Buzzworthy, it may be, but is “blockchain” a thing you should be paying attention to? Probably.
While tech advances can come and go like the latest fad, some of them can be real game changers. To learn more about blockchain, cryptocurrency, Bitcoin and how it all could affect your livelihood, read on.
Just What Are We Talking About?
Let’s define a few terms first:
1. Cryptocurrency: A virtual currency, not tied to any one country (unlike the U.S. dollar or British pound) or physical entity (like the gold standard). There are now over 1,500 virtual currencies available online.
2. Bitcoin: A form of cryptocurrency. Perhaps with the most name recognition, but not alone by a long shot. People “own” Bitcoins by essentially having a private key, which is a very long password.
3. Blockchain: A virtual public ledger that tracks all cryptocurrency transactions at the same time. With blockchains, multiple parties keep a copy of all recorded transactions so they can’t be changed.
So basically you use cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin to pay for goods and services (where accepted) or simply to trade back and forth as a means of investment and speculation (like the stock market) and every transaction is recorded instantly by blockchain, meaning that it is recorded by many online bookkeeping platforms all at the same time, not just in one central database.
Still confused? There are a lot of breakdowns of the whole deal online, like this one on Lifehacker or Wired or even this 2-minute video. If you’ve got a few more minutes, I really like this excellent explanation of cryptocurrencies by John Oliver on Last Week Tonight. It’s a must-watch for anyone who doesn’t know a HODL from a MOON.
How is Blockchain Affecting “Regular” Jobs?
This is where some side effects are a great thing. While you may have no desire to ever invest or be involved with a cryptocurrency, you might want to in fact get on board with blockchain technology. The reason is: transparency.
“Blockchain serves as a bookkeeping platform or ledger that is incorruptible, enforces transparency, and bypasses censorship,” points out Alyssa Satara, Masters of Law (LLM) Public International Law & Human Rights, City University London at Forbes.
Satara notes that this is perfect for supporting refugees (who are without a country — or monetary system of their own) or even preventing voter fraud.
“By tackling issues of financial, political and institutional corruption, this has the potential to create massive social change — and greatly protect the human rights of every individual,” she writes.
The technology is enticing to those in the financial sector, who have traditionally been that “trusted” middleman in all your monetary dealings, and now see themselves getting pushed out. The answer is for them to get involved with blockchain itself, to make themselves indispensable again.
Know what everyone's talking about when they say #blockchain, #bitcoin, #cryptocurrency and more. Learn how these technologies could affect your job (or not).
How Can You Get a Blockchain Job?
There are companies hiring. Forbes noted recently that major players like Accenture and IBM are listing hundreds of jobs in “blockchain” tech. Why do these companies want to get involved? They see the concept of a public ledger, like blockchain, as perhaps a way of offering more transparent (and less hackable) accounting for data, not just currency.
“Accenture is focused on building private blockchains that only its clients, their business partners and customers can access,” writes Jeff Kauflin at Forbes. “It’s seeing the most demand in three areas: financial services, supply chain and identity. And it’s hiring primarily for roles like software developer, technical architect and business strategist.”
There are startups, too, that are hiring employees, as well as looking for crypto-minded investors, but it can be hard to tell what’s legitimate, and what might be gone before you get your first paycheck.
Should You Want a Blockchain Job?
Here’s the big buyer beware — when you’re dealing with your livelihood. Nobody can tell if cryptocurrency will go the way of Google Glass (which some thought would change the way we literally looked at the world…and didn’t) or will be something we’ll wish we got into on the ground floor. There isn’t even a ton of regulation in place.
“Right now, this market is essentially the Wild West and is ripe for exploitation,” says Oliver. “For instance, it can be easy to manipulate the value of coins by ‘pump and dump’ schemes.”
There’s a lot about cryptocurrency and blockchain that is very volatile, and a lot of its rapid growth (and plunges) echo the dot.com surge of the ’90s (and subsequent crash). Companies who have even simply added the word “blockchain” to their names have seen a surge in investment, even as Bitcoin has lost value.
“The average share price of such companies has risen more than threefold since such name changes, according to Reuters data, with experts comparing the practice to a similar rush during the dotcom bubble,” writes Alasdair Pal at Reuters.
Knowing that a company could be trying to cash in on blockchain without anything (even technology related to the service) to back it up should be a red flag to go slow, no matter how boring that may seem if you’re starting to get swept up in the crypto hype.
“In a speculative mania, it can be incredibly hard to tell what companies are for real,” adds Oliver. “The thing to remember is that this is a brand-new, very complicated space and literally nobody knows how it’s going to develop. You need to be careful.”
Tell Us What You Think
Do you invest in cryptocurrency? Would you ever work in the blockchain industry? Why or why not? We want to hear from you. Tell us more in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.