If 2017 was the year of Bitcoin, then 2018 will be the year of blockchain. Huffington Post calls it a digital revolution on par with the enormity of the dot-com boom, and Medium declared that it's "changing the world." If you're new to the field though, you've probably shared the same questions: What is blockchain, and why is everyone talking about it?
"Blockchain is a secure record of transactions generally powered by computers and the people who use it, not a third party," explains Kelley Weaver, founder of blockchain communications firm Melrose PR and host of the Crypto Token Talk podcast. "Like anything, it's much more complicated once you dive deeper into the nitty-gritty, but the basics of blockchain aren't as intimidating as a lot of people think."
Beyond the male-dominated veneer, there's a tight-knit group of women who encourage their peers and the next generation to embrace jobs in STEM. "I have met the most welcoming and badass crypto sisters," says Shop's Anisa Khoshbakhtian. "I'm so excited to have [them] on my side and strive to be that for the other women I come in contact with." As it turns out, it's not just a boys' club. Ahead we quizzed four women with different day jobs who are all united by the blockchain industry. Here's what they had to say about misconceptions, investing in cryptocurrency, and understanding blockchain basics.
Anisa Khoshbakhtian works in brand marketing and engagement at Shop, the first token built for shoppers to democratize the retail space. She says the role is fast-paced and ever-evolving, which is part of the appeal. "I can honestly say that I haven't had a day at this job where I've been even remotely bored, and I don't foresee that day coming in the future."
What's the biggest misconception people have about your job?
"I think that people tend to see blockchain as strictly being in the tech industry without realizing that there are numerous blockchain companies and solutions out there that cross over into more mainstream industries. For example, I work for Shop, where we are creating the first cryptocurrency built for shopping and a blockchain-based e-commerce platform that will allow shoppers to own their personal data and trade it with brands for discounts as part of every transaction. So I'm just as much in the blockchain/cryptocurrency world as I am in retail."
What's your advice for women considering a career change?
"When I got into this space, I quickly connected with other ladies in blockchain, and they have all been extremely supportive. My biggest advice is to call on the other women in the industry—reach out on LinkedIn and request informational interviews, join a Women in Blockchain local meetup, and attend networking events. I believe that the more we empower each other and provide a safe environment for the other women in this space, the more openings we will make for women to get involved."
Any tips for first-time investors?
"I don't like to kiss and tell, but I will say that I primarily invest in the smaller cryptocurrencies that are generally identified as utility tokens. I'm interested in those cryptos that I believe will actually impact our day-to-day lives. I don't care as much for the hype of the bigger coins (i.e., Bitcoin and Ether). A lot of ICOs have come and gone in the last several years, so I am particular about doing my due diligence—which everyone should be—while also making sure I invest in a project that I personally have an interest in and that I think has the potential to make a real impact."
Kelley Weaver is the founder of Melrose PR, a communications agency for blockchain initiatives. She also hosts a "newbie-friendly" podcast called Crypto Token Talk. Her job is to "look over literally hundreds of new businesses a week to find projects that will change the world. From there, I aim to be a fearless leader for my (mostly) female team—somewhat of an anomaly in the male-dominated tech world," she says.
Can blockchain really change the way we live and do business?
"Well, a dream for anyone who is truly passionate about blockchain technology would be to see the world adopt cryptocurrencies and use them in everyday transactions. Right now we're not quite there. The technology is so new (and, admittedly, a little clunky), and there still remains a stigma around crypto. The fact that currencies like Bitcoin, Ethereum, Monero, etc., are 'decentralized'—meaning they aren't tied to a bank or government—is a pretty radical notion. It's one that some people are resistant to and others are completely thrilled by."
What can we do to encourage more girls to pursue careers in STEM?
"A misconception about STEM fields is that if you choose that path, you'll be stuck behind a computer coding for the rest of your life. If that's your jam, great! If not, a STEM background just gives you a bigger toolbox to reach into. Our world is hyperconnected, and technology informs virtually every industry. With proper education and mentorship, young women will see that interest and knowledge about these fields will help them get a foot in the door on whatever path they may choose."
