We are hearing a lot about blockchain and fintech. My son is in the 11th grade; do you think he should get a degree in this?
It is difficult to go through a day without hearing the term ‘blockchain’ in the news or some conversation. Touted as everything from the next revolution in technology to a pioneering tech, it is undoubtedly here to stay.
In essence, blockchain is a distributed ledger that cannot be tampered with, multiple systems confirming every transaction and a record of every transaction available for all to see. Believers believe it is the solution to bring back ‘decentralisation’ to the internet, while even the most lukewarm advocates agree that it will underpin many financial transactions in the future due to the integrity of the ledger and prevention of fraud.
Blockchain has gained prominence in popular culture due to it being the technology that underpins cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin. Nearly every technology company now has a blockchain team, from Facebook to Microsoft. Blockchain is being tested on everything from voting records to food supply chains. This brings about the need of a workforce that is comfortable with the technology.
While courses may be available in ‘blockchain’, comprehensive degrees are still not fully available. To be able to have a technical understanding of blockchain, the ideal route is to pursue a STEM degree (such as engineering or computer science) and do multiple courses in blockchain that the university offers as part of that course. For instance, MIT in the US offers blockchain classes at both the UG and PG level. Cornell University offers multiple classes in both blockchain and cryptocurrencies. At the PG level, many MBA programs are also offering introductory classes for students to understand the technology. The University of Nicosia in Cypress offers an exclusive graduate degree in the program (an MSc in digital currencies). In the UK, Oxford has a 6-week program on blockchain certification with basic concepts of blockchain, applicability of blockchain tech across businesses and an access to global network of forward looking business leaders. There are a variety of classes online as well.
Fintech is an extremely broad concept and can be defined as nearly every application of technology in the world of finance. In fact, in a few years fintech itself will just be considered finance. Everything from blockchain to mobile payments to credit cards fall under this umbrella. Thus it is important to understand which aspect of fintech you are looking to enter. Since blockchain is considered one of the core pillars of this field, and no conversation of fintech is complete without mentioning it, developing your understanding of the technology can help you be a valuable asset to fintech firms. A larger and broader technical education will serve you well in this industry, as software engineers and data scientists are in high demand. For example, the ability to create complex algorithms is now more valuable to many finance firms than being an astute trader of the stock market.
For fintech, it is important to think about which aspect of finance interests you and then pursue a technical field that can help you in that vertical. Blockchain on the other hand, will open up a variety of companies that are dabbling in the technology (including most finance firms).
Sanjeev Verma is an international education counsellor