2022 Top 10 Resources for Learning Blockchain, Defi, NFT
So you’re a successful tech Product Manager or similar, considering a career move into the blockchain/Defi/NFT/web3 space. Or perhaps you’re already in the sector and want to broaden your horizons and point of view. Where do you start to train yourself?
About the authors of this article: Georgiana Mirea was SVP Product at Dapper Labs and a member of its advisory board. Sunita Parbhu transitioned from VP Product in Web 2.0, to working in blockchain last year. We tackled the challenge of learning about Blockchain ourselves and have written this guide from our experience.
This article gathers useful resources to build a strong understanding of blockchain, protocols, Defi, NFTs, DAOs, and other blockchain-native topics.
Lesson 1— Commit to Usage (wallets, etc.)
Lesson 2— Read Widely (favorite reads)
Lesson 3— Learn Low-level Blockchain Concepts (favorite courses)
Lesson 4— Dig into DeFi or NFTs (non-fungible tokens)
Lesson 5— Put Yourself in the Daily Information Flow
Lesson 6— Understand Project/Company Types
Lesson 7— Study Counter-arguments and Risks
Lesson 8— Regulation
Lesson 9— Consider DAOs
Lesson 10 — Make friends, and Help
The post closes with some comments on how to choose your role, if you’re making a career move. It’s a hill to climb, but you can do it!
Lesson 1: Commit to Usage
You’ll internalize Web3 concepts by playing with products. It’s hugely valuable to be hands on.
What to do if you’re not already engaged:
- Obtain a wallet. Create a wallet on Metamask. Also create other wallets (like Celo, Algorand, Terra) to see how their onboarding experience differ.
- Buy some crypto. Funding wallets via wires is generally a pain. To get going instantly, use the in-built services that let you buy crypto using your credit card. They’re expensive to use on an ongoing basis, but okay to use when you’re just starting out.
- Stick with Metamask and do some transactions, such as transferring between it and your other wallets. Or have a friend transact with you. You can use ETH, but then use a blockchain other than Ethereum. You’ll see transaction costs are much lower on other chains, meaning you’ll be able to play around a lot more for little cost. Metamask supports both Ethereum and several other much less expensive blockchains, like Harmony ONE.
- Create an OpenSea account and buy an NFT, or at least marvel at the prices of some of the NFTs). For a different experience, create an account on NBA Top Shot.
- Open a Uniswap account.
The reason that this comes before lesson #2 and #3 is because the theory you learn will make a lot more sense once you’re hands-on with a wallet and do some transactions.
💡Tip! Create a wallet for experimentation and keep very little value in it. Remember, your transactions are public and traceable. So create a learner account and remember that everything you do is public.
Lesson #2: Read Widely
There are a lot of concepts! Many are radically new with no counterpart in the Web2 world.
The good news is that there is a huge quantity of excellent content to freely access.
You’ll find high-quality lists compiled and free to use. Start by picking one of these high quality lists and reading around 10% of the content (because going through it all isn’t useful). You’ll start to see the picture and how the various pieces fit together. You’re literally stuffing your head with as many of the new concepts, alongside what you already know!
- The Web3/Crypto/Metaverse Ecosystem Guide — Lightspeed (Dec, 2021)
- Crypto Canon (a16z.com) (compiled 2018–2019 but still useful) and some videos here Crypto Startup School (a16z.com)
The second topic to research is use cases. If you rely on news and Twitter, only a few topics get repeated coverage so you’re missing a lot of use cases. Look for a comprehensive review such as this one:
💡Tip! If you’re a product manager, read this from Preethi Kasireddy which explains the architecture of web3 apps in a super clear way:
You might say “It’s great to tell me to read 10% but which 10%?!”. Here’s our approach:
- Give priority to recent materials over old ones, unless they’re OG (Vitalik, Chris Dixon, etc)
- Before you read, quickly skim the material to understand if it is relevant to you or not.
- Decide which aspects interest you most, or what you need to dig deeper into. Learning is like an onion; you keep peeling back layers.
💡Tip! It won’t all make sense and at times you may feel completely overwhelmed. We preserved our sanity by doing two things:
- Jotting down questions as you go and then moving on (example — “Staking seems crazy… how is a 103% return reasonable?”). The answer to your question will likely show up later, as you connect the dots.
