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Balance between self-trained and credentialed will be vital for ongoing innovation in technology, finance

On 11 Jan 2023

To understand the future of crypto, it is essential first to understand where the industry stands today. Three factors contribute to this: blockchain is young, it moves fast, and it interacts with other technologies.

The concept of cryptography is not new. Blockchain innovation has its roots in the cypherpunk movement of the 1990s. We must remember, however, that blockchain technology was only invented and applied in 2008/09. It’s only been 12/13 years since then. Academic networks and military networks began using the internet to communicate in the 1970s, but it wasn’t until the early 2000s that widespread use of the internet really began to take off with the spread of broadband and mobile devices.

Recruiters will increasingly seek traditional hiring credentials as traditional financial firms expand into crypto, which will cause a sea change in universities and the crypto job market as a whole. Teachers who are specialized in Cryptography, are bound to face the challenges that comes up with teaching such a broad subject without adequate educational standards and course materials. It is often necessary to rely on the expertise of others to cover such a wide range of potentially relevant topics.

There is high interest in blockchain education, but courses available vary widely between institutions, and are often dependent on a small number of enthusiastic professors. There is no one vantage point from which people teach it. Due to the lack of formal education infrastructure – such as standards, certifications, and course materials – formal education in the blockchain space is largely driven by individual professors. Although they occasionally receive support from blockchain-native companies and foundations, colleges and universities will not be able to pump significant numbers of crypto graduates into the industry in the near future.

There is still a long way to go, since what would such a credential entail. What are the foundations of blockchain? Does it include understanding applications on top? This field is constantly evolving, and maturation takes time.”

Because adoption, investment, and use cases of blockchain have continually outpaced the availability of talent, blockchain has always faced a skills shortage. So far, the industry has achieved significant growth with the help of self-taught and self-trained individuals, but that won’t be enough to make it mainstream. JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs are already making big bets on blockchain even though it’s still relatively new. There are already 200 full-time employees on JPMorgan’s crypto team.

Almost every aspect of traditional finance can be impacted by blockchain, including investment banks, private equity firms, hedge funds, law firms, payment providers, etc. Consequently, the sector will require an equally broad range of blockchain-based skills in the coming years.

Many traditional institutions are looking for some type of educational standard as they expand their blockchain capabilities – and talent rosters. In finance, a heavily regulated industry that has long had to maintain strict licensing and educational requirements for compliance reasons, it is especially common to consider candidates primarily based on their formal education.

Currently, blockchain companies are funding universities to create educational programs, not the traditional financial industry. As a result, their voices are being heard more.” Formal education in blockchain was not available until quite recently, and what exist is hardly sufficient to support a finance industry that is finally taking blockchain seriously.

In contrast, the relatively young crypto industry has long favored self-taught enthusiasts over those who descend from an ivory tower, in keeping with its decentralized, grassroots nature. Nevertheless, that mentality may soon become a victim of its own success. Many traditional financial institutions are rapidly enhancing their blockchain capabilities as a result of the self-taught pioneers of the field who succeeded in convincing the world to take the space seriously. They are too hungry to rely solely on self-taught talent pools. There is now a need for a more effective and universal education infrastructure that can help carry the industry into the future.

As of today, more than a third of traditional hedge funds invest in digital assets, and more than two-thirds plan to increase their holdings by the end of the year, according to a recent report by PwC. It is common for highly regulated industries to hire staff with a seal of approval from an educational institution or at least a standard evaluation.

In order to sell derivatives, a salesperson must have knowledge of derivatives and their risk profiles, as well as how the product is traded. There is a similar test for everyone in the derivative market, regardless of whether they are in London, Hong Kong, or New York.”

When companies hire at a junior or mid level, they have to go through more rounds of interviews than they would for a non-crypto hire in order to build confidence and consensus that the person has the skills they need. There are a large number of enthusiasts who are self-taught, but not sufficiently. It would be very helpful to the industry if people were able to achieve some kind of certification. As a result, blockchain and crypto could become more mainstream within financial services, setting a bar for quality and confidence.

Candidates with prior work experience at blockchain-related startups and those who participate in on-campus blockchain clubs seem to be preferred.

Self-taught people: what happens to them?

Even though the industry calls for more regulation, educational standards, and eventually a credential that is widely accepted, caution must be exercised, especially in such a new and fragile field. The right way to implement it is to make sure innovation is not stifled, while still allowing fantastically innovative and creative people to have an accreditation recognizing them as qualified to build, create, and advise on crypto.”

To foster ongoing innovation, a field that combines technology and finance will need to strike a balance between those who are self-taught and those who are credentialed. While the tech industry has long welcomed talented dropouts on an equal playing field with top-tier university graduates, finance tends to favor one profile over another. A credential that is widely accepted, however, could limit the career opportunities of those without it.

Self-taught individuals will not be pushed out by more formal education. Self-taught individuals typically prefer working for (or founding) blockchain native companies over working for more traditional institutions because the two rarely compete for the same career opportunities.

Most students who intend to work for blockchain-native companies and startups take those courses out of personal interest. People interested in applying for roles with traditional financial institutions, however, seem confident that even a limited background in the field will be an asset. Given the limited credentialing available and the demand for such skills, graduates seeking jobs in major financial institutions believe even listing blockchain-related courses on their resumes is an asset.

Traditional firms entering the crypto space exhibit a much more traditional mindset. In the current industry, both formally educated and self-taught individuals find their niche. In an effort to establish more formal education standards and credentials, self-educated individuals may lose out on opportunities.

It is a failure for firms to accept substandard workers just because they have formal education. The formal education system also works well for some people, and to say we should only accept self-study learners is also unfair.

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