Beware of blockchain ninjas

JON WALSH: "The reality is that blockchain has just too many facets for anyone to be a verified and comprehensive expert"

You have been bitten by the blockchain ‘bug’. You are afraid you have missed out on the crypto gold rush. Or maybe you are convinced that you have the perfect business idea for blockchain. It could be that you have just been dropped into a corporate innovation team and tasked with developing the corporate blockchain strategy. No matter how you got here you have decided that you don’t know enough to get started and what you really need is… an expert.

Blockchain is barely ten years old, and it stood alone as the only blockchain for a few years until the emergence of Litecoin and a few others. Ethereum and its much-loved smart contracts have only been around three and a half years or so. We had our first ever ICOs in 2014, but they didn’t really take hold as a “thing” until 2017 – and then it was just ICO mania.


Somehow, over the past three years we have seen an explosion in the number of people using Blockchain Expert/Guru/Ninja or some other fantastical title, hoping to take advantage of individuals or companies that want to latch on to someone who is somehow bestowed with knowledge of the dark arts of something in blockchain.

The majority of these experts are presenting their skills not in blockchain – but in the ability to help people to raise funds through initial coin offerings (ICOs) – or today’s latest variation on that theme, the security token offering (STO). These are experts in writing white papers, gurus in ICO marketing, ninja’s in being able to help you dodge the need for regulation. Most of these self-professed experts have never done a successful ICO and the ones who have may be the uncomfortable position of looking over their shoulder awaiting the long arm of the law.

The truth

Here’s the truth that none of these people will be comfortable admitting: there are no experts.

Well maybe there’s a small handful such as Vitalik who founded Ethereum, or Dr Craig Wright who whether you believe that he is the real Satoshi Nakamoto or not, you can still appreciate the level of knowledge and understanding he has on the technology. There are others who sit at the very top of the knowledge tree, but you’ll find with almost all of them, they are still learning and searching for how to make this technology cross the chasm and take hold in the mainstream.

Take for example, Anthony “Pomp” Pompliano – here’s a guy who helps run a digital asset fund that has some considerable value, yet he also hosts a podcast dedicated to Blockchain and crypto where he gets to interview some of the biggest names in the space and gets to learn from others in the industry who understand different aspects of DLT or crypto way better than him. I would wager that Craig Wright aside, none of these guys would self-reference themselves as an expert or guru.

Key arts

This is not to diminish the considerable investment of time and resource to build up experience in the key arts of game theory, token design, token economics, cryptographic proofs, consensus architecture and many of the other areas of good blockchain design. My only point is that at this time it would be very unlikely that someone has spent the accepted 10,000 hours of study to become an expert in any one of these fields. Considering that Blockchain really came into being in October 2008 when Satoshi Nakamoto published his white paper, we have only just recently passed the target of 20 hours of study a week for 10 years.

The reality is that blockchain has just too many facets for anyone to be a verified and comprehensive expert. Take a look; legal, cryptographic, mathematic, technical, developer (in multiple programming languages), commercial, academic, quantum, and even anthropological aspects are all areas that one would need to be expert in in order to be considered a Blockchain expert.

It’s very easy to take comfort in hiring, or trusting, a blockchain “expert” due to that self-anointed title – in the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king. But my advice is to resist that urge to go with the “expert”, not in a ridiculous Michael Gove “we’ve had enough of experts” way, but with the understanding that in this space of Blockchain and crypto, they simply don’t exist.

Chapters ahead

The book on blockchain is barely ten years old in total and is still being written. People like me, or some of the other columnists and writers on CoinRivet and some of the amazing people’s writing on Medium, or podcasts that you listen to may be a few chapters ahead of most, but that is all, and there are many blank pages still in need of being written.

In the meantime, take the title of expert, guru or ninja with a liberal amount of salt. You may know more about blockchain core principles and its strengths, weaknesses, capabilities and limitations than the supposed expert you are looking for.

Ultimately, we are all just rookies with varying levels of understanding.


Jon Walsh

Twitter: @walshjonwalsh

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the author should not be considered as financial advice. We do not give advice on financial products.

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