The Future of Blockchain (FoB) is running an ongoing three-month competition for anyone currently studying, researching or working at the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial, London School of Economics, University College London, and King’s College London. Founded by a former Oxford alumnus, the competition invites both budding developers and students with interdisciplinary backgrounds ranging from business, finance, law, marketing, and more, to uncover far-reaching applications of blockchain technology.
BlockchainReporter sat down to speak with Saiba Kataruka, Developer Marketing Lead at Zilliqa, one of the organizers of the competition.
From New York University to the University of Tokyo, many major universities are starting to embrace blockchain as a field of study. What do you think caused this change?
An education in blockchain is also an education in economics, game theory, computer science, security, governance models, law, and also business use cases.
Learning to build a public blockchain is essentially equivalent to learning to build a financial ecosystem from scratch, and that’s a highly valuable educational experience for anyone. Such a cross-disciplinary learning curve makes this sector rather attractive for people with high curiosity and entrepreneurial inclinations. That’s also one of the reasons why top universities around the world have been introducing blockchain courses into their curricula.
According to LinkedIn, Blockchain Developer is one of the most in-demand jobs in the market. However, there seems to be a shortage of expertise. Do you see this gap being closed in the near future?
The emergence of a talent skills gap goes hand in hand with the advent of all new technologies. We’ve seen this in the past when cloud computing began growing in popularity and the tech industry had to confront increasing demand for talent but was faced with a low supply of the relevant skills. After a while, the companies that needed these skills the most began to upskill their own employees by launching education programs to bridge the knowledge gap or hiring third-parties to provide the necessary training. As major tech companies such as IBM, Facebook, and many others gradually come to show an interest in blockchain, we’re likely to see this similar pattern repeating.
For us at Zilliqa, being the first blockchain company to introduce sharding technology to the industry made us realize that we have a responsibility to educate the wider community. Whether it’s for students or professional developers, we believe that it’s important for us to prioritise blockchain education and to provide people with the necessary resources and foundational knowledge. To that end, we’ll soon be launching a series of free, online blockchain application development course to help bridge today’s existing knowledge gap.
Besides programs like these, what else can universities do to throw their weight behind blockchain education?
One of the major constraints in developing a full term course for an ever-evolving technology such as blockchain is that the course content quickly becomes outdated. Some universities that developed blockchain courses as recently as one year ago may have found that many of the topics in their curricula are now outdated.
In order to ensure that programs are up to date, higher education institutions would benefit by supplementing their course offerings with interactive sessions or workshops with industry experts, rather than solely relying on existing course material. By opening a dialogue with industry leaders, students will also have a better understanding of the current industry landscape, learning about technical advancements, as well as job or funding opportunities within the market.
Europe is considered to be more progressive when it comes to blockchain. Does this extend to blockchain education as well?
In my view, there are definitely cities in Europe, particularly Berlin and London where blockchain awareness is quite high. Places like Zug, Paris, Amsterdam, and Stockholm are also rapidly ramping up their exploration into blockchain technology.
In these regions, the presence of early adopters of blockchain technology, venture capital funding, forward-thinking legislation, and regulatory support, coupled with top-tier educational institutions have been some of the factors that have enabled them to succeed as blockchain hubs. While these factors are good indicators, they don’t always explain everything. Sometimes, it’s just a few individuals or the presence of a pioneering project that can make a big impact in improving the level of blockchain education within an entire community.
Could you tell us a bit more about the Future of Blockchain?
Given the nascence of the blockchain industry, we’re keen to find a good way to connect the various components that make for a great company in this space. The Future of Blockchain is such an initiative that brings together top talent from some of the world’s leading academic institutions, venture capital funding, and industry participation.
From an academic standpoint, the Future of Blockchain involves students from top-ranking universities renowned for cutting-edge research and innovation, such as the University of Oxford, University of Cambridge, and King’s College London. Students can either partake in the ‘Creator Challenge’, where they build a startup that involves a blockchain-based solution, or the ‘Platform Challenges’, where they answer one of eight technical challenges posed by a Challenge Partner, such as Zilliqa. These students will be using resources provided to them throughout the competition alongside mentorship from the Challenge Partners in order to build interesting applications over a 3-month period.
On the venture capital front, the Future of Blockchain was founded by StakeZero Ventures, a blockchain VC fund who are looking to spot top-talent at the earliest stage in emerging tech verticals, such as blockchain, and give them the opportunity to build applications and startups. The most promising projects will have the opportunity to pitch to StakeZero and other VC funds in order to receive funding in the hopes of becoming full-time startups.
From an industry perspective, Zilliqa is working to help participants to focus on a few key challenges while providing ongoing mentorship. We’ll also be further evaluating the winning entries, some of which may be supported through our Zilliqa Ecosystem Grant Program which has a grant pool of $5 million USD.
What made Zilliqa want to get involved in blockchain education?
Zilliqa is a project that was born out of academic research. At the National University of Singapore, some members of our founding team engaged in research to examine how blockchain could be more usable for the community by way of addressing the industry’s scalability problem. It was there where they developed the technology that underpins our platform, allowing the network to scale as the number of transactions per second increases while maintaining a high level of security. With that in mind, academia is, and always will be, a big part of Zilliqa and we are committed to giving back to the academic community.
With the act of building a public blockchain platform akin to building a financial ecosystem from scratch, it’s impossible to do that alone. For the industry to flourish, we need to continue working together and fostering an environment of collaboration. There’s simply no way to build an ecosystem on one’s own.