Beginning your Blockchain Journey

My personal Blockchain journey began with an interest in the technology underlying Blockchain.  I was somewhat familiar with both hashing and encryption from my experience with the x.509 certificates used in the Secure Socket Layer (SSL) and Transport Layer Security (TLS) communication protocols.  I actually found the SSL/TLS knowledge to be an excellent underpinning for understanding the cryptology and mathematics at the conceptual base of blockchain.  In particular, an understanding of both how a hash (also referred to as a “digest”, “fingerprint”, or “thumbprint”) works as well as the mechanism for digital signatures provides all of the required conceptual underpinning.  Here is a link to an excellent (and simple) diagram on Stack Exchange that depicts these concepts:

Stack Exchange – Hashes & Signatures

After I understood the foundational technology, I began to look into the commercial costs and benefits of a Blockchain based solution.  While the so called “Crypto Currency” technologies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum are among the leading examples of public blockchain technologies, most of the available information on the web regarding their economic underpinnings is written for an audience deeply trained in economic theory.  While the blockchain technology has extremely interesting applications for real currencies and Central Banks, Bitcoin and Ethereum are not actual currencies.  They are, in fact, closer to Cryptographic Ponzi schemes than they are to actual Cryptographic Currencies.

Much of the publicly available information on the web dealing with the various cryptocurrencies focuses exclusively upon their technology.  As I discussed previously, the hashing and signature technology aspects can be learned from the wealth of material available regarding x.509 certificates as used in SSL/TLS.  Some of the aspects of these public blockchain cryptocurrency implementations, such as “Miners” and “Consensus”, are not as directly applicable to the private blockchain technologies such as HyperLedger.  Furthermore, there are also other technology solutions, such as HashGraph, that are competing with Blockchain.

All of this complexity creates what economists call a “barrier to entry”.  It’s simply not all that easy to get started with Blockchain technology.  There are two critical initial choices that a learner faces:

  • Public vs Private technologies  (e.g. Public Cyrptocurrency vs Private Blockchain)
  • Technology implementation (Bitcoin, Ethereum, HyperLedger, HashGraph)

While there is no “right” answer about where to start, here are my suggestions:

  1. If you have a specific technology you are interested in, start there.
  2. If you aren’t sure; start with private Blockchains.  They are simpler and more widely applicable.
  3. If you aren’t sure what private Blockchain to start with then start with HyperLedger.  It’s more mature and there are more resources to support your journey.
  4. If you aren’t sure where to start, start with IBM.  There is excellent training available as well as no-cost hands-on opportunities in the IBM Cloud.

After you understand the underpinnings of the technologies, you will then be able to begin to make an assessment as to applicability of the technology to solve real world business problems.  There is a great rush to commercialize Blockchain technology and, in many cases, the technology is being forced into solutions that could easily be solved by other means.  In fact, as I have shared these thoughts with leading colleagues in the Blockchain technology space, they have echoed similar assessments.  Here is a quote from John Wolpert, a Blockchain Evangelist at ConsenSys, in Washington D.C.

Every use case I’ve seen in industry to date since 2015 that tried to do something with blockchain, that said, “Hey, let’s do this on blockchain,” almost every single one of them has proven why it doesn’t need blockchain.

In order to create a commercially successful Blockchain implementation, you need to understand the unique benefits of Blockchain as well as some of its inherent drawbacks.  If you are able to look at an existing problem through a different perspective, or “lens”, you may then be able to determine if the problem could either be initially solved, or solved much better, using Blockchain technology.  This, in my humble opinion, is the key understanding required for success.

One of the IBM classes listed below (Blockchain Essentials) has an excellent introduction to the business requirements for Blockchain success.  This class can be covered in a few hours and should not be overlooked.  The second class (Blockchain Developer) will actually enable you to build a complete Blockchain solution on the IBM Cloud.  It requires some light JavaScript programming, but those not interested in the programming side can simply “cut and paste” the required programming changes and still get a feel for the HyperLedger mechanism and the capabilities of “smart contracts”.

I would highly recommend that you begin your journey with these two classes available from IBM.  After completing them, you should have a good foundation and be prepared to begin charting the rest of your journey on your own.

Happy learning and enjoy the journey!

This IBM class is an excellent introduction to Private Blockchains using HyperLedger technology.  This class has the best coverage of the real-world problems that will require a Blockchain solution.  Highly recommended.  The class is free and open to the public.


IBM Blockchain Essentials class (Public & Free)

This IBM class is an excellent introduction to using HyperLedger on the IBM Cloud.  You will build, deploy, and modify an actual Blockchain solution to the Cloud.  The solution is built using HyperLedger Composer and the programming is done in JavaScript.  Highly recommended for anyone wanting to get some hands-on experience.   The class is free and open to the public.


IBM Blockchain Developer Class (Public & Free)

This class is only available to IBM employees or Business Partners.  This class is similar to the Developer’s class above, but takes a deeper dive.  The class is free.


IBM Blockchain Developer Class (IBM & Business Partners only. Free)

The University of Buffalo has two separate Blockchain offerings.  The first is a four-part Specialization on Blockchain, with an initial focus on the Cryptocurrency technologies.  The last part of the course covers HyperLedger.  These classes have a monthly fee, but you can try the classes out at no cost for the first week.  The classes are not particularly well structured, but there are adequate hands-on opportunities for learning.

Coursera – Blockchain (CryptoCurrency) Specialization

The second offering is a single course on the IBM Blockchain (using HyperLedger).  The class is open to the public.  The class may be audited for free.  The examinations and a badge certifying completion are available for a $49 fee.

Coursera – IBM Blockchain