Start of the 2018 ConsenSys Academy Developer Program

It was around 2am Fiji Time this past Tuesday when the ConsenSys Academy Developer Program 2018 officially started. I was awake and waiting patiently for the email that would provide all the necessary access.

2018 Developer Program

My scholarship application into the program was accepted after I applied and then completed an online test which covered some basic JavaScript programming and development logic. The program offers about 100 scholarships.  Alternatively, you can pay US$1,000 to join the program.

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Scholarship notification

The course is delivered through EdX (a learning management systems similar to Moodle) and the cohort communicate with each other and mentors using Ryver (a communication tool similar to Slack).  “Lectures” are given through a series of short videos with links to additional resources for you to read up on to grasp the concepts.  Students are encouraged to use Ryver to ask questions.

Although the program was open to 2,000 people there are close to 1,000 people in the program judging by the guest list on Ryver.  From all over the world.  The closest to Fiji I’ve found so far is someone in New Zealand, a few in Australia, and even one person from Guam.

The course is structured into 11 modules with most of them having an assessed quiz at the end of them.  Quizzes account for 35% of the course grade while the Final Project is worth 65% and you need more than 60% to earn a certificate in the course.  Everything is due by 27 August 2018 and it is self-paced so you can do them at any time.  The certificate is issued through Ethense, “a credentialing solution for the decentralized future” offered by ConsenSys Academy.

I’m not going to reveal anything detailed about the course content because I’m pretty sure we’re bound to some sort of confidentiality agreement.  Instead, I’ll generally talk about things we’re learning.

Overwhelmed

Within 2 days from the start of the course there were some participants who had completed 6 modules!  That’s half the course done and a couple were ready to start on their final project.  At this stage I was feeling pretty overwhelmed considering I was just starting on module 1.  The only consolation I got was that many that rushed through made mistakes in their quizzes.

There are a lot of very smart people in this course and I figured that if I’m going to keep up and stay on track I’d need a really good strategy.  So, knowing that the first 3 modules are the basics I figure that I’ll get through them within the first 2 weeks so that I can spend more time on the technical stuff from module 4 onwards.  That’s where I expect I’ll struggle the most.  I’ll also need at least half the course (5-6 weeks) to work on my final project so the sooner I get through the technical basics the faster I can start on my project.

The Final Project

The final project itself is fairly open to what anyone wants to develop as a decentralized app (DApp) although they’ve suggested 2 projects that students can choose to work on if you can’t think of anything on your own.  What they’ve done is specify certain requirements that all projects must meet and the focus is not on a polished web interface but on the smart contract design.  There is emphasis on best practice in the design of the smart contracts, use of appropriate design patterns, and showing how security is considered and built into the design of the smart contracts.

My final project interest is in the use of Ethereum DApps in the fisheries space around transparency and traceability of catch particularly around the challenges of maintaining traceability in supply chains that are not well documented or have a degree of variability.  I’m also quite interested in self-sovereign identity on the blockchain and how that can be applied to a fisheries use case.  We have the option of integrating with uPort which is the ConsenSys DApp for identity.

Ethereum-to-the-Rescue-Restoring-Syrian-Refugees-Identity
Link to story: https://www.myethermine.com/news/ethereum-to-the-rescue-for-syria/

Identity is a promising use case of blockchain technology where a person can have an immutable (tamper-proof) digital identity that is verifiable through attestations. This has many benefits including no longer having to rely on paper documentation of your identity like passports, which has proven particularly useful in the humanitarian and refugee space where you often find people from conflict zones who have lost their paper documentation and essentially a historic record of their lives with it.  With a self sovereign identity pegged to biometric markers of a person your identity and supporting documentation can never get lost.  This, to me, suggests that there may be a future where we’ll no longer need passports to cross borders.

What We’re Learning

For over a year now I’ve had a growing interest in distributed ledger (blockchain) technology so I don’t consider myself a newbie when it comes to understanding the technology and what it promises.  Going through the first module and starting on the second I was pleasantly surprised that I learnt quite a few new things about the inner workings of the technology and Ethereum in particular which is the focus of this program.

Taken from the Ethereum website :

Ethereum is a decentralized platform that runs smart contracts: applications that run exactly as programmed without any possibility of downtime, censorship, fraud or third-party interference.

These apps run on a custom built blockchain, an enormously powerful shared global infrastructure that can move value around and represent the ownership of property.

Apart from a general understanding of what blockchain technology offers you can expect to learn the nuances of the different consensus mechanisms (Practical Byzantine Fault Tolerance, Proof of Work, Proof of Stake, etc) that are used for different blockchains, you’ll learn about the different types of blockchains (Permissionless, Permissioned, Private, etc) and you also get a deep appreciation of the types of enterprise blockchain platforms out there.  To understand blockchain you must also grasp concepts like cryptographic hash functions and Merkle trees, how public key cryptography offers security, and the underlying features of the blockchain structure including smart contracts, nodes, and forks.

Thoughts So Far

The program is well structured with content that builds on each of the previous modules with increasing difficulty as the course progresses.  The videos are short and useful but its important to read through the extra references that are provided for each topic to fully grasp the concepts.

Many participants, including me in Fiji (and Samoa where I’m currently writing this from), are facing a difficult time with streaming the video lectures because of high latency and a lot of buffering.  Even with good Internet bandwidth connections participants are facing these issues which is yet to be fixed and certainly affects the entire learning experience.  This isn’t a new thing for us in the Pacific who have challenging video streaming experiences so it isn’t a big problem for me – just means that I have more time in between the video playing to make a hot drink, read a book or go to the beach, whichever works.

Apart from the obvious of being committed to completing the program and joining a select group of people around the world to have gone through it I find it important to have a good strategy to complete the course.  The discussions on the Ryver comms platform can be overwhelming if you’re comparing yourself to the others who are speeding through the content and are already working on their final project.  You have to take the content at your own pace while leaving plenty of time to get stuck into the technical bits before attempting the final project.

I hope to see more Pacific Islanders taking this program in the future and I’m particularly looking forward to sharing my knowledge and experiences gained through this program to help build the first generation of Pacific Island blockchain developers with our own training programs starting in late 2018.


Featured Image via Shutterstock