Bitcoin: Future or Fad?

First year BSc Economics student Lydia Evans provides a recap of an event organized by Birkbeck’s Economics + Finance Society, at which Financial Times journalist Isabella Kaminska discussed the future of Bitcoin.

What does Bitcoin mean to you?

To some, it epitomises the promise of the free market ­-  perhaps even, if one ‘mined’ it early enough, a path to becoming a millionaire. To others, it is reminiscent of Tulip Mania or the South Sea Bubble. The valuation graphs are eerily similar both in curve and timeline.

The Financial Times (FT) was started to help investors make informed decisions. Many were often victims of the Penny press. It was most germane to listen to what the FT’s Isabella Kaminska (FT Alphaville) thinks about the most popular cryptocurrency and its underlying technology, Blockchain.

Kaminska thinks that Bitcoin has been good for engaging previously uninterested parties in banking and finance. The evolution of its ecosystem also highlights the importance of harnessing the ever-expanding abilities of technology. This is as far as Bitcoin can be considered ‘on the money’.

She said that most of us have had a form of digital currency for ages, ever since we first signed up to a bank; the very basic concept of Bitcoin is not, therefore, a new one. However, unlike the technological advancement in traditional banks, she believes that Bitcoin might take us backwards.

We have no idea as to the actual asset structure or as to where it is being invested. But if capital has to be reinvested to create value, where is Bitcoin being invested?  Similarly, although Bitcoin appears to promise a dissolution of typical dealer/broker relationships, they are still very much in place.

Details regarding any potential intermediary from an established, regulated institution are readily available. There is rarely transparency when it comes to those associated with a Bitcoin Exchange. Kaminska’s research into the companies that sell and process Bitcoin showed that the vetting process is astoundingly lax.

Another claim is that it is free and easy. Kaminska thinks Bitcoin is still not user-friendly for the general public. The increasing costs could even lead to it becoming a luxury lifestyle product. Maybe, she jokingly suggested, one that could be featured in magazines such as ‘How to Spend It’.

Regulation will be the catalyst of all its future developments. It could even dismantle key principles of the whole project. This leads to a crucial question: Does Bitcoin serve a purpose or is it a solution looking for a purpose?

Perhaps Blockchain offers a solution. It has provided a means to mass collaboration that is hard, if not impossible, to get with traditional banks. But this depends upon who is collaborating and for what reasons. Due diligence is not an option in this very closed world – you are only as strong as the weakest member.

Kaminska opines that volatility undermines a currency’s usefulness. This can be demonstrated by examining any chart documenting the cryptocurrency’s history. She sees Bitcoin as a utopia for those disillusioned by, or unwilling to participate with, the mainstream banking system. Utopia is rarely what it seems.

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Cyber Security professionals offer students advice and insights at Birkbeck Careers event

This post was written by Jenna Davies from Birkbeck Careers

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Students were exposed to plenty of practical advice, industry insights and networking opportunities this week as professionals from the world of cyber security shared their experiences as well as their thoughts on getting into the sector at a panel discussion organised by Birkbeck Careers.

The fundamental message was extremely positive, with every panellist indicating that there is a route for anyone to get into the industry; it’s a case of finding the right one for you.

Nigel Jones, CEO of IAAC (Information Assurance Advisory Council) highlighted that companies are often looking for bothnon techie’ as well as techie people. He revealed his outlook that there’s always a way to map your route into cyber and no matter what your background, there’s a career in cyber if you want to go down this path.

The ever growing skills shortage was a hot topic of conversation and Nick Wilding, General Manager of Cyber Resilience at AXELOS Global Best Practice (a joint venture between the UK Government and Capita plc) highlighted the demand for the skills today’s students have. Being a geography graduate, Nick emphasised that the skills required are multi-faceted and the growth of the industry demonstrates the need for those in the audience to put their skills to use in this arena.

