Devcon, the most important event for Ethereum developers and researchers, might well be in Istanbul next year. If it happens, it would be thanks to a campaign from the Turkish cryptocurrency community, which has evolved into a truly powerful community.
This year's Devcon will be held in Bogota, Colombia, in October, but the organizers have already started thinking about next year’s destination. A recent survey on the Devcon forum received seven suggestions so far. A couple of young Turks proposed Istanbul as a candidate and received huge support: The volume of comments and views in favor of the proposal is far ahead of the next candidate, Nha Trang City, Vietnam.
Turan Sert is a tech entrepreneur and financial writer with a focus on Web 3. He currently acts as an adviser to BlockchainIST Center and Paribu, both based in Turkey.
Leading figures in the Turkish crypto community have already established an informal committee to organize what could be the most important crypto event in the country’s history.
Recent market research suggests 8 million Turks are holding crypto assets. High inflation (80% year over year) and devaluation of local currency Turkish lira (126% year over year against the U.S. dollar) are among key reasons why Turks are seeking alternative investments that hold their value. While foreign currencies and gold have historically been prominent tools to hedge against inflation, cryptocurrencies have emerged as a popular option, which led the International Monetary Fund to coin the term “cryptoization” in its “Global Stability Report” released last October.
There are plenty of non-crypto reasons for choosing Istanbul for Devcon 2023. Easy access is one (almost 600 direct flights from 117 countries to Istanbul daily, with either no visa required or available at the entrance for most visitors). Proximity to Europe and Asia is another. Meanwhile, the city has safe and affordable neighborhoods with lots of attractive venues.
These are all valid points but there has to be more than that for organizers to select a city. They will wonder: Is there an active crypto community and would organizing a conference here make a difference in that community?
In Turkey, the developer community has always been relatively small compared to crypto asset holders but it is growing rapidly with university students taking the lead. The country has one of the youngest populations in the world – (almost half of the population is younger than 30) of which 8.4 million are enrolled in higher education. How about crypto interest? In our latest count, there were 41 university blockchain clubs with hundreds of members (a leading one, ITU Blockchain, has roughly about 2500 volunteers alone). When I was appointed as an advisor to BlockchainIST, the first university blockchain research center in Istanbul, a couple of years ago, this number was less than 10.
Why such a dramatic increase? I asked several blockchain clubs and they came back with similar response.
The appetite for growth
First of all, there is a growing appetite among the new generation for integration into global markets. Digital opportunities with blockchain projects are among key avenues to fulfill this dream. But visa requirements and the recent devaluation of Turkish lira against all major currencies have effectively made it almost impossible for young people to move out of the country, either for pleasure or work.
Despite this, students have started to attend global events since restrictions due to COVID-19 pandemic were lifted. Following a local hackathon last December, 10 or so students from three different university clubs joined Avalanche Barcelona Summit. Soon after, small groups managed to travel to ETHAmsterdam, ETHPrague, ETHBarcelona, ETHCC 5, Eth Mexico City and lastly ETHBerlin. A group of 10 students is planning to attend Devcon Bogota as well. Those were all made possible by scholarships granted by organizers, local businesses (such as LykaDAO and Paribu) as well as global players (such as Aave and Talent House).
Several local initiatives have sparked the interest in the local community as well. First, several hackathons, including AvalancheHacks, NFT and Metaverse Hackhaton and Blockcircus. Several and student club organizations such as Blockchain and Beyond Summit and Blockchain Networking Day attracted significant crowds. Several corporate events namely Blockchain Economy Summit, NFT Summit, Eurasia Blockchain Summit, Kriptofest, Istanbul Blockchain Week all raised the awareness in corporate world (though the quality of such events varies significantly).
On top of that, recent gatherings such as Cyptist and Mina Developer Meetup also attracted interest from the developer community. The momentum continues with weekly CryptoMondays events, and several people aiming to organize an ETH Istanbul in the near future.
Boosting the potential
Kaan, a pseudonymous employees of Ethereum Foundation, had a similar experience. He became interested in the area only after he took a blockchain class while an undergrad at Bogazici University. Most of his friends chose AI/ML [artificial intelligence/machine learning] back then. Had there been a blockchain club around or events organized at the time, many more of his friends would have opted for blockchain projects.
Let's not forget that the Turkish developer ecosystem here is not confined to Turks. Recent unfortunate events in Ukraine resulted in a flood of developers from Ukraine and Russia coming into Istanbul and coastal regions of Turkey. A friend of mine helped three businesses with close to 200 software engineers to relocate here. This fresh influx of talent will have a positive impact on the growth of the developer community in the region.
See also: Lessons From the Turkish Government's Hasty Attempt to Regulate Crypto | Opinion
In short: Turkey has a young population with strong potential but with limited access to the global crypto community. A handful of them get scholarships and attend global events (and win prizes). This creates a buzz in the local environment, while local events raise awareness among businesses and help bring in new talent. On top of that, a recent fresh talent inflow from outside to an already vibrant local market.
If sending a couple of students to global events creates such an outcome, just imagine the effect of bringing developers from all around the globe to Istanbul.