BLOCKCHAIN FOR BE­GIN­NERS

GE­ORGE BROWN COL­LEGE LAUNCHES THE FIRST CANA­DIAN COL­LEGE PRO­GRAM DE­VOTED TO THE EMERG­ING TECH

NOW Magazine - - EDUCATION - By KELLY BOUTSALIS

Toronto has be­come such a hub for tech­nol­ogy there’s an un­of­fi­cial “Blockchain Tri­an­gle” where the ma­jor play­ers in the space have of­fices from Univer­sity to Spad­ina to King.

In 2017, our city saw 28,900 tech jobs cre­ated, and tech took up more than a third of down­town of­fice space, ac­cord­ing to CBRE Group Inc.’s lat­est an­nual sur­vey.

Blockchains are dig­i­tal ledgers that fa­cil­i­tate eco­nomic trans­ac­tions – usu­ally in cryp­tocur­ren­cies such as Bit­coin – as part of a de­cen­tral­ized data­base. With such a de­mand, those in the growing blockchain space – like Aion, ConSen­sys, the Blockchain Re­search In­sti­tute, Coin­square, North­ernBlock, Chain­safe, MLG – are look­ing to fill po­si­tions with spe­cial­ized work­ers who un­der­stand how to de­velop and ap­ply blockchains.

Ge­orge Brown Col­lege is look­ing to rec­tify the lack of skilled blockchain em­ploy­ees with a three-se­mes­ter Blockchain De­vel­op­ment pro­gram.

The first com­pre­hen­sive cer­tifi­cate pro­gram of its kind of­fered by a Cana­dian col­lege was cre­ated last sum­mer when Al­bert Dani­son, chair of the School of Com­puter Tech­nol­ogy, no­ticed many ma­jor com­pa­nies like FedEx and Wal­mart were ex­plor­ing blockchain tech­nol­ogy. He be­gan talk­ing with col­leagues in the in­dus­try.

“They were all telling me they lack peo­ple. They have a mil­lion dol­lars’ worth of projects still wait­ing to launch be­cause they don’t have peo­ple with the right skills,” he tells NOW. “We should re­ally be in this land­scape as a leader, not as a fol­lower.”

The blockchain in­dus­try has strongly backed the Ge­orge Brown course, in­clud­ing ConSen­sys and Chain­sSafe Sys­tems, and helped to de­velop the cur­ricu­lum. Dani­son says that in early March when the school put out a call for peo­ple to join the pro­gram ad­vi­sory com­mit­tee, the nor­mal pro­to­col is to in­vite 20 and “you’re lucky to get five.”

In­stead, 14 or 15 in­vi­tees showed up to the first meet­ing, and the ones who couldn’t come called in. In­ter­est car­ried over to in­struc­tors. Dani­son says he had no prob­lem find­ing teach­ers who want to see the field grow in Toronto.

This fall, the course teaches stu­dents with no ex­pe­ri­ence to de­sign and im­ple­ment de­cen­tral­ized ap­pli­ca­tions based on blockchain tech­nol­ogy, and will in­clude full stack de­vel­op­ment. Two semesters will be in-class, with the third of­fer­ing a choice of a co-op or in­te­grated learn­ing, where the stu­dents work in-house to de­velop projects bor­rowed from blockchain com­pa­nies.

“Blockchain is not hard to grasp, if taught prop­erly, and some­times it’s eas­ier to teach with no back­ground at all be­cause brains can be molded,” he says. “The pro­gram is de­signed to ac­cept stu­dents straight from high school, if they want to. We start ev­ery­thing from zero.”

He notes that while U.S. ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tutes like Stan­ford and MIT do teach blockchain, their cour­ses are

dis­tinctly dif­fer­ent than Ge­orge Brown’s.

“They are do­ing a course here and there, but mostly on cryp­tocur­ren­cies,” he ex­plains. “[The classes are] mainly of­fered by an en­thu­si­ast pro­fes­sor who loves cryp­tocur­rency.”

Luke Bradley, direc­tor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions at Blockchain Re­search In­sti­tute (BRI), says the think tank is ex­cited about the Ge­orge Brown pro­gram.

“One of the big as­sets that Toronto has for blockchain and tech in gen­eral is its labour force,” he says. “It’s skilled and knowl­edge­able and that’s due in part to an open im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem and re­ally vi­sion­ary and prac­ti­cal post­sec­ondary in­sti­tu­tions, so we’re thrilled to see Ge­orge Brown do­ing this.

“Right now, a lot of the ed­u­ca­tion for blockchain has come from the blockchain ecosys­tem – from builders in the space who have de­vel­oped on­line pro­grams,” he adds.

Some of those pro­grams in­clude the Cryp­toCur­rency Cer­ti­fi­ca­tion Con­sor­tium, and Toronto’s Block­geeks.

BRI, mean­while, aims to ed­u­cate busi­ness and gov­ern­ment lead­ers on the ba­sics of blockchain and how the tech will af­fect busi­ness strat­egy. The think tank is also part­ner­ing on an up­com­ing on­line ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram: BRI’s co­founder Don Tap­scott has signed on to be an ad­junct pro­fes­sor of tech­nol­ogy and op­er­a­tions man­age­ment with INSEAD, an on­line global busi­ness school. En­roll­ment in­cludes a two-year part­ner­ship with the BRI.

Bradley says they’re cur­rently de­vel­op­ing cour­ses that will teach stu­dents about the var­i­ous ap­pli­ca­tion of blockchain, but mainly in the busi­ness world.

Those in the blockchain startup sec­tor are also keenly aware of the Ge­orge Brown news.

David Win­ter­stein, co-founder and VP of ecosys­tem de­vel­op­ment at Ve­locia, notes that while there are univer­sity clubs with blockchain groups fo­cused on ed­u­cat­ing peo­ple, such as York Univer­sity’s BlockchainHub, the best way to learn is to “just dive into it.”

“Find­ing ex­pe­ri­enced blockchain tal­ent is hard to come by,” he ex­plains. “That’s mainly be­cause the tech­nol­ogy in real-world ex­pe­ri­ence is lim­ited, and a lot of grads or co-op stu­dents are com­ing out of com­puter sci­ence pro­grams and do­ing a lot of [blockchain] study­ing on their own time, whether through hackathons or learn­ing on the web.

“Ded­i­cated pro­grams like this are go­ing to help shape the fu­ture of the blockchain space.”

“BLOCKCHAIN IS NOT HARD TO GRASP, IF TAUGHT PROP­ERLY, AND SOME­TIMES IT’S EAS­IER TO TEACH [TO STU­DENTS] WITH NO BACK­GROUND AT ALL.” -AL­BERT DANI­SON, CHAIR OF GE­ORGE BROWN COL­LEGE’S SCHOOL OF COM­PUTER TECH­NOL­OGY

Blockchains are dig­i­tal ledgers that fa­cil­i­tate eco­nomic trans­ac­tions, usu­ally in cryp­tocur­ren­cies like Bit­coin.

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