Cryptocurrency is often described as a solution in search of a problem. How many self-proclaimed experts have an understanding of the problem, who it applies to, and how to connect it with the solution? How many will go on to become wildly successful, and how many will see their life’s work become useless?

The “Wild West” days of crypto have created a “do-it-yourself” professional education environment

The blockchain revolution has taken us somewhere new. While many of its elements have been around for a while, including cryptography, distributed tech, web apps, payments systems, and money, its unique combination has led to an entirely new field of expertise. While a variety of blockchain courses have popped up in universities, most actual knowledge on the rapidly emerging subject has come about the old-fashioned way: by reading, doing, and talking with others in the field over the course of the last few years. While self-taught through personal experience is the best kind of expert, this lack of focus has led to a whole bunch of “crypto experts” with no consistency of expertise whatsoever. What exactly does the average crypto expert know about? Theory? Economics? Business applications? Day trading? Twitter warring? The answer could be very different form person to person, all under the same emerging label.

Most knowledge and education supports the current speculative and insular market’s demands

Institutionalized education is focused on providing a complete picture of a certain subject, but tends to be very unresponsive to market demands and changes. Emerging and self-taught education, on the other hand, tends to very responsive to market demands, since it provides no certification or established pedigree, and therefore must justify its existence based on usefulness in the current economy. This ends up being a little bit of a curse for many would-be crypto experts in the current market climate. Right now, the world of cryptocurrency is relatively insular and self-serving, with most successful businesses servicing present users and fans, and much value created based on speculation rather than present-day use. This leads to knowledge that pays by responding to the current speculative environment, and has no bearing on skills that will be required once cryptocurrency is actually used for its intended purpose in commerce. The demands of the market can shift in the blink of an eye, and the skills of gurus can become as useless as a university degree, only without the piece of paper hanging on the wall (and possibly without the debt, though many have acquired their digital token hoards through fiscally irresponsible methods).

So much “expertise” is actually useless because it’s untested

Now let’s look at how useful some of these skills even are. The average cryptocurrency expert might have experience day trading on exchanges with Bitcoin as a base pair, which may become completely different once the markets cease being entirely speculative, and if one day Bitcoin becomes the “gold standard” of crypto no longer. They might know all the latest smart contract platforms and how they work, but have no idea how to execute a smart contract, apply it to a real world use case, or ensure that it is cost-effective or efficient. They might know the ins and outs of “privacy coins,” yet have no idea how to preserve consumer privacy through using them, locate private methods of acquisition, or create a start-to-finish, practical approach to privacy that includes supreme user experience and scalability without compromising its core offering.

Even solid skills such as development and marketing can be rendered useless when applied to market conditions that no longer exist. Developing an elegantly functioning cryptocurrency can lose its value if the end product has certain benefits that don’t directly affect consumers, and inherent limitations that prevent its efficient use for the most economically viable applications. Creating a merchant solution that functions well with current users used to QR codes, long addresses, and understanding what confirmations are may flop with consumers demanding NFC tap-and-pay, instant transaction experiences, and who may want a solution that does not require using their smartphone. Marketers used to targeting young, tech-savvy, crypto-anarchist and cypherpunk-leaning affluent men may struggle to get their product used by a surprise hit demographic such as middle-aged, non-technical women in the developing world. The fact is, we can’t know exactly which skills will be useful in a practical market until a demand for them arises.

When crypto leaves behind “plaything status,” the resulting market shift will be brutal and unforgiving

Cryptocurrency is still in self-justification mode. Right now, it largely exists to exist, and most of the industry is built around learning what it can do, trying to imagine how that can be applied to the real world, and making money off of people willing to take a guess at the first two. When those first two questions begin to be answered and rolled out into the global economy, all the rest will burn away. Fast. The crypto expert of today might become useless tomorrow, while a new crop of savants rises up to replace them.

Be careful when trusting today’s blockchain gurus. They may be selling you snake oil without even knowing it or intending to.