In the period Last year’s spring, Associate Professor Emin Gün Sirer of Computer Science at Cornell University was listed to teach a 600-level course on Blockchain technology,an advanced class intended for PhD students.
“Usually when you have five to a dozen students in such a class, you’re teaching a popular class,” Sirer told CNBC Make it with a laugh. However on the first day of arrival, Sirer was shocked: 88 students had shown up.
“It was pretty interesting to see that level of interest,” Sirer said of the undergraduate students.
The Cornell students aren’t an anomaly: other top universities through the country, students are nervous to register in courses centered on the propagation of blockchain, a decentralized ledger tech that reinforces cryptocurrencies like bitcoin.
Blockchain for Beginners
Following a new investigation of 675 U.S. undergraduate students by cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase and Qriously, 9% of students have attended a class connected to blockchain or cryptocurrency and 26 percent want to have a taste of one.
At the University of Pennsylvania they offer courses on blockchain such as ” Blockchain, Cryptocurrency, and Distributed Ledger Technology,” taught by Kevin Werbach and engineering professor David Crosbie; University of California at Berkeley offers ” Blockchain and CryptoEconomics,” taught by computer science professor Dawn Song; and Cornell offers a course on Cryptography.
Last year, Song had about 100 students from her department challenging to walk off with one of 25 open seats in a blockchain class she co-taught with faculty from the business and law schools on campus. This year too, she’s still seeing increase request for her blockchain course.
“It’s still very popular,…I think students are intrigued to learn about the technology which is very broad ranging and both has deep historic academic roots as well as exciting new frontiers.”
Professor Werbach, who teaches legal studies and business ethics at The Wharton School, will be co-teaching this fall is the university’s first full-credit class entirely focused on blockchain.
He says the great aim for the enlarged interest in blockchain classes is job prospects.
“There is rapidly growing student interest,…They’re seeing opportunities with companies that want students to work in this area, which include both blockchain focused start-ups as well as major companies…Wharton sends people to all the Fortune 500 companies, and investment banks and technology firms. A very high percentage of those leading firms now have blockchain or distributed ledger projects, and they’re looking for expertise in that area,”
Certainly, job placements in relation to bitcoin on LinkedIn has increased by nine-fold in the financial services industry and in the software technology industry by four-fold (as a proportion of overall job postings on LinkedIn) for the past three years, according to data given by the platform to CNBC Make It. Early in the week, there were 2,770 open jobs which were related to “blockchain” posted on career website Glassdoor. IBM, Facebook and Amazon have all started blockchain initiatives.
Cryptocurrency is what’s generally known when it comes to use of blockchain. Industry advocates say the possible applications are many and far-reaching, from pursuing the supply chain of food as it travels from farms to your plate to helping you shop for electricity. According to PwC’s 2018 Global Blockchain Survey, about 84% of companies are “actively involved” with blockchain tech.
The Enthusiasm Surrounding Bitcoin
Obviously, 2017’s bitcoin obsession positively help out in the peak of students’ interest when the price of the cryptocurrency (which depend on blockchain) rose from less than $1,000 at the start of the year to a high of over $19,000 in December, bringing the attention of everyone from young people to the likes of billionaire investor Warren Buffett. (Wednesday bitcoin traded near $6,270, according to CoinDesk.)
Faculty adviser Werbach for The Penn Blockchain Club, started in the fall of 2017 and had a cumulative of 300 members by the end of that year. Today, they’re at nearly 600 members, Werbach says.
Berkeley’s Blockchain at Berkeley student club, which consults on constructing blockchain apps for companies and has operated on blockchain projects with companies stretching from wireless tech giant Qualcomm to the French aerospace company Airbus, that also saw a swell of interest, Alan Lai, a sophomore electrical engineering and computer science student in the club, told CNBC Make It.
“After December 2017 when the blockchain craze occurred, the following semester we had 2,000 people interested in our info session on Facebook. We had 400 applications that semester as well. This semester we had [approximately] 250 applications.”
At Cornell, the university’s blockchain club has enticed over 100 members from arenas of study ranging from hotel management to biology. The minute speakers have come to give lectures for the club, the attendance has often been “so large we had difficulty finding a room,” Sirer adds.
Blockchain Is But a Slice of the Whole Pizza Box
Despite the fact that Sirer is enthusiastic to see the students’ desire, he’s got a word of caution for blockchain fanatics.
“What you want to avoid at all costs is overspecialization early on in your career. If you end up going to a program dedicated to blockchain, I think I personally would say you’re making a mistake.”
Learning with a niche focus — even a buzzy one like blockchain — is of less value than studying main principles, concepts and foundations primary to computer science and engineering Sirer argues, particularly in an industry as fast-paced as high-tech.
“The right thing to do is establish a broad, strong base. All of our courses are structured in a way that they convey the principle. We are not teaching people how to use today’s blockchains — tomorrow’s blockchains will look nothing like todays.”
Werbach at Wharton agrees. Concentrating a whole academic education on one developing tech would be a mistake, he says, provided that there isn’t yet sufficient material to teach a full degree on blockchain with sufficient rigor. He also encourages students to think about the topic in a rounded way.
“In order to understand blockchain well, you actually need to learn a bunch of subjects that we already teach in the university, things like economics and finance and law and distributed systems in engineering,…I think someone who is taking a bunch of related courses because they’re interested in blockchain is going to get a well-rounded education that is going to serve them well and be useful even if this industry falls apart.”
Werbach still says the topic is worth paying attention to and learning.
“I am confident that whatever happens to the price of cryptocurrencies or the success of some of these first generations of companies that have done token offerings, this technology of blockchain and cryptocurrency is here to stay,” Werbach says. “It is a fundamentally new approach that is valuable in a lot of contexts.”
Featured Images courtesy UW Students & MIT Reviews.
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