Who’s Afraid of the Queen of DevRel?: Angie Jones of Block
Where I come from, when somebody says they’re scared of you — especially when they say it with a bit of a “sing-song-y” lilt in their voice — it’s a sign of respect, of deference. It means you’ve done something well. Often people are “scared” of others who are so good at what they do they could do their job and yours too, with ease. That said, I’m scared spitless of Angie Jones — and you should be too.
She is, after all, the most influential woman in DevRel.
TBD and the Future of Blockchain
Block launched its TBD division in the summer of 2021 and the company tapped Jones that December to help shape a brand new business unit that is building new solutions with new technology. “As an inventor, this is a dream come true,” Jones (aka “@techgirl1908“) told The New Stack.
Core to the new technology stack is the blockchain.
Yet, “Before focusing on apps, I think developers need to understand blockchain and when to use it versus not,” Jones told The New Stack. “You don’t necessarily need an expensive immutable ledger to achieve decentralization. Architects and developers should be extremely cautious about what happens on chain and do as much as they possibly can off chain.”
Moreover, as for apps, developers should focus on the new identity and storage models, as well as how consensus and governance work for any chains or tokens their app supports, she said.
Some colleagues could see Angie’s technological spark early on, like the coaches at Davidson saw Stephen Curry, [star guard of the Golden State Warriors] coming, or John Thompson saw a raw AI [Allen Iverson] and brought him to Georgetown. In other words, some folks are just so good they’re just going to bust through no matter what. Willie Harris at IBM was among Jones’ early colleagues/bosses who saw her coming.
He tweeted last year: “It does my heart good when I see my friend @techgirl1908 featured as a key speaker at @allthingsopen! She used to work on my team at IBM back in the day and now she’s doing BIG things!”
While brainstorming new ideas, as a developer advocate, Jones must share these learnings with the broader tech community, so she’s been creating educational content. “We’re also implementing open standards and protocols, so engaging and enabling the open source community and others who are interested in decentralized technologies is a large part of my effort,” she said.
“Cash App enables peer-to-peer exchange of fiat while abstracting away a lot of the financial implementation details that make this possible,” she said. “tbDEX will do the same, using a decentralized approach. However, decentralization should be an implementation detail that end users don’t have to concern themselves with. This is our goal.”
A TDB Developer post introducing tbDEX, reads, “The tbDEX protocol aims to create ubiquitous and accessible on-ramps and off-ramps that allow the average individual to benefit from crypto innovation.”
Leaning on Blockchain
As a programmer, Jones is a natural. “I’m drawn to games, rules, and logic. Programming scratches all of these itches and is very satisfying for me,” she said. “I view programming concepts as tools in a toolbox. When given a certain problem, which tools can I use, and in which order, to solve the problem? The joy of solving the problem has never gotten old.”
Scott Hanselman, a partner program manager at Microsoft and polished tech presenter who knows Jones well from the tech conference speaker circuit, told TNS Jones’ technical chops are “beyond reproach.” He compared her to a Java version of himself as he evangelizes for .NET.
Also, in responding to a question about who the queen of tech Twitter is, Danny Thompson, a software engineer at AutoZone, tweeted: “From my perspective, that has to be @techgirl1908. I can’t think of anyone else who is more empathetic, caring, knowledgeable and influential. She is the best!”
Meanwhile, “Ultra Bro” Eric Terry, Director Of Quality Control at EVERSANA INTOUCH, tweeted: I saw a post where @techgirl1908 said she was on her Steve Jobs behavior. Nah Sis! You on that Angie “MF” Jones behavior!
Ironically, it was Jones’ curiosity and skepticism that brought her to Block,” she said. “I see huge potential in blockchain technology, but also lots of opportunities for misuse,” she said. “I didn’t secure my current role because I was a crypto enthusiast. In fact, I made it clear that my interest in working at Block was not for any personal investments, but because I believe the technology solves real problems for real people. With this in mind, my team knew I would come in and offer a divergent perspective, and that’s a good thing.”
Meanwhile, information sharing is key in this new segment. “If what we want to build is an inclusive web and global financial system, then everyone needs to be able to understand it. I believe I can help here.”
Asked if Black folk, in particular, should be wary of crypto, Jones told The New Stack: “I think everyone should be cautious about crypto. Bitcoin, the original cryptocurrency, was designed as an asset to store value so that people could exchange amongst themselves without the need for an intermediary third party such as a bank. What we’re seeing now is a lot of speculation and investing, and a lot of altcoins that are taking advantage of that. Also, there’s not much protection against things that can go wrong, so everyone should do their due diligence.”
So What? Who Is This?
Indeed, some uninitiated will instinctively ask, so who is this person and why should I care? Well, that’s what I’m here trying to tell you. She and her ilk represent the future of this industry — at a point in her career where she can both recruit and lead a new generation of developers, and also break new ground with fresh solutions built with new technology.
Last year, Jones ranked second on the eCairn Top 100 Influencers in #DevRel list (and the first woman).
What initially drew my attention to Jones was her nurturing. She would mentor folks on Twitter and she always took time to be nurturing. That mentoring also includes letting folks know it’s okay to take credit for their efforts — to control their own narrative and how they are perceived by others.
“Community is huge for me,” Jones said. “Our work is hard, and the spaces designated to get help are filled with condescending meanies. I want to be the opposite of that. I want to share info in a warm and welcoming way. I want everyone who’s in tech to feel a sense of belonging. My hope is that people who feel my warmth pay that forward and make others feel the same. Imagine a tech community where everyone is giving out tech tips wrapped in warm hugs?”
Nick DeJesus, an Open Source Programs Engineer at Block’s TBD division in a group adjacent to Jones’, called out the “straight-up wisdom” in her advice.
