How to Teach Yourself Blockchain: A Guide for Budding Builders

Web3 developers and teachers weigh in with practical advice to help anyone get started building on blockchain.

AccessTimeIconSep 28, 2022 at 6:31 p.m. UTC
Updated May 11, 2023 at 6:39 p.m. UTC
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A new form of the internet called Web3 is being built right in front of our eyes. It’s being built on permissionless blockchains where anyone can deploy a smart contract they’ve written. Indeed, some of the greatest developers in this nascent industry are anonymous people – no college degree or corporate work experience is required here.

Perhaps you’re already a Web3 user, participate in decentralized autonomous organizations (DAO), vibe in non-fungible token (NFT) communities and trade crypto. You’ve seen what it’s like and now want to take a step further to help build better stuff – you want to be a builder, or a dev (short for developer).

This article is part of Education Week. Read CoinDesk's third annual Best Universities for Blockchain Ranking.

The other great thing about Web3 is that it welcomes autodidacts – those who eschew formal courses or training and learn on their own by doing. If you’re interested in becoming a blockchain dev, everything you need to get started is available online.

To help you get started, we’ve asked developers, teachers and learners for their best tips.

Understand what blockchain is and does

Start with the fundamentals and understand what blockchain is, and what it can do – also importantly, what it can’t do.

“I think it's important for everyone to realize that at the heart of a cryptocurrency there is a single database – account balances, smart contract code, etc. – and a ‘blockchain’ is just a cryptographic audit trail that allows anyone to compute a copy of the database,” Patrick McCorry, researcher at blockchain tool developer Infura, told CoinDesk.

McCorry started a cryptocurrency course “because there are bystanders who are willing to make the jump into our space, but they are lacking the mental models and wider context on how the technology works.” The course is sponsored by his employer Infura and is available for free.

CoinDesk also has articles to help get you started:

Other top-notch resources include UC Berkley’s Decentralized Finance (DeFi) school with plenty of free online material, including this YouTube video that lays out the basics.

Familiarize yourself with blockchain peculiarities

Now that you understand what blockchain is, your next move should be figuring out the unique but crucial stuff related to this technology – stuff that you may not be familiar with from Web2, the internet dominated by companies like Meta and Google.

“Understanding concepts like wallets, blockchain explorer, blockchain oracles and more that don't exist in a Web2 architecture are a crucial part to get involved in the blockchain,” Francesco Ciulla, a developer who helps others learn Web3, told CoinDesk.

The best way to learn about them may be just trying them out yourself. Here’s CoinDesk’s guide on how to choose and set up your first crypto wallet to get you started.

Get started with coding

It’s possible to be a builder in crypto with no prior coding experience. But most devs suggest that you grasp the fundamentals of Javascript before jumping onto crypto’s most popular language, Solidity.

Austin Griffith, who works for the Ethereum Foundation helping new devs, says the best way to learn is to start with Javascript and Website Development. There are myriad free resources available online for both.

Next, you can move into Ethereum development using Griffith’s SpeedRunEthereum. But for those who don’t want to speed-run things, he also has a slow curriculum “that takes you through becoming a power user and learning to script before learning to build apps,” he said.

“I think after someone crushes the speed run it's all about exploring the ecosystem and getting in the routine of shipping small prototypes publicly,” Griffith added.

Ciulla, who has recently switched from Web2 to Web3, wrote a step-by-step guide on how he made the transition and highly recommends at least one JavaScript course to get some basics before getting started with an introductory course about Solidity.

ChainShot, recently acquired by blockchain tool developer Alchemy, offers an online bootcamp to help you fast-track your Ethereum developer journey. There are also self-paced courses to learn all the basics of Ethereum and build simple DeFi protocols, and they are all free.

If you really don’t want to learn how to code but still want to build, there are options we’ll cover later.

Build in public

Blockchains are systems of public and decentralized ledgers (Ethereum and Bitcoin are two prime examples), and emphasis on open source, collaboration and transparency defines the blockchain culture. There are private and other types of blockchains but the majority are public, and it’s where you should focus when you start building.

Building in public by launching projects for everyone to see and contributing to other open-source projects is not only aligned with the ethos, it’s also a good step to accelerate learning.

“The space is big and it moves fast. Things are really decentralized too. Iterating in public is a good combo move for a builder to explore new things, see what they are good at, and see what things actually resonate with users,” Griffith said.

For his part, Ciulla has kept a GitHub Repository of everything he’s learned from day one.

Learn from those building in public

Konrad Kopp, developer of wallet security protocol Signet, taught himself how to code through online resources and an in-person ChainShot bootcamp. He told CoinDesk that what excites him most about building in Web3 is the inherent transparency of blockchains and the open-source nature of work – and that can be immensely useful.

“It’s super easy to actually look at other people's code base and play around with them yourself to see how exactly they work,” Kopp said. “And this code is not just projects by random people or tutorials but actual code used in production by the biggest Web3 companies and protocols.”

How does decentralized exchange Uniswap work, technically? Exactly like this. What’s the code logic of lending protocol Aave? You can see it right here.

When you’re stuck while learning, you can look at examples that exist and already process billions of dollars in DeFi. “I think by far the best way that I’ve found for learning to code is to pick something you want to build out and just go for it. Break it down into components and build them as much as you can by yourself and where you can’t, try to find code that does something similar and that you can take apart and play around with,” Kopp said.

And when you have a particular coding question, just go to online developer forum Stack Overflow like all developers. Though it’s a smart move to first Google your question since it’s likely been asked – and answered – before.

Join a community of developers

Learning passively from others by reviewing their code isn’t your only option. You can also try joining a community of like-minded individuals striving toward the same goal of becoming better devs.

Popular developer DAOs include LearnWeb3, Developer DAO, Odyssey DAO and Women Build Web3.

If you don’t want to code but still want to build …

Don’t fret.

Maybe you’re an artist who doesn’t want to get into coding just to launch an NFT collection and build a community around it. You still have options in Web3.

Bueno is a no-code NFT launch platform developed by artist Pablo Stanley.

And if you don’t want to learn how to interact with blockchain explorers like EtherScan, then you can use Formie that turns any smart contract into human-readable forms.

This article was originally published on Sep 28, 2022 at 6:31 p.m. UTC


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Ekin Genç

Ekin Genç has written for Bloomberg Businessweek, EUobserver, Motherboard, and Decrypt.

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