Fellow panellist Erin Jones – Senior Associate at PwC UK cyber security practice – took her teaching role developing computer science and IT schemes and turned it into a career within cyber. Erin spoke of her own education at an all-girls school, indicating that tech was never advertised as a career option, which is controversial given the low number of women currently working within technology. The barrier for Erin isn’t the lack of women in the industry; it’s the lack of awareness as cyber is often seen as the ‘dark art’.

Nick reiterated Erin’s description and the need to change its perception with organisations, who are often tired of hearing about the threats they face and need holistic approaches from those who can support them.

Daryl Flack, CIO of Blockphish facilitated the event and touched on the vast range of roles available within cyber security; management alone provides lots of opportunities such as working as a consultant, within sales, as a creative addition to the team, an entrepreneur or within the ethical side of the industry. He advised the audience to start getting into something remotely cyber to kick off their path, or checking out new websites that need something more secure and finding your route in this way.

Like the majority of successful professionals it starts with passion and commitment, and regardless of your chosen course of study it seems very plausible to get into this ever growing industry.  Erin pointed out that one of her current colleagues does threat intelligence and studied geography at university while another studied Spanish and now works in their technical response team. Anything applies as long as you have that passion.

The conversation continued over networking and undoubtedly left some attendees with the motivation and belief that they can very effectively contribute to this field of work. So more of us can now step forward to stop the hackers, fight the phishing emails and join this exciting and valuable sector that impacts just about everyone in this day and age.

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Women Talk Tech: Continued…

This post was contributed by Birkbeck MSc computer Science student Liudmila Veshneva. She attended the Women talk Tech event organised between Birkbeck’s Careers & Employability service and Girls in Tech. This blog follows from fellow student, Aida Zibaite’s recent blog article.

Women in TechI have recently attended “Women Talk Tech – How I transformed my career”, an event organised by Birkbeck and Girls in Tech. Because I found the speakers so incredibly inspiring and because I believe so much of what was said will resonate not only with many women on their journey into tech world, but also with anyone going through career change I decided to share my own thoughts on the subject.

Sinead Mac Manus, Founder & CEO of Fluency, Nathalie Richards, Founder & CEO of Edukit and Harveen Chugh, Entrepreneurship Consultant to universities, start-ups and government shared their experiences of leaving successful corporate careers and well-paid jobs to start their own businesses in the social enterprise sector.

A number of interesting issues came up during the talk. One that had me nodding in agreement was on the topic of confidence. It seems that women are particularly prone to suffer from lack of confidence and I am not an exception. On numerous occasions it has been mentioned to me that I need to be more vocal. Knowing about this shortcoming and making conscious effort to overcome it has definitely helped. I have never done anything as drastic as Nathalie Richards who became a stand-up comedian to overcome her fear of public speaking, but even small steps can make a big difference and open new opportunities which women are systematically missing because they underestimate what they are capable of. Rita Usanga, Digital Media Specialist and Cofounder of InvestWell, who was moderating the event, encouraged everyone to “feel the fear” and do something outside of their comfort zone as a way to improve on the front of confidence.

Finding a mentor was another good piece of advice shared during the talk. It is especially relevant at the start of one’s career. Having had a supportive and encouraging manager myself, I appreciate the impact he had on my professional journey. Unfortunately, finding the right mentor can be a challenge, at least in my recent experience, even with numerous schemes set up to encourage women into tech. Of course it is not the reason to stop looking; the benefits of support and guidance are irrefutable.

Women in Tech (l-r) Rita Usanga, Nathalie Richards, Harveen Chugh and Sinead Mac Manus

Women in Tech (l-r) Rita Usanga, Nathalie Richards, Harveen Chugh and Sinead Mac Manus

One question from the audience that I would like to highlight was whether sharing your ideas with other entrepreneurs is good practice. And Sinead was very adamant in answering: “yes”. She explained that majority of success in starting your own business comes from right and swift implementation. Share your ideas without revealing your “secret sauce” was Nathalie’s advice. I would like to expand on this topic and encourage sharing good advice, experiences and opportunities.

