As undergraduates emerge from schools with software development or business skills, companies exploring blockchain use are seeking job candidates with four specific skill sets, according to a new report from consultancy KPMG.
Those skills are needed more with each passing month; KPMG expects an increase in the number of companies exploring blockchain this year for everything from identifying new business models to piloting projects and ultimately, progressing to scalable solutions.
KPMG said, not surprisingly, that it's seeking graduates with a solid grasp of blockchain at a high level – those who understand distributed ledgers, peer-to-peer topologies and consensus mechanisms; all are key for a technologist hoping to land a high-paying blockchain developer job.
But even more critical is an understanding of the business landscape and how to apply the still-emerging technology to a specific problem.
The nexus of tech and business acumen
"The key thing we do at KPMG is balance an understanding of how this technology works without being a blockchain hammer looking for a nail," said Tegan Keele, KPMG's U.S. blockchain program lead. "You have to know how to apply it and that really only comes if you have an understanding of business processes."
Secondly, members of a blockchain team should understand the difference between a variety of technologies, including the cloud, protocols, ERPs and networks, and know when to use different mechanisms and platforms.
That means the company looks for blockchain developers with business acumen, such as a knowledge of supply chain or procurement systems or finance processes – skills that are already taught in undergraduate programs.
KPMG also looks for a job candidate's technical literacy, or the ability to understand data generated on a blockchain platform and how to use it in a business context.
One of the key attributes of blockchain is its ability to span an organization and its business partners, essentially connecting multiple, disparate entities through a single, transparent electronic ledger.
"But, then you have multiple people within each participating entity looking at the blockchain and they're all going to want to see slightly different things," Keele said. "So understanding how to derive those insights out of the information on a blockchain is key."
A hacker's ability to problem solve
Those entering the blockchain development/engineering field should have the mentality of a hacker - or the ability to problem solve collaboratively in a workshop setting when a client presents a business problem.
They need to be able to think through the business objectives, implications and value "for each of the participants and then [define] the architecture and overall solution flow," KPMG said. "It is this collaborative approach that leads to a successful application of blockchain."
Given the lack of coursework around blockchain and its relatively new existence in the enterprise, a team must be open to exploring and experimenting by "hacking the problem" from a business and IT perspective, according to KPMG.
"I'd say at KPMG we've been very successful at taking [employee] skills in-house and upscaling them to deliver blockchain skills," Keele said. "Until universities start printing blockchain degrees, that will be the pattern that will continue."
The list of U.S. universities now offering courses on blockchain continues to grow and includes such prestigious institutions as MIT, Princeton, UC Berkeley and Stanford University.
The top blockchain jobs, according to a report last year by BusinessStudent.com, are interns, project managers, developers, engineers, quality engineers, legal consultants or attorneys and web designers.
While most techies who add blockchain to their skillset are versed in programming languages such as Java or Python, it's by no means a prerequisite for learning the technology.
Like any emerging technology, having the right talent is paramount to driving results, KPMG's report said.
"Blockchain projects will not succeed or scale without a multifaceted team that goes beyond technologists," KPMG wrote. "We expect more universities to integrate blockchain into future coursework, which will help prepare both end users as well as those who will be responsible for building, deploying and managing blockchain."
The dearth of workers for a hot field
Currently, there's a significant lack of skilled blockchain developers, according to job search sites and research firms. That paucity of talent is one of the major stumbling blocks for companies hoping to deploy blockchain. For those with blockchain skills, the job market is red hot.
In February, the online job search site Hired reported demand for blockchain engineers was "through the roof," with year-over-year growth of more than 200%.
Hired's jobs report, which was in line with earlier reports from LinkedIn and jobs market research firms Burning Glass Technologies and Janco Associates, shows software engineers with blockchain skills are in higher demand than at any time in the past, with the number of positions growing more than five-fold in the past year.
Another problem affecting the mismatch between the need for blockchain developers and the scarcity of available workers is the difficulty in finding places that offer training, according to Hired CEO Mehul Patel. In general, one in five software engineers is self-taught, according to Hired's data.
"I think generally we are seeing less than half of engineers we looked at had a B.S. degree and one-fifth of them had gone through a year and a half of school. So, one-third of our engineering base are self-taught or taught through non-traditional means," Patel said.