How to Learn Blockchain (2021’s Guide to the Skills You Need)

Blockchain is among the most relevant and important technology topics of 2021 due to a variety of factors — namely, its nearly unhackable framework and immutable, cryptographic data storage. While blockchain was originally built to support Bitcoin alone, it has since grown to address the rapid advancements in big data usage and value.

Due to its perceived complexity, blockchain can seem like a daunting technology to learn. However, with the right prerequisite skills, you can master this technology and pursue an exciting new career. Such competencies can be learned through a variety of educational options, including an immersive online fintech boot camp, a traditional college degree in an applicable field, or an independent learning path.

Read on for a closer look at top blockchain skills, as well as the promising career paths through which they may be applied. These skills include:

Five In-Demand Blockchain Skills

Those interested in learning blockchain can find success by first learning industry skills such as the following:

A graphic representing the top 5 blockchain skills.

1. Cybersecurity and Cryptography

Blockchain is predicated on cybersecurity; it utilizes communal oversight and layered digital cryptography to protect data which makes it difficult to hack or otherwise manipulate. However, even though blockchain breaches are rare, they can have consequences if successfully achieved. Therefore, working knowledge of cybersecurity is a valuable skill when learning blockchain.

Specifically, it is important to understand blockchain’s inherent characteristics as a distributed ledger technology (DLT), which is a technological system allowing for simultaneous open access and the immutable storage of data distributed across multiple entities. From a cybersecurity standpoint, this layout seems self-reliant and effective in mitigating threats, but as cyberattacks evolve, blockchain professionals of all walks must be constantly focused on supporting and maintaining a chain’s security integrity.

Cryptography, or the code-based process of preventing unwanted parties from accessing data, is another important part of blockchain security development. Developers generally practice cryptography to protect and maintain a blockchain’s data, and in doing so, they tend to employ several different types of cryptography. These include public-key cryptography (a key-based authentication system used to validate blockchain transactions) and cryptographic hashing (an algorithmic method for securely linking a chain’s block’s through hash codes). Since cryptography is such a pivotal part of blockchain security, it is extremely valuable for hopeful developers to learn its applicable inner workings before proceeding further.

Also, see our guide on how to become an information security analyst.

2. Computer Programming

Like cybersecurity, computer programming is a broad but crucial part of prerequisite blockchain development knowledge. All web developers should have at least a working understanding of coding in different languages, and in blockchain development — such experience drives nearly every aspect of network communication and functionality. Blockchain developers use their coding skills to keep pace with network demands, properly manage data security and integrity, and maintain a high level of performance to ensure smooth transactions.

See also our guide on becoming a computer programmer fast.

For these reasons, it is also key for developers to work with prevalent coding languages that are compatible with a variety of tasks. Leading blockchain programming languages amongst developers include Solidity, Java, C+, Python, and JavaScript.

3. Data Structures

Data structures are an integral part of blockchain development, as developers often work with numerous, differentiated structures and implement them in blockchain networks. A data structure is essentially any method of storing and organizing data and, in blockchain, this concept is particularly important because it can refer to the structure of a single block, a connection between two blocks, or the blockchain in its entirety.

For instance, a blockchain’s basic data structure consists of backlinked blocks connected by identifying numeric codes (known as hashes and nonces), and this system is built to transport and house data in a secure, multifaceted manner, To hack this data, one would need to simultaneously breach all blocks in the same chain — an unfeasible (and nearly impossible) feat.

Data structures serve as a natural foundation to higher-level blockchain knowledge. They represent the basic framework upon which all blockchain networks operate and are a strong gateway into more advanced topics within data storage, distribution, and defense.

4. Smart Contracts

Smart contracts are self-executing agreements, with terms contained in lines of code, and nearly every blockchain solution and interaction makes use of them. In summary, these contracts allow two members of a blockchain network to exchange data without the use of a third-party intermediary — they are built to only successfully execute once their underlying conditions have been met by both involved parties. Since a large majority of blockchain data activity is transaction- and distribution-based, smart contracts consistently play a critical role in network fluidity and transparency. For this reason, aspiring blockchain developers should become familiar with them in order to fully understand their intended work environment.

