Known best as the host of cryptocurrencies, experts and economists say blockchain technology could be the future of working life
Lynsey Jackson was looking for a change when she quit her corporate finance job to assess her career options, before settling on a direction that would shock many.
She sees her future in blockchain technology, beginning with a diploma of applied blockchain from TAFE Queensland.
Most commonly known as the platform that hosts cryptocurrencies, blockchain is the basis of “Web3”, the brave new internet held together by distributed databases, each confirming the same information.
Blockchain is a peer-to-peer security network that allows users to become part of the system.
In relation to cryptocurrencies the system validates coin ownership and transactions, as well works to create new coins.
“Most people when I mention that I’m pivoting my career into blockchain don’t really know what I’m talking about and what the opportunities are … for the most part, people in my world are pretty unaware,” Ms Jackson said.
“It can improve things like tracking and traceability and reducing fraud … We can use that sort of technology to make the world a more fair and inclusive and sustainable place for everyone.”
As for what she wants to do in the industry?
“That’s the million-dollar question,” she said. “That’s why I’ve enrolled in the diploma.”
Ms Jackson first learned of blockchain the way most do: cryptocurrency.
According to CHOICE, one in nine Australians invested in a cryptocurrency within the last 12 months and a further 11 per cent are interested in investing.
But Ms Jackson, who “holds” investments in some of the major coins, said that isn’t what drew her to study the technology.
“What’s actually happening in the blockchain space is far beyond just what we know about Bitcoin and cryptocurrency and an opportunity to get rich quick,” she said.
Searching for stability
According to economist and futurist Steve Sammartino, a better public understanding of the difference between cryptocurrencies and blockchain is fundamental to the latter’s future success, or failure.
“The fact that they get bundled into the same category is kind of problematic,” he said.
“Cryptocurrencies are a single-use case for blockchain … blockchain has incredible upside and potential to reshape the entire fabric of the economy.”
Cryptocurrencies are infamously volatile and there are currently about 10,000 on the market.
Mr Sammartino said some cryptocurrency will be needed if blockchain is to be used for large-scale financial transactions, but the current proliferation and instability degrades any value as a viable replacement for fiat money.
He believes there is a role for government in what has up to this point been a largely unregulated space.
“Regulation frames what we believe as community and society, that’s the first part. The second part is education in schools,” he said.
“The challenge is that the space is changing so rapidly, regular regulation and education can’t keep up because there’s always the next thing or the next iteration on a rapidly evolving technology.
“That gives the hucksters that five minutes to get in front and to say, ‘OK, boomer, you don’t understand.'”
‘Just a way of us malfunctioning data’
Danielle Marie is trying to get in front of the hucksters.
She teaches the applied blockchain diploma at TAFE Queensland†
Ms Marie said many of her students enrol in the course hoping to learn more about investing in cryptocurrencies, but leave with more concrete goals.
“Crypto is the gateway drug to blockchain,” she said.
She said most of her students will become either project managers and planners or business analysts, positions added to the skilled migrant occupation list in 2019, indicating a need for more people with blockchain knowledge and training in Australia.
Those jobs fall within the category of internet communication technology (ICT), and while it is unclear what portion of the jobs on offer in this sector will be blockchain related, projections expect a further 20,000 positions in Australia for ICT managers and analysts by 2026.
There is already considered to be a shortage of ICT managers nationally, with a strong future demand expected.
Ms Marie agrees with Mr Sammartino that blockchain is misunderstood when it is only viewed through the cryptocurrency lens.
“At the end of the day, it’s just a way of us storing data,” she said.
“Most of the students that are studying these courses will end up going down either project management, business analyst, consultant, educator, or a kind of a research analyst role.”
Ms Marie said better access to industry is key to a broader understanding of the technology.
“We need collaboration between government, organizations and communities to work together to offer education to people.”
Not all jobs ‘in the depth of tech’
Jock McQueenie from the QUT school of design has experience working with blockchain.
In 2019 he worked with Beefledger, a project using blockchain technology in an attempt to eliminate fraud from the beef industry, tracking the product from Australian pastures to the plates of China.
“They were developing data from one end of the supply chain to the other, you know, Fitbits on cows, measuring the metabolisms all the way through to the packaging and the consumer experience,” Dr McQueenie said.
He described his role as an intermediary on both ends, bringing life to the story the customer was told and convincing farmers it was a good idea.
Dr McQueenie is now working on a similar project tracking fair trade coffee from source to customer in the Pacific.
He said there are blockchain affiliated jobs that don’t require deep knowledge of the technology, just an appreciation for it.
“I think the potential for jobs related to it are not necessarily in the depth of the tech, but in linking that to a human outcome,” he said.
“What I’m doing is translating what [the technology does] to a broader audience.
“My role is joining up dots, rather than being an expert in technology.”
A slow but inevitable revolution?
QUT cryptography PhD candidate Thomas Miller’s work does come from the depth of tech.
Mr Miller said courses like the one Ms Jackson are great “induction courses”, but he too would like to see better education and regulation around blockchain and internet security in general.
“Just the way you go and get a safety card on a [work] site, that should be something that you do when you’re managing a blockchain account,” he said.
He believes blockchain will restructure the workforce, with less company structures and more security for workers — a world where completed jobs can be easily tracked and paid for.
“I think the paradigm shift in the way we even think about [work] is going to be big,” he said.
“We’re so used to interacting with the company structure, then the company implements business processes — it’s the business processes that are valuable to society.”
Mr Miller said it won’t matter the task, whether it is a physical job just as planting a tree or an online one such as website design or accounting, everything that has value will be traceable and transferring will be simple.
“The idea of a company shell will slowly sort of shed away … it will just be the business processes and the humans that commit to those will get paid for every instance of the business process that they complete,” he said.
“I think it’s just a slow revolution, or slow change, societal change.
“It’s just literally inevitable, because it’s a better solution to do it this way.”