How to find and hire a Blockchain (Ethereum and Hyperledger) developer

Come to the dark side!

Update August 2017

With the explosion of Crowdfunding and Initial Coin Offerings (ICO’s) / Token Generating Events (TGE’s) the demand for blockchain developers is off the charts. Add to this mix a significant need for what Vitalik Buterin calls Crypto Economists and PhD level academic researchers who are vetting the math and science at the protocol level and we have a massive hiring free for all. In a future post we’ll explore “How to hire an Initial Coin Offering (ICO) Team”.

If your company has been trying to get ahead of the innovation curve and build blockchain projects or capabilities, you probably believe that there just aren’t that many great blockchain developers out there. You’re wrong. You’re probably looking in the wrong places and or you don’t have a compelling enough value proposition to hire a great blockchain developer. I’ll share a bit on what i’ve learned in what makes a great blockchain dev, where to find them and ultimately how to attract and hire a great blockchain developer.

1) Knowing what makes a great developer

Do you even know the differentiating factors between a good blockchain developer vs. a great blockchain developer? The first step in hiring this very niche skill is to know how to recognise a great blockchain dev vs. a developer who’s learned some blockchain coding skills. Both are valuable however most companies are just now starting to build a capability and it’s critical that you have great blockchain devs as part of your core team.

Generally speaking great blockchain developers tend to have the following characteristics:

Firstly, they are driven by strong ideological beliefs centered on decentralization. Some go as far to proudly self identify as crypto-anarchists [1] and many have strong ideological beliefs on decentralizing everything from corporations to governments and whole societies. This is super scary for any corporation.

Secondly they have a deep fundamental understanding and mastery of game theory [2] and economic principles. These understandings and expertise applied to any decentralized technology is the structural framework that accounts for most of the key blockchain breakthroughs.

They also have a true passion for the technology — it’s something they’ve sought to seek and learn about despite the seemingly embryonic nature of blockchains. Some of the underlying cryptography dates back decades. Many are self taught and many are PhD level and above. Most are deeply entrenched in the world of cryptography. [3]

They are intellectually curious by nature.

They are super naturally super curious personalities, they’re undeterred by the ambiguity of no known solutions. This actually excites them. When presented with obstacles they have deep seated self-beliefs that they can find multiple solutions for any set of problems. Being better then the next guy and being respected by their peers is of utmost importance.

You might think that sounds like a very rare kind of person — they are extremely rare in the traditional recruitment circles in which you’re accustomed. However they do exist in large numbers and are likely 10 steps ahead of you and what you want to accomplish in your projects.

2) Where to find great blockchain developers

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Once you know what you should be looking for, you need to know where to find great blockchain devs. Generally your traditional modes of identifying, attracting and retaining talent won’t work. Your HR department will likely kill any chance you have in the rare case someone responds to an ad or posting and HR is the first point of contact. Unless of course your’re HR department is staffed with blockchain experts. Job postings don’t work. Recruiters don’t know where to look.

Generally speaking you won’t find the great candidates through LinkedIn and using Google. Be wary of the “experts” on LinkedIn.

You must engage with them in their own environments. Kind of like a Mutual of Omaha episode of going native.

You’ll find them sharing knowledge on public forums such as Gitter and Reddit. Or they can be discussing ideas at meetups and hackathons and other startup events, both on- and offline. Most times they are working on real world projects through platforms like HackerRank or GitHub. Many participate in podcasts.

When you do come across the right type of developer for you, chances are that they will be undertaking several different projects at the same time. This is how they work, contributing across a variety of missions, trying to achieve several different goals. Quite a few are likely running their own startups. Therefore, they won’t want to drop all their ongoing projects to come work for your company, so you’ll need to engage them in a way that resonates with their core belief systems as well as the needs of your project.

3) Engaging and hiring talent

Great blockchain devs don’t want to join your big company.