5. Architecture

Beyond cryptography and immutability alone, it is important for aspiring blockchain professionals to understand a blockchain’s full underlying architecture. In many cases, this architecture includes characteristics such as:

  • Provenance: The possibility to track each transaction taking place in a blockchain ledger.
  • Decentralization: The algorithmic framework allowing each member of a blockchain network to access the entire distributed database.
  • Anonymity: The opportunity for blockchain users to be identified through a generated address instead of a user identity, lending to overall network security.

New blockchain developers should strive to hone their skills in building, implementing, and maintaining these types of considerations as they make up the foundation of most functional, secure blockchain networks.

Options to Learn Blockchain

Once new blockchain developers have identified the key skills they’ll need, pursuing an education in the field is the next step. There are three primary pathways to learning blockchain: bootcamps, traditional degrees, and independent learning options.

Bootcamps

Bootcamp programs are an ideal learning option for aspiring blockchain developers, as they simulate real-world industry work projects and challenges in a controlled setting. Students are able to follow a flexible, yet thorough curriculum rooted in practical instruction and hands-on learning; preparing for a seamless transition into a full-time blockchain development career. In fact, bootcamp graduates are being held in increasingly high regard within the broader web development community, according to HackerRank’s 2020 Web Developer Survey (PDF, 2.3 MB).

A pie chart highlighting the percentage of hiring managers in web development that have hired bootcamp graduates.
through an intensive, 24-week learning plan offering project-based modules on both blockchain and general fintech basics.

Traditional Degrees

College degrees in blockchain, fintech, or other applicable fields are also a common alternative. These major-oriented programs tend to follow a longer curriculum, but they can still be a successful pathway for those wishing to learn in a more gradual, communal environment. Along the way, learners may also have the chance to gain supplementary knowledge in parallel fields.

Independent Learning Options

Independent learning options, though less structured, are another viable way to learn blockchain basics. These pathways may include online courses, videos, and educational apps. Independent learners should be prepared to exercise self-discipline, commitment, and strategic organization to get the most out of their independent learning experience.

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Blockchain Careers, Job Outlook, and Salaries

Salary Disclaimer

Now that we have discussed the educational pathways for learning blockchain, let’s explore the different career paths for those versed in the blockchain — many of which have promising employment outlooks and significant salaries. Here is a closer look at a few applicable roles:

National average salary: $154,550

Average salary in New York: $139,616

Blockchain developers are among the highest-paid and most in-demand blockchain professionals. They facilitate a blockchain’s full life cycle by performing preliminary research and laying the foundation for a functional, secure network. Developers also maintain a blockchain network by creating smart contracts, conceptualizing network architecture, and optimizing network protocols. This work requires fundamental knowledge in fields like web development and coding.

If you’re interested in acquiring web development and coding skills in 3-6 months, check out the Columbia Engineering Coding Boot Camp.

National average salary: $103,590

Average salary in New York: $125,920

Information security analysts are employed to uphold a network’s security and integrity, which is a crucial aspect of maintaining a blockchain network. Blockchain security analysts are skilled in block-focused encryption and auditing, as well as general threat mitigation and analytical foresight. They review existing smart contracts, analyze and fortify blockchain code, and help optimize research and engineering methods to emphasize both safety and efficiency.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports a national annual salary of $103,590 for information security analysts. In New York City, pay for analysts is slightly higher than the national average at $125,920 per year. 

National average salary: $106,667

Average salary in New York: $96,360

While blockchain development and infrastructural upkeep are crucial, project management is necessary to keep the entire process grounded and balanced. Blockchain project managers are responsible for outlining developmental processes, establishing goals and timelines, and monitoring progress and efficiency. They are skilled in balancing traditional managerial tasks and team leadership responsibilities with high-level tech-savviness, budgetary forward-thinking, and communication.

ZipRecruiter reports a national average salary of $106,667 for blockchain project managers,  while in New York City, manager salaries are slightly beneath the national average at $96,360. 

Related Careers

Beyond blockchain alone, there are also a variety of related roles within the broader fintech industry.

