While Sirer is excited to see the students’ passion, he has a word of caution for blockchain fanatics.
“What you want to avoid at all costs is overspecialization early on in your career,” he explains. “If you end up going to a program dedicated to blockchain, I think I personally would say you’re making a mistake.”
Studying with a niche focus — even a buzzy one like blockchain — is less useful than learning overarching principles, concepts and foundations underlying computer science and engineering Sirer argues, especially in an industry as fast-paced as high tech.
“The right thing to do is establish a broad, strong base,” he says. “All of our courses are structured in a way that they convey principle. We are not teaching people how to use today’s blockchains — tomorrow’s blockchains will look nothing like today’s.”
Berkeley student Lai, for example, has interned at two blockchain companies not only as a developer, but also as a marketer, he says.
At Wharton, Werbach agrees. Focusing an entire academic education on one emerging technology would be a mistake, he says, given that there isn’t yet enough material to teach a full degree on blockchain with sufficient rigor. He too encourages students to think about the topic in a holistic 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,” Werbach explains. “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.”
Still, Werbach says the subject 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.”
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