Toronto’s first blockchain college course launches

George Brown College is hoping to capitalize on city's growing reputation as a tech hub

Toronto has become such a hub for technology there’s an unofficial “Blockchain Triangle” where the major players in the space have offices from University to Spadina to King.

In 2017, our city saw 28,900 tech jobs created, and tech took up more than a third of downtown office space, according to CBRE Group Inc.’s latest annual survey.

Blockchains are digital ledgers that facilitate economic transactions – usually in cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin – as part of a decentralized database. With such a demand, those in the growing blockchain space – like Aion, ConSensys, the Blockchain Research Institute, Coinsquare, NorthernBlock, Chainsafe, MLG – are looking to fill positions with specialized workers who understand how to develop and apply blockchains.

George Brown College is looking to rectify the lack of skilled blockchain employees with a three-semester Blockchain Development program. 

The first comprehensive certificate program of its kind offered by a Canadian college was created last summer when Albert Danison, chair of the School of Computer Technology, noticed many major companies like FedEx and Walmart were exploring blockchain technology. He began talking with colleagues in the industry. 

“They were all telling me they lack people. They have a million dollars’ worth of projects still waiting to launch because they don’t have people with the right skills,” he tells NOW. “We should really be in this landscape as a leader, not as a follower.”

The blockchain industry has strongly backed the George Brown course, including ConSensys and ChainSafe Systems, and helped to develop the curriculum. Danison says that in early March when the school put out a call for people to join the program advisory committee, the normal protocol is to invite 20 and “you’re lucky to get five.” 

Instead, 14 or 15 invitees showed up to the first meeting, and the ones who couldn’t come called in. Interest carried over to instructors. Danison says he had no problem finding teachers who want to see the field grow in Toronto. 

This fall, the course teaches students with no experience to design and implement decentralized applications based on blockchain technology, and will include full stack development. Two semesters will be in-class, with the third offering a choice of a co-op or integrated learning, where the students work in-house to develop projects borrowed from blockchain companies.

“Blockchain is not hard to grasp, if taught properly, and sometimes it’s easier to teach with no background at all because brains can be molded,” he says. “The program is designed to accept students straight from high school, if they want to. We start everything from zero.”

He notes that while U.S. educational institutes like Stanford and MIT do teach blockchain, their courses are distinctly different than George Brown’s.

“They are doing a course here and there, but mostly on cryptocurrencies,” he explains. “[The classes are] mainly offered by an enthusiast professor who loves cryptocurrency.”

Luke Bradley, director of communications at Blockchain Research Institute (BRI), says the think tank is excited about the George Brown program. 

“One of the big assets that Toronto has for blockchain and tech in general is its labour force,” he says. “It’s skilled and knowledgeable and that’s due in part to an open immigration system and really visionary and practical post-secondary institutions, so we’re thrilled to see George Brown doing this.

“Right now, a lot of the education for blockchain has come from the blockchain ecosystem – from builders in the space who have developed online programs,” he adds. 

Some of those programs include the CryptoCurrency Certification Consortium, and Toronto’s Blockgeeks. 

BRI, meanwhile, aims to educate business and government leaders on the basics of blockchain and how the tech will affect business strategy. The think tank is also partnering on an upcoming online education program: BRI’s cofounder Don Tapscott has signed on to be an adjunct professor of technology and operations management with INSEAD, an online global business school. Enrollment includes a two-year partnership with the BRI. 

Bradley says they’re currently developing courses that will teach students about the various application of blockchain, but mainly in the business world.

Those in the blockchain startup sector are also keenly aware of the George Brown news. 

David Winterstein, co-founder and VP of ecosystem development at Velocia, notes that while there are university clubs with blockchain groups focused on educating people, such as York University’s BlockchainHub, the best way to learn is to “just dive into it.” 

“Finding experienced blockchain talent is hard to come by,” he explains. “That’s mainly because the technology in real-world experience is limited, and a lot of grads or co-op students are coming out of computer science programs and doing a lot of [blockchain] studying on their own time, whether through hackathons or learning on the web. 

“Dedicated programs like this are going to help shape the future of the blockchain space.” | @KellyKaliopi

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