PORTLAND, OREGON: A year ago, 27-year-old software developer Roy Breidi was dreaming of launching a start-up related to the digital currency bitcoin.
Problem was, he “didn’t really understand what’s the magic behind it.”
So he took an online course called “Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency Technologies” from Coursera. It’s one of many workshops and boot camps popping up to help people in all industries — especially software developers — get the hang of the blockchain, the technology underlying bitcoin, and parlay that knowledge into more exciting, and sometimes better-paying jobs.
Within months, Breidi had quit his job and started working full time at Shake, which lets people spend with a bitcoin-based debit card. Recently, the company won funding from Boost VC, and Breidi, co-founder and chief technology officer, moved to San Mateo, California, where his backers provided temporary housing and an office. Though he’s not getting paid yet and is living off savings, Breidi hopes to make money off his equity.
“The sky is the limit,” he said.
With banks and insurers starting to tinker with the blockchain, as a tool to record transactions and asset transfers, and venture capitalists investing more than $1.1 billion in related start-ups, there aren’t enough developers who have mastered the software. The career site Indeed.com listed 136 jobs with “blockchain” in the description as of Sept. 7, everywhere from New York to Boston, while Monster.com posted 77 jobs.
“The supply of people that have extensive blockchain experiences is pretty low,” said Jered Kenna, an entrepreneur who may be hiring a blockchain expert this fall. “And the demand is quickly increasing. Sometimes they get five job offers a day.”
An experienced blockchain developer can command $220,000 a year, Kenna said. His strategy, would be to hire “someone with a lot of experience to lead and a few others that had just graduated from a blockchain boot camp or were more junior.”
The number of developers is projected to rise rapidly. About 250 people are true masters, said Jeff Garzik, one of the few experts working on the bitcoin blockchain. Globally, 7,000 to 8,000 people can develop for the blockchain with various levels of proficiency. Their ranks could grow to 100,000 in 18 to 24 months if more industries move from testing to deployment, said William Mougayar, an investor and author of “The Business Blockchain.”
Some 35,000 people have taken the introductory Coursera program since late 2015, said Arvind Narayanan, an assistant professor of computer science at Princeton University who teaches the class. The next session, set for this month, has 46,000 enrolled, Coursera said.
More hands-on workshops are popping up from New York to Sydney to Luxembourg. Courses lasting several days to months teach the basics of cryptography and the programming language Solidity, building on developers’ existing skills (knowledge of Java and Python programming languages is a plus). They explain how applications on the shared blockchain work differently.
“You have to program in a mindset where you know everything is public,” said Joshua Gancher, who took a recent boot camp at Cornell University.
Tuition for more advanced programs isn’t cheap. Byte Academy in New York plans to offer a full-time, eight-week program this fall for $10,000. The Luxembourg School of Business conducted a two-day boot camp in April for 17 people, ranging from lawyers to a Deloitte developer, who each paid 1,200 euros ($1,350).
“For us it’s really important that we send people to camps like that for Deloitte to be part of the blockchain ecosystem,” said Lory Kehoe, a blockchain lab lead at the consulting firm. In November, Deloitte will hold its own, five-day blockchain boot camp in Brussels for about 30 staffers. Eventually, boot camps could become available to clients, he said.
Many companies, like Google-parent Alphabet Inc., have run boot camps for their own employees. This spring, 25 young developers at Capgemini Financial Services took an eight-week, full-time course. The consultancy hopes to have 100 employees go through by year-end, according to Bart Cant, the company’s blockchain community leader.
“There’s only probably 100 blockchain experts in the world,” Cant said. “Most of them are at start-ups. People are liking that environment, it’s difficult for them to come to a more traditional environment.”
To make programs more affordable, some universities have turned to sponsors. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology garnered about $100,000 in support services and money from companies including Deloitte and Zappos.com to offer its August workshop to 25 young people, said Brian Forde, the departing director of digital currency at the MIT Media Lab.
Of course blockchain developers will only flourish if the technology does, and if tests companies are running now expand into wider, practical use. It could take several years for a large number of high-paying blockchain jobs to materialise, according to Dave Hoover, co-founder of Dev Bootcamp, a boot camp for web developers.
“To me it’s a matter of when, because I believe blockchain is fundamentally game-changing technology,” Hoover said. “It’ll probably happen faster than it happened with the web.”