Today I am speaking with Kevin Jones, Developer Relations Engineer at Edge & Node, a core development team actively contributing to The Graph. Although Kevin is a fresh addition to the Edge & Node team, his presence has already been felt significantly through his engagement in hackathons and leadership of key initiatives.
In this engaging conversation, Kevin unveils his captivating career journey. He takes us from his early studies in graphic design through a stint in retail, working in sales at Best Buy – a chapter that included an adventure living in Hawaii. We then explore his trajectory to becoming a well-regarded thought leader within the Ethereum ecosystem, a journey that included some time at the industry-leading NGINX.
Kevin also shares the pivotal moments when he encountered The Graph and made the transition to full-time work in web3. He provides insights into his role at Edge & Node and dives into some of the transformative initiatives he is driving. Throughout, Kevin offers valuable insights into open source projects, Scaffold-ETH, BuildersDAO – a new DAO within The Graph ecosystem – and the sources of his drive and determination.
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Kevin Jones (00:50):
This is a major improvement over just the standard, like a setup a dapp, deploy your smart contracts and do these calls to the RPC. And I remember that I was like, this has got to be one of the coolest projects in web3, and really filling this really niche problem.
Welcome to the GRTiQ Podcast. Today I’m speaking with Kevin Jones, developer relations engineer at Edge & Node, one of the core developers working to build The Graph. Kevin is a new member of the Edge & Node team, but he’s already having a big presence at hackathons, and driving several important initiatives. During this discussion, you’ll hear about Kevin’s fascinating career trajectory, starting with early studies in graphic design, moving into retail, going to work in sales at Best Buy, which included a stint living in Hawaii. Then going to work at the industry-leading NGINX, and then how he eventually merged as a well-respected and known thought leader in the Ethereum ecosystem. Then Kevin talks about how he became aware of The Graph, his move to working full-time in web3, and his role at Edge & Node and the initiatives he’s pursuing. Along the way, Kev will teach us a little bit about open source, Scaffold-ETH, a new DAO in The Graph ecosystem called Builder’s DAO, and where he gets all his hustle. As always, we started the discussion talking about Kevin’s educational background.
Kevin Jones (02:43):
Yeah, I actually got started working in technology ad hoc. I actually went to art school for a while, and I decided that I actually didn’t want to sit behind a computer in graphic design school. And it turns out that I actually ended up doing that anyways. So I actually took some networking classes, some computer science classes. But I actually never got a formal degree in computer science, I just used it as a catalyst for getting a job and getting some experience. And yeah, actually, my first job was working as tech support for the Geek Squad working at Best Buy.
Well, I want to ask you a lot more questions about that first experience, because you’ve got some cool stories associated with what you did there. But before we do that, if you go back in time and think about what drew your interest in technology, what was it? You were working on R, you said you had a little bit of an interest in graphic design,. Making a leap into technology, it seems like quite a gap.
Kevin Jones (03:39):
Yeah, I was always interested in technology. Even when I was a kid, I used to take apart stuff. My mom would walk into my bedroom and I’d be taking apart the old stereo, trying to figure out how it worked. And I think it was when I was 12, maybe 13, we got a computer. And that was a huge moment for me because I was on that thing all the time. I started building web applications when I was 14 years old, learning HTML. And I just got really interested in it. A lot of gaming stuff too actually drove my interest in computers, because at the time a lot of setting up games on PCs was rather complicated, had to deal with installing drivers and all sorts of interesting stuff. Yeah, I’ve always really been involved in technology, but I’ve also been very artistic too. I think I get that from both sides of my parents.
But for me, I started working at Best Buy actually selling computers. I started out in sales and also had this passion for technology, and I just felt that the art design thing was fun and it’s a way to express myself. And I really enjoyed time that I spent learning art, but I didn’t feel like I was actually going to really be able to achieve a highly paying job, something that would be useful in the long run. So I made this decision to stop what I was doing and just focus purely on tech.
Well, Kevin, longtime listeners of the podcast will know that just about all the people that I’ve had on the podcast that had early interest in technology when they were growing up, one of the first things they did was take apart the computer and try to figure out how it works. How do you explain that? What is it about that brain of somebody that gets interested in tech that their first steps into it is taking apart the computer?
