‘We Want to Make Things Differently’: Laura Shin on Crypto and the Future of Work

The independent journalist also discusses how to make it in crypto. This article is part of Future of Work Week.

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Updated Apr 10, 2024 at 2:04 a.m. UTC
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Even before the recent rise of decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs), Laura Shin was presenting TED talks claiming that crypto could allow more people to be their own boss.

Crypto allows for skin in the game, Shin argued – as these open and permissible networks lead to all types of experimentation across industries. She was speaking from experience.

Shin quit her job in mainstream media and has been an independent crypto writer and podcaster since 2015. She’s published a bestselling book, “The Cryptopians,” telling the early story of the idealistic, ambitious and frequently combative people who built the Ethereum network. And her weekly podcast, “Unchained Podcast,” has featured interviews with some of crypto’s most influential figures.

“When I started learning about crypto, I started realizing that, 'Oh, I think actually crypto will enable more people to work for themselves,'" Shin told CoinDesk.

She still links to the TED talk on her LinkedIn and says her beliefs have grown only stronger. Shin said crypto will reduce people's dependence on single employers and allow them to do more meaningful work for themselves.

"[Crypto] will enable a lot more teams to work together in groups [even if] they don't necessarily know each other,” she said. “They're just doing it all online as a community. They engage in financial transactions together.”

As a longtime observer in crypto, she shared what it takes for people to "make it" in crypto. As for advice? There's no set path.

"The whole point of crypto is that we want to make things differently from how they've been before," Shin said.

The following excerpts were taken from an interview with Shin for Future of Work Week.

What was something that surprised you about Ethereum you learned while writing your book?

Workwise, I could say how truly distributed the team was. There was a lot of work that was done in Berlin. One of the main team members was in Amsterdam, and his team was in Brazil and Romania or Hungary or somewhere. There were other people kind of involved in Canada, Vitalik [Buterin, the Canadian programmer] was spending a lot of time in Asia during those years. A lot of the research was done in Singapore. So workwise, it was definitely a very decentralized and distributed organization geographically.

After covering crypto since the spring of 2015, what can you say about the types of people that "make it" in crypto?

I would say probably people who are very creative and imaginative and who see the potential in things that aren't fully developed. You probably are aware of a lot of these crypto skeptics that focus on how crypto is deficient in these different ways right now. The people who get into crypto and succeed can look at something that is not fully developed – even with all of its flaws – and see that someday, this could turn into something.

A lot of traditional finance people are always asking how it is that you can even value these assets. I think Chris Burniske got into crypto roughly around the same time as I did. He's done a lot of work on figuring out how you value these crypto networks. If you look at somebody like Meltem Demirors on Twitter, her background previously was in oil and gas, you’ll see how she takes her experience and knowledge from running businesses to talk about crypto projects – what they’re probably thinking about or what they should be doing better.

Everybody's coming from a different place, unless there are people who are in their 20s and their work history is mainly in crypto. But a lot of other people who are older take their learnings from other industries and apply that to crypto. And if they're creative enough to do it, then they can definitely come up with new things. Lots of really smart people in this space.

So what do you think the future of work will be like in crypto?

Before crypto, I just freelanced for most of my career. I prefer to work for myself. When I started learning about crypto, I started realizing that, Oh, I think actually crypto will enable more people to work for themselves.

I feel like with crypto we're gonna probably just have a lot more financial transactions in our lives. Similar to how we went from snail mail, a corded phone, to one I carry with me all day with multiple apps where people can communicate with me. I think the same thing is gonna happen to financial transactions in the future. People will just have many more ways of transacting financially with people all over the world.

That will enable people to have more streams of income, and that they may not rely on employment from a specific employer. They'll kind of be like freelancers. I did an interview with Chase Chapman on my podcast. She's very young. She just graduated from college. But she already is like, oh, yeah, “I consider myself a Web3 freelancer.” She works for all these DAOs.

You made a TED speech talking about how crypto could allow more people to be their own boss in 2018. Are there any changes or new observations you have had on this topic in the recent years?

I think DAOs are definitely more established than they were at that time. Just the fact that now there are so many kinds of DAOs. It's such a huge variety. I feel like it's not even as much of a thing now as it will be in the future. That's my opinion. Or even the fact that like a lot of these DAOs now have tools for doing HR or payroll to figure out how much people should be paid. A lot of new software tools for DAOs didn't exist back in the day.

In your opinion, how crypto itself could fundamentally change how we work?

I feel like it will reduce people's dependence on single employers, so they can do more work for themselves. And I think it will enable a lot more teams to work together in groups like they don't necessarily know each other. They're just doing it all online. It's more like a community. They engage in financial transactions together.

Do you think there will be some new work positions that will emerge in the future?

People have talked about how having “community managers” is so important for DAOs. You just need somebody to keep everybody informed and engaged. DAOs are kind of about community management in a lot of ways.

Even careers like law – I'm noticing that crypto lawyers now specialize in regulation or in IP (intellectual property) stuff around NFTs (non-fungible tokens) or securities law. So you don't have to be a tech person. You can be in a separate industry, but bring it to crypto.

What advice would you give to someone trying to make it in crypto?

I would say that they should remember that everybody who's working in crypto now is just making it up. I don't want to say there's literally no rules because obviously, crypto is old enough that certainly there are certain rules. But there's no set way to do all these things. So if you have an idea, and it's something new, you should pursue that. If you think that it might work, check it out. Don't think that everything's all decided and that this has been all figured out. Be creative.

We have all these different technologies people are experimenting with, if you can come up with a way to combine them in an interesting way. In my case, I'm a journalist, I have this skill set of how to do research or how to learn something very fast and then communicate it to other people in a clear way.

A lot of people may be really good with, like marketing or business development. If you can combine skills with crypto like that, that's also a good thing.

But generally, I think the whole point of crypto is that we want to make things differently from how they've been before.

Further Reading of CoinDesk’s Future of Work Week series:

It may be a bear market, but there are still plenty of jobs to be had at crypto companies.

Crypto can make it faster and cheaper to pay workers. This article is part of the Future of Work series.

By adopting a more open, fluid model, traditional firms would find it easier to attract talent and end up with a more passionate, engaged workforce.


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Xinyi Luo

Xinyi Luo is CoinDesk Layer 2's features and opinion intern. She does not currently hold any cryptocurrencies.

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