We tend to assign credibility to individuals based on their background, professional experience, accreditations, or social standing (whether digital or in society). However, more companies operate with a remote workforce, whereby hiring relies on portfolio work rather than obtained certificates. The internet allows us to learn close to anything through online sources. Resulting, university degrees merely serve to accredit a formal learning path and to encourage individual’s professional development. Unconventional learning paths have to be evaluated on an individual basis. This has become especially important in emerging industries, such as the field of distributed ledger technologies (i.e. blockchain projects).
Within this story, I will outline, the differences in human interaction between ‘work-as-we-know-it’ and in emerging industries. How do individuals excel in digital industries? Why do academic institutions fail to provide the necessary skills? Why are there so many open position but nobody adequate to fill the role?
Before the Internet, digitisation, or specifically Web3, individuals were valued based on their academic experience and professional ranking. This included the college you’ve enrolled at, the company you’ve worked for and the job title you’ve been given. Success and influence were seen as a step by step process, whereby one experience built upon the next. With an increase in perceived success, individuals usually gained more importance in society overall. This power structure provides people with security and stability, not only for individuals but also for companies, whose existence relies on their perceived credibility.
However, looking at the crypto-community, or in general digital nomads, this conventional form of professional growth does not hold true anymore. Many self-starters in the crypto space hardly finished college, opting out for a passion to develop decentralised applications that might, one day, crash current power structures. At the same time, online studies, remote work, and digital portfolio platforms and social networks (LinkedIn, Medium, GitHub, StackOverflow, etc.) provide the opportunity to acquire, practice, and showcase new skills, such as UI/UX design. Being a great developer is hardly influenced by your degree but rather, the time you took to contribute to open source projects. Even the study of law is influenced by this turn. Practising law in the crypto space does mean getting involved on Twitter discussions, reading technical academic papers and analysing perspectives on Medium Blogs to help to define the crypto-economy and envision new possibilities.
Working in evolving, digital industries
Interactions are far more dynamic than within conventional industries. Meaning that people are able to enter and leave, share their knowledge and expertise, on an on-demand level. Since people are not expected to have a professional background, the boundaries of becoming involved are far lower than in other industries, such as conventional banking, insurance, or consulting. Along with a low barrier of entry comes also greater responsibility and stress. Individuals have to self-evolve, stay-up-to-date with the industry and relevant.
What people get wrong about job experience and degrees
A degree is not a promise for future employment. The notion that someone may only be credible if their opinions are backed up by an adequate academic or professional curriculum is flawed. It is not on the University to provide proof that students have acquired necessary skills. When students are even after an academic or professional program unable to demonstrate expected skills, it is usually due to the students lack of interest or effort in making use of the provided resources.
Finishing a Bachelor or Master Degree, nor any other program, will not qualify someone as ‘expert within a field’, nor promise a leading position. Skills can be learnt solely by engaging with the right communities and online resources. In many cases it is completely irrelevant what university someone has attended, as long as that person can showcase their skills. Similar can be said for job experiences.
Just because someone has had a job title does not qualify that person for future employment options in similar fields. Generally, companies like to see employees who have their own portfolio projects. Note that I am not referring to reoccurring LinkedIn posts of random company visits. Instead, blog posts, outlining the learning experience etc. It may show that the person is able to stay up to date with the industry, engages in constant learning, and can think for himself. This is becoming more and more important. Given that people may engage with several careers throughout their professional life, being able to learn new skills fast and demonstrate such skill will become crucial.
The bad news for HR is that it is harder to evaluate self-studies. If someone studied at UCL, Oxford or Stanford, people follow a bias to assume that those individuals will already have been filtered out from the mass. In comparison, an active GitHub account has to be evaluated on a one-by-one basis. Many conventional businesses are not trained for that. Only a few institutions understand the value added to applicants, who engage in external, personal learning. Resulting, not only are amazing skills left uncompensated, misunderstood, etc., and sometimes I feel like companies even fear those qualities in their employees. After all, someone who has a personal-professional career will probably learn more out of self-interest rather than according to the company’s benefits.
One case example is Troy Hunt. He found more joy in after work writing and speaking opportunities than within corporate work.
Career Development - Troy Hunt
Many people will disagree with this post, not so much because it's flat out wrong but because there are so many…
Overall, knowledge should not be capitalised, neither by individuals nor by institutions. An open, digital space to engage in learning and contributing to the industry’s and project’s success allows for greater diversity and opportunities. Professionals should not only rely on paid-program-based learning models but instead, engage in the possibility to continuously re-define their expertise.
What remained the same across industries?
Many aspects of professional interactions have not changed at all. So let’s work on those!
