An Interview on Cryptocurrency with Expert Dr. Bina Ramamurthy

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Meet the Expert: The University of Buffalo’s Dr. Bina Ramamurthy

George Crabtree

"We need to educate the public about proper use and securing of blockchain assets, cryptocurrencies, and related artifacts,” says Dr. Bina Ramamurthy, a professor in the computer science and engineering department at the University of Buffalo. Dr. Ramamurthy teaches a course in blockchain application development and acts as the director of the university's Blockchain Thinklab. In May 2018, she launched a four-course specialization in blockchain technology in partnership with the University of Buffalo and Coursera.

“I was fascinated by Bitcoin as a digital currency around 2016,” Dr. Ramamurthy said. “I looked for a book or an explanation of how it worked and what was the magic behind this technology. I could not find any. Then in early 2017, after a long day at work, I found time to attend a local tech meetup, where they showed some videos explaining its operation. That was the a-ha moment for me. Since then, I have not stopped learning about blockchain, the technology driving Bitcoin.”

Bitcoin’s gotten most of the flashy headlines, but blockchain is the tech that’s doing the real work. Other networks and systems, like Ethereum, leverage the blockchain for more than simple monetary transactions. Ethereum’s coding introduces two revolutionary concepts: smart contracts and decentralized applications (dApps). Smart contracts are self-executing contracts that put ‘escrow’ in the hands of algorithmic code. Decentralized applications take this a step further by automating entire processes in an intelligent, secure, and ultimately more efficient manner.

"I anticipate most of the careers in blockchain will be in the application areas: as developers of blockchain decentralized applications,” Dr. Ramamurthy says.

Dr. Ramamurthy currently focuses her energy on Ethereum’s dApp ecosystem, where she sees a host of use cases: a dApp for education and skills credentialing of stateless refugees; an airline consortium dApp for seamless seat exchanges that will replace codesharing; a global marketplace dApp for farmers to sell their goods, both domestically and internationally, without an intermediary; and a decentralized registry and marketplace for art and collectibles.

“Blockchain has the potential to enable inclusive planetary-level trade, commerce, and access to resources,” Dr. Ramamurthy says. “I am excited that blockchain applications can cross political boundaries in allowing any unknown peer participant to get involved and interact on the blockchain.”

For those interested in a career with blockchain, Dr. Ramamurthy recommends starting with a computer science background, but says it’s not a must. Knowledge of data structures, algorithms, web programming (HTML/JavaScript), and programming in high level languages is more important than a computer science diploma. Adding in a blockchain specialization will give students a boost in the subject: the one hosted by the University of Buffalo and Coursera covers everything from the cryptographic underpinnings of blockchain to the personal development of smart contracts and dApps.

For further learning on the subject, the internet remains full of educational resources, soon to include Dr. Ramamurthy’s new book, Manning’s Blockchain in Action, which will be released in 2020.

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