With Crypto Jobs Available, US Universities Are Turning to Blockchain Education
Blockchain, a term once only familiar to Bitcoin (BTC) enthusiasts, is becoming one of the most in-demand business skills for 2020. According to a recent LinkedIn blog post, blockchain technology is the most sought-after hard skill this year. The post noted: “The small supply of professionals who have this skill are in high demand.”
Moreover, while the coronavirus pandemic continues to impact the United States’ unemployment rate — causing 22 million people to file for unemployment since President Donald Trump declared a national emergency four weeks ago — blockchain-related jobs have been increasing.
In turn, blockchain courses offered at universities are becoming more common, as the need for the skill set rises. A key finding from Coinbase’s second yearly report on higher education shows that 56% of the world’s top 50 universities offer at least one course on cryptocurrencies or blockchain technology — a 42% increase from 2018.
Kristi Yuthas, an accounting professor at Portland State University, told Cointelegraph that the need for individuals skilled in blockchain technology is a result of traditional companies being impacted by the technology: “Blockchain companies are innovating at lightning speed. Leaders with the acumen to create business value from these innovations are now in high demand.”
University blockchain courses help students find job opportunities
American universities such as Portland State, MIT, Stanford, University of California Santa Barbara and many others now offer blockchain-focused courses to meet the increase in job demand, and students who take them have a chance to quickly find job opportunities this year.
For example, Portland State University recently concluded its “Blockchain in Business Lab” courses. According to Yuthas and her colleague Stanton Heister, the university collaborated with the NULS Foundation, an open-source enterprise blockchain platform, to educate students on the business elements of blockchain development. Together, the NULS and PSU designed and conducted two hands-on courses that were completed by 21 students under the supervision of Yuthas and Heister.
According to Yuthas, PSU’s blockchain program is meant to provide in-depth analysis of blockchain companies and innovations. She explained that lab-style courses allow students to gain real-world experience in order to build a working blockchain and to execute actual transactions.
PSU’s first Blockchain in Business Lab was conducted in February of this year and offered a step-by-step guide on how to build a blockchain by utilizing NULS Chain Factory, which is a blockchain development kit. Kathy Norman, a developer of the NULS blockchain and co-organizer of the PSU program, told Cointelegraph that Chain Factory was used by students to drive blockchain education and to test the product as an educational vehicle, adding:
“Our commitment was to provide our technology and our technical expertise, to give the students a hand-on experience of blockchain from the perspective of user/customer, developer, and entrepreneur.”
PSU’s second lab focused on blockchain user and developer activities. Included in this course were guides for practical blockchain applications and instructional sessions on decentralized applications and smart contract development. America Tirado, a student who completed PSU’s blockchain courses, noted that the classes helped alleviate her fears around blockchain:
“I had heard of Bitcoin before and was asked to invest in it in the early 2000s. I hesitated, though, because I didn’t understand it. Through these courses, I learned about the technology, what it can do, how it functions, and how to properly use it.”
Norman further pointed out that students who have completed PSU’s blockchain courses are invited to join the NULS community to offer their knowledge to help build out the platform: “All students are invited to join our NULS community, and if they want, offer their skills to NULS. We did not formally invite the PSU students this semester, but can certainly consider this for next time.”
UC Santa Barbara and The University of California Los Angeles also offer blockchain courses. Both universities are part of the Blockchain Acceleration Foundation, a nonprofit organization committed to accelerating blockchain education. Cryptocurrency analytics firm CipherTrace partners with BAF to train students on how to use the company’s products to investigate cryptocurrency-related scams.
John Jefferies, the chief financial analyst of CipherTrace, told Cointelegraph in a previous article that the company will train and certify students to use its financial investigation software, which is applied to detect money laundering, power-law enforcement investigations and to enable regulatory supervision.
While Jefferies noted that training students is not intended as a recruiting tool for the company, the president of BAF, Cameron Dennis, mentioned that helping students find internships this year is a big focus, telling Cointelegraph that “an internship pipeline is in early-stage development.” Dennis also explained that BAF’s blockchain courses are offered to both undergraduate and graduate students looking to expand their blockchain knowledge:
“A professor in UCSB’s computer science department and a professor in the economics department agreed to run a cross-disciplinary and graduate-level blockchain seminar for Spring 2019 (this quarter). Also, we are currently running an undergraduate computer science blockchain course at UCLA’s College of Engineering and are preparing for an undergraduate Intro to Blockchain course at University of California Davis for Fall 2020.”
Ben Fisch, a co-founder of Findora, a blockchain company for financial applications, and renowned professor of cryptography, Dan Boneh, both teach a blockchain and cryptocurrencies course at Stanford University.
Fisch told Cointelegraph that engineers who went through a blockchain course are likely to have a great advantage when applying to big companies that are interested in piloting blockchain technology. He also noted that many early-stage startups with blockchain-related business ideas also need technical team members with an accurate understanding of how blockchains operate. According to Fisch, the blockchain course at Stanford provides a comprehensive technical overview of blockchain technology, as it focused more on blockchain concepts rather than engineering aspects, adding:
“It covers the core concepts and also a sampling of niche topics within the field. Astute students come out of this course with a holistic understanding of how blockchains work and their fundamental applications, or even with enough knowledge to participate in blockchain research and innovation. Our guest lectures also give students some exposure to how blockchain is being used in the world today. Our guests this year included Olaf Carlson-Wee of Polychain Capital and Chris Dixon of A16Z.”
As a hiring manager at Findora, Fisch explained that the candidates he looks to bring on board are not much different from engineers who other software development companies would seek out and that they don’t need to be particularly well versed in blockchain technology:
“However, having a background in blockchain concepts, such as the one provided by our Stanford course, does help. It increases the attractiveness of an already strong engineering candidate, and it may reduce the on-boarding time for a new hire.”