Lin Chuan is on track to graduate next year with a master’s degree in computer science from Peking University. The weak global economy notwithstanding, he plans to start his career working in the next iteration of the internet, blockchain-based Web3.
The 23-year-old has interned at Baidu, China’s internet search behemoth, and at global venture firm GGV Capital. He is disappointed by the dwindling opportunities in Web2 amid China’s tech crackdown and fascinated by the growing potential in Web3. An adventurer in spirit, he doesn’t want to settle down at a traditional tech company, like most of his computer science peers do.
This piece is part of CoinDesk's Future of Work Week series.
“Finding a stable job, getting married, buying a house … these are just not my thing,” he said. “I look for flexibility, freedom and a faster career path … and this space is just like that, and with little office politics or nepotism. It is about your individual abilities – you get rewarded for what you can do.”
A new frontier in the tech industry, Web3 draws students and fresh graduates from all over the world who have technical know-how and whose skills are readily applicable to blockchain development. These young crypto believers are often fully committed to working in the sector, attracted by the idea of decentralization and their faster career advancement potential. They are unfazed by the battered job market and volatile cryptocurrency prices.
Investors’ reluctance to embrace Web3
Yes, investors are thinking twice about putting money in this heated industry, with steep drops of bitcoin and ETH as well as the collapse of the terra stablecoin and its corresponding luna token, default of the Three Arrows Capital crypto hedge fund and freezing of withdrawals from Celsius Network’s lending platform.
Meanwhile, the macroeconomic climate is getting worse, with inflation at a 40-year high, soaring energy prices and global supply chain logjams. Still, the bad economic news doesn’t appear to be dampening young job seekers’ determination to jump into Web3.
In the Bay Area, Ratan Kaliani, 20, a rising senior at the University of California, Berkeley, is already working full time in a DEX (decentralized exchange) infrastructure startup. He got into crypto with peers from Blockchain at Berkeley, a student-run organization and blockchain consultancy.
The recent crypto climate doesn’t daunt this ex-Coinbase intern’s passion for crypto.
“When you are committed to something, you want to be able to explore it the fullest,” he said. When asked how he will finish his senior year while working full time, he chuckled. “I am probably going to be pretty busy.”
Saif Uddin Mahmud, 24, is a Bangladeshi with a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering from the National University of Singapore. Having worked as the technical lead in a Singapore-based health-care startup, he recently took a leap of faith and is in the planning stages of a Web3 startup he is co-founding with friends.
A radical response
Kaliani and Saif share a faith in crypto, specifically admiring that it is a blockchain-powered system with decentralized authority. The emerging technology seems to speak to young adults looking for a mission – a radical response to the current Web2 system that has been criticized for exploiting the free labor of users that is then monetized to enrich the corporation.
The recent crypto crash is seen as part of a normal cycle of bull and bear markets. In fact, some, such as Saif, believe that the crash will filter out opportunist traders who want to make quick money: “The noise will quiet down a bit, which means that there will be more people who are genuinely interested in the technology,” he said.
Even amid the uncertainty, young crypto enthusiasts of all disciplines are seeking jobs, not just software engineers. Finance, business and even law students are also taking an interest in crypto.
Lai Yuen is a 25-year-old Singaporean who just finished his undergraduate study in finance at the National University of Singapore. He initially aspired to be a portfolio manager, but grew disillusioned by the rigid metrics of success in finance and wanted to carve out a path of his own.
That path means starting an NFT (non-fungible token) company while working as an investment analyst for the digital-asset management arm of a foundation that supports open-source crypto projects. He took an 18-hour flight from Singapore to New York this month to attend the NFT.NYC conference, seeking to build connections in the industry.
A Chinese student who will graduate with a master’s in accounting from National University of Singapore this August, Sabrina Li is interning at crypto exchange Bybit. She still sees crypto as an attractive career opportunity. Hoping to convert to a full-time employee at Bybit, the 24-year-old is doing all she can to learn about crypto.
“If I can enter the market and take root, then I will be growing much faster in my career than in a financial firm, where things are very much institutionalized,” she said.
Of course, not all twentysomethings are ready to jump into an uncertain market in an emerging technology.
Benjamin Peck is another Singaporean who is about to start the penultimate year of his double-degree program in law and liberal arts at Yale-NUS College in Singapore. His first foray into crypto-related work is his current internship at a Singapore-based startup that is creating a payment infrastructure for crypto trading. While inspired by what cryptocurrencies promise, the future lawyer is cautious about seeking a career there.
“Not a lot of crypto companies have proven themselves to be profitable, resilient and able to generate impact,” he said. Peck added that his career interest in the crypto industry would hinge on where there are sustainable businesses.
In the Bay Area, a student pursuing a master’s program in software management at Carnegie Mellon University Silicon Valley expresses his concern about embarking on a crypto career. The student, who wishes to be anonymous, had been involved in crypto since the age of 14. In Eastern Europe, where he lived, he would import crypto mining machines from China and with his father mine bitcoins and ETH. This interest continued into his freshman year in college, when he would miss lectures to try to buy more mining rigs. In his current school, he has been doing a few research projects working with NFTs.
Despite his early exposure and consistent interest, he doesn’t want to get a job in crypto, citing job security as the main concern. In around half a year, he will finish his master’s degree, after which he hopes to continue working in the U.S. The last thing he wants is to have his job offer rescinded just before he graduates.
Read More: Crypto Jobs: Who’s Cutting and Hiring?
“There is a future in crypto but you have to leverage it correctly,” he said.
Singaporean Tan Jian Zhen is even less enthusiastic. The 21-year-old is highly skeptical of the crypto industry. A holder of a diploma in information technology from Ngee Ann Polytechnic, a post-secondary institution in Singapore, the startup enthusiast has been trying to start a crypto company of his own for the past five years.
“I think some specific use cases are interesting, but this is not a sustainable field,” Tan said. A major part of his skepticism comes from crypto's unregulated nature. “Society needs regulation. If not, chaos ensues.
“I will remain in the tech startup space, but it doesn’t have to be crypto,” he added, “Cryptocurrencies feel like they can change the world, but they are not.”
But many others would disagree. The decentralized and anti-censorship nature of crypto and blockchain-based organizations is enough to make it a potent force, said Lin, the Chinese computer scientist, as it is “difficult to be with big government and corporations.”
In fact, it is powerful enough to keep the Chinese government on its toes. Lin expects more regulatory oversight in his home country. A native of Hangzhou, the birthplace of Alibaba and some of the biggest Web2 firms, he looks abroad for a place more supportive of this novel technology. He leaves that choice open, but remains dedicated to Web3 and building what he is passionate about.
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