The approach to academia within the Neo ecosystem is much like Neo’s approach to its own technical development – a decentralized effort that is simultaneously led by Neo and executed through the autonomous actions of its communities. In Q1 and Q2 2020, Neo News Today reached out to the Neo Foundation (NF), neow3j, NeoResearch, and Neo St. Petersburg Competence Center (Neo SPCC) to discuss their involvement in the academic sector and subsequent goals.
Neo’s push to increase engagement in the world of academia was initiated by Erik Zhang, co-founder and core developer of Neo. It is Zhang’s belief that young minds filled with unique ideas and concepts can bring new energy to the blockchain industry. Through strategic academic relationships, Neo could be amongst the first blockchain platforms that students encounter.
Academic outreach led by Neo itself
The NF and its implementation arm, Neo Global Development (NGD), have reached out to universities and academic communities to establish courses, events, and learning resources.
NGD began its outreach efforts to large universities with renowned computer science departments, such as Stanford, University of California – Berkeley, and New York University. However, it proved difficult to gain traction at universities of this stature. In the time since, Neo has shifted its focus from renowned U.S. universities to international academic institutions.
The shift in focus is evident in NF and NGD representation at student-oriented events, such as a hackathon at Kanazawa Institute of Technology University in Nonoichi City, Japan, and a 2019 presentation to students at Korea University in Seoul, South Korea.
Additionally, NGD has collaborated with blockchain education groups that promote the learning of blockchain within universities across the globe.
In early 2020, NGD facilitated the addition of a nine-part Neo course, Developing on Neo, to online education platform Blockgeeks, which offers over 1,500 blockchain-based courses. NGD also joined the MouseBelt Blockchain Education Alliance, a consortium of blockchain industry entities that seek to support education, research, and entrepreneurship at universities and beyond.
To bolster its efforts, NGD developed the Neo Tutorial as a base method for teaching new developers about the platform. As time went on, NGD and NF decided to leverage resources they already have access to – Neo ecosystem developer communities.
Steven Liu, a Neo blockchain engineer at the NF, said, “Our goal is to reach universities globally, and have some local community members to help us to teach [the students].”
Neo developer communities performing outreach on their own
Neo developer communities like Neo SPCC, neow3j, and NeoResearch have deep roots with local academic institutions and often engage academia without high-level guidance from NGD and NF.
Many of the connections with local universities and academic institutions have been established through reputation, alumni relationships, and guest lectures.
For instance, Neo SPCC co-founder and CIO, Stanislav Bogatyrev, noted they’ve collaborated with certain academic institutions because team members graduated from these universities. “It was easier to communicate [with these universities] because half of our employees have graduated from [St. Petersburg State University], also we worked with Gitmo University because Anatoly [and myself] graduated from there.”
These ties have allowed Bogatyrev and Neo SPCC to hold events within these institutions, including presentations and multiple NeoGo workshops.
On the European continent, neow3j founder and lead developer Guilherme Sperb Machado has established relationships with various local universities based on his guest research with the University of Zurich, traveling to academic conferences, and presence at various academic events.
He has engaged with universities in Switzerland, such as the University of Applied Sciences Rapperswil in Rapperswil-Jona, the University of Geneva, and the University of Basel, delivering guest lectures and workshops to multiple classes.
In South America, the Brazil-based NeoResearch team has a presence in both the Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro (UERJ) and the Universidade Federal Fluminense (UFF). Co-founder Igor Machado Coelho has worked at both institutions, currently serving as a professor at UUF.
At both universities, Coelho has established groups where students delve into cryptographic-based research on topics such as privacy, security, and decentralized storage algorithms, among other areas of student interest. Like the other Neo-based communities, NeoResearch’s academic outreach is intrinsically driven. Coelho said, “We do research because it’s what we want – since the beginning, it was what we liked. So, it’s what we try to offer as a contribution.”
Alongside NeoResearch’s direct relationship with universities, its community members have published academic articles regarding scoped witnesses, oracles, leveraging NeoVM for smart city applications, and delegated Byzantine Fault Tolerance.
