IT Careers: How to become a Blockchain Engineer

Luka Horvat, Head of Talent Operations, at hiring platform Toptal, explains how companies can find blockchain engineers, and how engineers can become blockchain experts.

Tech buzzwords are many and frequent. Some pop up, only to be ridiculed, replaced or simply ignored, while others stand the test of time. One of the latest doing the rounds is blockchain. Its potential is lauded and panned, and industries are lining up to be transformed by this latest trend. But where do companies find the talent to do this transforming? The media is full of headlines announcing IT skills shortages, so how do you find people with a skill that few people understand and that is still emerging?

What is blockchain all about? What’s the current state of the vendor market? And is its biggest potential in securing the Internet of Things? Find out in: A c-suite guide to blockchain 2018

Last month, on-demand talent network, Toptal, launched a new blockchain specialization to enable companies around the world to find blockchain engineers. It also launched a unique Blockchain Academy program that provides education resources to participants and allows access to fellow elite engineers in the blockchain industry. 

Luka Horvat, Head of Talent Operations, Toptal tells us more in the lightly edited Q&A below.


Q: Tell us more about Toptal’s on-demand blockchain talent network.

Toptal is an exclusive network of the top freelance talent and we recently launched a Blockchain Specialization as we’ve seen an increase in client demand for blockchain expertise by over 700 percent since January 2017. Our Blockchain Specialization provides businesses with an elite, distributed network of blockchain talent who have gone through a rigorous vetting process. Having access to a sustainable, accessible pool of talent is key to blockchain succeeding long-term.


Q: How can someone transition to a career as a blockchain engineer?

It’s an excellent time to become a Blockchain Engineer since the demand for blockchain developers is at an all-time high. Any strong engineer is capable of transitioning to a career in blockchain. The best place to start would be with the fundamentals: cryptography, distributed systems, and security. Working as a blockchain engineer doesn’t require any specific programming language knowledge, but knowing Python and C++ will often be an advantage. Building upon those, an engineer should pick a technology that they are most interested in and do a deep dive into it.


Q: What are the qualifications?

Toptal’s blockchain engineers are vetted across the stack using theoretical tests and coding tasks for their core and applied competencies in blockchain technologies, as well as cryptography and distributed systems. They are very often seasoned full stack, backend, or mobile developers who have moved into this new area because of the challenges the field has to offer.

Baffled by blockchain? Find out Everything you need to know about... Blockchain

Q: What types of companies and working environment should people expect?

At Toptal, our developers are working on blockchain engagements with clients ranging from startups raising funds via ICOs to Fortune 100 companies that are transferring major business segments to blockchain. The client engagements our developers work on vary from critical blockchain domain areas, including distributed programming, cryptography, private blockchains, decentralized applications, and smart contracts, among others.


Q: How is working in Blockchain different than working in other technical fields?

Working in Blockchain is exciting because the field is extremely young and there is always something new happening. New frameworks, new tools, and new breakthroughs are happening on a daily basis which allows skilled engineers to employ cutting-edge technologies. In general, our polls show that talent working on blockchain projects are very satisfied with the technologies they are utilizing.


Q: What is the most important piece of career advice you’d give to future blockchain engineers?

Everything worth doing is hard. With that in mind, getting ramped up with all the knowledge one needs to be a well-rounded and accomplished blockchain engineer can be overwhelming. A big part of being a successful blockchain engineer means staying up to date with the ever-changing landscape of technologies and making sure that you are still active with the right ones. If you’re a developer and you think you have what it takes, consider applying to the Toptal network.


Q: What is the most important piece of career advice you’d give to senior IT professionals looking to hire the next generation of blockchain engineers?

Hire for attitude, train for skill. In other words, while base engineering knowledge is important, don’t expect to find the right amount of blockchain experience as easy as you could with more mainstream technologies like Android, Angular, or AWS. Always keep in mind that a hungry mind will very quickly end up being productive and skilled as long as it is well directed and motivated.


Q: Do you think upskilling is more important than hiring new IT talent?

Upskilling can be more important and more productive for a company given that it has the right people to upskill. Providing opportunities for internal employees to spend time with the tech that excites them will not only give you the experts you need, it will give you experts in the specific domain where you apply the blockchain to.


Q: Blockchain is an extremely new space – and massively hyped – what other companies do you think are doing interesting work at the cutting edge of blockchain-type technologies?

We’re in an interesting place with blockchain where we’re seeing both sides of the spectrum -- companies talking big about blockchain yet doing little -- and those who turned to blockchain in an attempt to optimize their business and get ahead of their competition. Aside from crypto, I believe one of the biggest blockchain battlefields will be supply chain -- it’s a field where blockchain can be applied to its fullest potential and provide immense gains for all of its participants.


Q: When it comes to blockchain, what should organizations be wary about?

Security, definitely. By participating in blockchain transactions with other organizations, companies are at risk of exposing themselves more than they’d like. Making the right choice when it comes to the technology one chooses as well as the overall implementation architecture and permissions is not a task to take lightly.


Q: What do you think blockchain will really mean for organizations short, medium, and long-term?

In the short term I believe we’ll have a lot of try and fails, until the right business and technological models are found. There are more new coins/tokens being launched than there was new Javascript frameworks in 2015. Mid-term, I expect more serious blockchain businesses to arise -- businesses that are more focused on providing blockchain related services in a manner similar to how hosting or app development services are provided today. For the long term, I think it’s safe to say that blockchain is here to stay. In what form exactly, I think we are all very excited to find out.