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In Texas' crypto job market, Austin emerges as a leader

Austin sees growth in crypto hires in 2021.

A few years ago while at the Austin Technology Council's CEO Summit, David Aktary sat in an audience of hundreds as a speaker asked who was involved in cryptocurrency or blockchain. At the time, Aktary and two others were the only ones to raise their hands. But this past year, Aktary says nearly everybody has become involved in some way.

"There's just a culture shift at a technical leadership level in Austin," Aktary told Austonia. "Everybody's paying attention now, which definitely wasn't the case before."

Aktary is head of Aktary Tech, a local software development firm that provides insights on web, mobile, and blockchain technologies. He says this mainstream shift has reached Texas, and Austin in particular. A recent LinkedIn study echoed that statement and said that while crypto doesn't have a set home, Austin was positioned as a notable leader that saw growth this year.

But the same study found that Austin made three crypto hires per 100,000 this past year. That nets in just 2% of the market share, behind the Bay Area and New York City at 12% and 18%, respectively.

Aktary said the talent pool in Austin is lacking because universities haven't built up the mass of candidates yet for companies to choose from, requiring imports to the region instead.

"The reserves of both talent and funds are on the coasts right now, so it's going to take time," Aktary said. "But we have a chance here with crypto to change those odds."

But on the latter, Aktary says blockchain and crypto offer alternative funding mechanisms outside of venture capital, creating an opportunity for Austin to catch up. Plus, many companies are opting for remote work, allowing people to work from anywhere, and for many, the option to live in Austin is appealing.

"People, particularly blockchain, crypto people, are moving to Austin, but not because that's where the jobs are," Aktary said. "They're doing it because it's Austin."

And when it comes to Austin's emerging crypto-art scene involving non-fungible tokens, which are digital collectibles also known as NFTs, Aktary said tech CEOs are taking more of an interest, even if that crowd isn't directly buying or selling them.

"People are becoming ridiculously wealthy off of pixelated JPEGs. That's ridiculous but they are. There is that appeal to this sort of get rich quick impulse," Aktary said. "They understand that that's appealing to an audience, and they maybe want to get involved somehow."

With Texas, Aktary thinks Austin is the only city worth paying attention to, even if Dallas and Houston are seen as competitors. "Mainly because of their large reservoirs of wealth. But it's old wealth, and neither of those have a very highly developed tech scene," Aktary said.

Meanwhile, the Texas Blockchain Council, which had its annual conference in Austin last month, is eying the Bitcoin mining market as a space for the state to make inroads.

President Lee Bratcher said that because of the low energy costs, Texas will become a hub for Bitcoin. He noted renewable energies face challenges with intermittency and grid congestion, resulting in unused energy that could be opportunity for collaboration.

"Bitcoin miners solve both of those problems because you can co-locate them with the renewable wind farm or the solar farm. And they can soak up that energy when it's being created and they can also turn off at any time," Bratcher said. "It creates grid resiliency and some really cool free market incentives for the further development of wind and solar."

Texas politicians are also making attempts to foster the growing blockchain space. In September, Gov. Greg Abbott appointed a small working group to recommend policies and state investments in connection with blockchain tech. Bratcher pointed to representatives like Sen. Angela Paxton, a republican representing Collin and Dallas counties, and Sen. Nathan Johnson, a democratic senator representing the northern part of Dallas County.

"We've made inroads with a lot of elected leaders who are supportive of this industry in Texas, including the governor, and we're trying to keep it as bipartisan as we can," Bratcher said.

For Bratcher, these connections seem promising, and competition with the Bay Area isn't much of a concern. He pointed to Unchained Capital and Compass as major players in Austin's current crypto scene.

"There are a ton of cryptocurrency-VC type companies moving to Austin and out of California," Bratcher said. "There's nobody moving from Austin to California."

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