You’re going to work in blockchain whether you want to or not

Blockchain elicits all reactions and none. The response from people when the topic is broached can range from a blank stare to a laboured sigh. Some know blockchain only through bitcoin, others don’t know it at all. A small cohort of people will nearly scratch a cornea rolling their eyes at its mere mention, deriding it as a fad.

David Wachsman, founder and CEO of Wachsman, certainly disagrees with the technology’s detractors. He, described by Crunchbase as a “world-renowned blockchain expert and thought leader”, welcomed me in the glass conference room of his company’s Dublin office. This office recently announced the expansion of its functions beyond PR, now offering a broad swathe of blockchain professional services to clients such as Dash, CoinDesk, Indiegogo, Kik and more.

David has been away from his native New York and hopping between Wachsman’s hubs in Ireland and Singapore, the latter of which recently opened. He has been living out of a suitcase for the better part of three months, though it shows neither in his temperament nor appearance. Serene and self-possessed, sitting in the house that blockchain built, his (professional) house, he is confident enough in Ireland’s blockchain scene to double down on his commitment to it.

He is baffled that the majority of Irish people, according to research recently published by the company, disagree with him. As many as 75pc of people say they would not consider a career in the area.

“Most people don’t know what blockchain is, that’s what our findings found. They don’t get it. To them, it’s simply some buzzword technology. That’s a big PR problem. It’s also a problem for companies that are building out in the space, and we have many here in Ireland who are doing that.”

The blockchain ecosystem in Dublin is in pretty good condition. A healthy mix of blockchain-focused companies such as ConsenSys have operations here. Many of the large consultancy firms have dedicated blockchain labs. Finance giants such as Fidelity Investments and Mastercard have poured resources into gaining a foothold in blockchain. “All the big tech giants, some of them probably secretly, are looking to hire people with blockchain backgrounds here in Dublin.”

Blockchain’s inevitable takeover

The proliferation of blockchain technology is as inevitable as the tide coming in. It’ll wash over us all in a matter of time. The march of technological progress is as unrelenting as the spinning of our Earth. It won’t be a case of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object – you will be moved into working in blockchain. Though many in the Wachsman survey cited an inappropriate educational background as a reason they would not want to wade into it, the worker of tomorrow will likely learn on the job.

“Almost everyone today works at an internet company. The company itself may not be actually building websites but they probably have one. The company itself isn’t developing email applications but I guarantee you they use [them], or a chat app. Blockchain companies are going to be just like that in future. Blockchain will be a piece of the technology stack that people use every single day.”

For now, most of the blockchain jobs lie in building infrastructure, and the roles are mostly developer roles. David maintains, however, that this is temporary.“Tomorrow, it’s going to be every company. I think [workers] are going to gain their skills by simply working with companies endeavouring blockchain.”

Steel, your dog and your mobile phone

This inevitability doesn’t address the fact that people still neither understand nor trust blockchain as a technology. If it is going to be such a large element of the future of work, as David implies, then a huge obstacle will have to be overcome in order to attract workers to the area.

“We need to do a better job of educating. That means 101-type pieces, that means meet-ups, that means lectures. We need universities to chip in a bit because that’s what they’re really good at: teaching complicated concepts to people.”

More importantly, David adds, a “big consumer-y brand” or website needs to adopt blockchain. Airlines need to tokenise loyalty points. It needs to be normalised, which will likely happen. The question is, by whom?

David cites in particular blockchain’s potential application to the supply chain as the use case he is most excited about “because it’s boring”. Supply chains are complicated and expensive with a huge amount of moving parts. Maximising the efficiency of this process by reliably tracking all the various extenuating factors could lower the price of steel. “That changes the world.”

Moving away from the macro, David opines that man’s best friend could end up having as much of a relationship with blockchain as humans. Blockchain, though it’s “peer-to-peer trading of value”, could easily be applied to energy. “If your dog were wearing a little backpack with a solar panel on it, that dog, cute as it might be, would be an energy producer. Because of the nature of how energy transmission works, the further you are away from the energy producer, the more is wasted. Imagine your dog being able to power, or at least being able to recharge, your cellphone.”

Hello Brexit, goodbye blockchain

Thanks to Brexit, Ireland can expect for its blockchain industry, and therefore the number of blockchain jobs, to only grow with time. This is in line with the general jobs boon that Ireland is experiencing as the UK, rather disastrously, attempts to negotiate its way out of the single market. Companies such as Coinbase have announced plans to set up shop in Dublin, citing concerns about Brexit.

“Ireland is a very important part of Europe. It’s the only English-speaking EU country, and Britain is making damn sure of that. I would say that as a launch pad for Europe, it’s a vital place for companies to set up – blockchain companies [in particular] because it is such a borderless enterprise. So many of the applications of blockchain must be international, that’s what makes them so effective. This distributed database must be distributed.”

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