Jason King, co-founder of the Kingsland University’s School of Blockchain, isn’t exaggerating the urgency. Global spending in the blockchain industry is projected to increase almost tenfold from 2018 to 2022, reaching $11.7 billion according to one study. But blockchain technology is going to need more than just venture capital investment and ample electricity to make this growth feasible: It will require many more qualified developers.
The Talent Need
But that precious commodity is in short supply. Earlier this year, blockchain-related jobs were identified as the labor market’s second-fastest growing category, with a 14-to-1 ratio of openings for each developer. For those who speak the language of Hyperledger Fabric, Ripple and the Ethereum Virtual Machine’s Solidity, the world is an oyster, with major pockets of talent demand spanning Silicon Valley, London, Switzerland, Berlin, Singapore and elsewhere throughout the globe.
A logical complement to such a worker shortage — especially in a field as complex as blockchain technology — is for new educational opportunities to spring up around it. Job seekers looking to make a move into the field today will find plenty of online courses, a smaller selection of short-burst, on-site boot camps and seminars, corporate training programs, the occasional college major just starting to crop up and more.
But with Kingsland University, King and his co-founder John Souza believe they have identified a sweet spot in blockchain developer training. As a SACS-CASI accredited course for software developers who want to learn technical programming skills in blockchain technology, Kingsland University seeks to assure maximum credibility among its graduates while still educating within a timeline that makes sense for the hyper pace of blockchain evolution — its flagship “full immersion” class takes eight weeks.
A Different Kind of Code
A self-described “humanitarian hacker,” Bitcoin believer and the founder of Unsung.org — a platform to redistribute good, uneaten food across the U.S. — King’s activism planted the seeds for Kingsland University.
“Back in 2016, when I was trying to get Unsung.org off the ground, I called every blockchain developer I knew to recruit their help,” he recalled. “While they all loved the idea, I kept getting knockbacks. No one had any time; they were already over capacity working on other projects. I knew Unsung couldn’t wait that long and realized other companies must also be hitting that wall, trying to find blockchain developers that were actually available.”
As Kingsland University progressed, King and his faculty gleaned fresh insights about the prior experience behind an ideal blockchain developer — and it turned out that it’s not just about coding proficiency.
“We’re learning that people who have a background in hardware engineering versus software engineering take to blockchain engineering really well,” King said. “They’re used to testing the hell out of something before pushing it out to manufacture because, once it’s out there, it’s out there.”
According to King, coders have to come to terms with the fact that blockchain development differs from the full stack that they may be used to.
“If you’re a coder who is used to just pushing out code that you can fix later, blockchain [technology] will be a struggle for you,” he said. “It’s something a lot of full-stack engineers coming into the space don’t really understand — once it’s live on the blockchain, you need consensus to do anything. You need a consensus from your network to make change — you can’t ‘just fix it.’”
The Student Experience
One recent Kingsland University graduate is Noren Sambo Arevalo, a web developer who was specializing in the MongoDB, ExpressJS, ReactJS, and NodeJS (MERN) stack before he entered the blockchain space.
“I was first attracted to blockchain [technology] around three years ago when the Ethereum network went live,” Arevalo said. “My cousin introduced Ethereum to me and I can still vividly remember downloading and exploring aimlessly at Ethereum’s wallet software and DApp browser. I was attracted because it had this ingenious idea of revolutionizing traditional payment systems in a way that the platform promises transparency and security.”
Based in the Philippines, Arevalo took the Kingsland University entrance exam and was offered the opportunity to study at a full immersion course in Singapore. In line with the intensity of the school’s full immersion program, any student who wants to enroll in it must take a skills assessment first. Also, any students applying for entry through Kingsland’s scholarships program must take the mandatory skills assessment before being offered a scholarship and a course seat. Online, optional self-assessments are available for prospective students to test their own skill levels before enrolling in one of the school’s modular or hybrid format courses.
Naturally, attendance comes at a cost. In addition to varying by delivery system, Kingsland University tuition varies also by region to ensure a pricing model that accurately reflects global economic disparity. A full immersion course can cost between $10,000 and $15,000, exclusive of any scholarships or regional government subsidies which may be available, with significant scholarships available for students in underserved regions to defray the cost of tuition.
The Singapore location Arevalo attended is one of many that the school reaches in its efforts to be fully globalized, offering on-site programs worldwide in locales that have included Mexico City, Bulgaria, Seoul, Hong Kong, Toronto, Australia, the Philippines, Bermuda, New York City and Los Angeles.
Arevalo agrees with King that the fast-forward motion of blockchain technology can be daunting.
“Blockchain [technology] is still at its infancy stage and I think the most challenging aspect of learning blockchain [development] is keeping up with the technology,” he said. “New breakthroughs occur after a while, new security issues are discovered and addressed and the community learns from these new things each time. It’s tough, yet interesting.”
To overcome this, Kingsland takes a learning-by-doing approach which sees students starting blockchain work on day one.
“By the time they finish, students have two distributed applications of their own and they’ve spent time defending the structure, architecture and build of those projects to a board of assessors,” said King. “Our goal is job readiness, so our courses prepare them with the fundamental practical skills to start working in the blockchain space immediately.”
To provide career opportunities upon graduation, Kingsland has partnerships like its recently announced collaboration with the Tezos Foundation. As a part of the partnership, Kingsland will collaborate with developers that worked on the Tezos mainnet to develop and update a Tezos-focused blockchain developer curriculum, which will also be integrated into Kingsland's blockchain engineering programs. Kingsland will support recruiting students into the curriculum specialization and place them into jobs that support the overall growth of the blockchain ecosystem.
Tapping Into the Right Trainers
In addition to recruiting and placing new students, Kingsland must juggle the twin challenges of developing an up-to-the-minute course load while onboarding and retaining trainers qualified to deploy it.
Designing a curriculum to keep up with the high rate of change places huge demands on anyone in the blockchain training game.
“It’s not easy!” exclaimed King. “An effective blockchain curriculum must change ridiculously fast to keep up with advancements in the ecosystem. Traditional institutions can’t accommodate the speed of development in blockchain [technology]. Their systems have been designed around catering to slower rates of change.”
Anar Enhsaihan, a blockchain trainer at Kingsland University, was an iOS mobile application programmer who became a “Bitcoin evangelist” after he witnessed the Cyprus banking crisis of 2013.
“No matter how genius blockchain technology may be, it's useless if people don't know what it is or how to use it,” Enhsaihan said. “Knowledge is not enough, there must be application. I wanted to become a blockchain educator so that I could help arm more developers with know-how so that they can go on to contribute to the revolution and help it grow.”
Enhsaihan’s personal approach to teaching blockchain starts with emphasizing why it’s being used in the first place.
“I was attracted to blockchain[s] for very pragmatic reasons and I make it clear to my students why I am in the space to begin with,” he explains. “Others may want to expound on the technical underpinnings of blockchain [technology], whereas I see it as a means to an end. So, for example, I don't merely teach how [crypto] wallets are designed and how they work, but why you should use a particular set of wallets, in which context certain wallets make sense, how to use them to empower yourself and gain financial sovereignty.”