Are you itching to understand blockchain better? Do you feel like you really need to get to grips with all the content out there, but just don’t know where to get started?
Well, this article is for you. Bookmark it, follow the links and bask in the warm fuzzy feeling that is reserved for those who invest time and effort into learning a new subject.
When I say time and effort, I mean about 200 hours of reading, and an equal number of hours to discuss with friends who are also interested in learning more. You won’t become an expert by the end of it, but you will know enough to understand what the hell all the hype is all about, and be able to understand most of what is discussed on the internet.
If you are active on Linkedin, and you start sharing some of your knowledge after you are through with all the reading, don’t be surprised if you start getting ten requests a day from ‘ICO Advisors’ and other self proclaimed experts.
First, I have bad news for you though.
Despite the thousands on Linkedin and Twitter claiming to be ‘experts’ in the field, there is no such thing as an expert. Not yet anyway. Vitalik Buterin, one of the founders of Ethereum, might come close to being an expert, but even he openly admits to needing a variety of views from various people to make complete sense of the stunning amount and speed of innovation in the space. Also, let’s not forget, that guy is a boy genius, and if he takes time to understand all that needs to be understood, mortals like you and me can afford to take our time!
This is a short little guide to get you started on your own learning journey. If you follow through on the resources listed, and actually take time to read, discuss and share, I assure you that you will end up knowing more than most people out there.
When I first started reading up about bitcoin, everyone recommended reading the Bitcoin white paper. If, like me, you don’t have a background in cryptography and computer science, very little in that document will make sense to you. So don’t start there.
Again, make no mistake, getting through every document in this list will only give you a basic understanding of what the technology is and how it works. In other words, and forgive me for being repetitive, you will by no means become an ‘expert’, but you will be able to comprehend and understand the vast majority of projects, discussions and articles on blockchain.
Blockchain Revolution — The first thing I did when my infatuation with blockchain began was to read this brilliant book by the Tapscotts. This book is a neat little synopsis about how blockchain can radically transform a number of industries — from payments and banking to accounting and supply chain. I highly recommend starting with this book since it will give you the all important ‘why’ and therefore help you envision the enormous possibilities of blockchain.
Mastering Bitcoin — Next, pick up a copy of Mastering Bitcoin by the amazingly knowledgeable, eloquent and humorous Andreas Antonopoulos. This book is meant for developers and non-developers, and though he provides plenty of code snippets, you don’t have to follow the code. Andreas breaks some very complex topics down so anyone can understand them. This book will give you a very tightly knit picture of the bitcoin ecosystem, how it works and why things function the way that they do. Terms like proof of work, hashing algorithms and mining will make a lot more sense to you after this book.
Bitcoin & Cryptocurrency Technologies — This is a technical book (PDF) from Princeton University. It is very thorough and explains most concepts you will encounter in the blockchain world in a manner that is fairly challenging for those who have not studied computer science before. Nevertheless, putting yourself through this book will give you enough knowledge to understand a whole array of technical discussions on blockchain.
Once you are done with these, you will have a fairly basic understanding of the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ of blockchain. Good work! This sets you up for more advanced study into the better known networks out there.
Distributed Ledger Technology Systems; A Conceptual Framework — Before you start digging into whitepapers of some of the better known blockchain projects, it is well worth your time to read this excellent document by the Cambridge Center for Alternative Finance. I got a lot from reading this document because it lays out various conflicting terms (which are used rather loosely in the blockchain world) and discusses them in detail. Michel Rauchs, one of the lead authors of this report, is active on Twitter and is very helpful, so do reach out to him and follow him!
White papers — Given there are more than 1600 projects out there, it is impossible to read everything. Also, you might not be as geeky or want to devote as much time as I did, so choose a few and read them. Here are a few that I recommend:
The three above have been written with a fairly technical audience in mind. Don’t worry if you don’t understand everything. You will definitely have more questions than answers, but it is a good way to start linking your newly found technical knowledge to real world applications.
Next up, time to get some more thoughts from Andreas.
The Internet of Money — Volume 1 and 2 — are a great way to wrap your head around a lot of the buzzwords that you will have encountered in your reading so far — decentralisation, permissionless, applications on top of bitcoin, trustless layer etc. These books are a collection of Andreas’ talks in different parts of the world, and they will definitely help you tie a number of thoughts together.
Alright, now you are ready to be taken seriously in any conversation related to blockchain. Good work!
At this point, your brain will start to ponder the inevitable question “Why do we need so many networks and blockchains”?
By this point, you will know and understand enough to start exploring different industries that could make use of blockchain. While payments and banking are an obvious choice, there are loads of industries and situations which could make use of blockchain technology.
One document which helped give me tremendous perspective about the philosophy behind anonymous communication protocols was Crypto Anarchy and Virtual Communities by Timothy May. I live in India, and if you have been here, you will know that it is one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Some of Timothy May’s thoughts really resonated with me because he proposes radical ways to counter the robbery being committed by governments in developing countries. The website nakomotoinstitute.org also has plenty of articles and papers which lay down the building blocks of digital cash, anonymous protocols and even smart contracts.
Ryan is an entrepreneur based in Bangalore who believes that the most rewarding learning experiences are driven by curiosity. He runs a school in Bangalore called Jigyasa The School, where the emphasis is on allowing children ample opportunity to learn by doing, making and collaborating in an environment which nurtures the freedom of movement and expression. Additionally, he is one of the lead instructors at The Crypto University, an online school where he teaches people from all over the world about the various quirks and innovations in the world of blockchain and cryptocurrencies. He holds a BSc from Loughborough University, MFIN from University of Cambridge and has passed the CFA exams.