Decrypt’s Art, Fashion, and Entertainment Hub.
Last year was one of the most chaotic for the broader crypto industry.
After layoffs and bankruptcies, cryptocurrencies were also hit hard. The industry's market cap plummeted from roughly $2.23 trillion at the start of 2022 to just $832 million at the start of 2023, starting in earnest from June onwards and intensifying following the implosion of FTX, according to data from CoinGecko.
Still, software industry insiders claim there's never been more demand for blockchain developers.
Demand for blockchain programming skills increased by 552% in 2022, as per a report by DevSkiller, compiling over 200,000 skills assessments. Tech firms can use these assessments as part of their hiring process to vet a developer’s proficiency.
With asset prices down and crypto firms tightening their belts, why the jump in developer demand?
Blockchain beyond tokens
DevSkiller CTO Tomasz Nurkiewicz told Decrypt that much of this demand likely stems from non-crypto companies looking to scoop up developers with industry experience.
He said that firms could be “taking advantage of blockchain for different reasons, not necessarily just for cryptocurrencies, but for storage or for having a decentralized proof of something within their own companies.”
The idea of decentralized storage and databases has already attracted some serious shows of faith. In September, Microsoft’s venture capital fund M12 invested $20 million into Space and Time, a startup that aims to build a decentralized data warehouse with SQL-like database capabilities.
The firm says its cryptographic protocol, dubbed “proof-of-SQL,” will allow blockchain applications to perform analytics faster.
Finance firms looking to build their own blockchains could be another key driver of demand for developers, according to BlockApps president and CEO Kieren James-Lubin. This may be due to some private financial markets which are, in his words, “illiquid and weird.”
Several of the mainstays of traditional finance, including Blackrock, have made bold statements supporting tokenization, essentially bringing stocks, bonds, and other traditional financial assets onto a blockchain network.
Moves like this could mean hiring more developers with blockchain experience.
Mathew McDermott, Goldman’s Head of Digital Assets, echoed this sentiment in an interview with CNBC, saying that one of his key focuses for 2023 was on tokenization and “digitalizing the lifecycle.”
Peer-to-peer gaming has been another growth area in the past few years, and firms in this niche will likely keep hiring blockchain devs, according to Nurkiewicz.
He said, “the field is still gaining popularity despite the issues with crypto markets and crypto exchanges.”
A report by DappRadar and the Blockchain Game Alliance (BGA) found that Web3 Gaming and metaverse projects raised $7.6 billion in 2022, a 59% rise since the year before.
That same year, blockchain gaming accounted for almost 50% of the on-chain activity.
More than just speculation
More broadly, James-Lubin from BlockApps said job opportunities will gradually move away from “speculative” use cases.
“From a credit perspective, we’re seeing a flight from really speculative use cases,” explained James-Lubin. “One of the effects of the current market sentiment and of high-interest rates is that interest in more speculative returns farther in the future just collapses.”
He said that investors are also much more cautious following the November meltdown of FTX and will generally want to invest in real-world use cases, as opposed to crypto-native opportunities.
“It's a good or bad thing, depending on your perspective,” said James-Lubin. “All of tech suddenly now has to think about profitability in a way that hasn't been the case in the last almost decade or so.”
Due to trends like this, future demand for blockchain developers won’t necessarily correlate neatly with crypto prices.
“Crypto companies will hopefully learn to do sensible financial planning, in which the asset prices are less directly affecting their ability to employ people, such as keeping some of their funds in fiat currency,” explained James-Lubin.
Still, Nurkiewicz had reservations that some investors might not understand the difference between “the technology and the market,” and be put off blockchain projects anyway.
“We might see some kind of psychological moves here, which are not entirely justifiable by the underlying tech,” Nurkiewicz explained.
What's a dev to learn?
According to both Nurkiewicz and James-Lubin, they are seeing a large increase in demand for people with experience using the programming languages Solidity and Aetherium, as well as people who have experience using supporting tools within thedevelopment environment such as Hard Hat.
Though both execs told Decrypt that it’s a great time to be starting out as a blockchain developer, Nurkiewicz thinks that aspiring developers should try to get a strong traditional computer science background alongside any blockchain skills.
This could include demonstrating practical knowledge of key aspects of blockchain infrastructure. This could be having examples of smart contracts that they can display on their GitHub page, or understanding how Merkle trees work.
In terms of pay developers can expect, DevSkiller reports that the average salary for blockchain-focused devs worldwide was around $79,983. This figure ballooned to $177,500 for those based in the U.S., making it one of the best-compensated specialties among developers.
Additionally, blockchain development is still niche. Out of all the areas surveyed, only 2.5% of those surveyed described themselves as pure-play blockchain developers.
Being a “blockchain developer” isn’t nearly as synonymous with being an employee at a crypto firm as in 2017. Opportunities are also cropping up in lucrative fields like traditional finance and gaming.
As a result, blockchain development could be a great career path regardless of market sentiment, says James-Lubin.
But even if crypto-related jobs dislocate from the price of Bitcoin, he said it’s foolish for young people to base their entire careers on what's “hot right now.”
Instead, the CEO said people should focus on their true interest as trends, be it blockchain, AI, or delivery apps, come and go.