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How to become a smart contract developer

Blockchain fundamentals, programming knowledge, security awareness, and experience in testing and debugging are among the major requirements in smart contract development.

A smart contract developer is a professional who specializes in creating, deploying and maintaining smart contracts and associated infrastructure. Smart contracts are self-executing agreements driven by predefined rules and conditions encoded onto a blockchain platform. These contracts automatically execute the terms of the agreement when the specified conditions are met without requiring intermediaries or third parties.

In theory, the actual smart contracts are completely decentralized, so developers need to understand the new infrastructure for storing data, managing transactions and enforcing identity. In practice, most smart contracts involve some combination of traditional infrastructure and decentralized infrastructure to strike the right balance between performance and ease of use. A smart contract developer has a deep understanding of blockchain platforms and protocols and can write code that interacts with these platforms to deploy and execute smart contracts.

Smart contract developers must learn blockchain fundamentals, master smart contract programming languages like Solidity or Clarity and understand security risks associated with smart contracts, said Sanjiv Maewall, CTO of blockchain and digital assets at Deloitte Consulting. Additionally, gaining hands-on experience by practicing smart contract development, engaging in open source projects and participating in the developer community that fosters continuous learning and collaboration dramatically advance the career development journey.

Reasons to pursue a smart contract development career

There are several compelling benefits to pursuing a career in smart contract development:

  • Emerging field. Blockchain technology, including smart contracts, is still relatively new and rapidly evolving, presenting an ideal opportunity to learn about decentralized technology.
  • High demand and competitive salaries. Smart contract development and blockchain development are lucrative jobs. The average smart contract developer's salary is about $125,000.
  • Decentralized technology advancements. Decentralized technology has the potential to revolutionize various sectors, such as finance, supply chain and healthcare.
  • Participation in the next big wave. Smart contracts enable the automation and execution of agreements without relying on intermediaries via decentralized infrastructure, which many see as the next wave of computing.
  • New opportunities. Smart contract developers can learn the skills to create their own decentralized applications (dApps) and blockchain-based projects.

Requirements to become a smart contract developer

Smart contract developers require an entirely new skill set. It's important to determine how new concepts and tools relate to what you already know. It can be like learning a new programming language and how to write a program simultaneously, said Nicko Guyer, Hyperledger FireFly maintainer and senior full stack engineer at blockchain-based Web 3.0 application platform provider Kaleido.

"You may even be able to use a language you already know to write your smart contract," Guyer explained. "But, even if you can't, developers of all skill levels will still find that existing experience will be valuable as they learn how to write their own smart contracts."

Top requirements for becoming a smart contract developer include the following:

  • Fundamental programming knowledge in languages like JavaScript, Python or C++, which can set the foundation for understanding programming logic.
  • Understanding blockchain fundamentals, like decentralized networks, consensus mechanisms, cryptographic algorithms and the structure of blockchains.
  • Familiarity with smart contract development frameworks and tools like Truffle, Brownie and Remix.
  • Experience working with the Solidity programming language and how it facilitates blockchain transactions.
  • Experimentation with blockchain platforms like Ethereum to understand their workflows and development processes.
  • Smart contract security awareness to understand how smart contracts and dApps can be compromised and ways to mitigate these issues.
  • Decentralized testing and debugging experience to be able to write tests and fix problems.
Smart contract's part in a blockchain shipment
A smart contract's role in a blockchain shipment transaction

Steps to become a smart contract developer

It's important to start by understanding object-oriented development principles. Developers with good object-oriented development experience can potentially master smart contract basics in four to six weeks, said Lata Varghese, managing director of digital assets and crypto at IT consultancy Protoviti. She also recommended learning Solidity, the most popular blockchain programming language of the Ethereum Virtual Machine and widely used across various EVM-compatible blockchains. Other options include Vyper and Rust.

Learning how to design, develop and test smart contracts is not radically different from learning any other type of programming, Guyer said. It helps to have a basic understanding of the execution environment in which your code will run. It's also important to understand how serverless platforms differ from traditional long-lived server daemons, which vary greatly from mobile apps. Each of these different paradigms has constraints that inform the application's design.

In addition, learning a programming language to write your smart contract is important. Many blockchain platforms let you use languages you already know, such as Go, JavaScript or Java. Guyer said that even smart contract-specific languages, like Solidity, are not hard to pick up since the languages themselves tend to be small.

It's also important to familiarize yourself with the new blockchain platform tools. Different types of blockchains have different sets of tools and frameworks. Learning how to use them effectively can help develop and test smart contracts. "Writing comprehensive tests for your contract," Guyer said, "is an absolutely critical part of development, which can save you from costly mistakes down the road."

Future of smart contract development

Many of the fundamental principles of smart contract development could also help take advantage of opportunities in privacy-enhanced computing, trustworthy AI, decentralized finance and generative AI. Decentralized infrastructure is expected to play a growing role in the finance, supply chain, real estate and healthcare industries by finding new ways to streamline processes, reduce costs and increase transparency.

Smart contracts tend to be developed for specific blockchain platforms. As the industry evolves, developers will create applications that work across multiple platforms. Experience in the intricacies of smart contract infrastructure could also help developers find ways to mitigate transaction costs and speed confirmation times for dApps.

The growth of generative AI is increasing scrutiny of the privacy aspects of data used to train and run these new algorithms. Smart contract developers will be better positioned to take advantage of opportunities in healthcare and finance.

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