If you’ve been wondering why the past few years have been ripe with discussion about the enormous potential of blockchain technology, yet we haven’t seen much investment or progression from major tech companies, you’re not alone—but the discrepancy may be coming from a massive talent shortage that has been plaguing the blockchain community.

Without available, affordable developers, even the best conceptual projects are forced to stay on the backburner, and companies that might otherwise be incentivized to explore the new possibilities of the technology are forced to lay in wait. Thankfully, we may be nearing the end of this massive, industry-spanning shortage.

Why the Shortage Existed

Even companies that don’t like the idea of cryptocurrency can make use of the blockchain in one way or another; they could use it to secure their communications, streamline transactions, or interconnect their users. But without the right people to design, implement, and oversee new blockchain systems, companies can’t make progress.

These are just some of the reasons why that talent shortage has existed:

  • Fringe status. Despite the near-limitless applications of the blockchain, blockchain tech has still existed mostly on the fringe for the past several years. While many developers took it seriously, they didn’t hold it in the same esteem as basic skills and languages like Python or C++. Its association with Bitcoin, and Bitcoin’s esoteric community, didn’t help in this regard. Developers haven’t wanted to invest months of effort in a technology that’s only useful to certain, niche projects. Instead, they want to broaden their skillsets and be as practical and far-reaching as possible.
  • High costs. There are hundreds of highly-skilled, experienced blockchain developers out there. The problem is, they’re ridiculously expensive. They’re either making a ton of money working on one of the major cryptocurrencies in circulation, or they’re earning lucrative salaries working for major tech companies. With no one else to turn to, this has driven up the average cost of hiring a blockchain developer, making it extremely hard for small- to mid-sized companies to enter the game.
  • High stakes. Blockchain developers tend to work with tech products with high stakes. They may involve financial transactions, or the exchange of sensitive information. That means they’ll either need to work with legal and security experts, or become legal and security experts in their own right. That scares away some promising blockchain developers, and increases the price of development even further for companies that would otherwise like to pursue these types of projects.
  • Future uncertainty. Developers are also thinking about the long-term future. While some recognize blockchain as a fundamental technology for almost every industry in the next several years, others are thinking about the flaws inherent in the system; for example, while blockchain works extraordinarily well for a limited number of users, its cost-saving potential doesn’t scale when you start dealing with millions of transactions happening at once. These developers may recognize that the blockchain can’t be used for everything, and may soon be replaced with an even better ledger-based p2p system.

Why It’s Coming to an End

Fortunately, this talent shortage may soon be coming to an end. These are just some of the motivating factors:

  • There are more ways to find blockchain developers. For starters, there are more ways to learn blockchain-related skills, and more ways to find people who have those skills. Platforms like Coursera are offering courses in blockchain basics, due partially to high demand, while platforms like CodementorX are allowing businesses to hire freelance blockchain developers with greater ease. Plus, the blockchain community is getting more robust, so it’s easier to find a recommendation or a referral if you’re in the market to hire a full-time blockchain developer.
  • The blockchain has proven itself. As mentioned previously, the blockchain isn’t perfect. It isn’t as scalable as other technologies, and it may not last forever as our standard for secure, decentralized exchanges. But in the past several years, it has proven that it’s much, much more than just a gimmick for cryptocurrency. The blockchain has proven that it’s here to stay, and more companies have begun taking it seriously. That status has incentivized developers to invest more in their blockchain skills—or in some cases, switch career trajectories altogether.
  • There are more bounty opportunities. Learning blockchain basics isn’t enough for most companies—they want people who have real, demonstrable experience in solving blockchain problems and/or building new systems. Thankfully, there are more opportunities to earn those credentials in the form of bounties and open problems. For example, for much of its history, Ethereum has offered a “bug bounty” program that has encouraged any developer with blockchain knowledge to find, recognize, and offer solutions for bugs in the system in exchange for a coin-based reward. Now that cryptocurrencies have become more valuable and more commonly accepted, these rewards are even more attractive.
  • Developers see the demand. The high price tag associated with blockchain talent has drawn the most opportunistic developers to learn more about the career opportunities in the blockchain. A few years ago, investing time and energy into blockchain skills was a gamble that wasn’t sure to pay off, but now, it’s a path to a potential goldmine. If you have the skills and experience, there’s nothing keeping you from a high-paying job in this field. With thousands of developers in training, the talent shortage should gradually fade away over the next few years.

Other Challenges on the Horizon

So with the talent shortage in the process of course-correcting, there should be a flood of companies investing more in blockchain and developing new projects, right? Unfortunately, there are a few more challenges to overcome before that can happen, including:

  • The “everything at once” paradox. The blockchain offers a number of advantages over similar technologies—namely, it’s fast, it’s cheap, and it’s decentralized. The problem is, it can’t have all three of these qualities at once. For example, if you want a fast and decentralized platform, it’s not going to be cheap to develop. This makes the blockchain less maneuverable than some would like, and makes even the best problem-solving developers scratch their heads. At some point, you have to make a compromise and decide which weaknesses your system is going to have.
  • Customers may not be ready for blockchain tech. The blockchain is more secure than many other technologies, but average, everyday customers may not be ready for the new requirements that come with it. For example, customers already have trouble remembering a basic username and password; in most blockchain applications, users are required to keep a signature cryptographic key—and it can’t be easily reset. This forces companies and/or blockchain developers to devise new ways to implement this technology without disturbing existing processes.
  • Keeping up. Standards and features of blockchain technology are changing fast, as developers all over the world try to find solutions for blockchain’s inherent weaknesses (and ideally discover new approaches that forgo those weaknesses altogether). Just because you were experienced in the blockchain a few months ago doesn’t mean you’re up-to-date with the latest standards. Of course, this is a challenge for developers of almost any language or technology, but it’s still a hurdle for blockchain programmers (and the companies that hire them) to overcome before they can find success.

The blockchain remains a highly promising technology for almost every industry, but it has some growing pains to get through before it reaches widespread adoption. Soon, the talent shortage will be a thing of the past, and there will be ample developers prepared to spend their time working on new applications for the technology. From there, it’s only a matter of time before its other hurdles get resolved.

Frank Landman

Frank is a freelance journalist who has worked in various editorial capacities for over 10 years. He covers trends in technology as they relate to business.