By Adriale Pang
Discovery+ is a series of online industry panels which give students the chance to interact with working professionals and learn about the careers they aspire to enter. These panels provide youths and working professionals with the opportunity to better understand industry trends, hear first-hand perspectives from industry professionals, and gain valuable advice on entering or navigating these industries.
On 16 November 2021, Advisory hosted Discover+: Blockchain, the 46th edition of the Discovery+ series. Speakers on the panel included:
- Chia Hock Lai (Moderator), Chairman, ASEAN Blockchain Consortium
- Hassan Ahmed, Head, Southeast Asia Coinbase
- Peter Demeo, Head of Digital Asset Infrastructure, IBM Systems
- Quah Zheng Wei, Co-Founder & CEO, Accredify
- Steven Koh, Director, Government Digital Services (Agile Consulting and Engineering), Government Technology Agency of Singapore
Attendees included students at various levels of education with a desire to know the different career paths in Blockchain, and how to best position themselves for such roles. Below are some key points shared during the session:
Work involving blockchain can vary greatly, as there are many types of careers available, such as being:
- an executive of a company selling a product or service which utilises blockchain,
- a Human Resource (HR) officer of a company utilising blockchain, or
- an engineer either creating specific applications of blockchain or conducting R&D in blockchain technology itself.
Working in traditional roles like being an executive or HR officer would involve similar tasks as other industries that do not utilise blockchain. A typical day may include:
- organising small-group-dialogues with colleagues to understand their challenges in, and aspirations for, the company,
- working on projects to expand into new growth areas and adopt new protocols,
- marketing your product to potential clients, and
- meeting external stakeholders and potential collaborators.
Additionally, you may need to work at odd timings if you work in a company that has global operations across multiple timezones, e.g. a cryptocurrency firm having to attune to various opening and closing timings of stock markets in various countries.
There is a misconception that you need a lot of experience in order to work in the blockchain industry, but that is untrue. When creating a blockchain-based application, blockchain usually constitutes only a small portion of the work required, as what matters more is where and how the blockchain technology is being applied. For example, when creating a system of e-certificates, only the aspect of authentication may require blockchain, and instead you have to spend more time on understanding your clients’ needs, as well as marketing your product well.
In order to employ blockchain in a way that is useful for the masses, you might need some foundation in computing, but the barriers to entry are not as high as you might expect. It might be better to conceive of yourself working with blockchain rather than working in the blockchain industry. You need to be aware of blockchain’s capabilities, but more importantly you have to be well-versed in the context in which blockchain is intended to be applied, which can span all sectors, from the healthcare industry to the maritime industry.
There is simply too much to learn in blockchain, and it is impossible to learn it all. Consider adopting the “T model” – exposing yourself to a broad range of topics, but specialising in a particular field, e.g. the application of blockchain in open-source verification. You can become a generalist with everyday hobbies like listening to a variety of podcasts during your evening run, which enables you to chance upon unexpected connections with other fields, and become a specialist by learning more with tools like Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).
Schools are not intended nor able to iterate as quickly as companies, hence to get the most out of your education and position yourself best for a career, you have to look outside of whichever educational institution you are currently in. A good resource is Tribe Academy (https://tribex.co/academy/individuals/blockchain/). You would want to learn from practitioners with hands-on experience to better gear you up for your career, as opposed to merely academics and theoretical experts. Take note that nowadays, employers are more interested in projects you have worked on, rather than just what you have studied.
Youths are understandably very enticed by startups utilising blockchain, but what they may not realise is that there is a massive brain drain in old-school firms lacking blockchain-enabled capabilities, and these firms are clamouring to hire youths who are able to introduce blockchain into their operations. This brain drain means that youths may be able to command higher salaries in traditional firms as opposed to startups which are already at the frontier of blockchain adoption. Youths may want to consider plotting a career path that alternates between traditional firms and startups. For instance, experience in a traditional firm handling cryptocurrency regulation and compliance is much sought after in budding startups, whereas past project experience in startups creating products and services with bleeding-edge blockchain technology is a major draw for traditional firms. Changing track every few years could enable youths to remain highly sought after, which results in tangible benefits like higher remuneration.
Educational institutions may not offer entire courses or majors solely focused on blockchain, but rather offer individual modules relevant to it, which are nevertheless useful. You may want to gain exposure to cryptography (the study of secure communications techniques), Rust (a programming language), digital computing, app design, and finance (especially the foundational ideas of exchange, and the origins of cryptocurrency).
The potential for blockchain to be utilised for verifiable credibility (VC) is immense. VC concerns fundamental ideas and legislation on identity: is your identity sovereign, or bound to a physical passport, or a physical country? Technology is pervading all aspects of our lives, and it will become increasingly important to authenticate digital transactions and verify digital identities.
We currently already have the technology to remove the need for physical passports, but legislation across multiple countries needs to enable the interoperability of digital identity documents. Legislation needs to play catch up with the bleeding-edge technology, in order for us to usher in a world where we can, for instance, use SingPass as both our digital passport and NRIC as conveniently as a credit card in other continents we travel to.
As blockchain technology matures, we are progressing from tinkering with the foundational technology to utilising blockchain for consumer applications. Nowadays few people pay attention to the World Wide Web itself, but rather what they can utilise it for. Similarly, blockchain will soon become just the foundation, with its applications mattering more instead.
The profile of folks needed by employers is changing. Core developers are still going to be needed, but for example, in cryptocurrency, companies will increasingly seek to hire community builders. These are people able to build trust in social contexts, because trust is critical to blockchain protocols based upon ideas of open-source, public ledgers, etc. Employees who are agile enough to navigate the Discord, Telegram and Twitter communities discussing blockchain, may become more sought after.
Employers may also increasingly prefer hiring people who can synthesise different domains rather than being a specialised expert. People may know R&D, marketing, or product management, but only in silos. Few can piece it all together and bring a blockchain application to market. To be able to do this, you need to have a basic knowledge of jargon—e.g. finance jargon when working on cryptocurrency—and be able to speak to customers in their language, which helps your company differentiate itself from the competition.