An engineer by education, Abhiroop Gupta, 25, lost his job at a travel consultancy in Delhi during the COVID-19 lockdown. Since he had adequate savings, Gupta decided to use the lockdown as an opportunity to hone his skills in the cryptocurrency space.
He became part of a mining pool, which has made “decent progress”.
The icing on the cake? Gupta now has two job offers in hand, from two rival cryptocurrency platforms.
“I am active on the Reddit cryptocurrency groups and hence I believe that the cryptocurrency platforms took notice. I am yet to decide on where to join since I have two offers for engineering positions,” he says.
Amid the rise in cryptocurrency trading and mining in India, platforms in this space are going out to hire talent. Since most roles are technical, engineering talent is in high demand.
These include roles like blockchain developer, backend developer and crypto engineer.
Hiring consultants say that apart from technical roles, product development and marketing positions have also started to open.
“Starting salaries at these crypto platforms are at least 25-30 percent higher than traditional IT firms. Hence, engineers are eager to take up such roles. On the non-tech front, digital marketing and product developers are in high demand,” said Jose Mathews, senior vice president at PayHire HR Consulting.
Engineering talent in demand
As a matter of fact, India is becoming a fertile ground for building an engineering base for the global cryptocurrency platforms in the country.
For instance, the US-listed crypto exchange platform is building a talent base starting with Hyderabad.
Former Google Pay executive and Coinbase’s India Site Lead and Vice President Engineering, Pankaj Gupta, in a blog post in April, said: “Specifically, the plan is to hire hundreds of employees across all levels in engineering, product management, UX (user experience) design, research and programme management within the next one–two years to build out a full tech hub in India. Together, we’ll work on some of the most interesting challenges spanning the full modern tech stack — including deep tech areas like blockchains, data engineering, infrastructure, machine learning and more.”
Industry sources said that the starting salary for cryptocurrency platforms in India is as high as Rs 9.5 lakh per annum and those with up to two years of work experience could be paid up to Rs 22 lakh. In cases of unique technology like Solidity, this may go as high as Rs 35 lakh for a couple of years of experience!
Unlike other technology platforms, the crypto industry is unique and requires a distinct set of skills that are not readily available in the market.
According to Gaurav Dahake, CEO, Bitbns, while faster iteration, which is all about building fast and implementing mentality, is more common in other industries, there is huge focus on perfecting the code before implementation since there is big emphasis on security.
Once the solutions are deployed, no changes can be affected, and any mistake could cost the users and platforms a significant chunk of money.
Crypto platforms are also under the active radar of hackers due to the massive scale of transactions involved. This presents another layer of challenges for the platform.
“There is a much higher financial liability involved. If any hacking attempt is made, crores could be wiped out in seconds and the coder would be held responsible. This is also because filing cybercrime complaints over crypto, which is under ‘regulatory grey area’ is not feasible. So, it is crucial that the pay is attractive enough,” said Madhavi Shetty, a recruitment consultant based in Hyderabad.
This requires engineers who are trained in blockchain, a talent not readily available in the market.
Talent shortage, big money
For instance, those trained in Solidity programming, a language used for implementing smart contracts in blockchain platforms, especially Ethereum, are highly valued.
Smart contracts are computer programmes executed on blockchain, used for establishing trade between two parties for trading or crypto transactions, without middlemen.
Given that this language first emerged only in 2014, even those with just a couple of years of experience could earn Rs 35 lakh per annum, Dahake points out.
Since there is a shortage of skilled talent, companies are ready to pay big money.
While Solidity programming is unique to crypto platforms, trained blockchain engineers are high on demand but they too, don’t come easy.
For instance, Unocoin is willing to pay as high as Rs 1.45 lakh per month for blockchain engineers. “But they are not available,” rues Sathvik Viswanath, CEO & Co-founder, Unocoin.
Given the shortage, often, Dahake and Viswanth said, they hire talented engineers and train them.
But with bigger companies like Coinbase hiring, things might change, though this may impact hiring in the limited talent pool for the local firms.
“With Coinbase hiring, if many people join and get trained, this will eventually create a much wider pool for the ecosystem and that might be beneficial to all the companies,” Viswanath said.
It is not just engineers that crypto exchanges want; there are other roles that are also coming up for grabs. These include compliance officers whose role include monitoring regulatory changes, and how these platforms need to adapt, and legal implications as they scale and pivot.
For Unocoin, Viswanath said that the technology used is more-or-less stable since platforms are built in a scalable manner.
But that cannot be said for the regulations.
In a constantly changing regulatory environment and at a time when too many people are getting on-boarded on exchange platforms, Viswanath said that they need to keep an eye on how people are on-boarded and the verification process.
In addition, there are also questions: if new services like lending are added, what will be the taxation structure and classification of the entity?
But given the scale, it is not always possible for founders to be involved in each aspect since they also need to look at newer avenues for growth and rub shoulders with the government for regulations.
“For every new initiative, we have to depend on lawyers to ensure that the decision we take is the best. Having a compliance officer to offer some insights ensures that this is the best way,” adds Viswanath.
Another area that is coming up is content moderation and strategy in areas like NFT or non-fungible tokens. Considering that NFTs are still new in India and young traders are eager to learn and earn, platforms are hiring content strategists to attract prospective customers.
Volatile regulatory environment, hesitancy
While the salaries are attractive, there is a definite hesitancy among prospective candidates amid a volatile regulatory environment.
The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) on May 31 clarified that banks and other regulated entities cannot cite its 2018 circular on cryptocurrencies as it has been set aside by the Supreme Court (SC) in March 2020.
The circular is not valid from the date of the SC order and cannot be cited or quoted from, the RBI said.
However, the central bank asked banks to carry out the necessary customer due diligence process in line with regulations governing standards for Know Your Customer (KYC), anti-money laundering (AML), combating of financing of terrorism (CFT) and obligations of regulated entities under Prevention of Money Laundering Act, (PMLA), 2002.
RBI has not given any clear views on whether it is in favour of cryptocurrency or not.
This uncertainty, to some extent, is impacting hiring. A crypto exchange founder said that not many want to join the industry where the regulatory environment is volatile and unsure if it will be banned or not.
“Even if employees are willing, their families are concerned, resulting in many not keen to take the risk. But with Coinbase hiring, and the government’s willingness to understand, more people are interested,” the founder added.
While further clarity on the legality of these instruments is awaited from the Ministry of Finance, in the meantime, the job market for cryptocurrency platforms is slowly expanding and so are the avenues to upskill in the field.
Specialised crypto courses
Hiring experts said that while qualified engineers are in demand, crypto platforms are even open to those who have been actively involved in trading and/or mining.
“What an individual learns by crypto trading is something that cannot be taught at any institute. So, crypto platforms are eager to hire some of these self-made crypto traders and help them upskill by making them undergo a refresher course,” said Mathews of PayHire HR Consulting.
Specialised courses are also available to meet the rising demand. For instance, there is a six-week cryptocurrency online short course from the MIT Media Lab of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), USA.
This six-week course is available in partnership with digital education company, GetSmarter, for a fee of Rs 1.93 lakh.
Earlier this year, global digital skills platform Simplilear partnered with IIT Kanpur to offer a four-month professional certificate programme in Blockchain Technology.
The key domains covered include applications of blockchain technology, Bitcoin, platforms that use Blockchain, application building on Ethereum, Hyperledger, and other prospects of Blockchain.