Blockchain Security and Cybersecurity and IT Audit Professionals
I have often been asked at the various conferences and seminars how can an IT professional gains experience and expertise to work with blockchain technology. With Bitcoin and several other alt-coins broke new all-time high,it may be a good time to revisit this discussion to provide some insights on how one can possible go develop and obtain these skills.
To frame the discussion, several metrics highlighted the important and increased demand for blockchain jobs. According to CoinMarketCap.com, as of February 2021, the market capitalization of all known cryptocurrencies is well over $1 Trillion compare that to the $35 billion market cap of the US stock market. As with financial services, the size of the market cap offers insights to the demands for various technical skills that typically support these industries, mainly software developments, analysts, system architects, etc. Other metrics can be gauged from Google Trends which showed a peak in inquiries for blockchain jobs in early 2018, but has since gradually declined to stable level at twice the current interest prior to pre-2017 era.
In February 2021, ZipRecruiter reported an average annual pay for a blockchain developer in the United States of $154,550 a year with most salaries reported for 25th and 75th quartile to span between $124,500 and $203,000 respectively. The wide range suggests that there may be many opportunities for advancement and increased pay based on skill level, location and years of experience.
What specific blockchain opportunities are available? Topmost of the list are software developers with blockchain development or integration expertise of various technologies to blockchain platforms. As cryptocurrencies become mainstream, we are also seeing more demand for blockchain security engineers and auditors, cryptocurrency investigators, blockchain researchers, security engineers with specialty in blockchain-related threat detection and response, and blockchain consultants and blockchain architects as firms are seeking to pursue blockchain technology as a new enabler for their businesses. Many of these positions offer attractive work-life balance perks including remote work, stock options, cash and vacation bonuses as well as top-tier health and medical benefits as incentives to attract top candidates.
As blockchain technology is an emerging technology, potential employers seek to obtain candidates with experience and domain expertise. Qualifications sought after include, at the minimum, a bachelor’s degree or higher in computer science, information technology, mathematics or similar field. Experience with several computer programming languages and frameworks such as Solidity, Go, JS, Node.js, JAVA, C#, C++, React, Web3.js, HTML and CSS as well as strong familiarity with both front-end and back-end development, API and networking architecture. Certain specialty positions such as cryptocurrency research or investigators may require prior experience in law enforcement or equivalent experience related to investigations or technical analysis. Any individuals with current background in network forensics or financial fraud investigation may also be well suited as blockchain investigators. Due to the complexity of this ascent technology, an intense curiosity about cryptocurrencies and their transactions, along with attention to details, and exceptional analytical and troubleshooting skills are must haves for this specialty.
How can one best prepare for these opportunities? In addition to having a formal higher education in software/computer science, engineering, mathematics, or similar, one needs to be able to demonstrate mastery of such skills. Udemy offers several excellent and affordable online training courses where you can learn the basic of blockchain networks in Ethereum or Hyperledger Fabric, develop smart contracts using Solidity, and build centralized applications (DApps). Organizations like Blockchain Training Alliance (BTA) also offer both self-guided and instructor-led courses to help you prepare and obtain one or more well-recognized blockchain professional certifications, including Certified Blockchain Solution Architect (CBSA) and Certified Blockchain Security Professional (CBSP). At BTA, instructor-led training classes can cost between $1,895 to $3,100 for 3 to 5 days of live instructions depending on the course. Less costly video-on-demand options are also available for several courses, and that will runaround $295 per course. I personally found that the Blockchain On Demand: Enterprise Bundle is a great deal to get the most comprehensive blockchain education available at only the cost of $198 per user. There are other organizations that offer professional blockchain certifications, however, I recommend only vetted certifications from only those that require the passing of formal proctored exams from formal testing organizations such as Pearson VUE.
For specific blockchain developer training, I recommend you source the training directly from the appropriate blockchain foundation. For example, if you want to learn to develop decentralized applications on Ethereum blockchain, ConsenSys Academy runs an 11-week Developer Bootcamp, where key Ethereum concepts, developer tools, security best practices, and other aspects of smart contract and dApp development are discussed in detail. The Bootcamp also requires a completion of an original project, and upon passing, you will be received a formal certification as a certified Ethereum Developer. Hyperledger Foundation also offers similar developer trainings and certifications on several blockchain platforms offered, either on-demand, or online through their partners.
For free training, head over to BTA, ConsenSys and Hyperledger Foundation where they provide free access to their basic blockchain foundation training. IBM, who was the original developer of Hyperledger Fabric before the project was transferred to the Hyperledger Foundation, also offers significant, no cost tutorials on blockchain technology and Hyperledger Fabric. Other free training sources are abundant ranging from YouTube videos to formal instructions from Coursera or EdX.org where you can audit the course without formal certification at no cost to you.
Professional organizations such as ISACA and ISC2 also offer blockchain framework and audit standards to help IT professionals to better understand the underlying technology and key attributes. As a matter of fact, I was a member of ISACA Blockchain Framework Working Group where I authored the Blockchain Generic Reference Architecture, and Security & Privacy Considerations sections for the recently released ISACA Blockchain Framework and Guidance.
I personally find that online learning platforms work best when you are disciplined and consistent in your learning. In other words, you need to set aside a regular schedule (just like going to class) to learn the materials, do the homework or project, and progress through the various modules. Look for recent built or updated video-on-demand courses to stay relevant since blockchain technologies are constantly changing. Most training platforms such as Udemy or Coursera have community portals where you can reach out to introduce yourself to your virtual classmates and to exchange discussion. I found this is a great way to meet other classmates starting at the same point to help each other just in case one of you get stuck. Expect to do some research one your own. Use search engine to look for solutions if you run into an issue not previously known as this is a most likely a dependency issue relating with open source technologies.
Specialty skills such as blockchain research or conducting cryptocurrency investigations are unique and currently in high demand due to the complexity of the topic and the myriad of skills required. Developing these skills will require a significant personal effort on your part, however the rewards will be great as your skills will shine well above the traditional blockchain professionals. To start, you will need to obtain have solid understanding of how blockchain transactions work on multiple blockchain platforms such as Bitcoin and Ethereum. You should be able to setup your own nodes to monitor for transactions. You should be able to participate in cryptocurrency transactions such as buying or selling cryptocurrencies or paying for products or services. You should also need to have a mastery of several open source intelligence blockchain tools and web sites to effectively understand the flow of transactions. The ability to write queries for web services via API or using SQL commands are essential as you will be working with very large and complex data sets.
In closing, now that you have the skills, participate in one of several open source blockchain development projects or start a publicly visible blockchain project of your own where potential employers can observe and review your work through a code management platform such as GitHub. Engage in coding forums on web sites such as Stack Overflow, Reddit, or run local Meetups to share and help other developers to get into the domain. Your engagement will not only sharpen your skill sets, but it brings visibility from potential employers seeking such skills, and doors will open for you for more rewarding opportunities.