A“Mohawk” And Getting Educated On The Block: Feature Interview With Samson Williams
Like many, I am prone to wander on social media. In the spirit of Tony Hsieh, CEO of the global footwear retailer Zappos Shoes, this often leads to collisions and serendipitous encounters with new and interesting people.
So when I stumbled upon the LinkedIn profile of Samson Williams, Principal Consultant of Axes and Eggs and Adjunct Professor at the University of New Hampshire I felt compelled to reach out. And I’m so glad that I did.
Williams is an interesting dude — erudite, quick-witted and prone to delivering a stream of expletives, where warranted. Or not.
He’s also extremely candid about his journey as a person of color in the blockchain world. Williams shares openly about the race factor in the U.S. as opposed to overseas where he says “they are more enamored with his irreverent mohawk hairstyle and just doing business than the color of his skin.”
In this feature interview, I asked Samson to “bring the house” in terms of his perspectives about blockchain and higher education. So take a read
Tell us little about you and your introduction to the world of blockchain?
In 2014, I was Deputy Chief of Staff for Fannie Mae’s Operations & Technology Executive Office (that just a fancy way of saying I babysat executives). One day in the midst of an idle conversation with our Chief Information Security Officer, he tells me that I should purchase some bitcoin. He’s a wicked smart guy, so I did. That lead to me doing some GPU, then ASIC mining and the rest, as they say, was history.
Now as an adjunct professor of law at the University of New Hampshire, you have played a role in developing a hub for global learning around blockchain and technology. Please share with us what you’re learning from this experience and why this model is so vitally important to the future of education and blockchain advancement.
The University of New Hampshire School of Law’s Blockchain, Cryptocurrency and The Law Certification program is really unique and a testament to the vision of Professor Tonya Evans, Esq. Like all modern business stories, it started on Twitter.
Cool! Please Continue
In March 2018, I was flying in from Bahrain to Austin, Texas to attend HBCU@SXSW to do four days of programming on blockchain and cryptocurrencies for HBCU students. While on Twitter (@HustleFundBaby) I connected with @CryptoSmartEsq (Dr. Evan’s online crypto avatar). We then chatted and hung out. She came to the HBCU@SXSW events “#BlacksOnTheBlockchain” and we immediately connected.
What occurred next?
At the end of four days, I flew back to Dubai and we stayed in touch discussing the details of how we could take the curriculum and certification program I had developed for the London School of Business and Finance, “Understanding FinTech & Blockchain” and create a program unique for UNH Law.
That was quite a vision.
This is where Dr. Evans sets herself apart from most academics. It took vision, charisma, and leadership to push through a first of its kind, 100% online, emerging technology curriculum, that was and is American Bar Association approved. And all without a textbook and in partnership with a non-academic (that’s me). Personally, I think its a model that should be replicated, as it shows that education can be as nimble and agile as the market demands.
So describe what has the process has been like so far?
It’s been a year and while we’re still working on the “textbook”, we’ve built out a library of videos, online resources, and interviews with industry leaders that no textbook could capture. Additionally, the format allows us to address, in near real time, the ever-changing legal and regulatory landscape that is blockchain, cryptocurrencies, data privacy, exchange hacks, stablecoins, and other new and exotic financial instruments that blockchain tech is spawning. Not to mention, being the point of the spear for blockchain and intellectual property.
Sounds like an interesting journey? You must be unearthing a ton of new discoveries.
Yes, because believe it or not, tech is only as good as the IP behind it. So when we talk about educating current and future leaders, we look forward to rolling out specific education and awareness to address the next phase of digital transformation beyond blockchain; e.g.: neural net learning (aka, “voice”), smart cities, drones, automation and some other top-secret tech that’s not on 99.9999% of people’s radars but will be by 2020. In summary, I like to call it, “Education at the speed of the market, not academia.”
On another note, you’ve had the good fortune of witnessing blockchain up close and personal on a global perspective. What sort of differences are you seeing in terms of receptivity, adoption, and investment around blockchain between the U.S. and the Middle East, Europe, and Asia?
