Since 2009, the Blockchain industry has grown exponentially. To start with, there really is a Blockchain industry now, and with it, a big ecosystem that is growing in every direction.
In 2009, there was Bitcoin. Then, in 2014, the Ethereum Blockchain started. Since 2017, a slew of new Blockchain paradigms have begun to take shape.
Here’s a few ways to remain on the cutting edge of the Blockchain industry by staying on the lookout for more interesting and appealing ways to improve your career as a Blockchain developer.
Never forget the basics
Almost every month, a new Blockchain paradigm appears. It is extremely interesting and important to know how a specific company or community has solved the blockchain trilemma (scalability, security and decentralization at the same time). Some approaches are permissionless, others permissioned.
Track key advancements in Blockchain
It’s not important to judge the (more or less limitless) approach to the problem: what you need to understand is the single unique value that the project is adding to the blockchain ecosystem.
There are a few specific classes 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 that thought of a decentralization platform as a chain of blocks, shifting perceptions to the tangle, a specific type of Direct Acyclic Graph (DAG). zk-SNARKs proofs are another technological improvement, a kind of zero-knowledge cryptography that shields transaction metadata derived from ZCash, or the Lightning Network ‘layer 2’ payment protocol implemented in the Bitcoin blockchain. Tracking and studying new technological advances could get you to the 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 alongside the Ethereum blockchain. Financial doesn’t mean economic: bitcoin enabled the creation of an economy with a digital currency, and recent evolutions in blockchain technology (since Ethereum) have enabled numerous decentralized and centralized blockchains and applications to take advantage of permanent-ledger characteristics. In simple terms, this has led to the current phenomenon known as DeFi, or Decentralized Finance. DeFi consists in an (ever more rapidly growing) number of decentralized applications that allow 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 involve major technological improvements, but a lot of work needs to be done to address the potential for exploitation of the current system structure. A lot of so-called hacks have been reported in DeFi apps since June 2016’s hack of ‘The DAO’ in which $50 milion was stolen. There are two kinds of attacks:
- Real code attacks: hacks in which thieves take advantage of a vulnerability in the code and use this 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 on dForce that wiped out $25 milion.
Both types of attacks can be addressed by future improvements, but in different ways. Being on top of newly-discovered routes for exploitation (and hopefully resolving them) is a great way to both improve mastery of blockchain-related code and help the whole ecosystem grow.
Cultural advancements don’t directly affect tech improvements, but they push the ecosystem to grow to meet demand. For example, Coinbase successfully offered an ultra-simple way of buying cryptocurrencies with credit cards. Binance then built an empire of crypto exchanges that support hundreds of currencies and comply with laws in an ever-growing number of countries. These are considered cultural advancements because they drive adoption closer to the mainstream public. More people using crypto means that blockchains need to be more secure, more scalable, and more decentralized to address the needs of a growing audience. In some respects, tech advancements can bring cultural attention to a new level that then leads to a growing need to adjust tech in order to meet demand.
Keeping track of cultural advancements is a good way to anticipate new waves of tech improvement in the Blockchain industry as a whole.
Political advancements are the most complex: there needs to be a combined effort towards tech, cultural and financial advancement in order for governments and political institutions in general to accept Blockchain standards. But politics comes to the forefront once society is talking loud and clear about changes needed to the overall system.
To explain this, it’s easier to take examples from recent (and persistent) dynamics around society and crypto (or Blockchain in general):
- In Venezuela, the country’s currency had already been suffering from inflation for a long time, but the situation worsened when the United States government prohibited domestic investors from pouring money into Venezuelan companies and institutions. That led President Maduro to take an unprecedented decision about the nation’s currency: integrating (substituting) it with a Petro digital currency, that was (and is) pegged to the nation’s oil reserve. This was the first real step toward a national digital currency, even though it was inspired by the necessity of bypassing the US veto.
- In Argentina (primarily) and other Latin American countries, people buy bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies to defend their financial reserves from hyperinflation of national currencies. A lot of both underground and official initiatives 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 exist.
- In China, Blockchain is part of 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 to anticipate new trends that may lead to new, ready-to-explore technologies.
Track key Blockchain projects
Keeping in mind these types of improvement, it’s essential to keep track of improvements to currently extant, solid, and thoroughly tested Blockchains.
The Bitcoin development community is active and running on different fronts. Simply follow the Bitcoin community on Telegram and major discussions in the development section of bitcointalk.org. One of the main improvements, Lightning Network, even has its own channel on Telegram and a website.
In the Ethereum developer community, almost everyone is focused on the single biggest leap for the Blockchain: Ethereum 2.0 (Serenity). You can look at the specs in the dedicated Github page to get an idea of what’s going to become reality, and all the repositories dedicated to 2.0 can be found here.
Stay on top of confirmed IPs
An IP is an Improvement Proposal. It’s the equivalent of the RFC (Request For Comment) improvement proposals for web architecture.
BIPs (Bitcoin Improvement Proposals)
Bitcoin Improvement Proposals are the most tracked IPs in the Blockchain industry (unsurprisingly). A lot of BIPs are currently being drafted, which means this is the ideal moment to study them before they have been released. 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 a highly active period 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 efforts are focused on the Ethereum 2.0 Serenity upgrade that’s slated for launch sometime in 2020, but a lot of EIPs are discussed before taking the 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. If you wait for courses, lessons, and articles to come out, you might end up feeling left behind the sky-high number of improvements and discussions that take place every day. Being active in the community is the best way to stay on top of the discussion and help the ecosystem grow.
Follow key developer feeds
Following developers that work on Blockchain research on a day-to-day basis is a good, simple way of staying on top of recent developments. Try setting up a list on Twitter, starting with these developer and cryptographer accounts:
- 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
Following these movers and shakers will keep you in the loop of important discussions about Blockchain.
Contribute to open source Blockchain projects
Last, but not least (and it’s actually the most important aspect of all), help the ecosystem grow. You can do this in a variety of ways, each of which will make you more visible on 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 aimed at solving the Blockchain trilemma.
Comment on other proposals
If you don’t feel like mastering a specific code or language, you can still help by commenting on and/or documenting other developers’ proposals. This is a good way to get started, and to help others understand code, avoiding unnecessary and duplicate comments from others.
Test applications and networks
Every open source project has a unit / community dedicated to testing new features and concepts. If you’re a developer that doesn’t know the language or the specific code, testing networks are a good way to get hands-on experience of a specific project or cryptocurrency and help development at the same time.