Down the crypto rabbit hole: how to become a blockchain engineer

Grégoire Jeanmart
March 24, 2021

It's been fun for me personally seeing crypto's mainstreaming this past year with the rise of DeFi and growing institutional support in the sector. Of course, I didn't start my career in crypto but made the transition in 2016 when I went from being a software engineer working in finance and IT to working on web3 projects, being part of the Ethereum community and working at an innovative crypto startup.  I wanted to share my story and some tips for any of the crypto-curious engineers out there who would like to take the plunge and get into the world of blockchain and digital assets.

A bit about me...

I grew up in northern France and studied engineering in the city of Troyes. I started my career as a consultant in Paris, but after a few years of a métro-boulot-dodo routine, my wife and I headed to London to broaden our horizons. It was there that I discovered an innovative startup scene that led me to crypto and the web3 world. It was a natural fit for me: I'm a lifelong learner so this emerging technology and class of assets piqued my curiosity; I loved that crypto was global in it's nature; and the decentralization and digital privacy inherent in Ethereum spoke to personal values as a digital privacy adherent.

How I took blockchain from a hobby to a profession

When I started getting interested in blockchain, it was in 2016. At this time, I was working in FinTech (insurtech to be precise) with no real link to blockchain. This meant my learnings were happening in my free time, on the evenings and weekends, doing mostly coding. I'm not alone in saying that it's a rabbit hole and I quickly got sucked in!

I spent lots of time on the Ethereum StackOverflow, it's a great place to ask and answer questions and understand what people are trying to build and how we can help them. As you can see, I got really passionate about it. In 2017 I participated in an online hackathon with Status and won for best app for education. It was a real confidence boost and lots of fun.

I also got into the community IRL with meetups where I got to know the London-based ethereum community. I loved Makoto's CodeUp sessions and ETHLDN meetups.

I'm the third on the left, with my head down coding!

In 2017 what was once a hobby became a profession: I joined Consensys and was focussing 100% of my time to blockchain tech and adding conferences like EthCC and Devcon into the mix for meeting with the community. It was at EthCC in 2020 that I met a couple of cryptodreamers and ended up here at Multis 😉

The right stuff (for blockchain engineering)

Becoming a blockchain engineer entails a mix of hard and soft skills but I think that the below list gives a good primer on some necessary elements in making the transition from a legacy developer to a blockchain and crypto dev.

Key languages

Even though it's "legacy", I'd say JavaScript still makes up more than 50% of the projects developed in the blockchain space. I had previously been doing backend engineering using Java as a programming language. So while I already knew JavaScript I had to dig into JavaScript/TypeScript to understand better how to use common Ethereum libraries like web3js or ethers.js. Solidity (Ethereum's smart-contract language) is similar to JavaScript so this is another reason that JavaScript is a must, IMO.

But I've been noticing a growing interest in Go, Rust, and WebAssembly so it's worth it to be able to at least read these languages. Today there are plenty of choices to get started with Ethereum including Python, Java (for the hardliners) or Clojure if like us, you enjoy functional programming and simplicity!

Get familiar with community lead tools

One of the strengths of Ethereum is its community of developers. Some amazing tools have sprung out of this community and can help you code better. I think knowledge of Truffle, Metamask, OpenZeppelin, Infura, ethers.js, and RemixIDE is key.

The community is active and every day new protocols, libraries, applications and tools are popping up. It's important to keep up with and participate in the community because it changes constantly.

Have an understanding of finance

DeFi is half about Decentralisation (blockchain) and half about Finance. A basic understanding of financial products is important to have because DeFi innovates on them to improve cost, traceability, and effectiveness.

Embrace (and respect!) the paradigm shift

The blockchain is a new paradigm when compared to traditional client/server applications. You rarely think peer-2-peer applications when building a software in a bank. This paradigm shift comes with great powers: immutability, transparency, openness, security by design-  but there also risks. When building a dApp you should understand: reentrancy, front-running, oracle attacks and a lot more issues that can come up. So that's why before putting anything live it's important to to understand all the concepts behind a blockchain, knowledge of basic cryptography, peer-2-peer networking, and smart-contracts is key.

Where can I learn this?

This might seem like a tall order, but one of the things I love about the blockchain ecosystem and Ethereum in particular is how frequently members share information. There are tons of free resources and guides, I for one shamelessly recommend kauri.io (because I founded it) and even though the project is no longer live the content is still available and it's very useful.

Reddits

I think Reddit is a great place to stay up to date on blockchain news. While it can at times be toxic, try to stick to informative threads only and don't feed the trolls. My favorite subreddits are:

Newsletters

  • Week in Ethereum  by Evan Van Ness: Comes out every Sunday and covers everything going on in the Ethereum world.
  • EthHub by Eric Conoar & Anthony Sassano: Comes out every Monday with breaking news in the crypto world and project updates.
  • Bankless by Ryan Adams: a user's guide to DeFi
  • The Defiant by Camila Russo: Interviews with key people in the DeFi space
  • Simon Taylor from Fintech Brain Food

Podcasts

Books

People

  • Vitalik Butterin: He's the mind behind Ethereum since day one.
  • Joe Lubin: Joe always knew Ethereum adoption would come from developers building ideas and he put an incredible amount of resources to push Ethereum forward in this direction. Joe Lubins' Consensys is behind tools like Truffle, Metamask, Infura and many more
  • Kevin Owoki: Gitcoin (grants) is one of the best success in the Ethereum space, it is the face of the synergy happening in the space
  • Andreas Antonopoulos: Andreas has been popularizing Bitcoin and blockchain for the last 10 years.

Blockchain engineers are made, not born

Probably the biggest component in becoming a blockchain developer is through participating in the community. Asking questions and in turn sharing any knowledge you might have is a key part of it and will make you feel good as well (trust me on this).

Blockchain is still relatively niche and the community is low competition and highly collaborative- members see blockchain as a public good and not a novel way to get rich quick. There is no way to be an expert in the field (it's just not possible) but understanding the blockchain stack and the purpose of the technology is crucial.

Once I fell down the blockchain rabbit hole, I've only gone deeper and have become more convinced of the necessity of this technology. I love the dynamic environment, the cutting edge tech stack, and most of all the people involved who come from software engineering,  cryptography, economics, sociology, and finance. I have so much to learn from them and it's incredibly enriching to be part of this revolution.

To engineers out there interested in crossing over and joining the revolution, I say: welcome— we need more minds to help us build out tomorrow's tech infrastructure. I also believe that a fancy degree isn't necessary, just a willingness to learn and to be part of this dynamic community. If you have any other questions, feel free ask me and if you would like to work on my team please know that we're hiring!

Get the Guide!
Breaking Legacy: A CFO's Guide to DeFi & Digital Assets
Decentralized Finance (or DeFi) and digital assets aren't just a fad or a bubble. They have the potential to provide value to people typically underserved by traditional banking systems, in particular small and medium sized enterprises. Learn how SMEs can leverage decentralized financial services including:
High interest savings accounts that earn more than traditional bank accounts
Accepting payments in digital assets before incorporation
Receiving instant loans
Invoice financing solutions
Paying salaries instantly in digital assets with no cross-border payment fees
Thank you! You will receive an e-mail shortly!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Multis, crypto-first business banking

A powerful interface for companies to make the most of their crypto
Open account