Qala is kicking off a trend of new programs that will train bitcoin and lightning developers. But before we can do that, we need to find the teachers to inspire, motivate and unblock the new generation willing to endure the pain of learning. If bitcoin is going to be a paradigm shift, we need to start with who we are putting in the front of the room. Teaching is about as high-leverage an activity as there is, so we need to elevate the teacher’s role in our ecosystem and start with incentivizing teachers properly.
The education industrial complex has trained us to underpay teachers. Bitcoin must not follow suit. We must recruit and train our best to transmit our values, culture, and hard-earned lessons. My best teachers had nearly unlimited optionality. Temba Maqubela, Karl Scheibe, and Avi Flombaum didn’t have to spend their precious careers teaching. This wasn’t a fallback for failed dreams. They chose to be there. They did the exhausting and irreplaceable work of using all of their gifts to help me learn. And yet, despite the benefits reaped by the greater society due to the leverage of their instructional abilities, they were awarded a lower salary than doing something else. And so, maybe it’s not just a coincidence that while all my favorite teachers are still alive, none continue to teach.
What’s the market?
When fundraising for Qala, I was repeatedly asked what the instructors earned and how those salary numbers were calculated. While I was comfortable with the due diligence, I was less pleased when asked if their earnings were “calibrated to the market?” What market? Is there some pool of bitcoin instructors out there that I don’t know about? Without picking a fight with people I was soliciting money from, my guess was what they wanted to ask was, “this is what we’d pay a developer for a grant. Is this too much for a teacher?”
The industrialization machine has done what it does best and created a race to the bottom for how little a teacher could be paid. This does make some sense. Now that content is free, the role of a teacher has changed. Gone are the days of the teacher being the source of knowledge in the front of the room. Accessing the best lecture on any subject or downloading a battle-tested lesson plan is trivial. What we can’t do is digitize passion. What’s the term that describes the cycle of falling wages forcing out talent? Whatever that’s called, it is what happened to teaching. While I think the general educational system is broken, I’m disappointed this perception has seeped into bitcoin. Scale requires fungibility of the parts, meaning that both teachers and students are expected to be replaceable. Meet Will, Stéphan, and Duncan and then tell me how easy they are to replace. Meet Eni, Vladimir and Raphael and tell me how easy they are to find.
Grow your own
The model for code boot camps is to grow your own. Teach a batch of students and keep a few for yourself. These students turned into teachers who know the program and add immediate value without much training. They are lower risk because you already know them. Some choose this path because they are genuinely interested in teaching, and some choose this to avoid the tension of looking for a job. From what I’ve seen, this is a path for the better students but rarely for the very best. Because this isn’t forever, little is invested in upping their pedological skills. Over time, some figure things out on their own and grow into front of the room material. They know the exercises inside and out, can think on their feet, and can enforce the organizational culture. This path leaves money on the table because jobs have a limit for what they will pay for a dev without production experience.
The university industry is incredible at growing its own. Reinforce the nobility of the profession and the prestige of the association with academia. Create demand by linking education to learning to employment. Raise prices.
Compete with the market
Alternatively, devs who are done taking abuse in Startup Land or Dull Corp create a narrative about the utopia of teaching. They want to have more impact than optimizing ad delivery systems and rediscover their passion for the craft. As a señor dev, they do some research and discover they will have to take a significant pay cut. Now they have a choice. Do something meaningful and take the pay cut or interview at Droneville and get a dog. Woof.
Those who can do. Those who can’t teach.
This might have been true for biology or gym class. I don’t think I ever had a biology class with a bonafide biologist, and I’m positive that not all of my gym classes were run by top-notch athletes. But it’s tough to do this for software. Those teaching people to code should know a little something about how to write it themselves. That means that the instructors will have professional options. There are lots of great teachers out there, but as a society, we punish them for their professional choices because there is an assumed lack of optionality. And so the ones not willing to take a vow of poverty leave. It’s shameful.
An NFT that I an can get behind
I made up an easy-to-remember acronym to help you recall the importance of unique teachers – I call them Non-Fungible Teachers, or NFTs for short. (Does anyone know any good SEO folks?) Our best bitcoin teachers aren’t fungible. They are tasked with passing down cultural values and philosophy. They aren’t there to know every technical detail (we’ve got Sipa and Murch for that), but they are there to inspire. It’s challenging work. It’s important work. It takes talent and a varied skill set. It’s time we start incentivizing the work properly by paying them what they deserve.
Seth Godin influenced much of my recent views on teaching. It’s hard to say which of these ideas are his and which are mine. To find out, read Stop Stealing Dreams.