Why Web2 developers are hesitant to join the blockchain revolution

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Blockchain technology has the potential to revolutionize industries from finance to healthcare, but a shortage of skilled developers has become a major challenge for companies looking to implement blockchain solutions. 

Demand for developers to build out Web3 is rising, but many traditional Web2 developers still hesitate to plunge into unfamiliar territory. Perceptions of the space as dangerous incite skepticism, and the lack of accessible programming languages, frameworks and education prevents prospective developers from getting involved. 

The need for blockchain education

One of the key challenges facing the blockchain industry is the lack of formal education and training programs focused specifically on blockchain technology. Many developers may have a general understanding of blockchain but lack the specific skills and knowledge needed to develop blockchain applications. This has created a significant shortage of skilled developers, which can make it difficult for companies to find the talent they need to build and deploy these solutions.

As a fast-moving industry, blockchain and Web3 present an exciting arena for developers to advance their careers. In 2022 there were over 25,000 active developers, and over 61,000 developers contributed code for the first time — the highest number ever recorded — showcasing the value locked within the space.

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However, there is a substantial gap between Web3 skills and other mainstream Web2 programming languages. For example, a mere 1.45% of developers use Solidity, compared to mainstream Web2 programming languages such as JavaScript, which is used by over 65% of developers. 

Learning Web3’s coding languages clearly presents a hurdle for intrigued Web2 developers. From a tool and engagement standpoint, Web3 significantly lowers the bar for developers. Developers accustomed to Web2’s seamless tooling solutions are met by an ecosystem less mature and more complex. Entering the space requires a significant investment by the developer. Unless developers are fully convinced of Web3’s long-term prospects, why would they commit to learning Web3 languages that are regarded across the industry as notoriously time-consuming? Those who want to develop on Ethereum or other Web3 chains need to be true believers in the potential and vision of blockchain to undertake the Web3 developer’s journey. The industry needs to recognize this and provide support systems for developers. 

The Web3 mindset

Migration to Web3 involves more than learning new coding languages; one also must develop a Web3 developer mindset. Early commitment in the space has contributed to tribalism, a complex phenomenon with positive and negative effects on the crypto community.

However, it’s inappropriate to second-guess where the visionaries and communities stem from. For a new technology to succeed, you need true believers to fervently drive a point of view. Thus, without such tribalism and those who persevered in spite of contrary opinions, the industry would not be where it is today.

While Web3 founders are revered in their tribes, so are those at the helm of Big Tech corporations. Rightly or wrongly, figureheads such as Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos need no introduction due to long-standing tech fanaticism, so the treatment of those who have gifted pioneering open-source technology to society should be no different.

For leaders such as Vitalik Buterin of Ethereum and Ethan Buchman of Cosmos, it is a democratic virtue that the developer communities contributing to the next generation of the web are firm in their beliefs. It is true that major crypto debates often adopt a tone of religious zeal and fervor rarely seen elsewhere, but this underlying passion is the foundation for the decades-long movement for a better web. 

Safety in Web3

What other reasons cause Web2 developers to be wary of the space? On the periphery, developers see other developers being negatively impacted by safety hazards. From this, they conclude that Web3 is an immature environment full of risk. There are indeed many security risks, and many Web3 developers are subject to building on inadequate systems that can be easily exploited. 

Some of the most momentous building blocks in the crypto industry, such as the Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM), are still maturing. New iterations will continue evolving, but many developers need more security education to innovate safely on these platforms.

This is where we need to educate developers to prevent them from stepping into security traps that prevent composition and growth. How do we navigate getting people into a space where they need to be programming in a safer way? This is the challenge that the industry is up against. Improving tooling and debugging experiences is essential if developers are to cross the chasm from Web2 to Web3, but we also need safer execution engines and more education.

A key strategy for navigating the developer shortage is to build a strong developer community. A thriving community can help attract new talent to the industry and can provide valuable resources and support for new developers. Well-established communities, such as the one around JavaScript, can offer support to developers entering the blockchain space through tutorials, code samples and documentation. Experienced developers can provide mentorship, offer guidance on best practices and share their knowledge and expertise through online platforms. This support can be invaluable for new blockchain developers who may be navigating a complex and rapidly evolving technology landscape. Furthermore, increased Web3 partnerships can not only accelerate the development of blockchain solutions but also address the shortage of skilled developers by pooling resources and talent.

Web3 envisions a world where millions of developers can build decentralized applications for billions of users to interact with every day. For this to become a reality, the industry needs to entice more developers into the Web3 space by simplifying the onboarding process so that they feel it is a worthwhile opportunity, both economically and philosophically. The next generation of developers may be Web3 natives, but investing in the established Web2 developers who can lay the foundations of a distributed web with the skills in their toolkits cannot be ignored. 

Bringing Web2 developers into the conversation means speaking to them in the languages they understand. The technology may be open-source, but be it memes, Rust, jargon or JavaScript, initiating dialogue is crucial for sparking meaningful change.

Diego Lizarazo is director of developer relations at Agoric.

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