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Q&A: MIT prof talks about teaching blockchain – and who’s learning

Blockchain is hot, both as an evolving distributed ledger technology already being piloted in myriad industries as well as a highly sought-after, emerging job skill.

Salaries for blockchain developers can reach as high as $175,000 with the number of full-time job openings exceeding 12,000 last fall – a growth rate of 400% over the previous year.

Universities are quickly ramping up courses on blockchain to address growing industry demand for developers. 

After offering an on-campus course about cryptocurrencies, UC-Berkeley rolled out a two-part, online course aimed at educating students on cryptocurrencies and business-scale blockchain networks. Before enrollment was closed, 7,400 had signed up.

Stanford University began offering a course called Bitcoin Engineering.

And the Massachusetts Institute of technology (MIT) offers courses specific to blockchain and others that are complementary to the distributed ledger technology, including one on digital transformation and another on cybersecurity. One of MIT’s most popular is its Applied Blockchain certification course, a one-week instruction that features hands-on experience with simulations and exercises involving real-world blockchain adherents. The course is geared toward C-suite lesaders and decision makers in a variety of industries, from finance and law to education and government.


MIT professor Abel Sanchez

Abel Sanchez, executive director of MIT’s Geospatial Data Center and an architect of data analytics platforms for SAP, Ford, Johnson & Johnson, Accenture, Shell, Exxon Mobil and Altria, is one of two MIT instructors teaching Applied Blockchian. Sanchez spoke with Computerworld about the distributed ledger technology’s potential, what the coursework includes, and what kinds of people are signing for courses.

Edited excerpts from that interview follow.

Do you need an existing skillset to even begin learning blockchain, such as being a coder, and is this the kind of skill you use for migratory work or a permanent position? “When it comes to any one technology, it depends. Think about Cobol; programmers actually make a lot of money because those legacy technologies are the backbone of the enterprise.

“Every indication is that, once you commit to blockchain – it’s a bit like committing to SAP – you’re not moving off that anytime soon.

“It’s still very early in the game, so there is going to be that market for the hot shot  blockchain technologist who will build systems and can hop from company to company and make a ton of money. But, if the promise comes through on the potential, there will be a lot of work in this space for many years, even a decade or more. This will be entrenched and deeply connected into the enterprise. It will be making money. It will be a core piece of the infrastructure.

“Even if it becomes simply a component of [interoperability]…, it’s a building block of interop.”

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