In 2012, Anne Connelly’s social feeds began to fill with mentions of bitcoin, a cryptocurrency with zero transaction fees and powered by a tamper-proof digital record of transactions called blockchain. For Connelly, a humanitarian aid worker at the time, the potential for disruption was immediately clear in cutting costs for refugees who were sending money home to their families.

“You start to think … ‘If I could make a 1 percent difference in the fee structure of remittances, you would achieve significantly more than we were doing with all of this aid work,’ ” she said.

Today, Connelly is Network Lead at ixo Foundation, an organization that leverages blockchain technology to provide proof of impact for global sustainability initiatives. She is part of an expanding cohort of software developers, engineers and consultants who have staked out careers in the burgeoning space of cryptocurrency technology. 

Blockchain in particular is spreading quickly across industries because it has the potential to revolutionize transactions. As a result, business leaders are faced with the challenge of finding people with the talent to turn this promising technology into a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

The Search For Technical Talent

Just as the value of bitcoin surged to new highs last year, so, too, did the market for cryptocurrency jobs at financial technology startups. In the third quarter of 2017 alone, online job board FreeLancer saw an 82 percent increase in bitcoin-related positions.

But, as Connelly noted, operating on the leading edge of new technology carries its own challenges.

“A really good blockchain coder [is] very, very hard to find,” she said.

Hiring an engineer with the right skill set can be complicated in any industry, but recruiting in emerging fields like blockchain and cryptocurrency means drawing from a significantly smaller talent pool.

In a snapshot of its 2017 postings, online job portal AngelList confirmed the need for highly tuned technical expertise. Crypto startups sought blockchain engineers with experience in relatively new coding languages, as well as developers with a deep understanding of blockchain and cryptocurrency.

Companies often must decide whether to hold out for the employee with optimal skills, or hire talent with related skills and facilitate training, which can hinder momentum.

Steve Filby, chief people officer of cryptocurrency startup TenX in Singapore, sees the dilemma in this tradeoff.

“We take the foot off the accelerator pedal because we’re then getting our developers to train and onboard people, rather than focusing on developing our product,” he said. “That’s a really difficult balance for us to get.”

But the scarcity of talent won’t last, Connelly predicts.

“Right now, there’s this incredible opportunity where if you know blockchain, you are one in a million,” she said. “Whereas in a year or two, everybody’s going to know what it is and how it works.”

Read the text-only version of this infographic here.

Blockchain Moves Beyond Silicon Valley

Cryptocurrency technology is moving into top industries outside the fintech sphere, too, as blockchain’s security, accessibility and efficiency have the potential to streamline transactions.

One of blockchain’s most competitive strengths is its high level of security, as it cannot be tampered with and removes a single point of attack for hackers.

“If you wanted to hack the information in this ledger, then you’d have to do it on every single computer that it was hosted on all over the world at exactly the same time,” said Connelly.

With blockchain, cybersecurity firms are able to further secure passwords, data and networks in innovative ways. Lockheed Martin, the largest U.S. government contractor, has integrated blockchain technology to bolster its cybersecurity and supply chain infrastructure.

Increased security opens up accessibility and efficiency for multiple stakeholders using a secure blockchain ledger. For example, a recent study by Deloitte found blockchain could improve collaboration for health care providers with secure patient databases.

For international trade and business, the blockchain ledger can ameliorate high levels of documentation and regulation, as well as transaction fees. Financial institutions may not be happy to lose out on the exchange premiums, however. 

“[Cryptocurrency technology is] certainly trying its best to just cut the middleman out of the system,” said Jason Rumney, founder of recruiting firm intelletec. “Why should bankers get paid so much money when essentially [they’re] transferring fees?”

While blockchain has the potential to transform transactions across industries like health care, manufacturing, and finance, successful implementation requires staff who are ready to execute the technology.

Evolving Talent Needs

In addition to the demand for professionals with this type of expertise among the financial, tech and government sectors, retail, operations and other customer support businesses are also looking for blockchain expertise. Consultants with cryptocurrency technology expertise will find themselves in greater demand as more organizations begin to explore cryptocurrency and blockchain. 

“[Executives] know that they need to get on board with it, but they don’t know how to do it,” said Connelly. “There’s a huge gap for people right now who can bring in the business expertise of communicating difficult tech to other people.”

Often lost in the discussion of blockchain coding skills are the actual customers using these crypto-funds. With analysts forecasting more than 100 million people using cryptocurrencies in the next few years, companies need skilled customer service teams to support new cryptocurrency users, and retain and grow their customer bases. 

Steve Filby and the team at TenX have found a pool of potential customer support agents in a surprising place: their existing user base, specifically the brand evangelists. It’s a natural fit to hire “people who are so passionate about crypto and blockchain that they want to be part of TenX,” Filby said.

Job seekers and organizations alike will experience the transformative technology of blockchain as it grows across different industries. In Connelly’s career, a transition to the world of cryptocurrency and blockchain was a way to continue the humanitarian work she loved while making an even greater impact.

“For me,” Connelly said, “it was really just opening the door to a solution to solve the problems, the same problems that I’d always been trying to solve.”

Citation for this content: MBA@UNC, UNC Kenan-Flagler’s online MBA Program.