Group of Lego mini miner figurines holding shiny bitcoin together and posing, symbolising the role of a bitcoin programmer or bitcoin engineer.
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Bitcoin programmer: The next big job in engineering?

1 Mar 2021

Jimmy Nguyen, president of the Bitcoin Association, discusses how engineers can pivot into the brave new world of of bitcoin programming.

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Wondering where your engineering skills could lead you in the future? With the pace of change in the industry, you might not be waiting too long to find out. There’s already a host of new career paths emerging in the bitcoin industry, for example, according to Jimmy Nguyen.

Having spent 21 years as an intellectual property and digital technology lawyer, Nguyen is now president of the Bitcoin Association, a Swiss organisation that works to advance business on the Bitcoin Satoshi Vision (SV) blockchain.

“In the technical fields, there will be new job categories for developers, engineers, solutions architects, scientific researchers and other professionals directly involved with designing and building applications that leverage the bitcoin blockchain,” he said.

Bitcoin Script engineers are a new category that we expect to take off uniquely within the Bitcoin SV ecosystem because of the technical capabilities and scaling power of its blockchain.

“In addition, I expect we will see broader business and operational roles at digital currency and blockchain companies, with greater need for compliance professionals.”

These are likely to include blockchain analytics experts as well as finance and tax advisers and auditors with expertise in digital currency accounting and distributed ledger technology. Lawyers and policy advisers with knowledge of the sector will also be important, he said.

Jimmy Nguyen is smiling into the camera against a pale grey background.

Jimmy Nguyen

Why become a bitcoin programmer?

Could bitcoin engineering be for you? Nguyen highlighted some of his favourite things about the industry and why he recommends considering a career in it. “Learning bitcoin is about more than just learning how to trade coins for investment or how to develop an application that runs on the blockchain,” he said.

“Learning bitcoin is about understanding an entire network protocol that intertwines data and monetary value, providing a platform for development on top of the internet, but one that goes beyond anything the world has seen before.”

With the Bitcoin SV network, for example, unbounded scaling can unlock a suite of new functionalities. He explained: “Micropayments – payments sometimes smaller than a single cent – are a particular area where new internet business models are already beginning to emerge, alongside business functions like smart contracts and tokenisation of real-world assets.

“Learning bitcoin means being at the vanguard of changing how the world interacts with payments and data more efficiently, and increasing your professional value for a blockchain-based future.”

How to get started

So, what does a beginner bitcoin programmer need to know? According to Nguyen, the most important skill for any job involving bitcoin is a working knowledge of the bitcoin system in question. “In particular, understanding that it is more than just a payment system, but also a powerful data network for enterprise blockchain applications,” he said.

“This requires understanding what the bitcoin’s data ledger is capable of, how its network functions, its economic incentive system, where its digital currency and data applications can be of benefit and why a business would opt for a blockchain-based solution.”

If you want to become a Bitcoin Script engineer in particular, he explained that a background in engineering or stack-oriented programming would be beneficial. “However, many working in this space are largely self-taught, so there are many different avenues to pursuing this career path.”

‘Learning bitcoin means being at the vanguard of changing how the world interacts with payments and data more efficiently’

There are opportunities for self-teaching at the Bitcoin Association. Its Bitcoin SV Academy is an education platform that offers courses and learning materials for all levels at no cost.

“Those looking to learn bitcoin from a business perspective or simply to gain a better understanding of the headlines can find lesson plans tailored to their specific needs, while those seeking to pursue bitcoin as a career path will be able to progress into more technical and advanced material,” Nguyen said.

Pivoting your programming skills

For programmers who might want to pivot into the bitcoin space, Nguyen outlined some of the key things to keep in mind. He said that Bitcoin Script is a full-stack, Forth-like programme language, so those with experience working in stack-oriented environments and with stack-based languages will be at an advantage.

“Working with bitcoin, however, doesn’t itself require mastery of Bitcoin Script; there is a litany of resources available for developers experienced [in] working with non-bitcoin-related tools and languages that can handle much of the heavy lifting for interfacing with its blockchain,” he said.

“These include libraries for other languages – including Java, JavaScript and Python – as well as ready-made APIs and SDKs for integrating bitcoin features into existing applications or projects. There are also white-label products, which can handle more complex applications of the technology, like tokenisation and smart contracts.

“In the future, this growing body of tools will make it easier for developers and companies to build applications on Bitcoin SV without needing to learn Bitcoin Script, in the same way that WordPress democratised webpage creation by eliminating the barrier of needing to know and understand HTML.”

Homework for the budding bitcoin programmer

Aside from his Bitcoin SV Academy, Nguyen shared some other resources to look into if you’re curious about the field. The first is a massive open online course provided by Saxion University in the Netherlands, which covers bitcoin’s original protocol and its history, economics, development, tooling and regulation. According to Nguyen, this course is free and available until 1 September 2021.

To learn more about Bitcoin SV in particular, he recommended the Bitcoin SV Wiki, where you can find comprehensive information on the cryptocurrency, and Build on BSV, which helps people who are ready to start building with the blockchain.

Lisa Ardill
By Lisa Ardill

Lisa Ardill joined Silicon Republic as senior careers reporter in July 2019. She has a BA in neuroscience and a master’s degree in science communication. She is also a semi-published poet and a big fan of doggos. Lisa briefly served as Careers Editor at Silicon Republic before leaving the company in June 2021.

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