In September 2016 I took a year off work and went back to university. I needed a change of scenery, and a bit of a reboot, so I pretty spontaneously signed up for a Master’s degree in Information Security and Privacy — cybersecurity — at Cardiff University, where I’d graduated nearly 30 years earlier. I didn’t have much knowledge of cybersecurity, but thought it would be topical, and might lead to new opportunities. The course was interesting, and it was nice to meet new people — although at 49 years old I was something of a curiosity! But that was fine, I’ve never been one to take myself seriously, and being older than most of the lecturers and twice as old as most of the students was a least a conversation starter. To be honest I think experience helped a lot in some of the parts of the course, and was a big hinderence in others — there was some tough maths, and I hadn’t done any maths for many, many years.
Anyway, the tough maths was in cryptography, and cryptography was in blockchain, which I’d been starting to follow, as another interesting thing to explore. I chose to use blockchain on my dissertation project, and really enjoyed the challenge and the buzz of working on something bleeding edge again (as mobile development was, when I started doing it). To be honest, I really loved working on a blockchain project, not really for the coding side which I found hard, but the sense of pioneering and the really deep community of everyone trying to figure things out together.
After the final Master’s exams I returned to work, but I found I really missed both the environment of being in and around a university and the buzz of working on blockchain. I yearned for something new again, and decided that my next challenge would be to do a large research project. Of course, a PhD is the ultimate choice here, but I couldn’t more time off work, so it had to be part-time — and a part-time PhD would take 5 years or more — too long when you’re starting at 50! In the end, a part-time MPhil research degree which will take 2 years seems like the best solution, and this is what I’ll begin in April.
My chosen research field is an aspect of blockchain development called DAOs — Decentralised Autonomous Organisations. I’m going to study how existing decentralised and distributed organisations work — I’m thinking emergent groups in disaster recovery, open source software, holacracy companies — and how the literature thinks they should ideally work, and then see if I can map all this onto the technology that is coming from the blockchain space. There are some great companies making technology to support DAO’s, and I really want to understand it and see how“real world” organisations can use it — either by helping them to use the technology, or changing the technology to help them. All this will be different when I get started, I’m sure, but this is the “plan” as it stands.
I would really love for one of these DAO-technology or another blockchain-industry company to step forward and sponsor my research, maybe by contributing towards my fees or paying a small salary or stipend for my research time. I’ve approached a couple, but no luck so far. It would be great for me to have engagement from them, and some “skin in the game” from them. I think I can contribute some new insights into what they’re trying to achieve, some real world point of view to match their emergent technology. If not, its not the end of the world, I’ll plough my own path and try to add value to them and their communities as I can.
To be honest, I can’t wait for this fresh challenge to begin — it will exciting to learn research skills, and to get back into the blockchain space in my small way — and to fit all this in around my job and my family. Bring it on!