People often value their social ranking way too much, placing themselves in a bubble wrap of superficial superiority. Like mentioned earlier, knowledge is often not unique to a person, it does not belong to that person, nor does it qualify someone for special treatment like being unaffected by counter-arguments. Sadly, many known-contributors in the crypto space have enhanced the contrary.
The crypto space is falling back into old patterns. Instead of promoting an open-source community and protocols, people promote themselves as much as the company they are working for. Arguably, as much as Apple is a brand, Ethereum, Parity, or NEO are brands. Not only employees but also, in general, stakeholders love the concept and have difficulties of letting go of it. If you have a large following base, you are likely to secure yourself the assigned credibility, modifying your views adequately to fit the majority.
You might question what will happen if you actually do step out of line. Well, just read the article on what happened to Afri (now Ex-Ethereum contributor) within the past weeks.
Open Letter: The Ethereum Community Calls for End to Threats and "Toxic" Behavior
Over the past few days, a conflict between an Ethereum developer and elements within the wider community resulted in…
You will find few people to admit that seeking constant validation by the community is tiring.
Another persistent problem is ‘skill-bloating’. Some people slide into the space. On one hand, this is great as it promotes this open and agile environment. On the other hand, some engage in an overly expressive story-telling, bloating their skills and expertise. Most of us are guilty of it and similar to other (more conventional) industries, it is celebrated and rarely called out. This is not only dangerous for individuals and projects falling for the fairy tale but also for hard-working newcomers. Underestimating their skills is easier than valuing them how they are. Even if you are quite realistic about your level of expertise, people will tend to downplay you, not taking you as serious, since it is far more likely that you are skill-bloating.
In contrast, more conventional industries protect themselves by having a structured career-ladder, which requires newcomers to go through exhaustive processes, ‘working themselves up’ until they classify for a senior position. This leads to a vicious cycle, whereby employees priding themselves with long working hours, tight schedules and little hours of sleep until the senior position is reached. At that point, all the benefits, one has been deprived of for the past years, will be granted. Since one had to go through the struggles of gaining a senior position, the same is expected of every newcomer. This is how credibility is established.
The role of Mentoring
Within the prior sections, I’ve called out several misalignments between industry values, objectives and its reality. Note that all of these are shaped by my experience, the people that I have talked to and the books and articles I’ve read. I respect that this is my subjective reality and by no means an objective observation of the industry. Depending on your position, you will probably have a highly different image of the industry.
Overall, I cannot start criticising without providing any form of solution. My solution, at least to some of the discussed problems, is mentoring. To clarify, I am not referring to the conventional form of mentoring by which a more experienced person, provides advice to a less advanced individual. This form of mentoring is too structured, aligning with the conventional forms of attributing credibility. Instead, I am promoting a more dynamic way of learning on a peer-to-peer basis.
Like mentioned, everyone has different experiences and interests that shape their knowledge and understanding. As much as I can learn from a core developer the technical constraints involved in various systems, they might find interest in discussing with me the social implications of their application. Not only would it improve the quality of such applications by breaking down silos and biases but it would also provide either of us with more opportunities. Having an understanding of the concerns and values of other stakeholders, whom I might affect directly or indirectly, will potentially provide me with credibility from a wider audience.
Sadly, this form of learning is often limited by personal objectives, which may be driven by one's ego, time-constraints, and disproportional value-assignments. I am asking people to be selfish, not to provide mentoring without receiving mentoring in return, and also to be altruistic in that their knowledge should be freely shared. This goes against what we are taught by most social and professional structures. The question is not, why you should make it easy for someone to acquire a skill that you have had a hard time learning but instead, what you will get out of it? There are enough freelancers making good money just by doing exactly that. In which case, the learning experience is completely one-directional and does not solve any structural problems, limiting learning even further.
In contrast, mentoring should be part of any job. Everyone should see the value in sharing their time, knowledge and expertise with a wider audience while receiving similar efforts in return. This might lead to individuals and organisations being more acceptable of self-studies.
Frameworks to evaluate an individual’s credibility within a specific subject or field of expertise mostly rely not only on standardised programs, but also on individuals to design their own learning experience, which is barely addressed. While young and dynamic industries, such as the field of distributed ledger technologies, allow for alternative means of evaluating one’s skills, once people gain credibility, they get stuck in the same behavioural patterns as seen in other industries.
At that point, it is natural for people to distort their opinion and to align with their following base rather than to risk being publicly called-out for not acting in everyone’s subjective interest. Additional problems, which vary on an individual person to person basis, are skill-bloating and denying others an easier career-path than granted to oneself.
These problems could be counteracted with more dynamic bi-directional mentoring. Individuals may gain higher credibility by stakeholders thorough sharing their expertise openly. This might allow for breaking silos and power structures on a social level.
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