Looking Backward to Build the Future: How Academia Is Shifting Its Blockchain Focus

This post is part of CoinDesk’s 2019 Year in Review, a collection of 100 op-eds, interviews and takes on the state of blockchain and the world. Reuben Youngblom is a programmer with a background in intellectual property law. He co-runs the RegTrax initiative at Stanford University and works with blockchain and other tech startups, providing engineering and legal expertise.

The predictions for 2019 were numerous: it was to be the year of the DAO, the year of the STO, the year of the decentralized exchange, the year of enterprise blockchain, and the year of dapps. All may have been true (or, at least, partially true), but while DAOs were enjoying the limelight, another thread was spinning in the background – quieter, but no less powerful. As it turned out, 2019 was the year that academics started to think about blockchain differently. Design-first thinking and interdisciplinary aspirations jumped out of the slide decks and into the collective consciousness.

Philip Schlump, a professor of computer science at the University of Wyoming, teaches a course called Blockchain Design and Programming through the College of Engineering and Applied Science. I had the opportunity to speak with him recently and, after getting over my fascination with his life (his answer to, “How did you first get interested in blockchain technology?” started with, “Well, I was raising my kids on a sailboat.”), I asked him about the structure of his class. It’s noteworthy that his course focuses equally on the “design” and the “programming” elements of blockchain, a setup that is fairly foreign to me notwithstanding my computer science background.

“I didn’t want it to be, ‘here’s a blockchain – go program,’” he said, as if reading my thoughts. “We need to teach why it’s used and, more importantly, learn to contextualize it in terms of how it fits into a project. Why blockchain over a database?”

This design-first approach is exemplary of a shift among…

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