Blockchain cryptographer: Grow your expertise in a single area

“Blockchain is creating real value.”

For every cryptographer there are probably more than a dozen job openings, says Vanishree Rao, a senior cryptographer at O(1) Labs, who is working to facilitate more efficient blockchain transactions.

“There’s a huge skillset gap in the industry,” she says.

Driving the demand is an increasing need for security solutions for IoT and cloud technologies and the growing need to protect against digital crime, as well as digital money.

There are more than 150 cryptography job postings near the UCSC Extension campus in Santa Clara, according to Glassdoor. The rate of growth for jobs in information security—cryptography is only a part of the overall sector—is projected to be 32 percent from 2018–2028, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That is a much faster growth rate than the average for all other occupations.

“There are all these blockchain companies that want to have good cryptographers,” Rao says.

Find a Cryptography Niche

In a field that’s rapidly developing, however, no single person is going to be able to develop expertise in all of it.

“The industry is moving so fast that it is very easy to be intimidated,” Rao says. She suggests focusing on one area of interest at a time. “You can get started by understanding the basics of blockchain and cryptography, then dive deeper into any of the multiple sub-aspects of the field.

Rao has created a new course—Cryptography and Blockchain Fundamentals in the UCSC Extension Information Technology certificate programto help people find a place in this exploding field.

“If you can focus on one particular aspect of the technology—get good at it—then you can start contributing to the field,” Rao says. “Later, you can start exploring other areas.”

High Demand Jobs

For example, people are hiring left and right for blockchain engineers who know Solidity, an object-oriented, high-level language for implementing smart contracts. Other companies are looking for coders who understand smart contracts, cryptocurrencies and wallets, in general.

Not all cryptographers are technologists who code. The prerequisite for Rao’s cryptography course is to know basic algebra. No coding experience is necessary. There is a demand for business-minded candidates who can evangelize and relate the value of lesser known technologies, as well as a need for people to work in the area of protocol design.

“The main goal of the course is to get a solid foundation on the fundamentals,” Rao says. “We are going to learn about all of these technologies in an intuitive manner, ensuring that, after the course, you will be able to reason the underlying cryptography tools and blockchain.”

Cryptography Meetup on Zero-Knowledge Proofs and Jobs

Before the course starts in October, Rao will be giving a high-level overview of specific skillsets for the in demand jobs, such as the blockchain engineer or blockchain architect, as well as the more rigorous journey of the cryptographer at a free Meetup at the Silicon Valley campus: Zero-Knowledge Proofs & the Demand for Cryptography & Blockchain Talent.

One of the most exciting new discoveries in the field is zero-knowledge proofs, an area that had initially fascinated Rao and motivated her to pursue a career in cryptography.

“It’s the most mind-boggling thing I’ve ever heard,” Rao says. “It gives you the ability to prove that you know something without you having to reveal anything about it. It sounds so impossible and yet it’s not only possible, there is a long line of active research advancing it.”

She’s currently working on a zero-knowledge proof-based succinct blockchain protocol—a technology that can squash the entire long blockchain into a few kilobytes, into the size of a just few tweets.

“I’m super excited about that,” she says. “It is as real as you can get. To make blockchain mainstream, it’s important to solve efficiency issues. It’s one of the blockchain’s biggest challenge towards reality.”

Getting Into Cryptography

Rao’s passion for cryptography grew out of a love of math. A mathematics professor, Dr. Sudarshan Iyengar, who now teaches at the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), gave her A Course in Number Theory and Cryptography, a book by popular mathematician Neal Koblitz.

“I just got hooked on it,” she says. She started exploring the topic on her own, reading technical papers from top conferences and even publishing papers. “Cryptography is like a puzzle, coding and decoding, discovering something that is not known to the world. Who can’t get excited about puzzles?”

She went on to pursue a doctorate in cryptography at UC Los Angeles where she was studying when blockchain splashed on to the international stage.

While there have been initial stumbling blocks around the decentralized digital monetary system, there have been significant advancements in recent years. The power inherent in our current currency system has gone from one single, monopolistic party into the hands of the stakeholders in the public.

“We need to ensure that the system is sound and secure, to make sure that there isn’t a rogue party who is going to mess up the system,” Rao says. “To do that we have multiparty computation to ensure security, to make sure the computations are correct even if some parties are malicious.

“What’s left is real,” Rao says. “Blockchain is creating real value. The excitement is there. It solves some real problems.”


Come to Tonight’s Cryptography Meetup: Zero-Knowledge Proofs & the Demand for Cryptography & Blockchain Talent

Learn More about Vanishree Rao’s Cryptography and Blockchain Fundamentals course.

Learn more about our Information Technology certificate program


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