If you’re in the blockchain space, then you’ve probably heard of Truffle. They’re a blockchain software success story – from a small bundle of scripts to Consensys and then Microsoft partnerships – all in the blink of an eye (and a lot of hard work, I’m sure).
Truffle tools aren’t really optional when building complicated smart contract projects – not using them for a serious project would be entirely too painful. Their tools help developers manage deployments, run tests, and, more recently, build more intuitive UIs.
Good for devs, good for users, good for blockchain… Truffle is doing a lot of things right and making the blockchain experience better for all parties involved.
So, when Tim Coulter, Truffle Founder and CEO, announced on the Ethereum Reddit that they were going to attempt something new and altogether different for their team – namely, Truffle University – it probably shouldn’t have surprised anyone that they were inundated with interest… especially considering the announcement set the ‘alpha run’ price at zero.
The first announcement unveiling their intention for Truffle University was over a year ago. It took a few months until Truffle made another announcement – they were ready to take applications.
Even with their relatively low-key ‘alpha launch’ announcement – they received over 700 applications. Scott Olson, Truffle’s Director of Project Solutions and Talent, along with a few other Truffle team members, personally screened every applicant.
My phone call with Scott was pretty energizing. He was excited about the future of the space and keen to be connecting people passionate about blockchain development. Our discussion of the course outline was somewhat intimidating – the course would be intense and cover legal and technical considerations as well as practical skills and best-practices. In six weeks.
This wasn’t to be a course for the programming novice. Extensive programming experience was a prerequisite. This was for people that knew how to program well, but wanted to transition into blockchain… where there were, apparently, plenty of companies actively looking to hire developers experienced with blockchain tooling and concepts.
After the initial application process there was a bit of a lag while, presumably, the final admittance decisions were being made. In total they admitted ~40 developers.
Another lag, and then classes began. The classes were three hours long, twice a week, for six weeks. We were broken into two timezone-based sections that convened on alternating days.
The classes were conducted via Zoom. Kevin Bluer, Head of Development Curriculum & Training at Truffle, was there to run the show – which means he was on Zoom four days a week, minimum.
There was one wriggle in the schedule worth mentioning (that must have been less than ideal for Kevin) – he was orchestrating and teaching from Hong Kong – so our late nights were his early mornings.
This wasn’t necessarily detrimental to the experience, but early mornings and late evenings may not be the most ideal time for conveying… or covering… new material. That said, the courses were recorded – and so available for later review.
Classes were broken into a few different styles. Mostly they were lecture style – consisting of slides and elaboration by Kevin or a guest speaker from somewhere within the blockchain industry. On rarer occasions, we were invited to follow along with some blockchain related exercises that felt somewhat spontaneous.
We chatted live in Zoom chat and could ask real-time questions as they came up. This was pretty smooth and the small section sizes guaranteed anyone who wanted to interact could do so.
The instruction part of the classes typically lasted about two hours. The last hour was reserved for project work, discussion, or one-on-one time with Kevin.
At the start of the course we were slated to have quite a few mandatory deliverables. We were to contribute to a Truffle University Resources repo a few times a week, contribute to opensource projects in the blockchain space and make *meaningful* progress on a blockchain related project of our own.
Combined, this was a pretty tall ask for a six-week course, but it was basically in line with the initial discussion I had with Scott.
The Truffle University repo was more-or-less brand new. The only contribution expectations set were that they would be frequent and “on the honor system”. This was probably less than optimal in light of the somewhat lackadaisical contributions that ensued. A little more structure might have increased productivity on this front significantly – this turned out to be sort of a common theme.
People didn’t know where to start or what exactly was expected. I’m sure everyone wanted to put their best work forward, but in the absence of precedents for reference or a rubric for understanding expectations, it was hard to know how much time to allocate to each deliverable.
Something similar might also be said for contributing to open source projects in the space. It was a really well-intentioned deliverable, but it was extremely open-ended. It also didn’t necessarily seem to mesh well with the program’s all-caps headline:
BECOME A PROFESSIONAL BLOCKCHAIN ENGINEER …
Engineering tools for the blockchain ecosystem is a very different skill set than engineering smart contracts or blockchain dapps. One might make the argument – convincingly – that the former is even more critical to the success of the space than the latter in these early days. The fact remains: the space needs both – and the definition of a “blockchain engineer” in its current state can mean quite a few different things depending on whom you ask.
Truffle’s definition may vary from the more popular conception, or it may just still be in the process of further delineating its internal working definition. Just something to note.
At any rate, the open source contributions – instead of being an and requirement ended up becoming an or requirement – a seeming nod to the fact that blockchain engineering can be about tooling or about smart contracts – and that it’s very difficult to do both well in a six week time-span.
The personal projects could be of any variety – and a decent variety were actually produced. At the end of the course a presentation could be given – if the project was in a presentable state. In future iterations of the course, it is my understanding that the presentations will be mandatory. I think that’s a good call (despite the fact that my personal project was about two days shy of being presentable).
Truffle is well-known, highly regarded, and absolutely chock-full of excited, intellectually curious people. Not just that, but they’re generous with their time. Connections were probably the highlight of the first run-through of the course.
Amal Sudama, Blockchain Tools Engineer at Truffle, spent quite some time with me on Zoom hearing about my project, asking smart questions, and providing valuable feedback.
The team-members took time to give presentations, make themselves available on Slack, and even take video calls. Having access to the people of Truffle is – quite literally – invaluable.
With their decision to maintain open communication channels within their Truffle University Alumni network – this perk of the program is only going to snowball with time.
That said, their extended network was flexed less in this iteration of the course than one might have anticipated. Truffle University participants could arrange introductions to other projects in the space that they were interested in – but there were no formal mechanisms or forms for doing so.
At the end of the course, the job-seeking opportunities presented were somewhat mainstream. Hired.com, Indeed Prime – no advertised personal placements, special job openings, or even private contacts were announced.
Truffle University is a brand-new offering in a brand-new field – perfection shouldn’t be expected. It’s an offering brimming with excitement, potential, and great opportunities for making meaningful connections with other blockchain enthusiasts and technically-minded people.
It’s not, in its current state, the best education in the space – but the potential is there to be a real contender after the growing pains. The relatively small team may have had a hard time living up to the lofty ambitions they initially set for themselves in regards to Truffle University – but that could be viewed more as a pro than a con.
If you have the opportunity to participate in the program – do so. Contribute what you can, improve it where you’re able – and the entire space will be better off for Truffle University being a thing.
The space needs more educational opportunities. This is another step in the right direction. Sweet.
Looking for another perspective on the course? Check out this Truffle University review by a fellow alum.
I’m passionate about blockchains. I’m excited about decentralization, autonomous organizations, cryptocurrencies, and uncensorable dApps.
I’m also overwhelmed – with questions about these cutting edge technologies. I want to understand the tech, the politics, and the implications of the blockchain revolution.
Most of all, I want to share what I discover – because broader understanding will lead to greater participation, more rapid adoption, and, subsequently, a better world.