Last year, with cryptocurrency prices nearing all-time highs, VICE spoke with some people who had recently started working in the forward thinking field known as web3. There was a quit Uber product designer at a hot NFT startup, the co-founder of a vibrant cryptocurrency community, and many more. They spoke of artist empowerment, collective ownership and unique creative structures. Today, however, it seems that the majority of cryptocurrency headlines are about hacks and fraud. What are those jobs like now, if they still exist?
Most of the people we spoke to, it turns out, are still working in or near cryptocurrencies. Some have lost money or traded projects, but few, particularly those drawn to cryptocurrencies for the philosophical or technical potential they see in it, seem to have any regrets.
“Last year, there were a lot more fraternity guys who were in banking or private equity than really clear system builders.” -Chris
A year ago, Raihan Anwar was working on Friends With Benefits, a DAO that the New York Times once called “the VIP lounge for the creative class of cryptocurrencies.” He has since added a new role as community director at Blockchain Creative Labs (BCL), a part of FOX Entertainment that explores blockchain-based licensing, fan experiences, and other ways the traditional studio system can interact and experiment with web3. “It’s super interesting because you have this big creativity in charge in the space, with their existing infrastructure games for art, animation, film, creative, etc., and they’re willing to experiment and see how the technology works.” , he said.
According to Raihan, tech social bubbles fueled much of last year’s hype, in which people had little outside perspective. As prices have plummeted and lofty ideas about social coordination facilitated by blockchains have yet to succeed, cryptocurrency’s most fervent proponents have had to return to Earth. “People who used to say the word ‘trustless’ every other phrase maybe they are now [saying it] every other paragraph,” he said. “Trust is people. You cannot ‘smartly bargain’ your way out of liars, cheaters and scammers.
However, Raihan is enthusiastic about creative projects that take advantage of the bear market. Lower prices mean interacting with the blockchain is cheaper too, whether you’re a user playing with new apps or a developer pushing the boundaries of technology. “A lot of the tech talent that has come into the space in the last year or year and a half has come and stayed because it’s such an interesting experiment and experience to see,” he said.
Launch of Danny Cole, a visual artist known for his imaginative and colorful style World of Creatures in August 2021. The potential for “new creative structures” brought him to web3 and his NFT collection was almost instantaneous success. “When I got into web3, the idea of ’what is an NFT’ was very undefined,” he said. “The answer was ‘whatever I’m going to do,’ and that was very exciting for me.”
While he has seen the price of some of his works drop over the past year, his feelings about cryptocurrencies have changed well before the recent drop. “The question of ‘what is an NFT’ has been answered more by ‘an NFT is a vehicle for financial speculation and one upon which you can build new tools for financial incentives,'” she continued. “That wasn’t my interest.” Thus, things like the recent crash of the FTX exchange and the arrest of its founder, Sam Bankman-Fried, haven’t changed his belief in the potential cultural value of NFTs. “No part of some random guy in finance who might have committed fraud or something is telling me there’s no future where people are going to love digital products.”
“No part of some random guy in finance who might have committed fraud or something is telling me there’s no future where people are going to love digital products.” —Danny Cole
Lily Nguyen, product designer at Zora, a bustling NFT marketplace, told VICE last year that he felt like a “rat on cocaine working in this space because there’s so much going on.” The bear market has given her time to focus. “There are fewer fires to put out and fewer distractions,” she said. “There are still users who use our product and ask us for things, but there is much less ‘something is broken, I will [fix it] Saturday evening or rando meetings at 11pm.
Lily had encouraged her family to buy Ethereum last year and said her parents sold it before prices crashed and funded a vacation with the profits. “My parents are smarter than me,” she said, noting that she had lost a lot of money due to the decline in the value of her NFTs. She has few regrets, though. “I feel like, in the end, a lot of that money was pretty well spent [because] it went to artists that I really respect.
We also spoke to Chris*, a software engineer who asked not to be identified by his real name. He worked in the cryptocurrency space for two years before stepping down in early 2021 after growing skeptical of broad claims about financial inclusion in the industry and sensing the bubble could soon burst. “I guess I feel vindicated,” he said. According to him, the price fluctuations result from the extreme concentration of wealth inherent in the current ecosystem. “A lot of the volatility and liquidity comes from some 2015 whales swinging their dicks.”
Like Raihan, Chris has noted that cryptocurrency down cycles tend to attract people drawn to interesting technical issues. “Last year, there were a lot more fraternity guys that were in banking or private equity, than really clear system builders,” he said. “People who were there for the money instead of things like, ‘Oh, this stuff is really cool.'” without revealing all the data necessary to make it and other applications related to privacy and security. “The biggest lesson for me is the importance of understanding why you’re doing the things you’re doing for yourself, rather than trying to update your views on the world based on what other people believe.”
Most of the people we spoke to shared this feeling that bear markets test people’s belief in the values they espouse. This fall, the broader economic downturn hit much of the tech sector beyond cryptocurrencies, with recent layoffs from Meta and Amazon, among others, and considering her other options, Lily seemed pleased. “It’s a smarter career move to gravitate toward something that personally gives me purpose versus pursuing something that may be in high demand right now but may have a downturn cycle in the future,” she said. “I don’t think anything worth building is ever a safe bet.”
Ultimately, Lily said, she’s still motivated by the idea of ”building a better internet,” especially one that’s “fairer for creators.” It’s the same principle that inspired her to get into cryptocurrencies, and even considering doubts about cryptocurrencies’ potential positive social impact or widespread adoption, it may be too early to give up hope. “I think there is a possibility that encryption could have something to do with [that goal]. Is it the magic wand? Probably not, but will I at least try to leave a mark? Yup.”