Market research firms have put Indians among the biggest users and holders of cryptocurrency. Several cryptocurrency exchanges – which allow you to trade in cryptocurrency, and even use them to purchase goods & services – have emerged in India, and most are doing phenomenal business. Coin-DCX became India’s first cryptocurrency unicorn in August when the exchange raised $90 million from investors. Coinswitch Kuber hit 10 million registered users in September, just 15 months from launch, making it perhaps the biggest exchange in India.
Building these exchanges requires a lot of software and engineering talent. Staffing firm Xpheno estimates there are more than 10,000 active job openings currently in the cryptocurrency segment in India. Even global exchanges are coming to India for talent. Nasdaq-listed Coinbase is establishing a technology facility in Hyderabad. Pankaj Gupta, Coinbase’s VP engineering and site lead for India, blogged in July about how India is seeing a boom in crypto-native talent. He said the company is hiring frontend engineers, data and machine learning engineers, product designers and many more. “These teams in India will be led by local engineering directors, who will have large, independent and autonomous charters. They are being intentionally set up for local decision-making to optimize for impact and velocity,” he wrote.
Exchanges need talent to build, maintain and improve multiple components. They need user-interface designers and front-end engineers to build a visually appealing application that is also simple and seamless to use, more so since users are new to crypto. They need engineers to build a trading engine that can quickly match buyers and sellers, and enable immediate transactions. They need to provide a variety of ways for people to use their cryptocurrency – not just as investment, but also for, say, payments (Unocoin allows users to recharge their Fastag, make bill payments). This requires building those interconnections.
They need to enable wallets for users to keep their cryptocurrency. They need to provide extremely high levels of security. The whole transaction system is typically built on a blockchain network, and while that provides for a lot of trust and security, blockchains have been hacked.
Avinash Shekhar, co-CEO of Zeb-Pay, says the talent around crypto deposit infrastructure is turning out to be a key requirement. “The exchanges have three responsibilities. One, if you are depositing Bitcoin from somewhere, we should have an automated system that takes this into account. The transaction typically happens on blockchain infrastructure. Two, as exchanges can be hacked, you need infrastructure to keep it safe. Three, when you place a withdrawal request, it needs to be processed in an automated manner – again using a blockchain infrastructure that is secure enough. Crypto engineers need to understand every block in the chain and how the data moves. There’s great demand for a blockchain engineer with an understanding of blockchain security, platforms, architecture, and standards.,” he said.
Ashish Singhal, founder of Coinswitch Kuber, says they look for skills in problem solving, product development, data, engineering, and security. The blockchain industry, he says, is putting a new face to security, but blockchain security talent has not evolved in India. “We had to go to Israel and the US for security experts,” he says.
Another major evolving area is smart contracts, built on the Ethereum blockchain network. These are collections of code that carry out a set of instructions when certain pre-stated conditions are met. These contracts, which make tampering of transactions impossible, are powering decentralised applications. Ethereum is also what has enabled the rise of NFTs (non-fungible tokens), which are digital assets designed to represent ownership of unique virtual items.
Sathvik Vishwanath, CEO & co-founder of Unocoin, says smart contracts allow users to create decentralised financing protocols, create NFTs, create automatically executing escrow contracts.
Nischal Shetty, founder of WazirX, says smart contracts have created good demand for developers specialising in Solidity, the programming language preferred for smart contracts. He says developers familiar with Python will find it easy to learn Solidity as they have similar syntax.
Almost every company in the business is expanding. ZebPay’s head of HR, Geetika Mehta, says they plan to raise headcount from 220 now – of which 30% are engineers – to 400-450 in 6-9 months. WazirX had 35 employees in January; it’s now 300.
Coinswitch Kuber’s Singhal said they have grown to 350 people, from 20 last year, and they expect to be a 1,500-strong team by the end of the 2021-22 financial year. “A third of the talent will be engineers, specialising in data, security, and solving complex engineering problems,” he says.