Blockchain made a splash in 2008 as a cryptographic ledger for the digital currency Bitcoin. While many still conflate cryptocurrency and blockchain technology, the foundation of blockchain has been utilized in many applications having nothing to do with Bitcoin or any other form of cryptocurrency.
As companies consider how blockchain fits into their overall tech stack, the common belief is that blockchain will become the next frontier for managing data. This alone drives interest in blockchain, and encourages many seasoned technologists to begin a quest towards adding blockchain to their repertoire.
But how should you go about learning blockchain? Can you teach yourself, or should you pay for a course? We queried experts to find out the best ways to learn blockchain.
Where Can I Start Learning Blockchain?
Like so many knowledge quests, there are plenty of avenues to your final destination. David Araklien, CTO at Bitstocks, suggests that GitHub may be your best bet: “If you are already a developer, then you can directly check the source code, that’s another way of looking at the mechanics of blockchain—how they work and how they behave.”
“Bitcoinsv.com is a great starting point with general overviews of the Bitcoin SV technology and ecosystem as well as pointers to common tools use by developers in the space,” Steve Shadders, CTO of nChain, told Dice.
Meanwhile, James Howard, research scientist at Johns Hopkins Applied Science Laboratory, advocates for more traditional forums like Udacity and Coursera:
“The best way to learn about blockchain is to pick up a solid grounding in public key cryptography and cryptographic hashes. These two technologies underlie all blockchain platforms, though each uses different algorithms. That can be learned online with courses from Stanford through Coursera and Udacity. Both will give a kind of grounding. While it is not important to learn the specifics of any algorithm, but concepts like the web-of-trust, how cryptographic hashes protect data, and key hygiene are the ones necessary for blockchain. It can be hard to learn, depending on your level of experience. If you have taken some computer science courses, then it will be a lot easier.”
Is Blockchain Easy to Learn?
Araklien underscores something key: knowing how blockchain works doesn’t mean you understand how to apply it—or even where. “If you have development experience, you can pick up the basics very quickly, but the problem with blockchain is that it brings together multiple subjects into one,” he said. “Once you start scratching the surface, you see different things behind the simple mechanics like economics, politics, finance, data security, etc. It becomes an endless stream of other related subjects and knowledge that you can learn. The mechanics of the system is merely the top layer.
“But I also think you could pick it up if you have other skill sets such as math, computer science, economics, or finance,” he added. “There are a variety of foundational skills that could be built upon. It’s helpful to have some development skills as most of the online tutorials are written by developers, because the original Bitcoin/blockchain project itself started as a development project.”
Dr. Stylianos Kampakis, CEO of The Tesseract Academy, points out that blockchain education requires a bit more forethought than simply how you want to apply it. “Learning blockchain is like learning any other skill in technology. Right now there are multiple competing blockchains and frameworks, some of which support established languages (e.g., Java) and some others have their own language (e.g., Solidity).”
The best thing to do “is decide which blockchain technology you are going to learn first,” he continued. “Ethereum is a good bet as it’s very popular. I wouldn’t start by paying for a course. I would look towards free courses. If someone is already proficient at writing code, learning to code blockchain is not difficult.”
Is There Continuing Education for the Skill?
Tuan Phan, partner at Caplock Security and member of the ISACA Emerging Technologies and Blockchain Framework Advisory Groups, says putting yourself out there may be the most valuable form of continuing education:
“Once you have the skills, participate in one of several open source blockchain development projects or start a publicly visible blockchain project of your own where potential employers can observe and review your work through a code management platform such as GitHub. Engage in coding forums on web sites such as Stack Overflow, Reddit, or run local Meetups to share and help other developers to get into the domain. Your engagement will not only sharpen your skill sets, but it brings visibility from potential employers seeking such skills, and doors will open for you for more rewarding opportunities. Professional associations, such as ISACA, also publish white papers, books, journal articles and blog content around the latest developments in blockchain that can be helpful as part of your continuing education.”
Is Blockchain in Demand?
“Several metrics highlight the important and increased demand for blockchain jobs,” Phan said. According to CoinMarketCap, the market capitalization of all known cryptocurrencies is about $271 Billion. As with financial services, the size of the market cap offers insights to the demands for various technical skills that typically support these industries.”
“There are some key sectors which are starting to use blockchain more and more,” Araklien added. “Especially supply chain management, finance, and fintech companies. We’re seeing companies trying to leverage blockchain technology to build applications on top [of their existing stack], so I think more and more industry diversity will happen soon. For example, we’ve recently seen new social media channels start to leverage this technology. So for now mainly fintech and finance, but in the future we will see a range of other sectors to delve in as well.”