Cryptocurrencies, ICOs, magic internet money — it’s all so exciting, and you, the eager developer, want to get in on the madness. Where do you start?
I’m glad you’re excited about this space. I am too. But you’ll probably find it’s unclear where to begin. Blockchain is moving at breakneck speed, but there’s no clear onramp to learning this stuff.
Since I left Airbnb to work full-time on blockchain, many people have reached out to me asking how to get into the blockchain space full-time. Consider this my authoritative (and inevitably incomplete) guide on how to get into blockchain engineering.
This guide will proceed in ten parts:
- Why should you learn blockchain development?
- The theoretical foundations of Bitcoin
- Building a blockchain yourself
- Ethereum and smart contract programming
- Smart contract security
- Taking off the training wheels
- Building your own projects
- Navigating the blockchain community
- Getting a job
Why should you learn about Blockchain Development?
Before I answer that question, let me first note: blockchain is a massively overvalued space right now. These prices are unsustainable, and a crash is definitely coming. This has all happened before, and will probably happen again. But if you work long-term in this space, you’ll learn to shrug off prices. In the words of Emin Gun Sirer — prices are the least interesting part of cryptocurrencies. These are massively important technologies, and they are going to irrevocably change the world.
If you’re unsure, I can’t tell you whether or not you should jump in. But I can tell you five reasons that convinced me to take the leap:
- It’s still early.
Bitcoin was invented 10 years ago, but the rate of innovation has only reached a fever pitch in the last couple of years, especially with the launch of Ethereum in 2015. Most of the new companies and ideas in this space have been built on top of Ethereum, which is still very immature.
Even if you start now, you can realistically become a world-class expert within a few years. Most people just haven’t been doing this that long, and it won’t be that hard to catch up. Starting now would be analogous to deep learning experts who began studying the topic in the late 2000s.
2. This space doesn’t have a strong talent funnel yet.
Most of the best and brightest students at universities are focusing on machine learning, web programming, or game development. Sure, blockchains are getting more sexy in the public discourse, but they’re still a weird and subversive topic on which to stake your career.
Early on, blockchain was exclusively the realm of cypherpunks, paranoids, and weirdos. That’s only recently begun to change. Just by being a curious and open-minded developer, you’ll bring a lot of value to the space.
3. Much of the innovation is happening outside of academia.
Satoshi Nakamoto was not an academic as far as we know. There’s no university or institution that offers a coherent blockchain concentration yet. Most of the innovation here has been led by aficionados, entrepreneurs, and independent researchers. Almost everything you need to know is in white papers, blog posts, public Slack channels, and open-source software. All it takes is rolling up your sleeves and jumping into the fray.
4. The demand for talent far, far exceeds supply.
There just aren’t enough developers in this space, and they can’t get trained fast enough. Everyone is competing to hire blockchain talent, and projects are feeling the talent crunch. Many of the best companies can’t pay their people enough to stay because they have too many opportunities. If you get some skills under your belt, it’ll be easy to land a job.
5. Cryptocurrencies are just really damn cool.
Where else can you build sci-fi stuff like cryptographically secured, decentralized money? It’s the wild west right now—and this brings good and bad. The space could use more transparency, and regulation will eventually come. But without a doubt, cryptocurrencies are one of the most innovative areas you can be working in right now.
Naval Ravikant said in a recent interview: the key to success is to give society things that it wants, but doesn’t know how to get on its own. You can’t go to school for such things; if you could, the world would already have a steady supply of it.
So build something no one else knows how to build. Right now, blockchains are brand new and there’s so much left to figure out. If you succeed in building the future of decentralized technology, the world will reward you handsomely.