Blockchain has recently gone through the top of its hype cycle so far. Everyone from small startups to large corporations wants to build Blockchain products and dip their toes into the space. One key question though: Who is going to develop all that software?
Everything will be tokenized and connected by a blockchain one day. — Fred Ehrsam
As a CTO and Tech Consultant, I’ve been been working closely with entrepreneurs and corporates on innovative products for the past 8 years. Since 2016 I’ve been increasingly approached by companies in the Blockchain space, and got the opportunity to work more and more in a space that I’ve loved for a long time. My typical use cases are architecting and building smart contracts to implement a certain token economy, tech advisory and white paper co-writing for ICOs, and more prevalent in all of my engagements: building Tech Teams for Blockchain projects. I’ve done more than 500 interviews over the last couple years, and over 100 of those were for blockchain based software development roles.
The challenges are quite unique to the space, and brand new solutions are badly needed.
Your typical developer with 3+ years of experience is probably crypto rich already
In other stacks you look for developers who have at least 3 years of experience in the desired stack of framework and that’s it. That usually works out pretty well, but not in the Blockchain space. For developers to have 3+ years of experience developing software in the Blockchain, it means those developers started before 2016. They probably learned about Bitcoin or Ethereum, became fascinated, bought or mined some, and started developing.The key thing is that, if they’re holding Ethereum since that long ago their Ether from that time has appreciated more than 200x. That means they are now in a position where even if they are not rich, they have reasonable financial cushion and huge market value. They are probably working on whatever they want, either on core protocol level on a major token, or launching their own ICO, or something along those lines to say the least. They are unlikely to consider any of the dozens job offers they get every week.
Even developers with little experience in the space are already oversubscribed
Some ICOs raised a stupendous amount of money, and those teams need Blockchain developers pretty badly, those developers are well compensated and vesting their tokens over a few years schedule, they will not leave anytime soon. In parallel, some large corporations had hefty budgets allocated internally to Blockchain very early on in this craze and those hired a lot of developers too, some of those are actually doing very interesting stuff, in some cases creating industry-wide blockchain implementation that will lead to new industry standards, those developers are also well compensated and in most cases have exciting challenges to tackle.This means that even developers with less than one year of relevant experience in the space are experiencing huge demand for their skills. Some say the job market currently has 17 opportunities for every developer in the space.
There is a horde of Blockchain “experts” in outsourcing companies alike… unless there isn’t
Last month I approached a developer on Linkedin, whose title read “Blockchain Researcher”. I asked “Cool stuff, tell me about your research on Blockchain, what projects have you done so far?”. He replied, “No, I haven’t done any Blockchain stuff, my manager asked me to change my Linkedin, so I did it”.Yes, that happened… I’m obviously not saying this is the norm, quite the opposite, this is a clear outlier in a company that has poor ethics. However, given the outrageous demand for talent in Blockchain, outsourcing companies are allocating their developers’ time to Blockchain tutorials and small projects, just to position them as experts in the field. Keep an eye on that and do your due diligence carefully, that are very few experts in the field.
You can always teach experienced developers in non-Blockchain stacks how to play with the Blockchain tools
One good thing about good experience developers is that they learn new tools and stacks pretty quickly. If you have anyone who can teach, you can just hire experienced developers in any non-Blockchain domain, and teach them how to work on the Blockchain protocol of your choice. This option never comes as Plan A, but you gotta do what you gotta do. As a Founder or CTO or Innovation Director, most often than not this will be the only option you have if you want to build a Tech Team to work on Blockchain projects. It’s doable, takes some time, but if you bring in the right developers and teach them the right things, they will be up to speed in a month or two, depending on your project.
My experience building Tech Teams for Blockchain
My clients are usually tech startups between Seed and Series A. They are right in the phase where they can start making some investments in ramping up their tech team, but still need to be super wise in how they do it, because money is still scarce. Lately I’ve been getting an increasing number of requests from Innovation Units in larger corporations, who were given some budget to “experiment” with Blockchain. They need to prove themselves to the organization in order to gain more budget, which means that the focus is mostly on buttoning up the business case and the product specification, than actually developing product.
The common case in my experience is that hiring developers with relevant Blockchain experience is almost impossible, so I’ve helped my clients doing lemonade. I’ve optimized both the ballpark developer profiles to approach and the tools they should teach to get these developers up to speed.
- Developers who “get” what a Blockchain is and what can be done with it — Ideally they’ve been somewhat caught by all the Blockchain hype, which made them lookup what Ethereum is, maybe read a few white papers, and possibly even purchasing some ICO tokens. Even if they don’t have hands ok coding experience, they are already a few steps ahead of the pack. This previous knowledge makes onboarding them immensely easy.
- Developers who’ve done API or Microservice based architectures — As opposed to people who have always worked on not-so-interesting monolythic architectures. I like people who’ve been involved with projects with several moving parts, and who can talk about the whole even if they were responsible for just a tiny part of it. Smart contracts can’t be developed in a vacuum, and this curiosity and awareness about context saves a lot of mistakes.
- Developers who eat new tech stacks for breakfast — My focus is on the learning curve, not on their plateau-level skills. I focus my questions on the times they were thrown to the wolves and had to learn new stuff very fast. I tap into their appetite for new stacks, what tools they use to build their side projects. Learning is a skill by itself, I try to pick to ones who’ve mastered that skill over the years.
- Developers who know how to make their code run efficiently — Efficient memory, storage and processor usage has always been somewhat important, but the truth is that developers didn’t have a real incentive to improve their code unless it took too long to run or exhausted resources in some way. In smart contracts each time you consume a miner’s computer’s resources you pay gas, and that means that bad code results in waste of money. In most cases smart contracts are immutable once deployed, which means that bad code will forever cause waste of money.
- Developers who talk about how the user feels while interacting with the products they’ve built — This comes natural for designers, but not for software developers. If developers say things like “My manager told me to create button X, but I told him there’s no way the user would ever click there, there’s nothing for him to gain by clicking”, I’m sure they’ll understand enough about token economics and mechanism design to minimize coslty screw ups when developing smart contracts.
The Blockchain space is exploding
Over the past year, I’ve done more than 100 interviews for Blockchain related Tech Teams, most of those with developers who had no previous experience with Blockchain. As the space explodes, I decided to not just build other people’s Blockchain teams but to also create my own, at TechHQ. We typically help companies ideate and build very minimal Proof of Concepts to showcase, and then build their full time Tech Teams as it evolves into a longer term project with the purpose of pushing the product to market.
This is a great time to be alive and experiencing all this disruptive change in the world.
This article was originally published here.