With great devs seemingly being few and far in-between (or at least the ones you connect with), they are in extremely high demand. You’ll have massive competition from companies offering all sorts of work to them so you must ensure your company has the right work and culture [4] to match the talent you’re seeking.

They want to work on and solve big problems — you’ve got to provide them a challenge that they can’t get elsewhere. To fully engage and motivate them, they need to believe your project is for a greater good, and it aligns with their own principles. Finally, compensation is always a major factor to be considered as these developers know what they are worth. They are expensive and well worth it. One great blockchain dev will outperform 5 good devs every day of the week.

Taking all this into account, your options may well be very limited. You’ll probably have to choose, do you hire full time, outsource to specialist blockchain startups/platforms, or train an internal team? Each of course has its own benefits and pitfalls — full time employees will be much more difficult to find and eventually hire, outsourcing leads to some loss of control on your part, and with very few training resources currently available hiring and paying suitable trainers before training your own devs would be extremely time consuming, costly and still potentially not producing the right quality talents.

Additionally, chances are the developers who are interested in your blockchain projects won’t be geographically located where you are. And they aren’t likely to want to uproot and come to you. This means you’ll have to have remote workers — which is just what these individuals tend to prefer.

Is “acqui-hiring” [5] an option? Well, as mentioned earlier, many devs will be at their own startups or elsewhere working on their own blockchain ideas. As we know, these devs are very principally driven, so simply buying them out will NOT make them want to work for your company. Only if there is a clear strategic link between your own blockchain projects and their motivations, and if they believe your company will allow them to take things further than they could alone, will you find devs open to being acquired. However, with most business goals not currently aligned to the developers’ individual goals, this again is a difficult path to tread.

Choosing a path forward.

So what do you do? A lot of times you’re going to need to go down multiple paths that include hiring a firm to develop some of your technology- Distributed Labs led by Dr. Pavel Kravchenko and Cardano-Labo are great places to start for the tech development for short term fill the gap measures. They can also be the long term extension of your dev team. They are that good!

Longer term you should be building a learning and training capability to move your high performing developers to becoming great blockchain devs. B9 Labs and Byte Academy are good places to start as external sources of learning and development.

As an aside there are quite a few more yet to be launched global training programs that we’ve seen that are poised to be amazing sources for you.

Conclusion

Make no mistake about it, finding and hiring great blockchain developers is not simple but it can be done.

Firstly become an expert yourself in the technology, understand appreciate the underlying belief systems and the cultures associated with decentralized technologists and you’ll be much farther along than your competitors.

Go to where the great blockchain devs hang out. Where they share, where they learn and contribute. Build a reputation for yourself in the ecosystem.

Engaging startups and developers in your specific ecosystem is critical. Join and contribute to local blockchain related meetups. We run Blockchain Startups across most major innovation ecosystems around the world. There are many others. Join and Contribute!

Create a culture on your team/company that will support hard charging, highly intelligent, principled people that want to change the world.

Lastly, be open to creative solutions to engaging with some of the most in-demand talent on the planet.

Zach Piester is the Co-founder, and Partner of Intrepid Ventures. Intrepid Ventures invests in, designs, builds and scales blockchain powered companies.

Zach focuses on helping Fortune 500 companies leverage the innovation of startup disruptors in blockchain, fintech, distributed ledger, & emerging technologies. Bringing together strategic, creative, & technical skills to help industry leaders understand how innovation, digital capabilities, & organizational design can help transform and sustain their positions at the forefront of their industries.

I’m always interested in meeting leaders who are creating transformational products and solutions, so please feel free to contact me by email at zach at intrepid dot ventures.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crypto-anarchism

[2]http://www.economist.com/news/economics-brief/21705308-fifth-our-series-seminal-economic-ideas-looks-nash-equilibrium-prison

[3] http://news.mit.edu/2014/cryptographic-schemes-security-guarantees-1030

[4]https://medium.com/@zachpiester/why-corporate-culture-matters-for-digital-transformation-3cd4b8abfbbf#.c9af1kkg4

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acqui-hiring