A blockchain nightmare
Blockchain’s substantial successes shouldn’t obscure the upcoming challenges it will face. Glenn Mariën goes over some of these issues that keep him up at night, from public buy-in to diversifying the blockchain developer pipeline.
I first encountered Bitcoin in the spring of 2009, when a friend sent me a link to Satoshi’s whitepaper and suggested I take a look. Soon enough, I was up and running, zooming coins from wallet to wallet. I quickly realized that blockchain held the potential to transform the world and that Satoshi’s dream was much more akin to an inevitable reality. From that, I was only steps away developing applications off the Bitcoin API and beginning a career on this newest electronic frontier.
I’d found the breakthrough technology of our time. Through all the ups and downs of the past decade, I’ve never regretted building my career around the blockchain. It’s hard to believe that the heady days of 2009 were only a decade back. It’s often said that one month in crypto feels like a full year in another industry. It’s true: crypto has packed a full century of growth, maturation, and upheaval into just a few short years.
For all blockchain’s successes — and here I could present you a long list of market caps, a full roster of institutional investors, and libraries full of press clippings — several obstacles remain in place. The first and most familiar problem is educating the public about the technology, its societal ramifications, uses, and even limitations. The distributed ledger is hardly intuitive, particularly if you’re not familiar with traditional ledgers, and so more than once I’ve had to explain the basic principles of double-entry bookkeeping to lay audiences! But it has a second, less visible problem that keeps me up at night; the challenge of finding developers ready to meet the unique challenges of blockchain development.
A few years ago — or a few decades ago if you’re operating in “blockchain time” — everyone was looking for Java and C++ coders. With the advent of Ethereum, tools like Hyperledger and Solidity became essential and blockchain programmers the world over began cramming new languages. The ledger is immutable; however, the tools we use to create it are anything but. While some of these changes have built a better blockchain, the constant adjustments create damaging uncertainty. Young coders find themselves faced with a dilemma: If they devote themselves to the mastery of one language, they run the risk it will become obsolete before they find a job and/or if they spend the same time learning the rudiments of several languages, their skills might prove too shallow for success.
We’ve known for decades (and here I mean real decades, not blockchain-time decades) that the United States needs better STEM education. I was fortunate enough to receive a computer from my parents at the age of 15, setting me on my path towards education in programming. The Asus A7N8X-E Deluxe motherboard on my computer pinged and beeped when I turned the machine on. As I waited for the CPU to finish booting, I reflected on if only I could control those chimes, I could make my computer play a song. I taught myself Visual Basic, wrote a motherboard melody, and never looked back. But would I have found my calling if I hadn’t received that computer? Would I have been inspired to code if it had booted silent? Questions like these make me grateful for the work being done by programs such as Girls who Code, Kode with Klossy , and Tynker that introduce teenagers — and girls in particular — to the power of coding. Coder Kids’ decision to run a blockchain course for the very youngest programmers is indicative of this. Should potential developers make it to college without code, there’s a chance the universities will convert them. Top universities now teach blockchain and hundreds of more courses will appear in semesters to come.
As happy as these youth programs make me, more remains to be done. Major newspapers cover the blockchain beat, crypto experts regularly appear on television, and every month sees a new general audience blockchain book, yet the crypto community remains distressingly insular. We need more and better outreach: coin clubs, ambassador programs, gamified introductions, and investment guides all have roles to play in spreading the good news.
Blockchain’s tenth birthday offers us a chance to reflect on the challenges to overcome and the setbacks faced on the amazing gains and the maddening losses. At times, the road to adoption has run uphill, but as we pause and look around, it’s clear that the steepest part of the climb is behind us. Mainstream adoption for blockchain won’t happen in the next year, but it will certainly grow by its end. By the time the children and teens now Tynkering or Koding with Klossy grow up and enter the workforce, we could, at last, be living in a blockchain world. What will you do to make that happen?