- Sketching your own mental map as you go about how everything is connected. Keep adding to it as you learn from each thing you read.
💡Tip! Bookmark links that you will refer to often:
- CoinMarketCap — has market cap, good short descriptions and the latest news about projects.
- DappRadar — has rankings for dApps, easy to find the top dApps for each market and compare their sizes (such as users, balances, volume).
- CryptoFees.info — provides the actual fees earned, as another measure of activity and value of different projects.
- Chain TVL — DefiLlama — shows movement of TVL between chains.
👀 Quick optional read: How to Become a Crypto Person: A Normie’s Guide (nymag.com)
Lesson #3: Learn Low Level Blockchain Concepts
There is a lot of content that will explain blockchain and crypto in blog or podcast forms. This only gets you so far. The fastest way to get up to speed with the basics is to take a good course and develop your low-level understanding. Top universities and top online learning companies have blockchain courses.
As a PM, you really have to get to the low-level. Even if you’re a consumer/app PM, and think you’ll “stay in the front end” in web3, you still need to do this.
Here are courses we’ve taken and liked.
- Stanford: Blockchain and Cryptocurrency: What You Need to Know | Stanford Online. It gave an excellent coverage of blockchain fundamentals including cryptography. It is a little dated (2018,) so it predates 2021’s rise of DeFi and NFTs. But it does predict both! The fundamentals haven’t changed — and it’s quick — so is worth doing. It’s fun to learn from Dan Boneh, Juan Benet, Fred Ehrsam and Matt Huang. There’s a lengthy amount of regulatory content from a US perspective.
- Columbia Business School: Blockchain in Business. Gives an excellent grounding in the fundamentals of blockchain, including cryptography, which is essential if you want to really understand the space. You can also learn that from OGs Scott W. Stornetta and Stuart Haber. It covered various types of blockchain — permissioned / permissionless, public / private and also digs into governance. When we took it, it did not cover NFTs.
We’re looking at new courses, and we’ll post updates as we verify other courses that we like, for their coverage of the fundamentals, as well as ease of use. For example, https://www.pompscryptocourse.com/
💡Tip! If you really have only 30 minutes, 3Blue1Brown provides a very clear 30 minute video covering cryptography (digital signatures, hash functions), proof of work (Satoshi’s innovation), and how those together build a secure ledger that creates a cryptocurrency:
The Blockchain Trilemma
Once you understand the low level, learn about the Blockchain Trilemma.
The blockchain trilemma refers to a widely held belief that decentralized networks can only provide two of three benefits at any given time with respect to decentralization, security, and scalability.
For instance, Ethereum has decentralization and security, but not scalability. Solving this problem is really the domain of low-level engineers, so you’re not likely going to have a strong opinion on which chain truly has winning technology. But get familiar with this tension, as it will help you better categorize different Layer 1 projects.
- Blockchain Trilemma: Scaling and Security Issues (Gemini)
- What Is the Blockchain Trilemma? (shrimpy.io)
Layer 1 Chains
Read through the home pages of several Layer 1 blockchain projects and see the variety of different approaches. Basically, at the moment it’s Ethereum on the one hand vs. everyone else trying to be better than Ethereum.
- Look at some with the largest market cap: Solana, Cardano, Avalanche, Algorand
- Look at some of the specialized, well reputed ones: Celo, Flow, Polkadot
- Look at ICP (because it is so well funded and has a completely different approach to other layer 1s)
- Look at Filecoin (because it serves a useful function: storage, and they have excellent documentation)
As you review these, you will find that there’s completely different approaches, and sometimes contradictory ones. For instance, Ethereum 2.0 is based on sharding, as is Harmony and NEAR, while Flow (from Dapper Labs) and Mina employs no sharding. Polkadot was started to provide a multi-chain or parachain approach.
Spend time on one of the main blockchain scanners — or the scanner of any chain you are interested in:
We’ve found it’s important to be wide and deep, and to not get stuck in rabbit holes. We learned this after going down a few rabbit holes ourselves. Lessons #4–10 are coming up in our next post. Ping us with comments, additions or questions!
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