Discover more from Conor on Web3
Why the best technical talent is working on Web3
At the end of 2019, LinkedIn published an article about the most in-demand skills for 2020. In the list of hard skills, cloud computing was knocked off the top spot by a new entrant to the list — blockchain.
This was back when crypto, NFTs and Web3 weren't a mainstream trend, and the industry was still reeling from the fallout of the ICO mania of 2017-2018.
Whilst for investors, crypto and Web3 projects were less attractive, there were many teams focused on building during this quiet period, a number of which saw the fruits of their labour realised during the significant growth of Web3 that started with the DeFi summer of 2020, and was amplified further by NFTs crossing the chasmthe into mainstream culture a year later in 2021.
This growth of the Web3 industry has compounded since LinkedIn published their original article, with an ever-increasing number of people leaving the comfort of their corporate or Web2 job to help build Web3.
But what is it that is so appealing about Web3? There are many cynics who believe that all the interest in Web3 is being driven by the opportunity for monetary gain. Whilst for some this is true; this is not what attracts the technical talent to the space.
There are a number of great minds I've had the fortune of speaking with over the years at conferences as well as on my podcast, and those people, like myself did not gravitate towards Web3 because they saw it as an opportunity to make a quick buck, it was far deeper than this.
What they all saw was a transformative technology with the ability to address many of the perceived issues with the internet in its current form, and a blue ocean of opportunity to build out brand new technology and products. They also all recognised that opportunities like this don't come along very often.
Whether someone is designing products or working at the coalface solving hard engineering problems, the blank slate provided by Web3 is able to feed the deep-seated desires of a person's urges to create, with significant opportunity to make an impact if done right, but at the same time needing to be a responsible citizen with accountability if things don't go so well.
This balance of creativity with accountability is what the true believers in Web3 embrace and one place where it is particularly acute is with the software engineers of Web3.
There is no more challenging and rewarding place for engineers to be working now than on Web3 projects. The world's very best engineers are flocking to it to prove themselves in what is by some accounts the most unforgiving environment in which to work.
It appeals so much to engineers, because they love to build, and so much needs to be still built for Web3. Layer upon layer of abstraction needs to be built over time, with each new abstraction lowering the barriers to entry for others, bringing new swathes of users with it.
However, the challenges of this environment all come from the fact that you have monetary value baked into the protocols of Web3. To do anything with a public blockchain network on Web3, you need to use cryptocurrencies or tokens to pay for the service. As these payments are embedded into the protocol layer, the engineers building the smart contracts that run on these networks need to understand not just how to handle the payments for transactions, but also how to store tokens and cryptocurrencies within their applications.
This transparency and immutability of blockchain networks and the code running on top of them is a honeypot for attackers, unlike anything that has existed before.
Once a smart contract is deployed to a blockchain it cannot be updated directly or reverted. Whilst approaches to writing code can help mitigate this to a point and provide management of these applications, it doesn't guarantee an application is immune to bugs or attacks by nefarious actors.
Mistakes can be incredibly costly, running into the hundreds of millions of dollars in some cases, which can be quite a burden for the engineers of Web3, as they are at the forefront of this world.
These challenges faced by the engineers of Web3 are what make it such a fertile proving ground for the world’s best technical talent. There is no equivalent with so much at stake in other areas of software.
Organisations typically rely on their own ring-fenced silos of infrastructure which whilst not immune from hackers, bugs introduced by engineers can usually be dealt with easily due to the closed nature of the systems upon which they run.
In more extreme cases of bugs, failures or hacks, communication with external parties may be necessary be that customers, suppliers or regulators, but there is typically nothing enforced at a systems level that makes fixing most technical issues a trivial exercise at most.
Contrast this with Web3, where the failure of many protocols is simply not an option, as a single failure can be enough to drain a project of its treasury, and in a matter of hours go from the next up-and-coming Web3 project to yet another casualty in the Web3 graveyard of great ideas that failed to live up to their promises.
In a recent conversation, a distinguished academic I spoke to felt that the closest parallel to Web3 engineering is writing software for machines being blasted into space to explore our vast cosmos — once the code is written and has left our planetary boundaries, one has no choice but to pray that it will continue to do what it was programmed to do.
Whilst there are other areas of society where critical systems do exist be that power plants, military guidance, patient care systems or others, they do typically still enjoy the protections of not being openly accessible globally like the blockchain networks of Web3.
Web3 will not remain this way forever, we will reach a point of maturity where many of the current breeds of hard problems are solved and the ease of use is likely to be more akin to Web2 development as it is today. Where there is an abundance of frameworks that perform much of the heavy lifting for engineers.
However, what will enable us to reach this point is the exceptional talent that has been flocking to Web3 this past six years, willing to embrace the significant challenges that come with it to build the next iteration of the Web benefitting us all. These are the pioneers of Web3, and there is no greater challenge and opportunity for those willing to settle here.
For a deeper dive into the challenges of Web3 development, I encourage you to listen to my conversation with Yannis Smaragdakis where we spoke in-depth about why the world’s best engineers are working on.