Neo’s outreach in collaboration with developer communities
To support the efforts of Neo developer communities, there has also been occasion for collaborations with NGD/NF.
In November 2019, NGD researcher Wang Yongqiang traveled to South America, where he collaborated on university presentations with NeoResearch. Wang spends his time at NGD working on future technical improvements for Neo, focusing on improving the governance and economic models for Neo3.
The first lecture of this trip took place at the Federal University of São João del-Rei, alongside Vitor Nazário Coelho of NeoResearch. Topics of discussion included distributed ledger technology and smart contracts.
The second presentation took place at the Federal University of Ouro Preto. It focused on hardware wallets, existing payment infrastructure such as WePay and AliPay, and more abstract concepts such as Internet-of-Things (IoT) and Internet-of-Value (IoV).
Alongside travels to South America, NGD has also collaborated on presentations and events with neow3j to introduce Neo’s ecosystem and development to students at the University of Basel and other universities in Switzerland.
In April 2020, NGD established a long-term partnership with the University of Zurich to promote blockchain technology education, research, and usage throughout Europe. Although the initiative was led by NGD, they also leveraged local support from educator and neow3j founder Guilherme Sperb Machado.
Machado noted that his proximity to the university was useful for NGD’s pitch. “We’re not just Neo, we also have community developers (in this case, neow3j) that are a part of the University of Zurich ecosystem – that know the audience, and have an academic research background.”
The engagement began with the inclusion of Neo in a Deep Dive into Blockchain course, with collaborations on education seminars, data analytics, and blockchain-related scholarships touted as a future goal.
Goals for engaging academia
Each group within the Neo ecosystem working to engage academia strives to enhance the professional development of developers, engineers, and researchers. However, each entity has different motivations for their outreach.
NGD seeks to bring new ideas and concepts into the Neo ecosystem. In the conversation with NNT, Liu said, “Students still have a huge interest in blockchain… we’ll work with anyone interested in Neo.” Looking forward, NGD seeks to offer more courses for universities, identify new teams of individuals to support, and unearth potential projects to sponsor.
Ultimately, the final goal for NGD is to attract excellent talent into the Neo community.
One of Neo SPCC’s goals is to find distributed systems researchers who can assist the Russia-based team in the development of the NeoFS distributed, decentralized object storage network.
In conversation with NNT, Bogatyrev pointed out that often the perception students have about blockchain is that it is only related to cryptocurrency. “Many of them do not understand that there is a huge volume of interesting research that can be done there. They study math analysis and different scientific things that they can use in this area that will be interesting.”
Bogatyrev went on to say, “In general, we want to talk to students who are interested in distributed systems. Maybe to coordinate their research with our research.”
Much like Neo SPCC, NeoResearch is focused on identifying and attracting students who are interested in studying various aspects of blockchain and cryptography. At the UERJ, Coelho has established a team of student-researchers, and is currently in the process of building a research team at the UFF.
However, the process takes time. He noted, “Finding students is also like hunting, you have to attract [them] and motivate [them]. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.”
Instead of seeking out researchers, neow3j seeks to attract skilled and talented engineers and spread the word about the Neo blockchain. Machado expressed a desire to work with developers who’ve made enhancements or proposals on other blockchain platforms and integrate those ideas into the Neo ecosystem.
Machado’s motivation for engaging academia is simple, “We want to find people interested in the cool stuff we’re doing.”
Academic outreach to support mass adoption
Mainstream adoption of blockchain won’t occur overnight. As a technology still very much in its infancy, the advancement of blockchain demands a new breed of thinkers and innovators, and requires the support of many smart individuals. Through collaborating and building partnerships with academic institutions around the globe, Neo can tap into the next generation of researchers and developers that will help take blockchain to the next level.
These relationships also feed energy and enthusiasm back to Neo. Those who work within the Neo ecosystem are inspired by students who have a vision and a passion to pursue it — and this energy and creativity can potentially be harnessed in the nascent blockchain industry.
It is this vision that has inspired NGD and NF to communicate directly with universities, conduct outreach through collaborations with developer communities, and support outreach initiated by the communities themselves.