School is in session: Blockchain education is needed ahead of mainstream adoption
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There is a pronounced shortage of developers qualified in building decentralized, scalable blockchain systems and applications. The question is, how can we provide the educational support that this new generation of logical thinkers requires?
Cryptocurrencies and the idea of “blockchain technology” have never been so popular. With more than $5.5 billion USD raised in 2017 from a total of 445 ICOs, even taxi drivers are now exposed to the emerging global crypto-economy. History has taught us that the pace of human greed (in the form of the infamous “FOMO”) can only be matched by the speed of misinformation. Although the lack of proper understanding of blockchain technology fundamentals sometimes seems inversely correlated to the total market cap.
However, the current situation of rising prices creates a major opportunity in the form of a challenge. There is a pronounced shortage of developers qualified in building decentralized, scalable blockchain systems and applications. The question is, how can we provide the educational support that this new generation of logical thinkers requires?
Where are we now?
Blockchain developers are currently enjoying a rockstar status. Much like in the case of web-developers in 1997 and app-developers in 2008, they are in very high demand. There are only several top quality developers who are capable of creating valuable, distributed architectures, and most of them have founded their own projects.
Globally, 7,000-8,000 people can develop for the blockchain with various levels of proficiency. These individuals are either short on time or disinterested (or both) in engaging in academic activities. ‘Wannabe’ blockchain engineers have two choices:
- to start learning by carrying out their own research and establishing their own blockchain project, or
- to join a blockchain project as a junior developer — the latter opportunity being very limited. ConsenSys has tried to address this issue, but unfortunately, they lack the determination, the clear plan, and the team that can create something that people will be able to benefit from.
Becoming a blockchain developer is by no means an easy task, it takes extreme ambition and perseverance. A more general programming language skill set needs to be available or developed first, languages like Java, C++, Haskell, OCaml, and Erlang are an excellent stepping stone towards a deeper blockchain tech understanding. They provide the required flexibility of knowledge and skills that are a must in a sphere that is in a constant flux.
On the other hand, decentralized applications are currently primarily developed in Solidity — a three-year-old language whose library is still in its infancy if compared to others like Ruby, Python, or Java. A substantial amount of information and knowledge needs to be generated and shared before blockchain becomes adrift in computer science.
Of course, this scarcity is a breeding ground for low-quality talent, even devs with little blockchain-related knowledge and skills profit from the hype. One can see many self-proclaimed blockchain/smart-contract experts on LinkedIn, however, it can be difficult to become a legitimate expert in a field that has barely existed for 10 years. That is why when it comes to hiring talent in the sector, it is very important to do your homework and do a detailed check of references and past projects. Many devs are riding the demand wave, accumulating wealth, and giving little thought to reputational hazards.
What will help the sphere move forward will be not only open-source research but well-documented, open-source research. Companies trying to improve blockchain protocols by updating existing ones or building new ones from scratch must improve their learning materials as well. Issues need to be well documented, and beginners need to have a clear place to start. Documentation needs to be easily understandable by people with the relevant dev background, and onboarding new developers from the community must be as painless as possible.
What are universities doing about the shortage of blockchain developers problem?
The vast majority of established educational institutions are slow to adapt their curriculum to specialized industry demands such as blockchain technology. Establishing a course in a good university with proper accreditation could take 2-3 years and a decent amount of luck. A great way to push new courses in an accredited way is through SCORM compliance. If you can prepare a SCORM compliant course in the US, each accredited university can immediately implement it and start offering it — we can only hope that this intelligent approach will become more widespread and exportable to other countries.
The current blockchain education space
Despite the low penetration of well-structured educational blockchain programs, there are still a handful of good examples. Princeton and Coursera have partnered to create one of the most comprehensive and standalone starting points for avid learners interested in the sphere. Udemy also features a blockchain course, which is more suitable for a general audience. On the other end of the spectrum, IBM has made developers the primary group of their Hyperledger-focused course, which is free to enroll in, and MIT’s Digital Currency Initiative is also a noteworthy example of how blockchain topics are entering into the academic sphere.
However, it remains to be seen how private blockchain development helps developers enter the “wilder” and much more challenging public blockchain sphere.
Another project that aims to provide a comprehensive solution to the blockchain talent shortage is Academy; they are trying to offer an accredited curriculum and a bootcamp-style solution for experienced developers. The aim is to establish and nurture developer skills and knowledge to a level which is sufficient for the engineering challenges that most blockchain startups are beginning to face.
Software University in Bulgaria also offers a three-part blockchain course in both offline and online options. The course starts with 101 type of information about cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology but then dives into C# and Solidity. Recognizing that blockchain education is needed for sustainable mainstream adoption, æternity blockchain is partnering with SoftUni, providing financial support and lecturers.
The blockchain hype is at an all-time high, and we are witnessing the birth of numerous revolutionary ideas which, if properly realized, could change the world we live in. In order to avert a mass-extinction similar to the one witnessed after the dot-com boom of the 1990s, the sphere needs to build up a solid blockchain engineering resource. If we fail to develop the backbone of the blockchain behemoth, many promising theories of societal importance will not reach the most important part of their life cycle – real-world deployment.
Every company and established project in the blockchain space should provide resources, help aspiring founders to launch their ideas, build their MVP and most importantly — teach other people, as you learn best when you pass your knowledge to others. The opportunity is up for grabs, start investing in the future of your product by addressing blockchain education today.