cryptocurrencies and the blockchain requires an ‘adversarial mindset’”
Explaining further, he noted that developers must be prepared to write 40-line programs with “hundreds of millions of assets under its control in an environment where any pseudonymous adversary will break it and steal the coins if they can”.
Despite the heightened interest in the industry, many are claiming the blockchain isn’t yet mature enough. In its ‘Blockchain’s Occam Problem’ report, published in January 2019, American management-consulting firm McKinsey & Company noted that “blockchain has yet to become the game-changer some expected”.
It continues that, while the blockchain is a “potential game-changer”, there are emerging doubts about it. Having looked at 100 use-cases where the technology is being applied, the report’s authors state that many of the applications are stuck in the pioneering stage or are simply shutting down because of a lack of funding. Whether this is down to blockchain fatigue or overhype during the initial-coin-offering madness of 2017, there will be some major moves taking place this year, according to a 2018 report from Deloitte.
According to Ducourty, the current market leaders are Ethereum and Hyperledger, “with Corda bringing up the rear, but gaining ground and making some aggressive moves. There are other protocols that may end up surpassing or complementing the leaders, like Tezos and Eosis, to name a couple. And I haven’t even mentioned layer-two developments.”
Preparing Students for Blockchain
When McCorry first started in early 2013, Bitcoin was the only viable cryptocurrency and there were only around four academic papers on the subject. Back then, he had to rely on message boards, chat rooms, and private conversations to learn much of what he now knows.
“If a developer wants to get their hands dirty with applied cryptography, game theory and financial incentives, then I’d seriously recommend they consider changing their career for one involving cryptocurrencies and blockchains”
“Since then, the field has exploded, in terms of development and research,” he added. “If a developer wants to get their hands dirty with applied cryptography, game theory and financial incentives, then I’d seriously recommend they consider changing their career for one involving cryptocurrencies and blockchains.”
According to McCorry, King’s College London is at the “heart of building the next wave of blockchain developers”. “We offer cryptocurrencies as a module on our MSc Computer Science programme,” he said. “We [also] offer a free 10-week cryptocurrency class every Tuesday evening and so far have attracted close to 400 students and developers on a weekly basis.”
Furthermore, King’s College London is researching how to improve cryptocurrencies, McCorry noted, with some of its work presented at conferences, such as Financial Cryptography and CCS, and industry conferences, including Devcon3 and 4, the Stanford Blockchain Conference, Master Workshop: Layer 2, the Cryptoeconomics and Security Conference, and Scaling Bitcoin.
B9lab, meanwhile, focuses on practical coding, illustrating that programming on blockchains is different, and introducing students to people within the developer community.
“You can’t just cobble something together and hope it works,” explained Ducourty, referring to how programming on blockchains varies. “On public networks, once it’s out there, you can’t take it back and fix it. There’s a huge responsibility in creating things on blockchains because they’re designed to run indefinitely. So, we help developers understand this new way of working and the ramifications of getting something wrong.”
Ducourty says it’s not an area someone can dive into and just “give it a go”. Equally, though, it’s not difficult to master, with the right guidance. “What is difficult is finding the right guidance, because the technology is still young and changing constantly,” he added.
McCorry suggested reading some of his favourite papers, such as Bitcoin’s whitepaper, the Step by Step Towards Creating Secure Smart Contracts, and SoK: Research Perspectives and Challenges for Bitcoin and Cryptocurrencies. He also recommended the Mastering Bitcoin and Mastering Ethereum books by Bitcoin advocate Andreas Antonopoulos.
And, in conclusion, he advised that those keen to follow this path should try writing and breaking as many smart contracts as possible.
It’s important, then, that any budding developer selects their first coding language wisely. A cursory Google search will return reams of articles about coding languages that have either died out almost completely or lost their popularity. Do some research before you commit to learning one and, ideally, learn as many as possible - a workman is only as good as his tools and if they become redundant, it can be difficult to adjust.
Illustrations by Kseniya Forbender
To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Margarita Khartanovich at [email protected]
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