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Blockchain 101 for tech freelancers

If you’re a tech worker, you’ve probably spent the past year looking for ways to thrive as a freelancer during the pandemic rather than letting it hold you back. And there’s no better way to do this than staying abreast of industry trends to ensure your skills are marketable.

Along with skills like data extraction and deep learning, an increasing demand for freelancers who can understand and apply blockchain technology has been one of the most significant tech trends lately.

Companies are in the market for everything from crypto trading advice to smart contracts for their businesses, and they are increasingly looking to freelancers to fill their needs. That means there are numerous opportunities to pivot from other areas of tech and integrate your existing skills with new learning. Let’s explore why blockchain is in demand and how you, as a freelancer, can brush up on your blockchain skills and get involved in this booming field.

What is blockchain?

Blockchain is a form of distributed ledger technology, a way of storing information across many different “nodes.” Each node in a ledger maintains a copy of the information and updates their copy whenever a change is approved. For blockchains specifically, information is stored in cryptographic hashes where each subsequent “block” contains a hash of the previous one, chaining them together.

We‘d be hard-pressed to talk about blockchain without using Bitcoin as an example, easily the most well-known application of blockchain tech. Bitcoin (BTC) is also the most valuable cryptocurrency on the market. In a Bitcoin ledger, the blocks are financial transactions sent from one digital wallet to another with no centralized bank or authority.

Because of the way blockchains operate, the currency is considered to be unhackable. It would be nearly impossible to change the hash of an already approved transaction without overtaking more than half the network - an extremely expensive and highly unlikely feat.

While Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are certainly a popular application of blockchain tech, they are just that: one application. Blockchain is actually much broader than many people think, which is a primary reason for its growing popularity.

One of the reasons why the demand for blockchain tech skills has increased is because of the many diverse uses of the technology. This also means you may already have some of the skills required, making it a promising way to pivot into a new field as a freelancer. If you are currently employed in anything from software development to finance, there is a market for your skills in combination with blockchain expertise.

Computer engineering: blockchain back-end

The demand for blockchain engineers is soaring, and if you already have programming and database management experience, you are well on your way. Blockchain engineers must be able to build and maintain blockchain data infrastructure, and they are usually responsible for data-processing pipeline management. If you’re a back-end architecture or SQL person, consider exploring some blockchain APIs to integrate your existing skills into blockchain applications.

Software development: smart contracts

If you have any software development and testing experience, pivoting into blockchain tech shouldn’t be too difficult. Developers should be able to build and test tools that interact with smart contracts and integrate blockchain tech with back-end systems and user interfaces.

The most common languages for smart contract development are C++, Solidity, and JavaScript, so if you regularly use these, you’re nearly there. You probably haven't used Solidity if you’re not involved with blockchain, but fortunately, developers usually say it looks similar to Python, C++, and JavaScript.

Project management and consulting: DeFi

Fans of cryptocurrencies like to say that decentralized, anonymous, and immutable P2P payment is democratizing and revolutionizing finance, among other fields. There is no doubt that fintech and digital banking are growing in popularity, and a lot of the back-ends of these applications are blockchains.

You need not be able to build the blockchain to get involved. Plenty of companies already have engineers, but they need someone who understands decentralized finance to plan, coordinate, and market their solutions. If you have finance or PM expertise, read up on DeFi and cryptocurrencies so you can pivot into blockchain.

Additional applications

Some other promising applications of blockchain technology include:

  • Health industry applications, like secure sharing of medical data
  • Cybersecurity applications, such as identity verification
  • Supply chain applications, like product traceability

If you have experience in any of these fields, brushing up on blockchain could be useful for you too.

How freelancers can get involved

So how can you get in on the action? Like so many others, you may have taken advantage of quarantine to forward your education or learn a new skill. Freelancing is a great way to apply these skills, and blockchain technology is a good place to start.

Read up on NFTs

Non-fungible token (NFT) is a fancy term for something that can’t be replaced by something else. Most NFTs are built on the Ethereum blockchain, another cryptocurrency that adds extra information to their blocks to assert digital uniqueness.

NFTs can really be anything that is a digital asset, like music, videos, or memes. Blockchain technology can be used to protect creative work and prove your ownership, which is hopefully something you’re already thinking about as a freelancer.

Whether or not you believe NFTs are the future of digital art is your business, the fact is, they are very popular right now. If you are a freelancer involved in software dev, graphic design, marketing and sales, etc., becoming an expert in all things NFT will be a great resume boost.

Move from theory to practice

If all this NFT talk sounds a bit convoluted, consider starting with the basics, and read the famous Satoshi Nakomoto paper that got it all started. And while it’s certainly necessary to understand blockchain theory, in order to get hired, you’ll need to know how to use it in practice.

Get started by writing a simple smart contract as a first step on your blockchain journey. Also, explore the different existing blockchains like the systems on which the different cryptocurrencies are built. The beauty of these systems is that they’re open source, so you can engage with the community and even contribute to the project.

Use the technology

There’s no better way to understand a product than to use it yourself. As a freelancer, you are hopefully already using financial tools to plan for your future by saving and investing your money. If you are interested in working with blockchain, why not consider experimenting with crypto trading?

Consider trading in small amounts to see how it works. Cryptocurrencies are volatile, meaning they change in value a lot and are not as stable as some other investments. For example, Bitcoin famously hit $50k for one BTC at one point before plummeting to $30k (it’s currently around $32k). But fortunately, you can purchase fractions of coins, so you can start small.

If you don’t actually want to use your money, at least monitor crypto exchanges and learn how they operate. Crypto is different from a lot of trading in that it does not rely on a traditional brokerage. According to industry expert Alex Williams of Hosting Data, online trading exchanges are a form of discount broker that are readily available to everyday people:

“We give the name “discount brokers” to anybody who brokers online. They don't give you advice or personally message you to inform you of fluctuations in the market,” Williams explains. “All of the information you receive is done through apps. In many cases, you are charged nothing to place a trade.”

In the case of crypto, the currency exchange site is the “broker,” but this is much more direct and hands-on. This can be an exciting way to get to know blockchain and increase your expertise so you can get paid for it later.

Get started today

There is no doubt that blockchain technology will be around for years to come, and there are many ways to brush up this technology in both theory and practice. There are also a lot of communities to help you get involved in the industry. Learning about blockchain technology will be a great career boost for any tech freelancers looking for consistent work in 2021.

Nahla Davies Nahla Davies is a software developer and tech writer. Before devoting her work full time to technical writing, she served as a lead programmer at an Inc. 5,000 experiential branding organization.