This software engineering school uses blockchain technology to authenticate its graduates

While everyone gets all excited about bitcoin, not much has been said the potential for bitcoin's underlying blockchain technology outside of finance.

Bitcoin blockchain authenticate graduates Holberston School
Antana (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Holberton School is a project-based alternative to college for the next generation of software engineers. Using project-based learning and peer learning, Holberton School's mission is to train the best software engineers of their generation. Unlike the normal models, at Holberton School, there are no formal teachers and no formal courses. Instead, everything is project-centered. The school gives students increasingly difficult programming challenges to solve, with minimal initial directions on how to solve them. As a consequence, students naturally look for the theory and tools they need, understand them, use them, work together, and help each other.

All that is interesting, but what does it have to do with the blockchain? Well, one issue that increasingly rears its head for academic institutions is the occurrence of resume "padding." Hardly a week goes by without another story about someone being fired after it surfaced that they created a fake qualification in order to get a job. This is a big problem. According to HireRight, a leading provider of on-demand employment background checks, drug testing, Form I-9 and employment and education verifications, 86% of the employers who responded to a survey said that screening had exposed a candidate who lied (to be less generous) on their resume. Employers need to make sure candidates actually graduated from the institutions that are mentioned on their resume.

So, given that Holberton is a very new institution (it only launched a few months ago), the academy wanted to approach this problem from a new angle. Enter the blockchain. The school becomes the world's first to deliver academic certificates secured and accessible via the blockchain. In doing so, they not only get to look very cool to their target constituency, but more importantly they ensure a high-quality certificate recognition for Holberton School students while tackling the threats of false resumes and fake certificates.

"Lying about education credentials is a common problem, and today it is very easy to counterfeit academic diplomas and certificates," said Blake Haggerty, a recruiter at CoreOS. "In addition, the process to check someone's degree is quite laborious, as you need to get the school's contact information, reach the right person, and do it again for every candidate. Medium and big companies often delegate this task to third parties as it's very time and money consuming."

To enable this system to work, Holberton partnered with Bitproof, a startup specialized in document certification in the blockchain. Bitproof delivers cryptographic timestamped proofs of integrity using the blockchain technology. The generated certificates can then be accessed through any blockchain explorer. The blockchain certification process only costs a few cents and takes a few milliseconds; moreover, the content's privacy is protected using strong cryptographic functions (hashes and asymmetric encryption).

This is actually a pretty cool application of the blockchain. By having students' certificates available in a public blockchain, Holberton School makes it easier for employers to check if a candidate is truly a graduate from the school. Using any free blockchain explorer available online, such as Merkle, employers can get the answer quickly.

"The blockchain is the future of certification, and we believe that in the following years, more schools will use the public blockchain to secure their certificates and diplomas," said Sylvain Kalache, co-founder of Holberton School. "It is much more efficient, secure, and simple than what you can find today in the industry. We think first about our students -- we want to make sure that our certificates will always remain valid and verifiable by employers. It will also keep them safe and impossible to copy or hack."

A cool use case for a piece of technology than many think only has limited applicability.

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