Stanford University could bridge the Bitcoin skills gap with much-needed developers MOOC

With the rising number of startups and established businesses in the bitcoin and blockchain industry, the need for specialized bitcoin developers is at an all-time high. There are more companies looking to hire bitcoin developers than there are qualified candidates, and there aren't enough people being trained, which is creating a skills gap.

Capgemini“This skills shortage is creating a ‘war for talent’, where companies have to compete for the best talent with new categories of players.”

- Capgemini

The skillset needed to craft new blockchain services has only existed for a few years, and those who acquired these skills naturally were early adopters. Many of these talented developers invested in bitcoins when they were worth far less, and are no longer interested in traditional employment.

Taken together, there simply isn’t enough skill available to go around our growing industry, as you can easily witness for yourself at any Bitcoin job fair. Thankfully, in order to fill this shortage of skills, several university-level classes are popping up to train the next generation of Bitcoin developers.

Some courses are only held in person, while many more are available online as a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), including some very prestigious offerings from Stanford and Princeton Universities.

The first fully online course for Bitcoin professionals was offered through premier MOOC provider, Coursera, last September. The course was from professors at Princeton, and designed to give relative beginners a full, working understanding of Bitcoin. At the time of its launch, it was the most popular online course available, according to MOOC news and rating site Class Central. While there have been no ivy league MOOCs since, one for Bitcoin developers may be in the works.

Stanford University already offers a classroom Bitcoin and Cryptocurrencies course for developers, CS251, consisting of a three-unit class and an optional one-unit hands-on lab with bitcoin applications, referred to as CS251p. The one-unit lab component of CS251 was initially offered in September 2015. The newer Bitcoin lab component, CS251p, is offered again this year, from January 4 to March 11. Aptly renamed “Bitcoin Engineering,” the course has a hackathon feel and new materials have been added.

Standford“While CS251 will give you a strong grounding in the technology underlying Bitcoin, in this complementary course (CS251P) we will tackle the applied side of Bitcoin with a focus on practical projects. Specifically, we will go through a series of Bitcoin-based labs, each of which is focused on a single practical problem that you'd encounter while trying to use Bitcoin.”

- Stanford

Professor Dan Boneh, Head of the Applied Crypto Group (ACG) at Stanford University’s Computer Science department, taught both components in 2015, along with ACG’s postdoctoral researcher, Joseph Bonneau. However, the 2016 CS215p course is taught by Dr. Boneh and the CEO of 21 Inc., venture capitalist, longtime Stanford professor, and Bitcoin Veteran, Balaji S. Srinivasan.

While this bitcoin engineering course is not a MOOC, Stanford recognizes that some interested students will not be able to take the course in person, “either due to studying abroad or overlapping time commitments.” They also realized that there are many others, not attending Stanford, who are interested in taking the course.

To fill that need they are considering the option of a free MOOC version later this year, if there is sufficient interest. Anyone can sign up and declare their interest, with no commitments, using only an email address. This would certainly help fill the Bitcoin industry skill void, allowing many people all over the world who can’t physically attend the school to enter the Bitcoin job marketplace.

“[CS215p is] Stanford's new lab course on building Bitcoin-enabled applications. Learn how to rewire internet services on the basis of Bitcoin. Prior background in Python within a Unix environment is recommended, but no previous Bitcoin knowledge is necessary.”

- CS215p course description from Stanford University

After learning how to use the standard Bitcoin developer’s tool chest - programs, libraries, and APIs - it appears that the majority of the course will be focused on using the long-overlooked HTTP 402 error code, “Payment Required.” Often listed as “reserved for future use,” the original intention was that this code might be used with some form of digital cash.

CS215p is an unusual class in that it is completed in a hackathon-like environment, and is intended to encourage developers to take part in the Bitcoin ecosystem by building practical applications for it. 402 can now be used to implement micropayments into web services, creating bitcoin-enabled versions of everyday applications like Twitter, Wordpress, Dropbox, Google, and even Linux.

"Grading will be based entirely on class participation. There is no final examination. The best student projects each week will be written up in Bitcoin Magazine.”

- CS215p course description from Stanford University

Other related courses at Stanford are “LAW 715D: Digital Currency and Cybercrime,” currently taught by lecturer Kathryn Rose Haun, and the longtime favorite course for casual Bitcoin professionals and cryptoanarchists alike; “CS255: Introduction to Cryptography,” which also taught by Dr. Boneh, as both a classroom course and a free MOOC than anyone can attend, uncredited, online.

Taken together with the many other Bitcoin MOOCs listed at sites like Udemy and the Khan academy, many of which are completely free classes, there is very little reason for anyone to blame a lack of education or training when hoping to land a job within the world of Bitcoin.