Want to work in crypto? University programs can give job seekers a leg up

As talk of the Bitcoin halving, exchange-traded funds and other macro factors seem to point to the beginning of the next bull market cycle for crypto, many might be considering starting a career in this space. It happens to many people involved with Bitcoin (BTC), blockchain or cryptocurrencies. 

At first, they are “investors” researching and buying assets in a new digital asset class. For some, this turns into a desire to enter the decentralized ledger technology and blockchain industry. Many have decided to find paths to employment and acquire the skills necessary to jump into careers in this space.

Since the beginning of the blockchain and cryptocurrency industry, most people have found jobs through informal connections or demonstrable skills.

It is a bit harder to break through into this growing industry today, but universities have stepped up with a solution. Formal blockchain degrees are now offered across the globe, allowing individuals to master the concepts on which the sector is built while networking and gaining inroads into the industry.

Since the bear market and the subsequent slowdown of the blockchain industry in late 2021, there have been significant human resource cuts at crypto-centric firms like Coinbase, Gemini and Consensys.

The last half of 2023 has recently seen growing speculation and potential signals that the start of the next bull market is approaching. Increasing activity in the blockchain industry suggests the increased need for talent to meet the upcoming demand, and many people are interested in getting a foot in the door at a crypto company and finding ways to set themselves apart from the rest of the industry.

Not everyone is a high-profile individual like Jon Dalby, who left his role as chief financial officer of Bridgewater Associates to join New York Digital Investment Group (NYDIG) in 2021. Dalby brought with him traditional finance experience that is valuable to NYDIG.

However, not all degrees can easily translate into the blockchain industry, as individuals must grasp the technical and functional sides to understand the unique value propositions this new industry holds.

The blockchain industry has been reported to be on the road to serious growth, with a predicted continuous average growth rate of 59.9% from 2023 to 2030. According to PwC, there will be over 40 million blockchain industry-related jobs worldwide by 2030. Looking at the average salaries for some common blockchain industry jobs in the United States, the more expansive the job responsibilities, the greater the need for an advanced degree.

Traditional educational institutions like colleges and universities worldwide now offer degree programs focusing on blockchain technology. Some are purely technical, while others combine business and tech.

These programs’ existence begs the question: Are these formal degrees valued in a still-maturing industry? Do they give a degree holder an advantage in the current marketplace? Is this a sign that the industry is maturing, and we should look to these academic credentials as a sign of a certain level of competence?

What do blockchain educators say?

Cointelegraph reached out to various university program directors across the globe to get their take on the goals of formal blockchain education programs.

Brian Houillion, program coordinator of the University of the Cumberlands’ master’s program in global business with blockchain technology, told Cointelegraph that the program is “preparing our business students to serve in roles that partner and support the roles of entrepreneurs and developers.”

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He said that one of the most important skills needed in the blockchain industry is a deeper understanding of regulatory issues, specifically so that innovation is “not smothered before it can develop” by allowing these upcoming blockchain professionals to work with lawmakers as the industry matures.

The head of the European Blockchain Center, Roman Beck, told Cointelegraph, “Formal degrees allow for signaling and positioning the topic next to more established degrees and thus increase the visibility of the blockchain industry,” providing greater legitimacy among the traditional world.

He believes the industry needs more individuals with the skill sets to “develop economic models that allow for decentralized businesses that create and capture value, which is the most urgent skill and mindset for blockchain architects and developers.”

Michael Jones, the director of the University of Cincinnati’s Cryptoeconomics Lab, told Cointelegraph that having formal degrees brings legitimacy and credibility to the industry overall. Beyond signaling to the traditional world that decentralized ledger and blockchain technologies deserve further study, he mentioned “the networking opportunities with students from multiple disciplines like computer science, math or economics.”

