Students looking for work in Calgary may soon leave paper resumes and cover letters behind thanks to a new partnership between cryptocurrency brokerage Bitcoin Brains and Israeli-based company bitJob.

 Using blockchain technology — the motor that powers the online currency Bitcoin — bitJob hopes to provide students with access to an online job board where they can apply for work posted by employers.

Upon completion of the job, the students would get paid in “student coins,” an online currency that can be cashed out at any Bitcoin Brains ATM across the city for Canadian dollars. Employers would also rate each student’s performance.

Dave Bradley, co-founder and CEO of Bitcoin Brains, says bitJob aims to create a direct connection between employer and employee.

Bradley says students are vulnerable and they lack experience, often having to deal with “parasitic” middlemen such as temp agencies.

“Students are not in a position of power when it comes to their employment … blockchain technology will make it so that a lot of those middlemen will become optional.”

Dave Bradley: Why should people care about Bitcoin? from MRU Journalism and Broadcasting on Vimeo.

What are Blockchain and Bitcoin, anyway?

Blockchain — a decentralized digital ledger which tracks the spread of data from one point to another, is nearly incorruptible, and advertised as completely anonymous — will insure the security and accuracy of the information on the network.

Any transaction that occurs on a blockchain is recorded and cannot be altered once in place, because all computers in the network must agree on the legitimacy of any changes. The appeal of this technology is the creation of a fully independent process allowing an instant and, more importantly, secure transfer of data.

With bitJob, employee information would act as this data, existing without one central power holding ownership once on the blockchain, and therefore creating an unbiased and incorruptible resume for workers.

Blockchain, according to Bradley, has become a “buzzword” across the business world with many companies attempting to implement the tech into their operations. Much of this, he says, is done without good reason.

“When it comes down to it, the major thing you can ever solve with a blockchain is an issue of trust,” says Bradley. “But if you’re not solving any issues of trust in your system, then you probably don’t need a blockchain. I’ve spent a lot of time in the past six months trying to hammer that into a lot of corporate people that really want blockchains and have no idea why.”

Corporate interest in blockchain technology is fueled by the skyrocketing value of Bitcoin currency.

Bitcoin — a form of digitized and decentralized global currency created in 2009 by “Satoshi Nakamoto” an anonymous, unidentified person, or possibly persons, who has never appeared publicly.  The currency is attached to no major bank or country, and is produced and managed through interconnected computers on a blockchain network.

At the time of its creation, one Bitcoin was worth a fraction of a cent. Over the past 12 months, the price has jumped as high as $1,000 in 2016, to more than $10,000 as of Nov. 16, 2017.

The major drawback of Bitcoin is high volatility, which means its value can drop thousands of dollars in a matter of days.

Bitcoin and other digital currencies provide a direct link between a person and their money, free from bank or government control, which Bradley says could fail.

“We’re seeing that in places around the world, the risks that financial institutions are taking are being externalized to either taxpayers or depositors,” says Bradley. “In Canada, it’s depositors that are on the hook if our banks fall apart.”

Bradley was introduced to Bitcoin early on as a “bitcoin miner,” which is how new coins are introduced to the blockchain. Miners have to answer complex mathematical equations through their own specialized computers, or “rigs.” The first computer to answer the equation gets control of the new ‘block’ on the chain, which currently consists of 12.5 Bitcoins. New math equations are posed every 10 minutes.

“I was buying and trading and using Bitcoin for a long time before I realized that it was actually going to be a transformative force,” says Bradley. “It took me a while to realize that self-sovereign money that isn’t issued by a government, isn’t issued by a bank, is a really important thing.”

Miners are able to set up “rigs” in their homes, though bandwidth regulations by internet distributors are making it difficult. For Bradley, he would meet people at his neighbourhood Tim Hortons to buy and sell Bitcoins prior to setting up Bitcoin Brains.

“People should only care about Bitcoin if they care about money,” says Bradley and he also says people should take the time to learn about it.

U of C club: “Bitcoin is the future”

Diego Caceres-Soto: What is Bitcoin? from MRU Journalism and Broadcasting on Vimeo.

“Cryptocurrency is potentially one of the most disruptive technologies since the wheel or the Internet. This is a serious overhaul of how we structure data, and communicate that data over a network.”

Diego Caceres-Soto is a fourth-year accounting student at the University of Calgary involved in creating a club centred on educating those who want to know more about cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology.