Any investment tips for those interested in cryptocurrency?
"There's a theory that everyone should consider investing 1% of their net worth into Bitcoin and forget about it for five years. At that point, it may be worthless, but it may be a million dollars. It's an incredibly volatile asset class, so if you need the money (particularly in the short term), it's a bad idea to hold it in cryptocurrency. Before investing, seek out advice from an independent financial planner."
Portia Mills is the VP of marketing at NetVote, a company that utilizes blockchain technology to provide an accessible and safe method of voting around the world. "Blockchain has the power to transform critical processes that are plagued by hackers, lack of transparency, and issues of scale," she tells MyDomaine.
What's a typical workday for you?
"There's nothing typical about my workday To be effective in marketing for startups, I need to be a 'Jane' of all trades, from the tactical—working on website backends, tweaking graphics in Adobe, analyzing marketing data, implementing automation —to the strategic—performing market research, creating growth and marketing strategies, managing teams, and attending or speaking at conferences. But every day, no matter where I am, typically involves a lot of reading, writing, networking, phone calls, and time with my faithful office companion, Chesterton the Dachshund"
How did you break into the industry?
"Between undergrad and grad school, I did a stint of development work in rural Haiti. I was impressed by how cell phone companies transformed the lives of poor people there. Independently powered cell towers cropped up, and charging stations sponsored by private corporations popped up in marketplaces and town centers. Suddenly populations totally disconnected from the wired grid can call distant family members, bank on mobile apps, or send an SOS to aid workers during a crisis (which saved lives after the 2010 earthquake).
"I tell this anecdote because this was my entrance into blockchain via the study of technology policy and emerging markets at Johns Hopkins SAIS when I returned from Haiti. Since receiving my MA, I have helped market a variety of interesting tech companies, but NetVote is the first blockchain company I've worked with."
What is one way you hope blockchain changes the world?
"Electronic voting, as we saw in the most recent election, leaves systems open to hackers, it's often expensive and, in a way, it's the 'same old thing' as voting on a paper ballot. The same problems still exist or are even multiplied if a malicious third party gets access to a voting server. I was deeply impressed by NetVote's potential to solve the problem once and for all. An open-source blockchain platform is uniquely positioned to solve the challenges facing group decision–making systems worldwide. It is innately tamperproof (you can't hack blockchain) and, with NetVote's approach, voting is affordable and easy to implement for elections in municipalities, states, corporations, and nongovernmental organizations."
Dana Harvey is the chief communications officer of RightMesh, a project that uses "mobile mesh networking along with blockchain technology and tokenization to connect the next billion people in the world," she explains. She is responsible for managing the overall communications risks and opportunities of the company.
What's the biggest misconception people have about blockchain?
"The biggest misconception is that blockchain is all about cryptocurrency and financial transactions. What blockchain is really about is a shift in power. With the digital trust of blockchain, power is transferred to the people to deal directly with each other from peer-to-peer, and it's decentralized to be shared among many rather than held in the hands of few."
How do you describe blockchain to first-timers?
"I like to explain blockchain as a single version of the truth of a transaction. That truth is recorded digitally, time-stamped, verified, and securely shared amongst multiple parties. Since all parties agree on the verified truth, and they all have shared digital copies of it, if there was ever an attempt to alter that truth, it would be detected and invalidated. It lets us transact directly with each other by relying on digital trust instead of having to rely on middlemen like businesses or banks for security."
How can we encourage the next generation of girls to get involved?
"Girls cannot be what they cannot see. Even if we are still few, we need to be visible to young girls, to show them an alternative to the bro culture commonly perceived to underlie STEM industries and careers. The first step then is to encourage those of us who are in these fields to have a face and a voice, to be at the table with the men, to bring attention to ourselves so we are seen and heard, and to hold out our hands to mentor young women and bring them into the fold."
Still eager to learn more? Here's one writer experience buying and owning Ethereum.