In most basic terms, blockchain is a decentralized ledger technology that makes the recording of digital assets transparent and unchangeable. It’s the foundation of cryptocurrency, smart contracts, and other “hot” tech. If you want to master the blockchain, what skills do you need?
First, it’s important to differentiate between blockchain developers and blockchain software developers. A core blockchain developer works on the architecture and protocols of the blockchain system, including the design and development of platforms like Hyperledger and Ethereum.
Meanwhile, a blockchain software developer uses those systems created by core developers to build decentralized apps that take advantage of blockchain technology for their employer.
Blockchain Requires Mastery of Many Skills
Blockchain software developers must be software developers, network gurus, and managers of assets, infrastructure and processes all rolled into one. “Blockchain engineers must be able to understand complex data structures and create algorithms, applying those ideas to their businesses or industry,” says Erica Cuttitta, vice president of engineering, skills development at Pluralsight. “This is a very specialized role and we're seeing more and more Blockchain uses in industries other than just cryptocurrency.”
Blockchain engineers can provide access and security to digital assets at a company, meaning that individuals in this role have a high degree of responsibility and trust. “You can't just walk into a job interview for a blockchain engineer because you have some software engineering experience,” Cuttitta adds.
This means blockchain engineers need to have an advanced understanding of architecture systems, network design planning and execution, and a basic grasp of industry standards for blockchain technology.
Many blockchain engineers start out as other types of engineers or developers. “They might see a path to blockchain after working as a software engineer or getting a degree in computer science,” Cuttitta says. “The path to becoming a blockchain engineer may be a more difficult one than other engineering roles, but the role is increasing in importance each year.”
For those who want to quickly learn the necessary skills, more and more bootcamps are providing great candidates for entry-level positions in engineering. “These are typically fast-paced 12-16 week programs designed to give you a foundation in blockchain development,” she says. “They are also typically cheaper than a 4-year degree program. However, not all employers will hire bootcamp graduates.”
Understanding Various Blockchain Platforms
Piers Ridyard, CEO of RDX Works, says the key technical skills needed for a blockchain engineer include proficiency in at least one programming language. Also important is an understanding of blockchain platforms such as Ethereum, Radix, or Solana, including the differences in architecture and concepts such as “finality.”
"Blockchain engineers also need knowledge of smart contracts and smart contract programming languages such as Solidity, for Ethereum-based projects, Scrypto, for Radix-based projects and Rust for Solana-based projects."
Additional nice-to-have skills include experience in cryptography and security protocols, as well as a strong grasp of data structures, algorithms, and distributed systems.
Ridyard agrees that a degree in computer science, software engineering, or a related field is usually helpful: “While there is no specific certification required to become a blockchain engineer, certifications like Certified Blockchain Developer (CBD) or Certified Blockchain Solution Architect (CBSA) can help validate your skills and improve your employability.”
Where to Begin with Blockchain Engineering
For those who are just starting out, Thanh Nguyen, co-founder of Verichains, suggests learning to develop smart contracts on Ethereum, specifically Solidity programming basics, and practice writing simple contracts using popular tutorials found on Google or YouTube.
“Join online communities and forums dedicated to blockchain technology to connect with other developers, ask questions, and share knowledge,” he advises. “Contribute to open source blockchain projects to gain hands-on experience and build a portfolio of work, and stay updated with the latest trends in the field by attending conferences, reading industry publications, and taking online courses.”
It's important to be patient and persistent while building skills and knowledge in blockchain engineering, a relatively new field.
Opportunities for Career Advancement
When it comes to potential career paths for a blockchain engineer, there are traditional tech companies that use blockchain in various products; in that context, you’ll likely work with blockchain as part of your regular duties as a software engineer.
For those who want to become blockchain contractors or freelancers, pay attention to the public blockchain space, where there are new kinds of structures popping up like Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAOs), airdrops (bonuses for contributing code/holding tokens), and grants (lumps of money/code offered to the community to provide specific code or improvements to a project).
“These present novel ways to build an individual portfolio career based on coding and governance piecemeal work,” Jon Geater, CTO and co-founder at RKVST, explains. “This is an exciting new space and the code and tech move incredibly fast. The documentation isn’t always great, and the Stack Overflow factor isn’t as good here as it is for web development, so you need to get inside the projects, use them, and engage with their communities online.”
As you progress in a blockchain engineering career, there are opportunities to become a senior blockchain engineer, blockchain engineering manager or director, or even an industry-level thought leader.
“The exciting thing about this career path is that you can have an impact on future blockchain uses for decades to come,” Cuttitta says. “We’re just starting to understand and implement the power behind this technology, so getting into blockchain now could create a very exciting and lucrative career.”
Nguyen points to multiple pathways for career advancement as a blockchain engineer, including the role of blockchain consultant: someone who guides organizations on incorporating blockchain technology into their operations, from selecting platforms to implementing solutions.
“A technical lead manages a team of blockchain developers and oversees the development of blockchain applications to ensure timely and budgeted completion,” he explains. “Experienced blockchain engineers can become security engineers to review smart contract errors and blockchain components for potential vulnerabilities.”
Testing the Blockchain Waters
Cuttitta says her main advice for prospective blockchain engineers is to try it before you commit your life to it. “You can do this by finding current blockchain engineers through local universities or bootcamps and connecting with former students that are currently working in the industry,” she says.
Additionally, individuals can seek out companies that are using blockchain technology by doing a quick search for companies that are hiring for blockchain engineers. “Contact those companies or recruiters and see if you can speak with one of their current blockchain engineers about their daily work, challenges and wins,” she advises. “It’s also a great idea to find a mentor who is currently in this role and ask if you can shadow them or ask them questions to see if this is the right job for you.”