Due to the growing prominence of outlets like GoFundMe and Kickstarter, crowdfunding has become a new norm in fundraising for businesses, individuals, and small initiatives. Now, fintech-savvy crowdsourcing professionals are increasingly sought-after to build fundraising campaigns and platforms. Crowdfunding specialists must be strong communicators to convey their cause’s mission, keep donors apprised of important updates, and internally mesh with project managers, marketers, and other involved stakeholders.

Quantitative analysts, or “quants,” are skilled mathematical professionals tasked to develop financial securities pricing models, reduce investment-related risk, and increase profits. Quants work in both client-facing and back end roles, and are growing in demand due to upticks in hedge funds, automated trading systems, and increasingly complex financial securities.

In fintech, risk and compliance experts are responsible for ensuring a company adheres to internal policies and regulations — namely those related to financial trading. These professionals help reduce high system risk, mitigate damaging setbacks, and subsequently increase trust in the collective financial system. They also work to implement and maintain corporate regtech, or technology-driven regulation of financial processes.

For more information on these roles, visit our guide to top fintech careers.

Blockchain Learning FAQs

Aspiring blockchain professionals should first verse themselves in applicable prerequisite skills such as programming, data structures and architecture, cryptography, and cybersecurity . Once this foundation is in place, the next step is to seek out a blockchain education, which can be pursued through an online fintech bootcamp program, traditional degree, or independent learning pathway. Even beyond this point, blockchain professionals should strive to never stop learning, as blockchain remains an ever-changing discipline warranting equally consistent skills evolution.

Blockchain’s cross-industry impact is growing at a rapid pace, and demand for blockchain-savvy professionals is subsequently increasing. Blockchain-focused careers related to development, cybersecurity, and project management offer considerable compensation and promising job prospects — not to mention the chance to grow as a versatile technology professional.

Broadly speaking, a blockchain is a series of interconnected digital units housing data, and they are overseen and typically operated by an open-source network instead of a singular controlling entity. These communities permit or deny changes to a blockchain’s data by means of consensus. As a result, hacking of this data is extremely difficult and blockchain is completely changing our perception of data security and distribution. This makes blockchain an exciting new frontier for aspiring data professionals.

Bitcoin and Ethereum are consistently regarded as, respectively, the first and second most popular forms of blockchain-based cryptocurrency. Both entities operate atop decentralized, public blockchain networks that facilitate transactions and data encryption in a highly secure manner. However, Bitcoin is notable for being the original vehicle for transaction-based blockchain technology (conceptualized by pseudonymous web developer Satoshi Nakomoto in 2008). As a result, Bitcoin helped establish the blueprint for today’s encrypted transactions and storage.

Ethereum, on the other hand, strives to be more than a medium of exchange or value. While inherently similar to the blockchain framework of Bitcoin, it allows network users to build applications capable of “running” within its blockchain — similarly to how software can run on a computer network. In other words, Ethereum users are able to build decentralized apps (or “dapps”) within the network and base them on smart contracts, a feature that has spurred blockchain trading gamification through apps like CryptoKitties and CryptoPunks.

Currently, New York City offers a strong job market for blockchain-oriented roles in several prevailing concentrations. According to the BLS, aspiring blockchain professionals enjoy a strong job outlook in broadly applicable industries like information security analysis (current median wage of $125,920/year), web development (current median wage of $84,110/year), and project management (current median wage of 97,340/year).

New blockchain professionals should establish a variety of prior skills, including those pertaining to broad fields like cybersecurity and web development — as well as blockchain-specific fields like cryptography, smart contracts, and complex data structures. A tailored skill set will allow these professionals to circumvent unnecessary learning curves and hit the ground running in a new blockchain career.

Disclaimer: Salary data provided by Payscale, Ziprecruiter, and Glassdoor is often self-reported by individuals and is not guaranteed to be confirmed by employers. The inclusion of this data by Columbia Engineering Boot Camps and Trilogy Education Services, a 2U, Inc. brand, is intended only to provide general insights into potential salaries for the stated fields and does not indicate a confirmation of its validity.

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