The number one skill Jones believes the industry needs is “risk assessment and risk management.” Simply knowing the technological skills but not having a “fundamental understanding of market risk, operational risk, counterparty risk, protocol risk, regulatory risk, etc.” will result in the industry adoption of blockchain technology being “slow and uneven.”

Each of these programs has produced industry professionals who have gone on to work at the likes of Chainalysis, MakerDAO, Brainbot, TradeLens, ZTLment, Januar, Concordium and Reality+, among others.

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For example, the European Blockchain Center and the University of the Cumberlands boast alumni Demelza Hays and Michael Tabone, respectively, who work for Cointelegraph as economists and researchers.

All the program directors interviewed have mixed opinions on the current state of the blockchain industry and how it values formal education.

Jones stated that while the industry does not particularly value formal degrees, “universities haven’t necessarily been good industry partners. Universities can be slow to introduce new and innovative curricula, and many universities are unwilling to pay top dollar to attract industry experts to teach students.”

Houillion added that it appears the “industry is looking for anyone that can handle positions” but that “a formal degree within the space would be desirable, especially when related to a non-developer/programmer role.”

Beck sees the industry as valuing formal degrees, but “what they really value is an education where students have developed a mindset to think decentralized, able to imagine and realize distributed value co-creation networks.”

What do blockchain recruiters say?

The higher education institutions named above are forward-thinking in preparing students for work in the blockchain and decentralized ledger technology industries. The hiring process in Web3, however, is not as traditional and does not necessarily hinge on formal credentials.

Cointelegraph wanted to get the other side of the proverbial coin and asked some Web3/blockchain recruiters their take on formal degrees and what they could mean for the industry in the future.

All the recruiters interviewed said they have had clients get hired with formal degrees. The easiest degrees to transition to the blockchain industry and that are in the most demand are technical in nature, such as coding and cryptography.

This makes sense, as the more highly specialized skills need to be filled first, especially in a nascent, growing industry. However, all believe that demand for individuals with additional qualifications but who have a firm background in the technical aspects will increase as the industry grows.

“I think that degree paths get people involved earlier, and it will legitimize the space even more,” Ryan Hawley, head of recruiting at Crypto Recruiters, told Cointelegraph. He added, “In time, [formal blockchain degrees] will be universally accepted.” He listed cryptography, smart contracts, database management and compliance as the top four in-demand skills employers seek.

David Lamb of CB Recruitment told Cointelegraph that formal blockchain degrees may be undervalued currently, as references are much more informal in Web3.

However, having formal degree paths would bring credibility not only to the industry in general but to a new pool of individuals who may not have entered the space if not for these programs.

From Lamb’s perspective, a formal degree in blockchain signals, at the very least, a passion for the sector, as well as a minimum exposure to the various elements necessary to make a blockchain professional:

“Demand is coming back into the market, and there are not enough good developers to go around. However, I would argue that non-technical specialists are equally important to the industry as it grows into a multitrillion-dollar industry.”

He went on to list marketing, operations, finance, legal, sales and research analysts as equally important jobs that Web3 firms will need as the industry matures.

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Connor Holliman of Proof of Talent echoed some of these sentiments to Cointelegraph: “[Formal blockchain degrees] create an opportunity for scalability within the space. Current processes in onboarding people to use blockchain technology are like learning a foreign language. As someone who had no background in blockchain prior, I have had to go through trials and tribulations to truly learn how to transact on and use various blockchains. The more people that come into this space with formal backgrounds, the easier it will be to onboard the next billion users.”

Holliman said that as blockchain use cases expand, soft skills like communication between different parts of a Web3 business will be highly valued. Engineers, cryptographers and developer relations are three in-demand paths in Web3 today.

While no magic bullet will guarantee a degree holder a Web3 job, it may give candidates a potential leg up on the competition in the future. It is also a sort of incubator to work with other like-minded individuals who will all be trying to head into the field at the same time. This networking may be worth the price of admission alone, giving students the chance to create the next revolutionary Web3 project in this environment.

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