You have an awesome idea for a new blockchain or a new company that uses tokens or the blockchain. How much is it going to cost to build? How much money is it going to make? You’re going to need to find tech talent to build your dreams and seize the future. Or you’re a hiring manager at a more established company in need of blockchain, cryptocurrency, bitcoin talent for a new project.
Tech talent is already a hot market. Blockchain is sizzling hot, and talent is even harder to source because so many of the skills are similar — it’s a subset of the available tech talent. For every 1000 highly coveted experienced developers and tech creators, there’s only 1 seasoned blockchain developer.
At 10x Management, we represent a variety of tech rock stars for their consulting careers, and have a waiting list of thousands who would like us to represent them. From this, and our years repping music talent, we have learned a few lessons about engaging tech talent. We interviewed Bitcoin developer, and 10x client, Bryan Bishop to get a better picture of the ecosystem.
10x MS: What do you do? How long have we known each other?
BB: I was an early technical hire at LedgerX, a CFTC-regulated cryptocurrency clearinghouse and bitcoin exchange. I also work with the Bitcoin Core developers from time to time contributing to the software that runs the bitcoin network, mainly in a research capacity, code review, security, and other aspects, such as moderating the bitcoin-dev mailing list hosted by the Linux Foundation. Before LedgerX, my time was spent consulting mostly on web application projects — lots of django, rails, flask, sinatra, etc., and before that, I did smartphone application development, reverse engineering. I’ve touched so many different facets of software that it can be hard to keep track. These days I mostly focus on blockchain-related software development projects, such as cryptocurrency custody and security around that. And then on the side, I also have a bunch of biotech projects which are turning into viable technologies quickly, such as storing data on DNA molecules and some genetic engineering projects. I think I have worked with 10x since 2013.
10x RB: How many programmers are there in the blockchain ecosystem?
BB: It really depends on how you look at the data. If you had to ask about the total number of developers that released any sort of software project related to blockchains, then I would say maybe 1000 people. Total. 1000 people as an upper bound. If you refer specifically to individuals who have contributed to a cryptocurrency project, such as bitcoin, that’s 200 people total. However, that includes people who have contributed minor typo fixes. If you were to narrow it down and focus on individuals who have made large programming contributions requiring untold hours of deeply creative work, then for the Bitcoin project specifically I would say 30 people. It’s an incredibly small group of people that have been working on these projects. The ecosystem of available tech talent is even more constrained, though. Because many of the individuals with the most tech experience were early adopters of these different digital assets, they often have no direct financial incentive to be working for peanuts. Some of them have not yet reached a state of financial independence, and even among those who have, they sometimes have reasons to work, such as raising cashflow to invest in other ventures or business projects. It’s a difficult problem to hire this level of talent. They aren’t necessarily interested in adopting everyone’s tech project “baby”, and making room in their life means they have to give up time from some other passion or project.
10x RB: Of this 30, how many would a company likely be able to hire to a job or for consulting?
BB: Based on my relationships with that 30, I would say somewhere south of 8 or 10 at the most. You probably rep half of them.
10x MS: How many people are going through blockchain training programs?
BB: I would say that each year there’s been at least 20 or 30 people that are being trained to the point where they have very basic introductory competence to the blockchain ecosystem. There’s actually a great number of people being trained in many university classes, although it’s overall a process where people get weeded out. It requires a lot of focus and self-discipline to really sit down and discover all of the details, because nobody is going to spoon feed you absolutely everything. The ecosystem just isn’t that mature yet, and there’s so many disparate fields of knowledge required that each student has to assimilate. I think more students are going to come online in the future, though. It’s increasing. And as with many areas of technology, people who want to learn this need to be self starters who are capable of studying and learning independent of classes offered.
10x RB: What is the state of hiring for developers outside of the blockchain industry, and would you compare it to the blockchain ecosystem?
BB: Well that’s the thing about tech talent. For the past few years, companies and especially startups have had an extremely hard time hiring highly skilled tech talent. Absolutely everyone complains about the hiring process, on both sides of the table. A simple google search will show the endless tsunami of complaints about the typical hiring process for developers — it’s basically a glorified hazing ritual. Anyone who has 5, 10, 15 years of experience has absolutely no reason to tolerate that kind of hazing ritual. Instead what happens is that they go to companies that treat them like talented human beings, compensate them accordingly, and they get their talent. The rest of the companies have to suffer with scraps and slog through endless boring interviews in a sorry attempt to grow. You’re not going to hire tech talent that way, and you’re certainly not going to hire blockchain tech talent that way. The ecosystem is just way too small, and almost everyone knows each other on a first name basis. Word gets around.
10x MS: I totally agree which is part of the reason we are launching Agent On Demand. What are the kinds of projects that blockchain talent is interested in working in?
BB: My observation is that I can safely categorize blockchain talent into two bins. Some prefer to work on passion projects that they truly believe in, and are relatively happy with their level of financial independence and are willing to engage on their own. Some others are okay with the consulting lifestyle and can work on projects that aren’t necessarily their own personal passion projects, but for the right price they are willing to shift their attention and make room for another project. My personal view is that tech talent (not even counting the blockchain ecosystem yet) has a lot of room for personal freedom and many people don’t have to take low paying projects, they can simply choose to take a formal break from working for a few years or even choose to retire early relative to the rest of the population. Among blockchain tech talent, the kinds of projects that I see folks getting interested in are often focused on cryptography or somehow increasing the technological capabilities of the ecosystem.
It is also worth mentioning that many (but not all) of the people in the bitcoin ecosystem invested early and have varying degrees of meaningful wealth.
10x RB: So how would it ever be possible to get the attention of tech talent in this space, especially if they are financially independent?
BB: Honestly, the answer is money. Make the right offer, approach talent in the right way, treat them as humans. The hazing rituals are completely off the table.
10x MS: What’s the best way for a company to engage with tech talent in the blockchain world?
BB: From what I’ve seen, the best way to get someone’s attention is to go through an intermediary who knows you both. This is the friend-of-a-friend strategy.
If you have no connection to the people, of course, you can go to a professional intermediary like you/10x.
I think the biggest issue we have seen is that people approach talented individuals with the perspective that they have something new and exciting which no one else has done and we should drop everything to jump on board with them. They don’t realize that we are getting dozens of people like them per day. That is not meant to be insulting at all. We should all be excited about our projects, but it is worthwhile to approach us with that understanding.
It is also hard because many people come in expecting that we are going to spend hours discussing their projects so I can better understand their needs before we have an engagement started. It feels not unlike to going to a therapist and asking to see them for 6 months before they start charging you so they can better understand your issues.
I’ve had to cut off people from introductions simply because they didn’t understand the level of commitment required to really make these engagements happen. In one case, I put a company in touch with someone who could build out their systems, only to find out that I had unwittingly sent them into an interview process meant for junior developers. It’s unfortunate, but it happens, and it’s far past time for this ecosystem to be more selective about introductions and consulting engagements.
What would be ideal is folks coming in with a clear idea of what they need/want from me including a timeline of when they need to have it complete and what they hope for from the relationship. It would serve both sides super well.
10x MS: I totally agree. That is a big part of what we do for people like you. We work with the potential customer to identify their needs and wants and validate if they have the funding available to engage now. Unfortunately, so many people come in kicking the tires but don’t have the funds to buy at this time. Thanks for your insights and for your time!
BB: You’re welcome.
If you like this article, you might enjoy reading Bitcoin & Blockchain: Understanding The Connection.