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Computer science students at ASU prepare for a blockchain future

With a crypto-friendly legislature & governor and a growing ecosystem of local blockchain companies, Arizona is quickly becoming a “living lab” for blockchain innovation. Arizona State University is home to a Blockchain Research Laboratory and an international, student-led group called the Blockchain Innovation Society. It’s factors like these that help explain why, for the fourth year in a row, ASU has been named the most innovative school in the nation by U.S. News and World Report.

Computer science masters students at ASU have a unique opportunity for hands-on learning in one of the fasting-growing and highest-paid software specializations: blockchain engineering. The blockchain job market is expanding. According to a recent report from CNBC, demand for blockchain engineers increased by 400% since late 2017, with salaries now averaging between $150,000 and $175,000 annually.

From the Lab to the Classroom

Launched in November 2017, the Blockchain Research Laboratory at ASU is the first of its kind. A rich ecosystem of partners, including companies and government agencies, support research at the lab. The laboratory’s research focus is on the fundamentals of how blockchain works – on the enabling foundational technologies under the hood, rather than any one specific application.

The blockchain course available to ASU Master’s students is shaped around this focus and is taught by Dragan Boscovic, a research professor at ASU who heads the Blockchain Research Laboratory.

”Many of the courses currently out there do a good job at explaining specific implementations of blockchain — say Bitcoin or Ethereum,” Dragan says, “However, they may not be as focused on giving students the fundamental tools and understandings they’ll need to create their own blockchain infrastructures and designs.”

“With that goal in mind, our course is built around practical exercises — we want students to do hands-on work in our blockchain testnets, and build a deep understanding of how the networks operate. Additionally, all the work that the Lab is engaged in with our external partners continually trickles into course assignments. This enables us to expose students to applied problems that are relevant to the challenges and opportunities businesses are looking at today. We don’t want students working on stale problems.”

Connection to Campus

“To make sure online students are exposed to all the benefits of campus activities, we provide them with hands-on projects where they interact with other students, as well as with facilitators who are deeply embedded in ASU’s campus that assist by making connections between on-campus and online students,” says Dragan.

“A student organization on campus, Blockchain Innovation Society, is a great example. It has between 250-300 student members, hailing from a broad range of specializations. All are interested in some aspect of blockchain, including technical improvements, business & regulatory implications, smart contract applications, and cryptography fundamentals. This kind of environment gives students the opportunity to explore the future of blockchain across a breadth of applications.”

Recommended courses

To earn their degrees, students enrolled in ASU’s online Master of Computer Science degree program will choose 10 out of 20 possible course options in order to develop expertise on emerging in-demand technologies. For students who want to become blockchain engineers, Dragan recommends including the following courses:

CSE 598 Engineering Blockchain Applications
“Blockchain technology is revolutionizing digitalization prospects for many industries and emerging as an exciting and rapidly growing field. By detailing the architecture of the technology, this course ensures that learners will be well versed in blockchain fundamentals. At the same time, it is designed to put learners on the leading edge by presenting the abstract nature of blockchain technology and emphasizing its broad applicability. Topics include the mathematical and cryptographic underpinnings of the technology, as well as mining, consensus protocols, networking, and decentralized governance.”
CSE 539 Applied Cryptography
“Uses cryptography for secure protocols over networked systems, including signatures, certificates, timestamps, electrons, digital cash, and other multiparty coordination”.
CSE 531 Distributed and MultiProcessor OS
“Distributed systems architecture, remote file access, message-based systems, object-based systems, client/server paradigms, distributed algorithms, replication and consistency, and multiprocessor operating systems.”
CSE 445 Distributed Software Development
“Distributed system architectures and design, service-oriented computing, and frameworks for the development of distributed applications and software components.”
CSE 548 Advanced Computer Network Security
“Comprehensive understanding of network security and corresponding solutions, including cryptography, access control, secure Web transactions, e-mail security, and viruses.”
CSE 511 Data Processing at Scale
“Delves into new frameworks for generating, processing and managing large-scale data-sets. More specifically, covers the following topics: core database concepts, distributed and parallel data systems, deploying and operating data systems in the cloud, NoSQL database systems, and big data tools.”

Interested in starting your own journey toward becoming a blockchain engineer?

Explore the Master of Computer Science program from ASU Online; you’ll gain a deep understanding of cutting-edge topics like AI, cybersecurity, blockchain and big data while you develop interpersonal skills that help you succeed in any organization.

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