“When it comes to career advice, she’s so good at making you see the bigger picture,” he told The New Stack. “There’s a very social side to the work you do as a person in tech that I don’t think a lot of people are good at communicating or even talking about.” Jones excels at this because she listens first, he noted.
“She’s been in this game long enough, and has delivered on such high-impact, great quality projects, and has so much experience delivering at that level that she’s reached the point where everything she says is just ‘right,’” DeJesus said.
A fishing buddy of mine would say Angie Jones is a rock star [monster of a] doll, baby baba! It’s evident I can’t say enough about this woman and how happy I am to see her leading a conversation in not only general tech and software development but even more in the world of Web3 and crypto, and even Web5! TBD at one point considered trademarking the term Web5.
People — especially Black folks who are often targets — need to hear from smart, sincere, well-intentioned, trustworthy folks like her in this emerging area. Indeed, the word is multi-Grammy Award-winning singer Anita Baker slid into one of her Twitter Spaces to hear what she had to say about crypto.
Angie Jones is special to me because she has a unique set of qualities, interests and curiosities that enable her to quickly see through to a solution. Add that to her nurturing nature and intense desire to mentor and help others, and you’ve got almost a Mother Theresa of tech. Yeah, I’m gushing a bit, because I’ve covered this industry (and this AppDev space in particular) for some time and I haven’t come across anyone like her before — yet I’m learning there is a growing number of people like Angie and I mean to get to know as many of you as I can! First off, she’s Black, a sister. When I first started in this business, you’d be hard-pressed to find a sister — or any woman, for that matter — anywhere near the programming language events (OOPSLA) I used to travel to. Next thing you know here comes Angie Jones as a Java Champion!
From Ada to Java and Beyond
There’s some irony for me in this story, too. Because when I started out as a young tech reporter in D.C., the Ada programming language had been mandated for use by the U.S. Department of Defense and some other government agencies. There was a young, Black US Army captain named Glenn Hughes (RIP) whose job was to extol the virtues of Ada. Glenn would eschew a podium and walk to the edge of the stage to give talks. He’d stand with his arms akimbo or folded behind his back and cast a commanding presence in his uniform with a chest full of badges and bars. He would stand and deliver.
Around that same time, a software engineer by the name of Grady Booch had written a book about software engineering with Ada and I used to interview him often (later, Grady’s company, Rational, hired Glenn away from the Army — only to be acquired by IBM). So, all these years later, when Angie Jones launched a Twitter Space about blockchain with Booch as the guest and it drew more than 7,000 people, I knew I had to tell a story with this woman in it. Glenn, Grady and Angie.
Jones’ focus and stage presence when speaking made me think of Glenn. Like Glenn, Angie Jones can stand and deliver with the best of them. She doesn’t come with badges or medals and bars on her chest, but she comes armed with more than 25 patents. Jones has patents in the areas of the metaverse, collaboration software, social networking, smarter planet, and software development processes. She’s also made other key contributions to the industry including a popular Java development course and Test Automation University (TAU), a free online platform that provides courses on all things test automation. TAU is sponsored by Applitools, boasts industry-leading experts as instructors, and has educated more than 100,000 engineers across the globe.
Earlier I made reference to former pro basketball star Allen Iverson, whose disdain for “practice” versus giving it all in actual games is well-known among fans of the era. That’s a truly ironic example there because Jones couldn’t be more different than Iverson in her outlook. For Jones “practice” is testing so that when game time (production) arrives there are no glitches.
Coming out of a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) — Tennessee State University, Jones started in a software engineering role and gravitated toward automation, specifically for testing the code that developers write. She left IBM and later wound up at Applitools. Jones also worked at Twitter and Teradata during her career.
“It’s such an overlooked area of software development, and yet it’s so powerful in ensuring you write quality, maintainable code that is easy to refactor as the project evolves,” Jones said of automation and testing. “Focusing here gave me such insight into clean coding, healthy software development principles, software architecture, and most importantly the user’s perspective.”
Maintaining Community and Coding Onstage
Her keen interest in maintaining a community led Jones to share her learnings so she began blogging and speaking at conferences.
“This eventually took up way more time than I had to offer, with me being at conferences about 80% of the time,” she said. “So I decided to move into Developer Relations so that I could do this sort of work full time.”
Jones said she believes it’s important for peers to share information with each other.
“But there’s an added bonus in a Black woman live coding on stage,” Jones said directly. “I rarely ever give diversity and inclusion talks. Those are certainly needed, but I also want to demonstrate that not only do we belong in tech, but we’re able to excel at it. There’s something powerful about an audience mostly comprised of white males all sitting and learning something technical from a Black woman. It challenges biases without me ever having to utter the words ‘diversity and inclusion.’”
Indeed, representation matters. “I didn’t know I could be a conference speaker until I saw another Black woman do it,” Jones said. “I want to be that representation for others who may not yet see this as a possibility for themselves.”
Back to cryptoland, I asked Jones what was her initial response to blockchain haters and crypto critics.
“I welcome their critique,” she said. “Their skepticism and distrust are not unfounded. This is new territory where we’re using tech to overcome inequities. That’s not an easy thing to do, as human nature often prevails. In addition, there’s a lot that’s wrong in the space — from the “money go up” investors to the bad actors who are able to steal and take advantage of the most vulnerable in this unregulated space. There is a lot of work to do, and I count on the blockchain critics to hold our feet to the fire.”
Angie from the Block
Jones’ screen name Techgirl1908 is an homage to her sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha (AKA — Skee Wee!), which was founded in 1908. I know a little something about that because my family is affiliated with another big sorority for Black women, Delta Sigma Theta (Oo-Oop!), which was founded five years later. Those organizations can boast of membership by some of the most successful women in America, including VPOTUS Kamala Harris.
Somebody say amen.