Navigating the Move into The Blockchain
This is Part 2 of a 3-part series about Why to Move Into Web3, How to Move Into Web3, and Where to Move Into Web3. Follow me on Twitter @0xShah and tweet at or send me a DM to say hello!
Part I focused on Why Crypto and my decision to leave Web2 for Web3. The bottom line is that crypto is the most interesting technology and community right now building the most important Internet technology platforms and applications. This post is now focused on how to move into crypto, by first assuming you have made the decision to do so in the first place and know why.
None of this is financial or legal advice. This is purely for educational purposes. Please do your own research.
1. Learn crypto 🧑💻
Before you begin moving into crypto, I recommend learning the industry, technology, and community. Unlike other career and life moves you may have made, like changing Web2 jobs or moving between cities you're familiar with, it's hard to truly know a lot about crypto without immersing yourself in it.
- Read the Bitcoin and Ethereum whitepapers: Bitcoin (Satoshi) and Ethereum (Vitalik). Each will feel dense and may be hard to consume but get through it. If you want to be a real builder, you need to grok these. Candidly I can't recall majority of the content but feel like I have an intuitive sense for the message and ideas.
- Use Web3 products: Make a Coinbase account and a MetaMask wallet. Use DeFi protocols like Compound and Aave. Try a DEX like Uniswap or Sushi. Buy NFTs on OpenSea and Foundation. Try playing Axie Infinity and Zed Run. That said, proceed with caution, don't use funds you can't afford to lose, try small transfers to test things out, and use common sense. This post is not financial advice!
- Study crypto portfolios / projects: Study projects in the portfolios of a16z crypto, Pantera, Paradigm, Coatue, Dragonfly Capital, Electric Capital, Fabric Ventures. There's a mixed view of VCs in crypto (see Sushi thread) but it's undeniable that many of the biggest projects in crypto have investors involved in one way or another. Ask yourself questions like why Compound and Shapeshift have progressively decentralized, or why the Uniswap decision to delist certain tokens from its frontend (not protocol) was so controversial in the community.
- Consume Crypto Twitter, news, books, and podcasts (I don't like making this recommendation to consume. Eventually you can taper consumption but steep in it for a bit. But unlike most social media consumption which is mostly indulgent, I feel like this consumption is "required reading" in crypto.). You will learn who the key players are (from centralized exchanges like Coinbase and Binance to NFT projects like Crypto Punks and Bored Apes to personalities like SBF and CZ), the most relevant terminology (e.g. from 51% attacks to MEV - check out the Ethereum glossary), and gain a sense for the overall ethos (e.g. benefits of decentralization, need for authenticity, composability as an example of collaboration that doesn't happen in Web2). Here's some news sources (e.g. CoinDesk, Decrypt, etc.), follow my following list on Crypto Twitter, and listen to Bankless, The Defiant, and Unchained. Some people like books so you can read The Sovereign Individual for philosophical context and The Infinite Machine (Ethereum) and Crypto Assets. Read Snow Crash, Ready Player One, Dune, and other sci-fi to get the cypherpunk vibe. Check out recent videos like the EthCC4 conference (here's a talk from Vitalik), these interviews with Tim Ferris between Naval/Vitalik and Nick Szabo, a16z Crypto Startup School, Pantera Capital Insights, or this vision video from Alchemy that paints a picture of the Web3 landscape.
- Meet crypto people: There's so much alpha and learning by just having conversations. DM people you connect with on Twitter, jump into Discords, participate in DAOs, and attend meetups (safely!). Add something to the conversation with thoughtful questions and observations, and you'll notice a similar vibe to Silicon Valley in the earlier 2000s where there was a sense of community and genuine helpfulness.
2. Make a list of projects ✍
Through the above process, you'll learn about what you're excited about -- financial inclusion with DeFi, art and property rights with NFTs, or just general infrastructure to empower a new generation of technology. Just like any job search or decision making process, you need a list of options that you track like a CRM. I met with 20 different teams to get a sense for the founders, the sectors, and the technologies. Through this process, I learned I wasn't that interested in what I consider financial engineering, with some of the more advanced DeFi projects focused on profit-making and effectively high-frequency trading, and I realized while I'm interested in NFTs, I'm less interested in this stage around art and collectibles that are helping to mainstream the concept than smart contracts that can be used for property deeds and business agreements - particularly in countries where that economic and legal infrastructure is harder to find. I may be interested in that vertical later in its cycle rather than now. I concluded that infrastructure was interesting to me because it's a lever on the whole industry and I wanted to make it easier to build in Web3 in order to achieve wider benefit distribution and mainstream adoption.
