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My Journey at the Polkadot Blockchain Academy

My Journey at the Polkadot Blockchain Academy

April 24, 2024

engineeringweb3

Now, having rested and one month away from graduation, I think it's time to write about this. It's been a couple of weeks since I returned to Argentina after spending 5 weeks at UC Berkeley attending the Polkadot Blockchain Academy, and I want to tell you a bit about this wonderful experience.

I'm not used to writing much, but this time I feel it's super necessary, as blogs/videos/twitter-spaces/tweets, and that kind of content helped me learn more about this program and motivated me to experience it personally. That's why if you're interested in being part of the academy in future editions, or simply want to know more about what it's about, I recommend you keep reading.

What is the Polkadot Blockchain Academy?

Before I dive into my personal experience, I want to clarify this so we're all on the same page. The Polkadot Blockchain Academy is an extremely intensive, academically-oriented program (not a bootcamp), where leading figures in the Polkadot/Kusama ecosystem provide classes on cryptography, economics, blockchain, smart contracts, etc. The idea is that once you've completed the program, you have the tools and knowledge needed to contribute and be part of the Web3 ecosystem.

In the edition, I participated in (the 3rd) at UC Berkeley, the program lasted 5 weeks, where great figures like Gavin Wood, Rob Meier, Shawn Tabrizi, and Kian Paimani, among many more geniuses, shared their time and extensive knowledge with us. Having those geniuses there and being able to discuss various topics is a unique opportunity.

For more information, don't hesitate to check the academy's website where you'll find a lot more information and the complete team behind this endeavor.

My Journey to PBA

All of this began in November 2022 when one day, while browsing Twitter, I came across a tweet mentioning a Polkadot academy at the University of Buenos Aires. I thought, "Let's give it a shot" and applied. A few days later, I received the news that I hadn't passed the first phase and I thought, "Well, we'll see the next time."

In those months, I continued to educate myself in technologies related to Web3. I closely followed the academy in Buenos Aires thanks to channels like Dotcast, who interviewed individuals attending the PBA, and all of that motivated me even more. I made it a point to stay alert for the next calls for applications.

March 2023 came, and I received an email from the academy's newsletter stating that registrations were opening again for the third edition. Once again, being the stubborn person that I am, I thought, "Let's apply, there's nothing to lose," and then promptly forgot about it, thinking I wouldn't pass again.

One quiet day in April, while having breakfast, I received an email from the PBA informing me that I had been selected to take the rust exam. As soon as I read that, excitement washed over me. It was a significant achievement for me, but it only lasted for about 5 seconds until a thought completely invaded me: "I have only 2 weeks to prepare for the rust exam, and I only know how to do a 'hello world'".

I knew I had a great challenge ahead, but I also knew that the PBA was a fantastic opportunity. So, without a doubt, I planned well and began this race against time.

In a week and a half, I read "The Rust Book" cover to cover. In 2 days, I completed the rustlings exercises, and in 2 days, I finished the exam. I had 1 and a half days left over. Of course, during those 2 weeks, I had no social life and didn't leave my house – I gave it my all. Coming from front-end and JavaScript to transitioning to a "lower-level", typed, and compiled language was quite a challenge. Luckily, having experience in TypeScript and C helped me a lot and simplified this journey.

After 3 days, they confirmed that I had passed the exam and that now I had to wait for an interview. At this point, it was all anxiety and nervousness, but an incredible inner happiness because just having passed and moving on to the next stage meant a lot to me.

After a few more weeks, I had the interview, and everything seemed to go well, A few weeks later, I received the confirmation that I had been selected to attend the Polkadot Blockchain Academy at UC Berkeley.

My June was absolute chaos. It was about planning the trip, organizing myself, further improving my rust skills to arrive well-prepared, learning more about the ecosystem, etc. It went by very quickly, and the day to travel to San Francisco arrived.

The Polkadot Blockchain Academy

What can I say about this? On a personal level, it was truly an incredible and unique experience. The people I met during those days (teachers, students, staff, etc.) were all amazing. There was such a good atmosphere, where despite the stress and fatigue, we were all in good spirits, sharing many hours of our day, knowledge, and experiences. It was like being in a "micro-environment" where we were all connected and in sync, focused on the same goal - learning about this wonderful and incredible technology.

And I think the best part of it all was that we all came from different countries, cultures, and backgrounds; and all of that created a spectacular environment, where each one shared their knowledge, their experiences, what project they were contributing to, etc.

Both the teachers and the staff, incredibly wonderful people, sat down with us to eat and talk about various topics, and it was truly amazing. They were always open to questions and willing to help.

Truly, on a human level, this experience was an 11 out of 10.

In addition, every weekend we had some group activity, where we attended very good parties/events with people from the ecosystem, where we relaxed and could connect with other people outside of the academy.

And academically, what can I say? I feel that what I learned in these 5 weeks, I wouldn't have learned in a year. The technology is so new that it's being updated day by day, and the resources to learn from quickly become outdated. And having these geniuses investing their time, explaining to you what they are building, why they made certain decisions when building it, and their vision of the future is something unique. Plus, there's a very important extra factor: passion. I can't describe the passion they conveyed when talking about this technology, and believe me, that was a very important factor because that's when you understood why they were on stage explaining to us and what drives them.

It's also worth noting, it wasn't easy at all. On the first day, they made it clear that it was an academic program, and that we would have to give our all to pass, and believe me, we did.

During the academy, I must have slept only 3-6 hours every day. But the sacrifice was worth it because thanks to that, I was able to pass and graduate successfully. On the other hand, I also believe it's positive that it was this way because you couldn't completely disconnect, except when we rested on Sundays, and that helped you continue to understand the subject and not lose momentum.

So, as a recommendation, if you plan to apply for future editions: get plenty of rest before the academy and come with a good level of rust. That was my key.

Furthermore, as an experience, the fact that it was in-person is indispensable, as you get to connect with your peers, and that companionship is crucial to facing this challenge. And on top of that, being at a university like UC Berkeley was absolute madness. The facilities were incredible. Walking through the campus every morning, seeing the different historic buildings, and coming across squirrels along the way was spectacular. Truly, the positive vibes of being in Berkeley and being able to tour San Francisco and Silicon Valley were an incredibly amazing bonus.

Conclusion and Final Recommendations

Just as various online content helped me take that step forward and commit to this project personally, I would like this post to help those who are hesitant about applying to this program. And my answer is yes. Honestly, if you're interested in the Web3 ecosystem, this may be one of the best (or perhaps even the best) options to fully immerse yourself and take that step.

The resources and opportunities provided by this program are truly unique. I wholeheartedly encourage all those involved in the ecosystem or those who want to gradually integrate, to take the leap and apply for future editions. Trust me, it's worth it.

Also, keep in mind, that it's a program that provides a lot, but you also have to give your all. This time, we were only 75 students, of which only 55 were in the engineering track (as this edition included a track specifically for founders). Whether you like it or not, there are very few spots available, so for all those who want to apply in the future, I recommend gradually reading "The Rust Book" and doing rustlings, so you don't go through those 2 weeks of madness like I did, and arrive much more prepared.

And from here, I want to thank the PBA and its entire staff once again. There are no words to express my gratitude for having believed in me and giving me this opportunity, allowing me to be part of this incredible experience.

If you have any questions about my experience in the academy, don't hesitate to reach out to me. I'm here to help with whatever you need.

Best regards!