Job: Bitcoin Miner
The Role: As a decentralized cryptocurrency, there is no state or other authority responsible for processing and verifying bitcoin transactions. Instead, bitcoin miners based around the world earn small sums for lending the computing power needed to complete these digital transactions.
Each of these transactions is tracked on a blockchain, an open digital ledger that has no central location or owner. Miners are effectively rewarded for maintaining and building on the blockchain, using powerful computers and algorithms to verify transactions in exchange for bitcoin.
As a result, the role of a bitcoin miner often resembles that of an IT network professional, as both are responsible for keeping computer systems up and running at maximum capacity.
"You get to the facility, you look at the machines, you make sure everything is working 100 per cent, you monitor the units themselves," said Jonathan Bertrand, the CEO of Technologies D-Central, a bitcoin mining company based in Laval, Que. "Then if you want to do some compounding, growing the operation, you're going to add your new units and do some financial calculations to make sure the units you're buying mine more than what you're spending on them."
Salary: The monthly yield of each mining unit in a network will vary depending on a number of factors, ranging from the cost of electricity to the fluctuating value of the currency itself.
"In Canadian terms, most of the months of the last year that I looked were over $300 [per month] revenue with one machine," said Mr. Bertrand, adding that the value of bitcoin has dropped since the start of the year.
Each specialized mining unit can cost anywhere from under $100 to several thousand dollars, depending on their speed and capacity. Mr. Bertrand adds that operating costs typically rise with the size of the mining operation, as larger networks require more maintenance, specialized equipment, cooling management and other overhead expenses.
A bitcoin miner's pay is ultimately determined by how many coins they can mine in a given period of time, as well as the value of those coins, minus operating expenses. As a result, salaries range widely.
Education: While there is no formal educational requirement, a background in network IT is strongly recommended for anyone pursuing a career as a bitcoin miner. Additional education in electrical engineering and HVAC can also help save on electric and cooling costs, adds Mr. Bertrand.
Job Prospects: Though bitcoin miners are based around the world and have a heavy concentration in China, the MIT Technology Review recently called Canada "the next bitcoin mining haven," specifically Quebec and Manitoba.
Speculation over a crackdown by the Chinese government has sent the industry looking for more politically stable locations to mine, specifically those with access to relatively cheap electricity. "Canada is also a really cold country, and that's a big, big advantage," adds Mr. Bertrand. "Cooling can be up to 30 per cent of your costs in mining, and, as we speak, I'm using no A/C at all, just the cold air of outside."
Challenges: While Hydro-Quebec offers some of the cheapest electricity in North America, Mr. Bertrand says there are still a lot of challenges associated with taking large quantities of power from the grid. "It takes between seven and eight months for Hydro-Quebec to deliver the electricity to your new site, and in mining, eight months is a lot," he said.
Why they do it: Bitcoin mining is ideal for those that enjoy network IT and are passionate about the potential of a decentralized currency. "The bitcoin space is going to be very revolutionary for all governments in shaping big public policies," said Mr. Bertrand.
Misconceptions: While there are many misconceptions surrounding bitcoin and blockchain, Mr. Bertrand says the biggest misconception regarding miners is that the process has itself produced millionaires and bankruptcies.
"Most people who say they're making a million dollars mining, it's because the coins they mine are going up in value, but not necessarily because of their skills or the management of the operation," he said.
On the flip side, miners aren't as exposed to the currency's volatility as many believe. "Volatility to me isn't really an issue, because miners are the most long-term investors in bitcoin; they will hang on until the price goes up," said Mr. Bertrand.
Special to The Globe