Since 2009, the Blockchain industry has grown exponentially. First and foremost, there’s a real Blockchain industry now. And there’s a big ecosystem that is growing in every direction.
In 2009, there was Bitcoin. Then, in 2014, the Ethereum Blockchain started. And since 2017, a slew of new Blockchain paradigms began to take shape.
Here’s a few steps to stay on the verge of the Blockchain industry, by staying on the lookout for more interesting and fascinating ways to improve your Blockchain developer career.
Never forget the basics
Almost every month, a new Blockchain paradigm comes out. Is it super interesting and important to know how a specific company or community solves the blockchain trilemma (scalability, security and decentralization at the same time). Some approaches are permissionless, others are permissioned.
Track key advancements in Blockchain
It’s not important to judge the (more or less) libertarian approach to the problem: you need to understand the single unique value that the project is adding to the blockchain ecosystem.
There are a few types of improvement that a project can bring to the table of the blockchain industry.
A practical improvement to the general technology, changing or shifting the paradigm. For example, IOTA changed the paradigm of thinking of a decentralization platform as a chain of blocks, shifting it to the tangle, a specific type of Direct Acyclic Graph (DAG). Another kind of technological improvement are zk-SNARKs proofs, a kind of zero-knowledge cryptography that shields transaction metadata born with ZCash, or the Lightning Network layer-2 payment protocol that’s being implemented in the Bitcoin blockchain. Tracking and studying new technological advances could get you on top of the blockchain community: that means visibility on elitarian communities (that are researching tech advancements) and a chance to work on ever more interesting projects;
Financial improvements are relatively new to the blockchain industry, having started in 2014 along with the Ethereum blockchain. Financial doesn’t mean economic: bitcoin enabled people to create an economy with a digital currency, and recent evolution in blockchain technology (since Ethereum) enabled a whole lot of decentralized and centralized blockchains and applications to take advantage of the permanent-ledger characteristics. In simple words, this has led to the current phenomenon known as DeFi, or Decentralized Finance. DeFi consists in a (ever more growing) number of decentralized applications that can enable already-established financial systems to be even more usable and automated. These include compound.finance, EthLend, Eidoo, MakerDAO, DAI, Synthetix and so on. A complete list of current DeFi apps can be found here.
DeFi apps don’t include major technological improvements, but a lot of work needs to be done to address potential exploitations of the current system structure. A lot of so-called hacks were reported in DeFi apps since the June 2016 ‘The DAO’ hack in which $50 milion were stolen. There are two kinds of attacks:
- Real, code attacks: hacks in which thieves take advantage of a vulnerability of the code and use it to steal funds or create huge amounts of digital currency;
- Financial attacks: these are not real hacks, as thieves leverage the limits of one or more DeFi apps at the same time. The most recent one is the weekend attack to dForce that wiped $25 milion.
Both types of attacks can be addressed by future improvements, but in different ways. Being on top of newly-found exploitations (and hopefully solving them) is a great way to both improve mastering blockchain-related code and helping the whole ecosystem grow.
Cultural advancements don’t directly affect tech improvements, but they push the ecosystem to grow and meet demand. For example, Coinbase successfully offered an ultra-simple way of buying cryptocurrencies with credit cards, and then Binance built an empire of crypto exchanges that support hundreds of currencies and comply with laws in an ever growing number of countries. They are considered cultural advancements because they drive the adoption closer to the mainstream public. More people using crypto means that blockchains need to be more secure, scalable and decentralized to address needs for a growing audience. In a way, tech advancements can bring cultural attention to a new level, that then leads to a growing need of adjusting tech in order to meet demand.
Keeping track of cultural advancements is a good way of anticipating new waves of tech improvements for the Blockchain industry as a whole.
Political advancements are the most complex ones: there needs to be an effort of combined tech, cultural and financial advancements in order for politics, governments and institutions in general to accept Blockchain standards. But politics emerge once society talks loud and clear about new, needed changes to the overall system.
To explain this, it’s easier to make examples about recent (and persistent) dynamics about society and crypto (or Blockchain in general):
- In Venezuela, the country’s currency suffered from inflation for a long time, but the situation worsened once the United States government vetoed domestic investors to pour money into venezuelan companies and institutions. That has led President Maduro to take an unprecedented decision about the nation’s currency, that was to be integrated (substituted) by a Petro digital currency, that was (and is) pegged to the nation’s oil reserve. This was the first real step forward of a national digital currency, even though it was moved by the necessity of bypassing the US veto.