Kevin Jones (05:25):
Yeah. I think personally, for me it was in order to understand how everything works, even without having a basic understanding of computer science, you just take something apart, you’re able to put it back together again. It’s like reverse engineering, and there’s this just satisfaction you get with understanding how things are connected. And so, yeah, once I was able to take apart my computer or upgrade components of my computer, it really opened up a lot of interest for me. Because I knew that, hey, I can replace this component with an upgraded video card. Or the sound card, and I can have this 5.1 stereo system if I want to. It was just that avenue of reverse engineering for me, it was just a fun experience to delve more into the technology. And I think we do that every day. Even today, if you’re trying to look at a smart contract or a subgraph, you’re trying to figure out what that person was thinking when they designed it. And it’s a similar thing with hardware too.
Well, I’ve also had several guests that had an interest in graphic design or art that paired very well with their interest in technology. And as I’ve thought more about that, I got to thinking about Steve Jobs, somebody who definitely had an interest for design and graphic design. And I’m just curious, when you think about your interest in art and you think about the stuff you’re doing in tech, do you see some undercurrents there? Maybe like Steve Jobs once did, where there’s this design simplicity or intelligence that makes technology something more than just a bunch of code?
Kevin Jones (06:57):
Yeah. I think all things come down to design, actually. How things work, how things come together and connect, and how the structure of those things come together. Even just in life, we look out the window and we see a tree and how it comes out. I think there’s this deeper understanding to understanding something that looks good and is designed well. And also this applies to software engineering, understanding how to… Or architecture, architecting your application and using the right components and pieces. And so, yeah, I do think it’s actually a similar thing that the human mind goes through, even if you’re a graphic designer or if you are a software designer, or an architect or a DevOps engineer. We’re trying to build cohesive things that are working together well.
Let’s talk about your foray then into technology. As you said there, you went to work in sales at Best Buy, but the experience didn’t stop there. You put a lot of years in there and did some very cool things. What can you tell us about that time you had at Best Buy and what you were working on?
Kevin Jones (08:00):
Yeah, it was so much fun. I look back at those days and a lot of people will say, “Oh, working in retail is frustrating and difficult.” But for me it was a lot of fun, I made a lot of really good friends at Best Buy, and I learned a lot about just people in general. It all really started when Best Buy acquired the Geek Squad, and this was probably in the early 2000s, I would say probably closer to 2004, 2005 perhaps. Best Buy acquired Geek Squad, and at this point I decided… Actually, just previous to that I had decided to move into the PC repair area. At the time it was called PC repair. And it was just fixing people’s computers, deleting malware, doing things, virus removals, and just trying to help customers with their technology, setting up their computer software. Whatever, you name it, I did it.
And then we had the Geek Squad, we acquired the Geek Squad. And that was huge, because every single store was assigned one engineer or repair technician to be a Geek Squad agent. That was really cool. Every single store was going to have this one guy that was going to stand out and he’s going to do all these house calls, and he’s going to be the double agent, so to speak. That’s what they called it, double agent. And I was not that first person. There was another guy, Jason Orwig, which he’s a great friend of mine, and he’s also very involved in technology these days still. He was the first double agent. But I looked up to him and I was like, you know what, I’m going to be the next guy to do this. I want to be a double agent.
It sounds so silly to think, but the branding there and the concept of moving on and becoming a double agent was just really cool to me. So I became a double agent, exactly that. And I had heard a rumor that they were going to open up a Best Buy in Hawaii, so I found the internal message boards for Best Buy, and actually found who the manager was going to be. And I actually ended up going to Hawaii and being the first double agent on the island of Oahu, which was a lot of fun. And I got to train all the other Geek Squad agents and set that culture up. Which, there’s a huge culture on Geek Squad.
Well, Kevin, you’ll have to forgive me. I don’t have a perfect timeline of when Amazon and e-commerce showed up on the scene and started disrupting what we call big box retail, which I think Best Buy certainly falls into. During your time there, did you feel that or experience that impact, and what was that like?
Kevin Jones (10:19):
Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. I was actually at Best Buy up until around, gosh, I want to say that it was 2011. And so up and leading to that was really the dotcom bubble. Pretty much, what was it, 2008 was when the collapse was. And so we were starting to see a lot of online competition. But I think from a Best Buy’s perspective, there was still a pretty good amount of growth just because they shifted focus on taking care of the customer, and customer service versus just trying to oversell the customer. And it was a complete shift in thinking at the time, and I think Best Buy did a good job of maintaining their goals and stuff like that. But for me it was, you’re not going to be able to get support for your computer through Amazon at that time. This was something rather new. So for my world, it was Geek Squad and I was helping people and supporting them, and it was a little bit out of realm there.