3. Meet with the best teams ⭐️
Spend time with the teams. I met a couple CEOs who are so idiosyncratic but true believers, and I went from thinking I'd never work with someone like that to thinking I needed to work with people like that. I met with product teams full of junior but passionate PMs -- reinforcing that I needed to drop any sense of arrogance from experience and recognize that these individuals were building the future regardless of their tenure. I met with some teams where I learned the public persona of the project far outpaced my perception of their caliber.
By spending time with teams through informational calls and eventually interviews, you'll go from understanding crypto and having a sense for types of projects to knowing the unique type of crypto team you'll want to work with. This may be different than Web2 where one often looks for a visionary, experienced founder/CEO and a highly capable team that has had success with 0-1 and/or hypergrowth before. Rather, with these teams you may over-index in your prioritization of vision, crypto-nativity, weirdness, contrarianism, etc.
4. Figure out your role 💪
Most likely your role will be different than what you're expecting. For me, I was being asked to take Head of Product roles at 500-1000 person companies. There are very few 500-1000 person crypto companies. Moreover, focusing on company size and headcount for your organization is a huge turn off/incompatible in crypto. See this thread from Surojit at Coinbase: https://twitter.com/surojit/status/1419559277459513350 and internalize it. Start with asking "What value can I add?" and focus maniacally on that. As they say, crypto projects need missionaries not mercenaries, and unfortunately Big Tech has accumulated a lot of mercenaries due to years of soaring stock prices and the allure of "working in tech." Lose that mindset ASAP. I shifted my mindset into understanding what the most important challenges of each project were and then designing roles where I could solve those problems for them while also being happy and fulfilled in my everyday work.
Right now some of the most common in-demand roles include Solidity engineers and community managers but many projects are open to generalist inbound applications and just want raw talent to come help them solve important, hard problems.
5. Understand your motivations 🥰
As you go about this process, do a check on your own motivations. Some people are after money. Some people love crypto. Be the latter. If you're not, stop here. By understanding your motivations deeply, you can figure out where you'll fit best. If you want to build and create things that won't exist without you and your team, there's probably a lot of crypto projects that want your fire. If this is get-rich-quick for you, think twice please.
6. Decide where in the ecosystem to play 🌎
In the simplest terms, I see the ecosystem in layers and verticals. In terms of layers, there's applications (OpenSea, Uniswap, Goldfinch, SyndicateDAO, etc.) and there's infrastructure (Layer 1 protocols and companies like Alchemy). Given the explosion in innovation and dynamism, I realized that I wanted to be in the middle of a lot of different activity and have exposure to DeFi, NFTs, and so much more. Ultimately being at the infrastructure layer at a company like Alchemy met that need for me. I also considered the Layer One route but decided that there's so much happening across different blockchains that Alchemy gave me a better multi-faceted viewpoint and set of experiences. The other axis to think about is how close to the metal you want to be. In other words, you can work in the truest sense of crypto at a layer one or a DAO. Or on the other end you can work at a centralized company like Coinbase, Circle, Binance, Paxos, or others. And then there are some things in between where there may be a decentralized protocol and a centralized company (usually a "Labs" entity like Uniswap Labs) or a centralized project that is in the process of decentralization like Compound. This is even more reason why you just have to feel out your needs, desires, and the ecosystem because no one in Web2 trained you, for example, to figure out where on the spectrum of decentralization you're most suited for. This is different.
7. Unlearn BigCo Behaviors ☕️
Stop asking so much about your job title. Stop obsessing about the volatility of Bitcoin. Stop feeling like the chaos is a bad thing. Sure, these are all reasonable considerations. But be very mindful of what you need to unlearn -- as much as you're focused on the steep learning curve of crypto otherwise as they say, you're NGMI. Crypto is new and focused on building that it has to be about "What can I do?" not "What can you do for me?"
8. Jump in: make a decision and get started 🚀
No decision is perfect. I analyzed my decision for a few weeks while I did some important diligence like customer and investor conversations. The thing about jumping into crypto is that it can't give you the certainty of taking a Vice President job at Google or your next career ladder move at a new hot company where there's a high degree of conviction that comes from the obvious external markers. I recently jumped off a boat from 20 feet in the air when I started my day with no expectation I would do that. My backflip was bad, and there was some minor pain. But I'm glad I did it and I was much better off conquering my fear and moving forward (this is not advice to do backflips or anything else unsafe!). It's almost certainly a terrible metaphor but this is a decision that will only reveal its quality in years rather than days, once you're in the water, swimming. Good luck!