Mapping the blockchain education ecosystem
When I created my first tutorials almost two years ago, there were very few educational resources about blockchains. The ecosystem was sorely lacking in good courses, tutorials and guides to ease the learning curve for newcomers. I remember the many days I’ve spent reading raw codes and technical documentation until I was finally able to manually connect to the Bitcoin network, create keys, sign transactions, etc.
But two years is forever in the world of blockchain, now many companies, universities, and individuals are flooding the market, offering their services as educators and validators.
The thing is that this ecosystem is still kind of a wild west. There are very little standardization and collaboration between different players in this ecosystem. And the final result is sub-optimal, both for those who wish to educate themselves and for those who want to work with them (future employers/potential business partners).
But fear not, I’ve taken upon myself to try most of the major courses available and to receive as many certifications as possible. And I’ve got some interesting insights on the right route an aspiring blockchain developer should take.
I the following posts I’ll review the following courses and certification process:
- Princeton University – Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency Technologies. Available as a full course at Coursera
- Berkely University – BLOCKCHAIN at Berkely.
- Stanford University – Bitcoin and Cryptocurrencies.
- Multiple Youtube channels and videos (including my own)
- Book – Mastering Bitcoin: Unlocking Digital Cryptocurrencies by Andreas Antonopoulos (1st Edition)
- Book – Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency Technologies by Princeton University (Draft version)
- Udemy Ethereum: Decentralized Application Design & Development
- Diginomics – Ethereum developers course (Created by myself more than a year ago)
- IBM – Blockchain Essentials for Developers (Includes certification)
- C4 – Certified Bitcoin Professional.
Blockchain at Berkeley
From the oldest to the youngest. Blockchain at Berkeley was created just short of a year by a group of (mostly) undergrads from Berkeley University. Don’t let it fool you. The fact that these students are undergrads is nothing short of a plus for this program. It’s fresh, created with love, well paced, publicly available and highly recommended.
The full program is currently only available as a course (Academic credits) at Berkeley University. The program publishes its materials online. As I never had the pleasure of participating in the live program, my review refers only to what is available online.
The program structure – Beginners
The program website might be somewhat confusing at first. Some of the links are circulars, and it’s hard to find the main Education page. Pressing on the Education tab will circulate you between different live programs, workshops, and resources. The DECAL tab, which contains the (live) course assignments, reading materials, and webcasts is where you should start as it organize all of the material and resources in chronological order.
It’s my view that to understand the blockchain; one must first understand Bitcoin as it is the most researched, documented, robust and stable example of the blockchain out there. Berkeley does just this; they’re making sure that the students first understand what the blockchain Is, how it was created, how it works, and what it’s not, before moving to other implementations of the blockchain (mostly Ethreum, although hyperledger and zcash are also mentioned in later lectures).
The programs begin with the history of Bitcoin and digital money, moves to a high-level view of the protocol – from the consensus point of view and then gives a brief introduction to the crypto aspects of Bitcoin by introducing ECDSA. Once ECDSA is presented the lecture starts to get somewhat technical for many casual users (ECC properties), but not too technical that it might prevent those who are committed to start and understand how the concept of signing and asymmetric encryption. That’s by far one of the best examples I’ve seen for “mitigating the knowledge gap.” The terms are technical and well explained in a slow and forgiving pace without dummying it down.
The good work doesn’t stop with ECDSA. The next lecture: “Bitcoin Mechanics and Optimization” is another great example of how to teach some technical aspects of the Bitcoin blockchain such as double spend, transactions, and scripts (only P2PKH so far), Merkle trees, UTXOs vs. Accounts (Another great little detail that sets the foundations for the advanced Ethereum part of the program). All is presented in a professional, yet chewable way.
The program also provides an excellent top down review of mining, game theory and potential attacks. All was wonderfully constructed with a top-down view of all the relevant concepts and interesting and thought-provoking examples. This part is also used as a bridge to introduce other blockchains (mainly Ethereum that is also the star of the next lecture)
Ethereum received only one lecture in this program, and that’s a shame. I feel as if the Ethereum lecture is the weakest one in the batch, but it’s evident that this is only due to the time limitation. The top-down review of Ethereum was good for the casual user/learner, but not on par with what the program offered so far. Many aspects of the Ethereum blockchain architecture and of the VM were completely omitted from the presentation. The decision to talk about the considerations in creating smart contracts was counterproductive, and the result is a jumble of terms and concepts that are explained in too much haste. It’s important to notice that there’s another presentation on EVM that wasn’t mentioned in the lecture
Once Ethereum is out of the way, the program focusses again on Bitcoin and presents many future ideas about it: Federated chains, switching hashing algorithm, PBTF and more. I mostly enjoyed the part about payment channels and lightning network which, together with Aaron van Wirdum’s Understanding the Lightning Network on Bitcoin Magazine, is the best resource for non-coder who wants to know how LN should work.
All of the lectures and presentations are available online at the DECAL tab. However, it’s clear that the presentations weren’t created to be a standalone learning material. It’s almost impossible to make much sense of them without watching the video, which is weird because the videos are no more than a live recording of the instructor, reading from the board. The class noises might be somewhat distracting, and it’s a shame that it’s impossible to hear the questions from the audience.
The program structure – Advanced
The materials in the DECAL tab are providing an excellent review of the blockchain with a mix of technicality and causality that can appeal to a broad audience. But for the more technical students, a more technical information is required. That is the WORKSHOP tab comes to play. Over here stored the more advanced presentations. Dealing extensively with the EVM, smart contract coding (Solidity), data architecture, math, etc.
However, as mentioned before, it’s clear that the presentations weren’t meant to stand alone. Someone needs to explain them. And unfortunately, the workshop doesn’t contain any videos. That makes most of the workshop material somewhat useless for students (but an excellent resource for educators/teachers).
Another great aspect of the program is the “Whitepaper circle.” Once in a while, the students upload their technical review of a relevant whitepaper. The videos are highly recommended.
Unfortunately, it’s impossible to participate in any way in the program (unless of course, you’re currently in Berkeley). It might have been nice to have a forum/slack for the program. I’m sure many would’ve appreciated the ability to interact with the other students and instructors directly.
Assignments and Certification
As mentioned before, there’s no way to interact with the program. You cannot participate in any way. No assignments, no certification. Only nothing. Shame.
Blockchain at Berkeley was created by a group of enthusiasts undergrad students – and that only means good things about the taught material. Concise, useful, up to date, and the precise blend to appeal both to highly technical and to the more general audience.
The fact that this program was created almost as an independent side project of the said students is noticeable in its presentation. The website and presentations are beautifully done but poorly integrated into a coherence experience. I understand that when something as useful as this is giving to the public for free, it’s almost rude criticizing the way it is wrapped, but I feel as is the creators really did wanted to have something useful – a place for developers from all over the world to learn the secrets of the blockchain – the love and effort is evident to see, but in order to achieve it, some work need to be put into packaging the program.
Final note – The best program out there for technical people (coding is not a must) who wants to really understand what the blockchain is. A bit hard to find your way around it – but worth it.
|Commit yourself to this program if:||· You’re a tech-savvy person taking is first steps into the world of blockchain AND willing to put some effort into understanding the technicality of it.|
|Time to complete the course:||· Thirteen weeks. Previous classes are all available on youtube and can be watched in one go|
|Interaction:||· None. Too bad|
· YouTube channel. Contains all lecture videos and some whitepaper circle videos.
· Their resource page is also worth checking out
|Certification:||· None. Too bad|