What Skills Do You Need to Be a Blockchain Engineer?
If you’ve been considering transitioning your career to blockchain development, this article is going to be right up your alley.
As you might know, the blockchain is essentially a massive ledger of cryptocurrency transactions. It keeps track of all cryptocurrency activity, who owns what proportion of it and the time it was executed. It’s like a giant book of records!
The blockchain is decentralised and public. Anyone can access it, unlike traditional, centralised banking ledgers. Cryptocurrency transactions are recorded in ‘blocks’, with ‘blocks’ containing timestamps and transaction data, giving it the name ‘blockchain’. Any information that gets loaded onto the blockchain goes through a series of verification steps by multiple ‘nodes’ or computers (like in the image below). They interact with each other until a consensus is reached on the validity of the data, before getting accepted into the blockchain. This is what makes the information on the blockchain reliable and trustworthy.
It’s important to note that while the blockchain was developed for tracking bitcoins, blockchain technology has the potential to be used across many different industries and domains. Essentially it could be used to record anything of value!
As Don and Alex Tapscott, authors of Blockchain Revolution say, “The blockchain is an incorruptible digital ledger of economic transactions that can be programmed to record not just financial transactions, but virtually everything of value.”
What does this mean for you, and why should you be a blockchain engineer?
Many startups are now using blockchain technology in myriad ways, from global payments, to music sharing, and even tracking diamond sales. This has created numerous opportunities for blockchain engineers.
There are a couple of paths you can go down as a blockchain engineer. In simple terms, you can:
- Build applications using the blockchain technology.
- Focus on developing the blockchain technology itself and the things that interact with it, like developing a new blockchain protocol or currency.
Building decentralised applications (DAPPS) is where a lot of the opportunities lie. It’s where a lot of blockchain engineering roles have opened up for developers, as evidenced by the steep rise in job opportunities shown below:
The above graph shows that the number of job opportunities in the blockchain domain has increased from 0 to just under 4000 between 2010 and 2017. Clearly it’s a rapidly growing profession!
To seek some expert insights, we interviewed Cadel Watson, Junior Developer at AgriDigital, Michael Buchanan, Blockchain and Technology Consultant at DigitalX and Vaibhav Namburi, Founder of Five2One and Dveloper.io, asking for their thoughts on becoming a blockchain engineer. We asked them three key questions to help you navigate your way through this complex and nascent field. Here goes.
Question 1: What are the key skills and attributes needed to be a blockchain engineer?
According to Watson, aspiring blockchain engineers need to be comfortable with learning as they go, since it’s a new and emerging space. He emphasises the importance of ‘adopting a new mindset’ which focuses on efficiency, scalability, and distributed computing. It’s more than learning just another programming paradigm.
Another great suggestion by Watson was to not just focus on developing the hard programming skill sets, but also learn about the economic side of blockchain engineering. Knowing about concepts like incentivisation, supply and demand, and opportunity cost might sound cliché, but it couldn’t be more vital to understand in the blockchain development context. If you want to be effective as a blockchain engineer, you’ll need to be a hybrid of a junior economist, a software developer, a data geek and auditor.
Buchanan says that becoming a blockchain engineer is a level playing field, where anyone with the time and dedication can become an expert. He highlights the importance of problem solving skills, and the ability to discover and process information, while judging its accuracy, as the two most important skill sets to have.
“One of the most exciting things about working with such cutting-edge technology is that anyone with the time and dedication can become an expert – it is really a great leveller,” says Buchanan.
“But the ability to quickly pivot is absolutely necessary – the technical abilities of blockchains, the tools available for developers, and the documentation of these decentralised networks and associated tooling are evolving so fast that the need to constantly stay on top of new developments and massive platform changes and updates is vital to not get left behind.”
Adding to that, Namburi says that an enormous amount of energy is needed to keep pace with the rapid changes in the blockchain space. The pace of change in blockchain technologies is really fast, and one has to be agile and quick to adapt. For blockchain engineering to be right for you as a career, you need to be excited by the constant speed of change!
Question 2: What sort of experience is transferable to being a blockchain engineer?
“The autonomous operation of blockchain makes it an unforgiving world. One mistake or bug can literally cost millions,” says Watson, who mentions the transferability of vulnerability analysis and comprehensive testing in this context. He feels that because the code developed for blockchain is highly sensitive and mission critical, engineers with skills in embedded programming would be well suited to the challenge.
Buchanan lists the importance of data analytics, traditional programming or software development practices, and knowledge of cryptography as the most transferable skill sets in the blockchain world. Given that it’s a new space, being able to navigate developer discussion forums like Github to build applications is key. You need all the support you can get!
Namburi says that knowing the fundamentals of object oriented programming, cryptography, system architecture and test driven development would be very useful experience to have under your belt.
Clearly, there’s no silver bullet as to an experience that is going to be of the most value given the dynamic nature of this career. But overall, a combination of skills and experience in any of the above domains would be highly valuable.
Question 3: What resources are available to train in blockchain engineering?
Watson says that because blockchain is very new, there are no formal qualifications that help you upskill as such. New concepts appear everyday, and since it’s quite easy to get overwhelmed, he says that brushing up on the basics of how a blockchain works and how each chain differs (Ethereum, Bitcoin, etc.) would be a smart move.
He also believes that a good foundational knowledge of economics is key. “Blockchain technologies are fundamentally economic instruments. It’s really helpful for developers to have an understanding of basic concepts like incentivisation, supply and demand, and opportunity cost,” says Watson.
Buchanan advises that developers should “spend a few months reading mailing lists, social media discussion forums, and development hubs to get an idea of how the software is developed, how changes are proposed and made, and to learn and listen to the community leaders that will give insights into the direction of valuable projects.”
However, he also warns against being influenced by biases in the information of these communities, especially since a lot of folks have vested financial interests in the success of certain blockchain projects.
For those wanting to stay ahead of the curve, Watson says we’ll start to see more specialists in the field of “tokenomics”: the application of economic concepts to blockchain models.
“Fundamentally the question they address is designing mechanisms to push people’s behaviour in certain directions. It’s a small field currently but is beginning to take off.”
If you’re keen to do an online course, Namburi recommends choosing the blockchain development course on UDemy by Stephen Grider to learn about developments in the Ethereum realm. He also suggests attending Bokky Poo Bah’s Ethereum workshop in Sydney if you’re interested in learning the Ethereum ecosystem.
Having said that, there are many great blogs and articles you can use to educate yourself. Another great resource we found is this online course by Blockgeeks, which goes through everything you need to learn to become a blockchain engineer. But at the end of the day, nothing beats getting your hands dirty and just doing it!
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