- In Argentina (mostly) and in other latin american countries, people buy bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies to defend their financial reserve from hyperinflation of national currencies, and a lot of underground and official initiatives take place to help poor people get access to financial tools that can jumpstart a small business or enable a micro-economy in poor and rural areas.
- In China, Blockchain is in the mainstream discussion, as people are used to exchanging money and services on apps and websites such as Tencent’s WeChat and already buy digital coupons as gifts. China’s government is researching the use of a digital currency built on a permissioned distributed ledger (comparable to the Blockchain) to centralize the economy.
These are just a few (extreme) examples of what the discussion about Blockchain has led to. Keeping track of what’s happening all over the world is a great way of anticipating new trends that can lead to new ready-to-explore technologies.
Track key Blockchain projects
Keeping in mind those types of improvement, it’s mandatory to keep track of current improvements of existing, solid and thoroughly tested Blockchains.
The Bitcoin development community is active and running on different fronts. Simply follow the Bitcoin community on Telegram and follow major discussions in the development section of bitcointalk.org. One of the main improvements, Lightning Network, even has its own channels: Telegram and website.
In the Ethereum developer community, almost everyone is focused on the single biggest leap for the Blockchain: Ethereum 2.0 (Serenity). You can go look at the specs in the dedicated Github page to get an idea of what’s going to be, and take a look at all repositories dedicated to 2.0 here.
Stay on top of confirmed IPs
An IP is an Improvement Proposal. It’s the equivalent of the RFC (Request For Comment) proposals for improvements of the web architecture.
BIPs (Bitcoin Improvement Proposals)
Bitcoin Improvement Proposals are the most tracked IPs in the Blockchain industry (fairly obvious). A lot of BIPs are being drafted as of now, which is the right moment to take a look at them and study them while they’re not released yet. The most important are:
- BIP 340 – Schnorr Signatures for secp256k1 (by Pieter Wuille, Jonas Nick, Tim Ruffing)
- BIP 341 – Taproot: SegWit version 1 spending rules (by Pieter Wuille, Jonas Nick, Anthony Towns)
- BIP 342 – Validation of Taproot Scripts (by Pieter Wuille, Jonas Nick, Anthony Towns)
EIPs (Ethereum Improvement Proposals)
There are many proposals for the Ethereum mainnet. This is one of the most active periods in the ethereum development community, as the chain prepares to take on the biggest upgrade since the 2015 1.0 mainnet launch. Most of the developer community’s effort are around Ethereum 2.0 Serenity upgrade, that’s slated for launch sometime in 2020, but a lot of EIPs are discussed before doing the bigger leap forward. Take a look at the official website of EIPs or visit the dedicated Github page to get updates.
Be active in the community
The Blockchain industry is one of the most active and fast-paced out there. Waiting for courses, lessons and articles to come out, you could feel left behind from the sky-high number of improvements and discussions made every day. Being active in the community is the best way to stay on top of discussion and help the ecosystem grow.
Follow key developer feeds
Following developers that work on Blockchain research on a day-by-day basis is a good and light way of staying on top of recent development. Try setting up a list on Twitter, starting with these profiles of developers and cryptographers:
- Nicola Greco – worked on Filecoin and IPFS
- Steven Galbraith – mathematician and cryptographer
- Justin Drake – Ethereum 2.0 researcher
- Sir Tim Berners-Lee – director of W3C, founder of Solid
- Giacomo Zucco – Bitcoin maximalist
- Federico Tenga – Bitcoin researcher, co-founder Chainside
This will keep you always in the loop with important discussion about Blockchain.
Contribute to open source Blockchain projects
Last but not least (it’s actually the most important aspect of all), help the ecosystem grow. You can do so in a variety of ways, and every one of them will get you more visible in the scene.
Propose new improvements
Proposing EIPs is a great way of testing your skills related to a specific network, but be aware: every new proposal must follow specific guidelines and address solutions or improvements to solve the Blockchain trilemma.
Comment on other proposals
If you don’t feel like mastering specific code or language, you can still help by commenting and / or documenting other developer’s proposals. It’s a nice way of getting started and help others understand code, avoiding unnecessary and duplicate comments by others.
Test applications and networks
Every open source project has a unit / community dedicated to testing new features and new concepts. If you’re a developer that doesn’t know the language or the specific code, testing networks is a good way to get hands-on experience of a specific project or cryptocurrency and help development at the same time.