Kevin, I have to ask you this follow-up question, and my wife when she listens to this would be angry if I didn’t. But what was it like living in Hawaii? That’s one of the most beautiful places in the world. It’s idyllic. Was it as wonderful as we all think it might be?
Kevin Jones (11:32):
Absolutely. I absolutely loved my time in Hawaii. I lived on Oahu, which, anyone who’s ever been to Oahu would know that it’s like the Los Angeles of Hawaii. In the sense that there’s a lot going on there, and it’s rather big. There’s a lot of traffic actually. But some of my most important time and love is of the north shore of Hawaii, or the east side, or just going to the beach. Even if you go to Waikiki, it’s still very, very beautiful. And I do miss it. I miss Hawaii very much. Even when I moved back, I literally was so upset on the plane ride back, I was just like, “Oh my God, I’m never going to go back.”
And I often think about going back. I’ve been back to visit, obviously. But there is some downside living in Hawaii. And I would say that the main thing is it is pretty small, and so you got to learn to appreciate when you actually go off the island and go to the mainland, so to speak. Appreciate that time, because when you get back to Hawaii it’s pretty small. There’s some cultural differences, but for the most part it’s a beautiful place to live. I really highly recommend anyone interested in moving to Hawaii should totally consider it. It’s great.
Well, that part I hope my wife doesn’t hear.
I’ve had the opportunity on this podcast to ask people with various backgrounds about how web3 crypto will disrupt legacy industries. And in the case of what you were doing, big box retail, have you ever thought about or contemplated how a retailer in a web3 environment experiences any changes or differences in their business model, or anything like that?
Kevin Jones (14:16):
Yeah. I think as far as from a blockchain perspective, there’s definitely this interesting chain of custody that can happen with assets. And that’s always been something that’s been in the back of my mind is like, I think blockchain, and specifically being able to pay for things and make transfers of assets in a digital way using digital currency has a lot of power in a retail environment. But it would be really quite interesting to see… I would love to see Amazon launch all the Amazon stores are running on smart contracts and you can just come in and buy whatever you want with your hardware wallet or your crypto wallet. That would be really interesting to see. But I think we’re definitely way early for something like that, and I don’t see that happening anytime soon.
What did you do after Best Buy?
Kevin Jones (15:01):
I was at this point where I had actually moved back from Hawaii. I moved back, initially I moved to San Diego. I lived in Oceanside, which was a great place to move if you were trying to keep relative to what you expected in terms of living of Hawaii. Oceanside was very beautiful. And then I eventually moved back to my hometown, which is actually in Uplands, California, close to Rancho Cucamonga, which is where I grew up. And I decided that I wanted to get more into a little bit more technical role. I was doing some server administration, it was mostly Windows related. We did support some small businesses, but I wanted to get more into Linux. I was actually getting more my hands dirty with Linux at that time, and I just felt that there was an next step for me to take. And I had a buddy of mine that was working at yellowpages.com.
If anyone remembers that big fat yellow book that now you pretty much use as a monitor stand or something like that, it doesn’t really exist anymore. But at the time, they were making this huge shift from the physical book to a online presence. And so for them, this meant launching hundreds of applications, hundreds of solutions to take their business model digital. And this is through yp.com, which is their digital branding. I got hired as a site reliability engineer, and it was trial by fire for me. I worked there for almost three years, and it was like going to a university where you’re just constantly at the grind because it was literally supporting thousands of applications and all of the infrastructure from a site reliability standpoint. It was great for me as far as learning, and that’s where I got my footing in the web2 and infrastructure world. And then after that, I went off to work at NGINX, which was the next great part of my journey into web applications.
You said at this time you’re starting to get a little bit interested or in learning Linux. What was it about Linux that drew your attention?
Kevin Jones (17:01):
Obviously, Windows dominated most of my time when I was working at Geek Squad. I’m working on people’s computers, having to remove their viruses, having to set up Microsoft Windows and setting up Word and PowerPoint, and all these silly applications that at the time was like, that was just the standard. And so Linux was just a huge change, a shift in idea and a shift in thinking where this is all open source. We don’t have to buy a copy of this operating system, I can literally just go download it from my local university’s file server and start hacking away, install whatever applications that are open source. And this whole new thinking around open source came to fruition over that period of those three years that I worked at Yellow Pages. A lot of our systems were running on open source tooling. A lot of our engineering teams were using open source software and creating stuff in more of a open source way of. One of those, obviously NGINX. Yeah, so that was a huge way of change of thinking for me. And I saw that this was the future for technology is open source.
