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IBM blockchain apps starter pack targets developer disparity

With demand high for blockchain development expertise, IBM has delivered a new blockchain-as-a-service offering that helps developers learn the basics of the database ledger.

Blockchain has emerged as one of the hottest trends in IT, and as such, it suffers the familiar plight of other big IT trends. There just aren't enough developers to meet the demand to build blockchain apps.

To help boost the number of blockchain developers, Big Blue recently brought its blockchain platform released last summer to new developers, such as beginners with no previous knowledge of blockchain. The IBM Blockchain Platform Starter Plan helps individual developers, startups and enterprises build blockchain proof of concepts quickly and affordably. The package includes samples, tutorials and videos to help developers learn the basic concepts of blockchain and then build blockchain apps.

For $500 month, the IBM Blockchain Platform Starter Plan includes access to the IBM Cloud compute infrastructure, the open source Hyperledger Fabric blockchain framework and Hyperledger Composer developer tools -- to run the blockchain ledger. IBM also offers a set of development, operational and governance tools to make it simpler to set up and run a blockchain network. Starter plan customers also get $500 in IBM Cloud credits when they sign on, said Kathryn Harrison, IBM Blockchain offering director.

Kathryn Harrison, IBM Blockchain offering directorKathryn Harrison

Blockchain is a distributed database ledger that manages transactions and tracks assets. It can enable a network of users who wish to securely record, verify and execute transactions. That security is what draws everyone's interest, but few blockchain application developers have the skills to match.

"While there are a lot of developers that want to get in this space, there aren't a lot of developers qualified to work on the core of a lot of these protocols from a security perspective," said Chris Pacia, lead backend developer at OB1 based in Centreville, Va., at the recent QCon New York 2018 conference. OB1 is the parent company of OpenBazaar, an online marketplace that uses cryptocurrency.

Blockchain apps: The 'cloud' of the 21st century

Blockchain expertise is the top request among more than 5,000 skills on Upwork,  the organization, based in Mountain View, Calif., that matches freelance workers with employers. Demand for blockchain expertise on Upwork surged more than 6,000% year-over-year in the first three months of 2018.

In a recent Gartner study of nearly 300 CIOs of organizations with ongoing blockchain initiatives, 23% of respondents said that blockchain requires the most new skills to implement of any technology area, and another 18% said blockchain skills are the most difficult to find.

While there are a lot of developers that want to get in this space, there aren't a lot of developers qualified to work on the core of a lot of these protocols from a security perspective.
Chris Pacialead backend developer, OB1

New York City-based Global Debt Registry (GDR), a fintech provider of asset certainty solutions, adopted the IBM blockchain starter plan to build its collateral pledge registry, which enables lenders to check the collateral positions of the institutional investors to which it lends money. For example, if Goldman Sachs lends money to a hedge fund and that hedge fund pledges a set of assets to them, that fund may also approach JPMorgan Chase & Co. and try to pledge the same set of assets. GDR's registry would check to see if those assets are double-pledged, said Robert Brown, CTO of Global Debt Registry.

Brown's team saw blockchain as a good fit because it's essentially a set of data shared among a group of companies in an ecosystem. GDR, which started with no blockchain expertise, evaluated different blockchain options and selected Hyperledger because it was built from the ground up as a private blockchain. "We have a set of institutional investors and banks, and they don't want to have their data in the open," Brown said.

The IBM blockchain starter plan's tools helped GDR developers build blockchain apps and get up and running quickly on the IBM Cloud, he said.

"Hyperledger Composer let us write our smart contracts in JavaScript, which is a language we're familiar with," Brown said. "The API was straightforward to deal with. Composer also has a modeling language that lets you define your data structures and signatures for the objects you create. The tools make it easy to get going."

OB1's Pacia said he is hopeful for projects like IBM's starter plan approach but worries if it will be enough to overcome the low number of people with blockchain expertise. "I've seen other efforts to kind of like train people and slowly bring them along so that they can contribute at that type of high level. But it does take a high level of training to do this securely," he said.

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