Listening to these strong-willed, hardworking and purpose-driven women, their stories, learning about challenges they overcome on daily basis and seeing how determined they are to persevere made me feel less alone and, to put it mildly, “insane” about starting my own journey into tech. It certainly was not an easy choice in my case, especially after some reactions I got from my friends, family and colleagues when I told them about my decision to quit my hard-earned job in banking and start all over again in a completely unrelated industry. When I am feeling particularly doubtful about my choice to take a plunge, I only need to imagine what my life would have been like if I didn’t and it all falls back into place. It also helps to remember a quote by Beverly Sills: “You may be disappointed if you fail, but you are doomed if you don’t try”. For me personally, regret is one of the worst feelings I had to deal with, and regret of not trying your best has very long shelf life.

Read more about the Women in Tech event here

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Women Talk Tech

This post was contributed by Aida Zibaite, current student of Birkbeck’s Foundation Degree in Information Technology.  Aida attended the Women talk Tech event organised between Birkbeck’s Careers & Employability service and Girls in Tech.

Women in Tech (l-r) Rita Usanga, Nathalie Richards, Harveen Chugh and Sinead Mac Manus

Women in Tech (l-r) Rita Usanga, Nathalie Richards, Harveen Chugh and Sinead Mac Manus

Last week I attended ‘Women Talk Tech –How I transformed my Career’ held at WeWork Spitafields. It was a talk with three truly inspiring Birkbeck alumnae: Sinead Mac Manus, Founder & CEO of Fluency; Nathalie Richards, Founder & CEO of Edukit; and Harveen Chugh, Specialist in Entrepreneurship & former Growth manager for the UK government`s Sirius Programme.

Firstly, Rita Usanga, the moderator and a very passionate woman in tech herself, set the mood by asking the panel to reflect on their careers over the past decade – a question I would personally dread the most in a job interview! Their responses captured my attention and compelled me to share my own thoughts.

These very successful ladies studied Bioinformatics, Arts Management and Migration Studies at Birkbeck whilst pursuing their respective careers, at some point realising they didn’t quite enjoy it and they needed to make a change. Through trial and error, high challenges and risks they became who they are now – digital technology entrepreneurs.

At that point I had a few questions buzzing in my head:

  • What message are they trying to convey by sharing their success stories?
  • What are they trying to achieve?
  • What is the driving force behind their success?
  • What are their core values?
  • Or simply, from my bewildered girl in tech point of view: What problem are they trying to solve tonight?

The conversation made me think about my own experiences as a woman studying computer science. Recently, I attended a tech workshop at Birkbeck held by a software development firm. I was one of three women in the room with another 20 men, the majority of them tech students. I couldn’t help thinking that, although the men had many questions and were taking full advantage of the opportunity to seek advice on their own career development, the women remained silent.

I raised my hand and asked: How many women are there among the 30 employees in your company? Suddenly, the room went silent. There was a very long pause and then I got my answer: five female employees. Only two of them have some software development skills and not a single one of them are in an IT role.

So the key message I took from the event is that there is an evident lack of women in this field yet, believe me, there are so many of us who can code, solve problems, create innovative ideas and overall add so much value to bring success to any business. However, at the same time, it made me more determined. A passion for tech has life-changing potential. Moreover, reflecting back on that evening’s truly inspirational stories I have to agree with Rita’s opinion that books cannot prepare you for the reality of working in Tech. You have to get out there, network, make valuable connections, find your passion and possibly find mentors to guide you along the way into finding your own magical path to this ever-evolving world and make your own impact. The question is what is holding you back and why don’t you start today?

I would like to sum up with a final thought: One’s time is very valuable and irreplaceable in terms of how one chooses to spend it. I certainly made an investment that night and only time will show its return. Hopefully it will turn out to be something I can measure and share in value to be able to humbly give back a similar yet very unique gift to my own to college community and other women in Tech.

Read more about the Women in Tech event here

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