Blockchain jobs are booming in Asia, even as cryptocurrency prices struggle

  • Blockchain and cryptocurrency jobs are increasingly appealing to job seekers from conventional sectors in Asia.
  • Blockchain technology has been adopted by both start-ups and more established corporations.
  • Recruitment firm Robert Walters said it has seen a 50 percent increase in the number of roles related to blockchain or cryptocurrencies in Asia since 2017.
A cryptocurrency mining computer equipped with four cooling fans is seen on display at a computer mall in Hong Kong, January 29, 2018.
Bobby Yip | Reuters
A cryptocurrency mining computer equipped with four cooling fans is seen on display at a computer mall in Hong Kong, January 29, 2018.

Blockchain and cryptocurrency jobs are increasingly appealing to job seekers from more conventional sectors in Asia — even as the technology's most famous use case struggles on the price front.

Blockchain technology, which underpins cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin, is a digital record of transactions that cannot be altered. It has the potential to not only disrupt much of finance, but also many other industries.

The much-hyped technology has been adopted over the last two years by both start-ups and more established corporations. Mainstream interest in the space picked up last year as cryptocurrency prices soared late in 2017.

If job postings are any indication, that trend is going to grow. Recruitment firm Robert Walters said it has seen a 50 percent increase in the number of roles related to blockchain or cryptocurrencies in Asia since 2017, with developers with Python language skills among the most highly sought after.

A cursory search for blockchain jobs on LinkedIn yields results for openings at corporations like IBM along with positions at newer businesses, such as cryptocurrency exchange Binance.

And there's also strong interest from job seekers: According to data from job search engine Indeed's main Asian markets (Australia, India, Singapore and Malaysia), there's been high interest in blockchain roles.

Due to its relative nascency, however, many of those entering the cryptocurrency and blockchain-related space are coming from other industries.

"We hardly ever hire from inside of crypto because most people inside of crypto are very inexperienced. You have very, very few people who are experienced who get into the crypto industry," said Julian Hosp, co-founder of Singapore-based crypto wallet and card start-up TenX.

In fact, even though there are plenty of blockchain enthusiasts looking to join the industry, "not many people have the actual skill sets" required for developer roles, said John Mullally, director of financial services at Robert Walters in Hong Kong.

Volatility

But as cryptocurrency prices wax and wane, so to have the levels of interest for companies in the space when it comes to recruitment.

"If crypto is doing well, if people are making money in crypto, we get huge inbound from people because they feel like, 'I need to jump on this wave,'" Hosp told CNBC.

"And then when you see crypto going down — and we saw this at the very beginning [of this year] and we're seeing this right now — then we see that immediately the demand of people, they're like, 'Oh no, this is a dying industry, I shouldn't go in there.' So it's completely emotional," he said.

Indeed data show Asian job seeker interest in bitcoin-related positions peaked as prices of the digital currency rose in the second half of 2017. Bitcoin job interest trended lower after the digital currency came off its record high set last December.

Interest in blockchain-related positions, however, has stayed in an uptrend, Indeed data showed.

"The situation in Asia seems to mirror the U.S. in that bitcoin [job search] trends are much more volatile (and related to price volatility) and resulting media coverage while blockchain and cryptocurrency searches have seen a more consistent upwards trajectory," an Indeed spokeswoman said.

Lag effect

For other outfits in the developing space, prices of crypto assets have had less of an effect on interest.

In the last three to six months, an increasing number of traditional finance professionals have been more interested in looking to make a move into crypto, said Justin Chow, Asia head of business development at Cumberland — the cryptocurrency division of proprietary trading company DRW.

Most of Cumberland's employees come from trading or capital markets backgrounds, with the company saying it viewed hiring at its cryptocurrency arm the same as how it viewed hiring across all asset classes.

The lag effect between the present pick-up in interest and the peak in bitcoin prices in December was probably because finance professionals didn't want to immediately drop their entire careers based solely on last year's surge in prices, Chow said.

But Cumberland's situation is a little more unique when compared to start-ups operating in the cryptocurrency space, given its ties to an established financial firm. For capital markets professionals, the price of an asset in decline was not a big issue and hadn't deterred interest in those looking to enter the segment, Chow told CNBC.

A similar lag has played out in China, which banned initial coin offerings and cryptocurrency exchanges last year, but is seen to have remained enthusiastic on blockchain technology.

"It's maybe after February, we suddenly see a lot of influx of talent from traditional venture capital funds ... and investment banks in China. It could be said the Asian or the Chinese talent are a little slower than their European or American counterparts to come into this field," said Wayne Zhu, a founding partner of NEO Global Capital, the venture capital fund arm of the NEO Foundation. That foundation supports the NEO cryptocurrency, which is one of the top crypto assets by market cap.

The driving force for finance professionals in China to take the leap has partly been the capital market environment in the country, where activities such as initial public offerings are strictly regulated.

"It's this predicament of the capital market here that leads to more and more people wanting to try something out in the crypto space," Zhu said.

"You have a much harder time trying to close deals and making money in the capital market for the last several years, that caused people to think about, 'Where (can I) actually close deals, (where can I) actually help companies to get money, to get liquidity and the money they need to grow their business?'" he added.

'No different' from an internet firm

On the whole, those currently entering the sector come from a wider range of professional backgrounds as start-ups develop and mature.

Apart from professionals from a tech or financial background, many with experience in marketing, public relations and operations are now also joining the industry.

Those who got into the blockchain space last year tended to have either technical or banking-related experience as positions available then were mostly limited to development or trading, said Zhuling Chen, co-founder of smart contract platform Aelf.

"We're looking at distributed applications, so that's where every single entity is expanding into a fully fledged start-up … so now I see blockchain companies are no different from an internet company or technology company," Chen said. "I think that's also because, right now, blockchain is more than just trading, it's more than cryptocurrency."