If 2017 was the year that Bitcoin truly entered the public consciousness, could 2018 be the year that blockchain, the distributed ledger technology that underpins all cryptocurrencies, enters the business mainstream?
If you've been involved in blockchain and the crypto-economy for some time, you might read this question and think "about time!'. It's certainly true that the prediction that this revolutionary new technology will transform everything from money to online identity is not a new one. Ever since 2013 (and probably even before), when Vitalik Buterin proposed the idea of using blockchain to build decentralized applications with what has become Ethereum, every oracle and futurist has been predicting the disruption of every market you can think of.
While the global blockchain market is currently estimated to be worth around $340 million, it will jump to $2.34 billion in 2021. For banking and finance, the revolution seems closer than anywhere else, with Cboe Global Markets and CME Group having both entered the Bitcoin futures market at the end of last year and the price of all major cryptocurrencies having shot up.
From the outside looking in, the strange brew of interest and bafflement that has characterized the headlines in this nascent industry might make it seem like a revolution will just occur by magic. But for those of us at the heart of the industry, the reality is that a few key roadblocks still need to be negotiated before we arrive at the promised land.
Most crucially of all, we need to change the way we develop the next generation of decentralized applications if this transformation is to occur.
Blockchain development's big challenge
It's one thing for businesses to want to embrace the power of decentralized applications and another for them to be able to do this quickly, efficiently and effectively. For most businesses that try to recruit blockchain developers, they face an uphill struggle.
There is already a global shortage of developers with Solidity skills, the programming language for writing smart contracts on Ethereum. When you consider the number of successful Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) that have taken place in the last 12 months or so, that means a lot of small teams are looking to scale up their teams and have the funds to do so.
The shortage of existing skilled developers is not the only pressure on blockchain development either. After all, there are other tech innovations in town. Parallel technologies, like the Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI), are on a similar growth path to blockchain and have the same skills pressures to deal with.
These competing needs are demonstrated by the fact that 56% of tech professionals dealing with AI say a lack of talent is the biggest barrier to more AI adoption in businesses.
A lack of skills in the key programming languages associated with the building of decentralized applications. An uncertain future for skills development due to the competing pressures from parallel technologies like IoT and AI. These are the growing pains that the industry faces.
So, what can be done to solve them?
Making it easier to build decentralized apps
Certainly, there is no silver bullet that can solve all of these problems in one fell swoop. However, one of the most important issues that needs to be tackled straight away is making it easier to build decentralized apps.
Having been a developer for over 20 years myself, this situation is not one I'm unfamiliar with. There are lots of dynamics within blockchain that mirror past technology waves and the current situation surrounding decentralized app development is one of them.
I'm old enough to remember two days tracing a bug which turned out to be a missing semicolon on the end of a line of code. Nowadays, preprocessors and compilers are so much more user friendly that this sort of problem doesn't occur.
It is this stage of making decentralized app development much easier that the blockchain industry needs to go through now. Software solutions, which make it easy for non-coders to build decentralised apps by utilising code that has already been written by skilled developers and tested elsewhere, will be an important part of this progression.
However, as mentioned, there is no single answer. What is certain is that, as an industry, we need to focus on this big issue for the foreseeable future. Only by working on it together will we bring about the blockchain revolution we all want to see.
About the author
Craig Sproule, Founder & CEO, Crowd Machine
Experienced CEO and systems engineer. Responsible for product management, financial management and overseeing marketing and strategic technical programs as well as other daily business functions at Crowd Machine.