Caceres-Soto says he initially dismissed the idea of Bitcoin because of how foreign many of the processes sounded. However, he now says it’s important for students to understand the technology to potentially better equip themselves.

“I think that every student, at some point in the near future – perhaps three or four years – will be dealing with a cryptocurrency in some fashion,” says Caceres-Soto, adding that increased utilization of blockchain technology could affect everything from buying merchandise at a concert to voting in elections.

“We’re in an internet age and our currency is still a primitive, centralized, destructible, counterfeit-able, tangible asset,” says Caceres-Soto.

“Cryptocurrency is potentially one of the most disruptive technologies since the wheel or the Internet. This is a serious overhaul of how we structure data, and communicate that data over a network.”

The Bitcoin Club’s goal is to provide workshops so students understand the potential of these new technologies. Caceres-Soto says they also need to understand potential issues.

“There’s no insurance with these coins. There’s no company you can call up if you accidentally send all your coins to the wrong address,” says Caceres-Soto. “There’s a lot of responsibility involved with owning these coins, so it requires a deep understanding and a lifetime education to what these technologies are in order to use them.”

Caceres-Soto worries about the volume people who are only interested in high returns.

“For them, it’s more ‘a ticket to a free meal’ so to speak, and I think that’s a very dangerous way of understanding blockchain,” says Caceres-Soto.

Instead, Caceres-Soto says blockchain and Bitcoin should be viewed through a broader scope, as the technology’s potential reaches further than simply a decentralized currency.

“Bitcoin is the future,” says Caceres-Soto. “It’s how we’re going to address concerns regarding the security of networks. It’s how we’re going to address the fact that we have massive amounts of private data in these centralized locations that hackers have been getting into. It’s how we’re going to address wealth distribution. It’s how we’re going to assess the economies of the future. It’s going to be a lot more than we currently understand and only the future will tell.”

 Bitcoin Brains has bitcoin ATMs located in both Northland and Sunridge Malls. With bitJob, they hope to have the ability to cash out student coins through the machines in early-to-mid 2018. Photos by Alec Warkentin.

Dr. Tom Keenan: “What could possibly go wrong?”

Tom Keenan was first introduced to Bitcoin shortly after he published his best-selling book, Technocreep: The Surrender of Privacy and the Capitalization of Intimacy, in 2014. A professor of environmental design and computer science at the University of Calgary, Keenan says his publisher posed the idea of allowing his book to be purchased with the cryptocurrency.

At the time, a single Bitcoin was valued at a few hundred dollars.

His professional interest in computer security led Keenan to look deeper into both Bitcoin and blockchain, the underlying technology which gives Bitcoin its ability to defend against tampering.

“I went ‘What the hell? There are people like sending money down a rabbit hole here with no confidence that they’ll ever get it back?’” says Keenan.

Although advertised as safe, Keenan says there are security issues to consider when using Bitcoin that may go overlooked by users such as the promise of complete anonymity which can be threatened through transaction traffic-analysis.

“There is a risk that people will believe it’s totally anonymous,” says Keenan. “We have some evidence from research that we’ve done that if you’re doing enough transacting … moving money back and forth, somebody who is really interested in what we’re doing might be able to figure out who we are.”

Another risk is the chance of a “51 per cent attack” on blockchains themselves. This could happen if a person or group hijacked over 51 per cent of the computing power being fed into the continuation of the chain, essentially giving the group control.

Other risks in the “buyer-beware” market of cryptocurrencies involve avoiding Bitcoin scams and other acts of fraud.

“When you’re dealing with cryptocurrency, you’re totally on your own. There is no government backing it. There are no police who will investigate it. You are basically on your own,” says Keenan.

However, Keenan says the non-financial applications of blockchain technology will eventually outstrip the financial ones, such as using it to track and verify the authenticity of collectible works of art or even using blockchain to manage your health.

As for bitJob as an appropriate use of blockchain technology, Keenan says he doesn’t see any red flags, and that the only possible risks to consider are the potential for identity theft if students included their dates of birth and possible invasions of privacy.

“In general thinking, if it helps a student get a job, that’s a benefit,” says Keenan.

This article is part of a pairing of articles about Bitcoin and cryptocurrency. You can read about Bitcoin and how a Youtuber is educating others by clicking here.

Alec Warkentin | awarkentin@cjournal.ca

Nathan Kunz | nkunz@cjournal.ca

Editors: Jan Kirstyn Lopez | jlopez@cjournal.ca, Emily Thwaites | ethwaites@cjournal.ca