Author: Eric Holst
“What now?” It was mid-2016, I had just handed in my 500-page thesis and had a few months to wait for my graduation. I felt how the weight of my shoulders got lighter and how a hole grew in me, that was filled prior with hours spent in front of my laptop screen. There was a mix of uncertainty and excitement in this hole. I knew that I wanted to make an impact on the world – but I had no idea where to start.
During my workation close to the French-Spanish boarder, looking over the landscape of the Basque Country and the Pyrenees, I knew I wanted to work with tech, but also with purpose. Among the big tech trends, I felt that #IoT and #AI were mostly topics covered by large corporations, that had the manufacturing capabilities and data mountains to realize the next technological revolutions.
However, #Bitcoin and #Blockchain appealed the most because they addressed my inner sci-fi, nerd-punk with their promise to bank the unbanked. It reminded me of how difficult and costly it was for my mother to send money to her relatives in Mexico. I also had to think about my time in India at a social enterprise, where I saw how life could be so much easier for rural farmers if given digital solutions and financial services.
But with my business and economics background, I felt useless for teams that were still building the code-foundations of a fairer internet. What value could I provide them?
I couldn’t find any answers online, so with curiosity, spare time, and knowing that I could still learn whatever I might need, I went on a journey to just find out where my place could be.
First steps into the community and applying my self-studies
My hometown was next to the German financial capital, Frankfurt a.M., and of course, they had Crypto meetups. It was organized by the first “Blockchain Center” in Germany, and the soon renowned “Professor Blockchain”, Philipp Sandner. I approached him, and he was open to meeting and sharing his experiences in educating businesses. At the same meetup I met a former IBM project manager for blockchain projects, I shared my doubts in where to find my role. He gave me a nudge, that slowly would help me to get out of my negative thinking that only developers were needed in this space. Further, he encouraged me to further look where I would make a unique contribution.
While reading one white paper after another (and understanding slightly more), I felt more comfortable organizing meetups myself and reaching out to like-minded people. But all the theory was not relevant without being able to apply the knowledge. A hackathon was the first test that I could support in solving real technical challenges and should further pursue this journey.
Preparing for the hackathon was my first experience working in a decentralized team, without ever having met any of my teammates. My team was full of brilliant people, just my age, out of university and hungry to challenge the status-quo. Because within such a young industry, even the “juniors” could out-experience the “seniors.”
When we entered the hackathon venue, which was inside a former postal distribution center, I was amazed at how big the event was. A football field large darkly lit hall was filled with tables, a stage, and a buzzing sound of hundreds of people talking about their ideas and typing them into code. Between the tables roamed coaches, called “Jedis”, who have already mastered the force, to whom most developers looked up. They quietly passed through the tables, with quick glances over many shoulders and solving one issue after another.
We worked on a prototype built on Ethereum, where we simulated an energy grid with an inbuilt blockchain accounting system for tracking and paying for solar energy. An idea that I would later find in many hackathons in the future. Since I was the only non-developer on the team, my role was to try to keep the team efforts aligned with the measurable criteria of a successful prototype and facilitate our questions with the coaches. Today I would describe it as a mix of a Product Owner, Scrum Master, and analyst.
Those three days were filled with excitement in building our prototype and the team spirit, especially out of the shared sleep deprivation. But also with actual drama in the life of a crypto-holder: a cyberattack on the team leader of our sister group from BEN, which worked on a different challenge. From one moment to the next, his laptop shut down and displayed a ransom message from the hacker. Who now held all his work, and more importantly, his crypto wallet hostage.
Witnessing this attack in person would later be a good early warning, comparable to watching a car crash, that made me from early on a “not your keys, not your coins”-ambassador.
Some when on Sunday, after working about 60 hours, the lights switched on and the time was over to tinker with our prototype. While I recovered from my sleep deprivation, it was announced that we were among the top 10 ideas and earned our first prize money in crypto.
Finding my sweet spot & great people
Even though I still couldn´t shake off the thoughts that I should become a developer myself, I learned that I could bring value to a team of hackers, without being one myself.
Instead, I would become a facilitator. Someone, who can switch between different perspectives, who combines seemingly disparate existing solutions into something new, and translate between the core team to the outside world.
On my way back home from the hackathon, I made a personal long-term decision to stay the next five years in this industry and then re-evaluate if this was the right path for me.
In the following months of early 2017, I practiced those skills with two more hackathons. Not only because I enjoyed developing prototypes that might disintermediate companies in the not-too-far future, but it was so thrilling to make connections with great people.
And the last one for this year was the Frankfurt IoT Blockchain hackathon, organized again by Philipp Sandner, we built a parcel delivery smart contract, also on Ethereum.
Finding a crypto-home to stay
Hackathons were one way to accelerate my learning curve. Visiting conferences another. I got my hands on free tickets to conferences all over Europe and could speak to founders directly, in the hope to pitch myself to them as employee.
One of the many speakers I got a hold of and asked for advice on what a graduate should do, briefly replied: “send me your CV.“
Little less than a month later and a little more than a year, after I started my self-studies, I became a Blockchain consultant, educating on Cryptocurrencies, Blockchain, Ethereum, Hyperledger, Corda, DLTs, Smart Contracts, and all the connected trends.
Luckily, the team spirit, enthusiasm, and open-mindedness I have found throughout this first year, was prevalent in our company. We would start in the mornings by discussing the prices, projects and trends. Throughout the days, we would dig deeper into the rabbit-holes of actually applying this tech or reiterating on the narrative in transporting the benefits to various target audiences. We had lots of freedom to be entrepreneurs and, evangelists, to grow the ecosystem and acceptance of our dear topics.Some milestones I´m very proud were, that we were among the first in Germany to provide deep-dive technical workshops, build many proofs-of-concept for the automotive industry, host over 100 non-profit meetups, co-organize twice the Crypto Assets Conference, and provide the first „proof of attendance“-NFTs, now known as POAPs to our workshop attendees and teach the concepts of DeFi at the Frankfurt School of Finance & Management or BlockchainHotel.
Lessons for you
I hope you, a student, a graduate, a young- or more experienced professional, could take away some lessons from my first of five years in this industry. Between those above lines, you might have ideas of where to start and lessons to take away.
Here are some of mine for you:
- There is a shortage of every kind of talent in this industry. For example, my favorite crypto podcaster is a social scientist by studies.
- Innovation is happening in the community, not in large corporations. Start there, not at job-boards.
- Community events are happening everywhere, you just have to broadcast your message and people will find you.
- The initiative is rewarded. Reach out, organize, experiment, and apply what you’ve learned by studying the foundations.
- Crypto attracts the best and the worst kind of people, be skeptical and open-minded at the same time.
- You’re more than your portfolio. If you’re depressed or hyped, because the market is in the red or green, zoom out and set a 5-10 year time horizon, to adjust your expectations.
I´m convinced that the great people I´ve met on the way, and the industry in general, will make a huge positive impact on our economy and society. That’s why I decided again to spend the next five years on this path and be more outspoken as a Community Manager and Senior Consultant at BLOCKCHANCE® – to create unique content, be a match-maker for investors and founders, consult and build prototypes, support new talents with BlockchanceX and maybe also collaborate with YOU towards a positive impact.