What are Blockchains?

Blockchain, Bitcoin, crypto… it’s the conversation on everyone’s screens right now. But it’s often one that many of us find ourselves disengaging from, getting confused with and watching from the side lines. After all, how important is blockchain anyway?

Well, the answer is actually: very. In a research study by TechRepublic, 64% of professionals said they expected blockchain to affect their industry in some way, yet 70% of them said they hadn’t yet used blockchain: a potentially critical digital skill gap. Companies on the forefront of tech including Microsoft, Spotify, Kodak and IBM have already introduced blockchain capabilities in their software and services, and a Trend Insight Report from Gartner predicts that by 2030, the business value added by blockchain will grow to more than $3.1 trillion.

That’s right, $3.1 trillion.

So what is blockchain? And how can you go about learning more and developing your skills? With the help of Lavinia Osbourne, Host and Founder of Women in Blockchain Talks, the award-winning, female-led blockchain educational and networking events platform, we’ve got you covered.

What is blockchain?

Blockchain is a specific type of database. It’s a system of recording information in a way that makes it difficult or impossible to change or hack.

A blockchain differs from a typical database in the way it stores information; blockchains collect information together in groups, also known as blocks, that hold sets of information. When new data enters a blockchain it is added into a new block. Once the block is filled with data, it is chained onto the previous block, which means data is stored in chronological order. Blockchains are therefore constantly changing and growing as blocks are being added to the chain.

Blockchain also does not store any of its information in a central location: rather, the blockchain is copied and spread across a network of computers. Whenever a new block is added to the chain, every single computer on the network updates its blockchain to reflect the change.

Blockchain technology was first outlined in 1991, but it wasn’t until the launch of Bitcoin in 2009 that it had its first real-world application. The most common use for blockchains to date has been as a ledger for financial transactions. In this case, each block in the chain contains a number of transactions and every time a new one occurs, a record of that transaction is added to every participant’s ledger. 

What’s the point – and the benefits – of blockchain?

Blockchain is an incredibly secure and efficient way of storing large amounts of data. The more blocks in a chain, the more secure the database because the harder it becomes for hackers to corrupt the system. That’s why blockchain-based systems like Bitcoin were designed: to solve the problem of lack of trust and security when it came to digital money.

With blockchain technology, nobody is in charge; it’s run by the people who use it and cannot be faked or hacked. In industries such as finance and accounting, blockchain-based technology can be used for purposes such as capturing terms and conditions between a customer and an organisation in order.

Accenture released a report claiming blockchain technology could reduce infrastructure costs for 8 of the world’s 10 largest investment banks by an average of 30% – which translates to between $8 and $12 billion. Companies such as Microsoft, Spotify, Kodak and IBM have already introduced blockchain capabilities in their software and services. Even the Bank of England is considering ways that it can use blockchain for payments, clearing and settlement.

So, what are the key benefits of blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies that use these systems, like Bitcoin? Lavinia Osbourne says:

“The key benefits of [blockchain technology] are that it is open source and immutable therefore the data on the digital ledger aka Blockchain cannot be manipulated. This creates transparency, tractability, traceability, and a trustless basis to do business, to transact, because trust is not required. Reducing cost and creating efficiencies due to the redundant need of a middleman.”

 “In regard to Bitcoin, it is a peer-to-peer transaction that is easily trackable, swift, and cost-effective to send and receive. More importantly, it is decentralized so unlike other forms of traditional currencies it is not owned by a government or centralized body, so in some ways, bitcoin allows you to become your own banker.”

What’s the future for blockchain?

Blockchain is already playing a key role in many industries, from finance to entertainment, and is the “future of both work and money”, says Lavinia: “Although it is an evolving technology, the solutions it represents to a many ongoing “social impact” issue around the world, such as voting rigging and the financial inclusion of the unbanked and underbanked, is innovating and ongoing. The fact big institutions and governments are looking at blockchain technology to incorporate it into their future plans says it all. Blockchain is here to stay.”

So if you’ve been thinking you need to futureproof your job by upskilling in digital, and you hadn’t considered learning more about blockchain, we’d suggest adding it to the top of your agenda!

Who are the women at the forefront of blockchain technology right now that you should know about? 

“This is a great question!” says Lavinia, “It depends on what capacity, because like many other industries – and Blockchain is now an industry! – you have different sectors: Developers, Marketers, Innovators, Thought Leaders, etc, etc. So, I will lead with Rhian Lewis, Aparna Jue both technologists, in their own right. Teana Baker, Helen Disney, Genvieve Levielle and Linda Goetze. There are so many to list and learn from, but many of them are in my Women in Blockchain Talks community, and if they are not then they will be soon enough.”

We hope this gave you the short intro you needed to blockchain, and if one thing’s become clear, it’s that blockchain technology is not only a skill of the future, but a skill that is already very much in-demand and here to stay.

If you’d like to learn more about blockchain technology and level up your skills, book your ticket to Digital Women’s upcoming Future Digital Event now! You’ll get to hear more from Lavinia Osbourne, Founder of Women in Blockchain Talks, and ensure that you’re equipped with the skills you need for your current and future career in a constantly evolving digital world.

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