Attaining a Blockchain Education

In the past 18 months, cryptocurrencies and the blockchain technology that powers them have transitioned from a niche preoccupation for tech nerds to the most prolific, head-turning innovation of our time.

Cryptocurrencies have soared in value and scale. Even after a precipitous drop since the start of the year, the most popular cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ether are still up hundreds of percent from their early 2017 levels. Moreover, additional cryptocurrencies are continually being added to the ecosystem. So far, 434 new coin offerings have combined to raise almost $10 billion to fund the coins and the platforms that they empower.

Somehow, the blockchain is proving to be even more valuable. The New York Times made this prediction in January when they wrote, “The Bitcoin bubble may ultimately turn out to be a distraction from the true significance of the blockchain.” Some of the most prolific and well-recognized companies in the world are investing in its adoption, and it even attained a bipartisan endorsement from members of the U.S. Congress – a triumphant feat in itself.

In a cascading evolution, the blockchain job market is surging as well. The number of blockchain-related jobs more than doubled in 2017, and that trend continues this year. Upwork, a platform connecting freelancers and clients, found that blockchain skills were the most in-demand on their platform in the first quarter of 2018. According to TechCrunch, “Blockchain-related jobs are the second-fastest growing in today’s labour market; there are now 14 job openings for every one blockchain developer.”

In addition to jobs that explicitly specialize in blockchain development, the technology’s expansion and implementation at the enterprise level means that professionals in all capacities will benefit from competency in blockchain technology.

Of course, the blockchain is still relatively novel, so there isn’t a well-worn path to becoming a blockchain professional. Therefore, for those looking to enter the field, there are several options available.

The Degree Path

Although education is famously slow to adapt to a changing workforce, several universities offer degrees in blockchain technology. Typically associated with a school’s computer science department, these universities are preparing students for a future in blockchain development.

As classes started last fall, many universities saw enrollment in courses related to blockchain or cryptocurrencies swell. Dan Boneh, co-director of Stanford’s Computer Security Lab, understands the reason. In an October interview with CNBC, Mr. Boneh explained that “Cryptocurrencies are a wonderful way to teach cryptography…there are a whole bunch of new applications for cryptography that didn’t exist before.” According to Mr. Boneh, blockchain-related topics like security and cryptography comprise the second most popular subject in the department. Only machine learning outpaced blockchain education.

In addition to Stanford, other schools are adding blockchain programs as well. Cornell University’s IC3 initiative funds blockchain projects, and their blockchain lab serves as a hands-on hub for attaining a crypto education. In different ways, Duke, Georgetown, and MIT each have opportunities for students to attain an education in blockchain technology.

Most people assume that these prestigious, well-funded schools are continually on at the forefront of technology innovation. Educational trends tend to run downstream from these major institutions, so expect that opportunities for blockchain training will begin emerging at all types of universities in the years ahead.

The DIY Path

There is something inherently intriguing about attaining a blockchain education from a top-rated university like Stanford. However, not everyone is an academically capable or financially viable candidate for that experience.

Fortunately, the emergence and maturation of e-learning opportunities can allow anyone to attain blockchain training from anywhere in the world. For instance, Stanford’s Dan Boneh teaches a course on cryptography through Coursera, a popular e-learning platform. Since 2015, more than 1 million students have enrolled in his class.

Other e-learning platforms including UDemy and UDacity have attracted legions of students eager for an affordable, convenient education. Using these platforms, students can cobble together an a la carte education that provides them with the necessary skills to pursue the blockchain professionally.

Although the DIY path lacks the name recognition and traditional structure of a college degree program, it can be vastly more affordable. For instance, a 2016 study by Citizens Financial Group found that college graduates are paying 1/5 of their salary toward their student loans, and they are making those payments for nearly two decades after graduation.

In other words, there are trade-offs to consider.

Regardless of the path, it’s evident that blockchain technology is here to stay, and that means that the education system will begin the arduous process of catching up. These structures will apply the things learned by the current generation of blockchain developers and it will refine them for the next one. It’s the endless pursuit of improvements, and it’s happening in labs and on laptops across around the world right now.

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