I spent a decade in your typical Silicon Valley companies. Then two years ago, I took a plunge into crypto. I still don't think of myself as a crypto "insider", but it is a fascinating space, and one that I whole-heartedly recommend exploring.
So whether you starting out or changing your career, consider working in crypto. (I'm using "crypto" in a very loose sense here, YMMV) Here's why:
Say you're working on a blockchain. Not only do you have to worry about traditional software engineering and distributed systems problems (like data structures, consensus, high-performance networking etc), but you might also need to think about game theory, monetary policy, incentive design, behavioral economics and so on.
Crypto is full of inter-disciplinary problems!
For all the (often valid) criticisms of crypto – it's a "wild wild west"; it's full of scammy projects and shitcoins; there's only hype & speculation and no projects creating meaningful value etc etc – I've found that in reality, there is a lot of innovation in crypto; there is an openness to experimentation and questioning of assumptions that's lacking in the Silicon Valley machine that's become optimized to identify and reward certain patterns.
At no other point in my career thus far have I truly felt like we were at a frontier, I feel surrounded by innovation – it's invigorating and exhilarating!
? Mission & Impact
Perhaps you are jaded by the problems inherent in building ad-supported businesses where individual privacy is often fundamentally at odds with the business or perhaps you feel too much power consolidating in the hands of a few is dangerous or perhaps you feel far too many people are ignored and under-served by our financial institutions.
Or maybe you find it frustrating that in 2021 it still takes several days to transfer money between bank accounts (even your own!). Or perhaps you see that most of us are merely renting our online identity, our data and our digital assets and perhaps you feel there should exist a new internet (and apps) where you have true ownership over your identity, data and assets.
Whatever your passion, chances are you'll find one or more crypto projects whose mission & values resonate with you, and where you might have the potential to have a huge impact.
? It's early
Despite the rallies, ATHs, the upcoming Coinbase IPO and many impressive milestones, as an industry, crypto is still in it's infancy. Consider:
- Global crypto market cap crossed the 2 Trillion USD threshold recently; global market cap overall exceeds 88 trillion USD.
- The most generous estimates of developers who've had any exposure to crypto is < 10,000. Most projects, including Bitcoin and Ethereum, have a tiny number of core contributors. Very few developers have written any smart-contracts. Contrast this with the > 10 Million developers out there.
- While some projects and some DeFi application have traction, reality again is that the vast majority of developers and end users simply don't care about crypto or blockchain. Anyone claiming the industry has figured out 1) clear value propositions for users & developers alike (what does it let them do 10x better than the current alternatives?) and 2) how to effectively communicate these value propositions, is probably lying ?
Don't fall for the zero-sum narratives of Ethereum-killers and which blockchain will win. I'm much more interesting in growing the pie, and of course, ensuring that Stacks has a meaningful share of this pie.
? Ownership & Liquidity
Caveat: I'm not a lawyer. This is not investment advice. Do your own research.
Despite the heady valuations and glamorous exits, the reality is that for the vast majority of startup employees, unless you happen to be very very lucky, a meaningful financial outcome is going to be rare. And even if you do get lucky, there are other hurdles and it's easy to make mistakes: tax treatment of stock options; early exercise and 83(b); inability to exercise options after an exit; tax treatment of RSUs; vesting schedules; lack of liquidity for vested options / RSUs; lack of transparency in secondary markets; lack of access to public markets etc etc.
If we agree that on the premise that "You won't get rich renting out your time", and that the path to wealth is through building equity and ownership, then I'd argue crypto offers some compelling alternatives to the traditional startup scenarios.
To be clear, holding and trading crypto tokens come with their own risks and complications. But the point is that they offer different options, with their own trade-offs. Do your due diligence!
Crypto memes, "Link Marines", "XRP army" – communities have been an integral part of crypto from the start. Just like the best product or the best technical solution doesn't always win the market, claims of having the "best blockchain" don't make a crypto project successful: a thriving, healthy, welcoming, inclusive community is key.
If you like open-source, enjoy working in the open, if you believe in the ideas of decentralization, if you like engaging with a broader community, you may find a crypto community that resonates.
So there you have it, just some of the reasons why I think you should contemplate a career in crypto. Most of us working in tech have immense privilege (one that I'm acutely aware of and truly grateful for): our downside is very very limited – the worst case scenario in most startups is that you walk away with a cushy salary.
And so I encourage you think about the best-case scenario instead, not necessarily in terms of financial outcomes, but the vision / mission. Yes, there's risk, but for me, if I'm able to nudge the world ever so slightly in the direction of true ownership online, that would make it worthwhile.