After having just written about Truffle University, I would be severely remiss if I didn’t write at least a little something about B9Lab’s Ethereum Developer Course & Ethereum Community Blockstars program.
B9Lab came first – not just in the space, but for me personally – and it instantly became the benchmark against which I would compare all other blockchain education offerings.
B9Lab is a fairly small organization with an openly ambitious goal:
Quality blockchain education for everyone
As always, enthusiasm in the blockchain space abounds… but delivering on even such well-intentioned ambitions can be difficult. Supporting everyone – students from all over the world – means being highly available… really, always available.
Having started the Ethereum Developer Course while in Southeast Asia and then completing it from the Americas – I got a real sense of just how highly-available the B9Lab team is. Regardless of longitude, it was rare to wait more than a couple of hours for a response from the mentors in the course Slack. In fact, most of the time responses were nearly instantaneous.
I should also emphasize: 90% of the time the respondent mentors were, in fact, the instructors. If you’ve ever experienced the less-than-expert mentors in, say, a Udacity course – you may be able to imagine just how nice it is to have basically on-demand access to course instructors directly.
This aspect of the course will likely be the hardest to preserve as the number of students grows. There are some signs, however, that B9Lab is focused more on quality than quantity – their newest offering, A Solidity Smart Contract Auditor Course, for instance, is capped at 100 students.
Structure: sprawling structure
The B9Lab Ethereum Developer Course is pretty long (and additional content pops up even mid-course). It’s designed around “modules” (of which there are currently twelve) – each being focused on a specific conceptual aspect of Ethereum development.
A module may consist of some reading, videos, and exercises – or any subset therein. Not all modules are created equal, with some being extremely dense and others being less so. New content is added and old content is pruned – but for the most part the exercises, at least, have been around a while.
The Ethereum space is constantly evolving, so it’s good that the B9Lab course content is following suit. If anything, it would be better if the pruning were a little more aggressive. Some of the videos in the course are using software that’s changed substantially and some of the outside resources that were suggested felt quite bygone.
That said, the concepts that are relevant to blockchain development do move considerably slower than the tooling. B9Lab has honed their material to make those concepts concrete, readily comprehensible, and even – I dare say – self-evident.
Making something brand new appear self-evident is no small accomplishment and speaks volumes for how foundationally solid the course is. Where there is sprawl it’s generally forgivable and doesn’t detract much from the experience overall.
If I had to pick an aspect for improvement… I’d have liked to have more videos. Not because I generally prefer video for learning, I don’t – but because the videos that were done were really useful. As it is, the course is pretty text-heavy, possibly enough to be off-putting if you happened to be anything less than an avid reader.
Not Much Freedom
This isn’t necessarily a pro or a con, just something worth mentioning: the course itself doesn’t encourage too much experimentation. There aren’t really any open-ended projects. Such rigidity might, at times, feel mildly… uninspiring.
Just remember: you’ve got to learn to crawl before you can walk.
If you can already walk, however, you might not get the room you need to grow in the midst of all that structure.
The point about the mentors generally being the instructors is worth dwelling on just a moment longer. If you’ve been searching for answers to Solidity programming questions, you’ve probably already encountered the B9Lab instructors.
Rob Hitchins and Xavier Lepretre are active members of the Ethereum Community. They’re on Stack Overflow, at hackathons, and involved with other ventures in the broader blockchain ecosystem. If there can yet be “experts” in this fledgling space – the B9Lab instructors seem deserving of the title.
It’s confidence-boosting to know that you’re learning directly from instructors with real-world experience – doubly so when they’re constantly popping up in all of your technical Google searches. 🙂
It all looks good, right?! Right up until you see the prices. The courses aren’t cheap… especially if your currency is weak against the euro. There’s a lot of educational material out there that’s either free or significantly less expensive than B9Lab.
You’re paying for mentorship – first rate, high availability, personal, (patient) mentorship… from experts. That’s not ever going to be cheap – the supply is simply too limited.
The course is laid out well, but if you have more time than money and don’t think you care too much about mentorship – pursuing a cheaper alternative wouldn’t be a terrible idea. You can learn solidity with free material, it just might take longer and be more frustrating when you run into a snag.
If you’re a professional that values their time highly – then the cost probably shouldn’t be much of an issue. You’re going to save a bunch of time.
There’s another option if you’re not in a rush and don’t mind some competition: B9Lab runs a community program to educate blockchain devs for no cost to the students. They sponsor some slots themselves and look for outside sponsors for the rest. It’s a fantastic opportunity – one that I hope will be available in perpetuity. It’s worth keeping your eye on the B9Lab website for updates regarding this program.
With the community programs, you do have to pass an initial technical screening. So, if you’ve never programmed before – start practicing now for the next round of applications!
If you score high enough on the final exam, B9Lab will issue an on-chain certification that attests to your developer prowess. The exam is long and pretty involved – this is good, because it makes the certification hard to get.
Unfortunately, B9Lab isn’t exactly a ubiquitous name (yet?) – which makes the value of their certification very hard to quantify.
Not only that, but if you’re a die-hard blockchain proponent: know that the B9Lab certification is issued on-chain, but currently requires their website to interpret and present that certificate. If anything happens to the B9Lab site or organization, their certifications would become nothing more than incomprehensible on-chain data. (Last I heard, an IPFS version of the certificate parser was on the roadmap.)
[I’d also note: it would be nice if B9Lab had some sort of Github badge for developers – in the style of Truffle University. B9Lab does offer some sort of LinkedIn affiliation.]
Calculating the return on investment is often an important component of making educational decisions. In the case of B9Lab – this would be a fairly murky and somewhat complicated calculus. The blockchain space is still relatively new and even the most well-known institutions in the space are not that well-known outside the space.
Pursuing blockchain development credentials, investing time and effort in the space – still has a pretty unknown rate of return. That’s just par for the course at this point.
B9Lab does claim to have some network of employers, but I haven’t explored that offering at this point. I’ll be sure to do so and relay my impressions in the not-too-distant future.
B9Lab sets a high bar for blockchain education. They’ve iterated on and refined their Ethereum Developer Course to the point of being immensely – well – educational. Their mentorship is unparalleled.
If you have an interest in blockchain and can afford their offerings – you certainly won’t be disappointed with the education and personal attention you receive.
If you can’t afford it – keep an eye on their community developer programs.
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.