In my view, America is ten, maybe fifteen years behind, in emerging technology as a whole. Because we lack the necessary leadership to make technology an emphasis, we’re paying dearly in terms of lost market share.
Can you offer an example of what you’re talking about here?
The easiest way to drive this point home is by pointing out what’s happening in Silicon Valley. In the early 2000s, the world saw what that area did to corner “the internet” and all its associated businesses. Now the rest of the world, lead by Estonia, Dubai, Singapore, South Korea, Mauritius, and Ireland has decided to throw their hats into the ring for “WORLD LEADER ON THE INTERNET 3.0”, which is blockchain. Honestly, I’d have to give the edge to Dubai / United Arab Emirates at the moment.
Yes. For example, Dubai has a Vision 2021 where in December of 2021 it plans to be paperless and cashless, with 25% of its public transportation autonomous. This matters because they launched their blockchain vision in 2016…before the ICO craze. Dubai has been looking at the tech, the decentralized ledgers and weaving that into the fabric of their digital transformation for almost 5 years. Five years!
And in the U.S?
Well, we’re holding our collective breaths hoping that War War III isn’t accidentally started on Twitter. So yeah, here in the U.S. we’re 10–15 years behind on AI, Fintech, blockchain and emerging technology investing, strategy and adoption as a whole.
Don’t get me started on that. It’s like we told the world to hold our beer and dusted off the morse code and fax machine strategy from 1933.
You’ve mentioned a massive disconnect between the arcane nature of higher education and the real world of jobs. How do you hope to change this narrative through the model you are using around blockchain education?
Let me ask you this? It takes 3 months to make a US Marine, 9 months to make a baby. So what the fuck are people doing in school for 4 years?
The current education model in my opinion unsustainable. The “experience” of going to college is ruining the next generation of potential leaders by saddling them with debt and graduating them into an environment of job automation. At the beginning of May 2019, Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, said that they no longer require a degree to be considered for jobs at Apple. Google, Facebook and the majority of the Fortune 500 have also taken this route.
Where in your view has the education system gone wrong?
As a nation, we’ve always geared our educational system to producing happy, compliant, clock-punching factory workers. Meanwhile, we haven’t had a manufacturing sector since the mid-1990s.
Our current education model is not only setting up this generation to fail but its fundamentally fucking up the fabric of American exceptionalism. We can hardly expect exceptionalism when we’ve institutionally and systematically agreed that average is mediocre while the most exceptional of us are headed overseas where regulatory environments are less onerous, accessing capital easier and immigrants are welcome.
So what’s next?
I believe we’re headed back to the future. In other words, we’ll see guilds, apprenticeships, and certifications arise. Competencies will be judged not by which school you went to but by your ability to demonstrate proficiency in a skill.
And from our earlier conversation, I know you’re also a big proponent of financial literacy.
Absolutely! Today, you can graduate from high school, college, grad school, and a Ph.D. program and not take a single financial literacy class or demonstrate awareness of basic finances. In a time where financial instruments and products abound, we’ve set up people and business leaders to fail because financial literacy isn’t a requirement, much less part of the conversation. If that’s not a broken educational model, I don’t know what is?
What trends do you see on the horizon over the next 12–18 in terms of blockchain education and business adoption?
If you have “blockchain” in your business name you’re fucked. To help you understand why, ponder a simple question, “How many “internet” companies do you know?”
So what do you mean by this?
In the enterprise application space, there is room for 5–7 blockchain businesses, very similar to how many internet service providers there are. Because the real value isn’t in being an “internet” company, a la American Online or Comcast but being a company that leverages the Internet 3.0 (blockchain) to generate revenue.
Your final thoughts on the future of blockchain?
Blockchain will be a help desk job by 2023. So you’ll be able to get a Certified Blockchain Technician / Architect / Vendor Manager from CISCO or Chainhaus like you would a C++ or Python certification from Iron Yards. The real winners in the blockchain space will be lawyers because smart contracts don’t draft themselves. Regulations don’t write themselves and compliance for new financial products/instruments (e.g. stablecoins, tokens) doesn’t happen online but in courtrooms. So, if you’re a lawyer considering stepping up your educational game, blockchain and cryptos are a whole new vertical for billable hours.