Moving into a new sector is always challenging, but making a career change into one that didn’t exist seven years ago can be a leap of faith. Having emerged from the depths of the late 2000’s recession, bitcoin and the blockchain it runs on, are increasingly gaining credibility in the financial space after years of (often nefarious) media attention.
Having joined the international bitcoin industry from the Irish video games industry, I’ve had the opportunity to see firsthand how this industry is evolving from the coal face. Internationally, a combination of rapidly changing (and maturing) understanding of the underlying tech, cut-throat competition, and rapid innovation are taking place as people get to grips with this potentially disruptive technology.
As it stands right now in Ireland in 2016, bitcoin is very much a niche sector, with a couple of hundred people at most around the country actively involved in the community, and maybe the same again dabbling in it for various good (and bad) purposes. With only two or three real-life locations on the entire island where you can spend bitcoin in exchange for goods, services, food or drin, plus a modest number of online stores accepting it alongside traditional payment methods, it’s not going to break any sales records. There were two cash to bitcoin ATMs in Dublin, although since early in the year this has been reduced to one, with most people getting bitcoin on international exchanges, or peer to peer via LocalBitcoins.
The community in Ireland is also pretty fragmented with competing groups with differing agendas, both North and South, that have sprung up. The Irish Bitcoin Foundation, set up first in 2013, has a small number of people involved, and has gone pretty quiet recently, shutting it’s website down some time ago, and having a cluster of social media accounts from the same group of companies tweeting each other, and little else.
Alongside this, and also founded in 2013, is the Bitcoin Meetup Group, a looser and less formal grouping which has put on dozens of events over the years doing demonstrations, social events, and bringing together visiting speakers with the local community. These include members of the Core Development team, along with companies, and several also organised the BitFin 2014 conference in the RDS. However, there seems to be little crossover or coordination between the two groups.
In the North, the Bitcoin Association of Northern Ireland established a year ago, and while being relatively low key has run a small number of events, but also getting involved in policy discussions in the UK. Belfast also has it’s own separate Bitcoin Meetup group, which is organised mainly by a multinational based up there, and again with little crossover or cooperation going on. Having seen this sort of thing happen in the local games industry, with grassroots-led organisations, and formal lobbying groups in competition with each other , and working in different directions, it’s a shame to see, but a fact of life.
— Bitcoins In Ireland (@BTCinIreland) April 25, 2016
Regardless of what the organisations are doing, a small but growing number of people are getting involved, from a broad cross section of sectors. From the events I’ve been at these include developers, finance, legal, academia, counter-culture, business, trading and hardware enthusiasts, as well as a good few newcomers looking to find out more. The community is pretty welcoming, which is positive to see for such a nascent sector.
Recently, bitcoin has been replaced in media coverage by blockchain, and it’s increasingly common to see news articles on major local publications online and offline talking about the technology, and some very famous brands all chiming in. There is also an increasing number of events being organised outside of the main local groups, which are attracting a new cohort of people into becoming aware of the sector.
— Bitcoins In Ireland (@BTCinIreland) April 20, 2016
But what does this mean for Ireland. Are you going to be able to walk into a retailer and have the option of paying with bitcoin? Probably in due course (if the POS software can support it), but even then it’s going to take some time for people to use it day to day as an alternative to cash as most people buying it are holding it as an investment. Can you invest it? Yes, and there are a number of people who’ve done pretty well out of this side already, with its value nearly doubling in value last year. Will it create new jobs? Potentially, but considering that bitcoin companies struggle to get a bank account opened, this can be a barrier to startups. And what about Policy level attention? This is a grey area at the moment, and hopefully the sector can avoid the situation that happened and to a large degree still is the status quo the local games industry here in Ireland, where startups were left fend for themselves in the absence of policy formally supporting the sector. In the meantime, other jurisdictions may jump at the opportunity to give a framework for the sector to grow.