Take us through how you’re doing all this. If we go back in time, you’re teaching yourself a lot of this technology. It sounds like you’re passionate about it, you’re putting in what I got to imagine nights, weekends, some midnight hours trying to learn to code and learn how these systems work. If I’m right about that, how are you doing that and what’s your advice to listeners that want to do the same thing?
Kevin Jones (18:27):
It was crazy. When I got hired, I actually got hired as the Windows site reliability engineer. So I supported all the Windows applications. There was four Linux site reliability engineers, and I was the only Windows guy. I was actually on call for one year straight. At anytime of the day if something happened with a Windows system, I was getting called. Which, that was pretty crazy for me. And then on top of that, I’m obviously still supporting the Linux stuff as well, it’s not like I was only supporting the Windows stuff. And so, yeah, for me it felt good. Partly I can say I was single at the time, which was great because I was able to dedicate this amount of time to what I call trial by fire, where I was on the chopping block to get some stuff done. And it was just a huge opportunity for me.
I really have my friend Mario to thank for that, for getting me hired there, because he really did change my entire career path. Yeah, I think it was difficult. And anyone who wants to go down that rabbit hole, I would push yourself to take on things and learn things that you normally would be afraid of. Just dive into it and don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty.
Let’s talk about your time at NGINX then. What can you tell us about what NGINX is and what you did there?
Kevin Jones (19:38):
For anyone listening who doesn’t know NGINX, NGINX is the number one most used web server that’s available pretty much on the internet. It was a rival to Apache. For a long time Apache was the most popular, and also Microsoft IIS as well. But for the most part, NGINX is a open source tool that was created by Igor Sysoev, who is a Russian engineer who created this as an open source tool to solve a lot of different problems. And I was supporting NGINX, actually yellowpages.com we had it as a reverse proxy into all of our compliant and PCI data layer. And we also used it for assistant in front of all of our web traffic. It’s a very popular web server. And so for us, it was a great tool, it was open source, we were using it in open source way.
And when I found out NGINX was a company, it was one of my favorite applications to support because it’s so easy to use and so powerful. So when I found out they were hiring, I was like, oh, this is quite interesting. And I saw them in a conference, actually, the Southern California Linux Expo. Which is a great little conference. If anyone is in California, I would check that out. But they had a booth, it was their first booth actually, and I saw the first demo of NGINX. And I was like, oh, this is awesome. This version has an API. It was like a plus version. And so I was hooked. And I actually was a customer at first, and then after some time we didn’t end up buying NGINX Plus, but I started looking for other jobs. And I reached out to the account manager, I said, “Hey, I’m interested in actually coming to work for you guys.” And made it work out. And I was able to move to San Francisco actually and start supporting NGINX, and support the business unit that was trying to push that forward.
Well, Kevin, you and I are speaking today because you recently joined the team at Edge & Node, and you’re working an important role there. Before we start exploring some of that, I do want to ask you this question about coming into contact with open source at this point in your career. Do you feel like that was a precursor to maybe your own philosophy or the way that you work or understand how software should work? Was this all a precursor to you’re moving to web3 and you’re interest in the space?
Kevin Jones (21:44):
Yeah. Yes, absolutely. I do think that the concepts of open source and this concept of open collaborating on code and sharing code, and composability of time. There’s a lot of effort and time that goes into engineering, especially if you’re engineering a good product. And so this concept of keeping something open source and allowing people to innovate off of that hard work that’s already been done also really applies to very much so to the blockchain space as we see it today. We know that some of the most popular tooling is all open source. Obviously, contracts are, for the most part, encouraged to be open source and available and open. And it follows the same openness concept. And I do think that did make my interest… And also that coupled with obviously cryptography and understanding how cryptography works, made my love of decentralization and these new concepts that we see with crypto.
It comes up on the podcast quite a bit that there are industry jargon terms that are mentioned quite a bit. And the more of these I’ve done, the more I’m familiar what these terms mean, and so I don’t double click on them. But the term I want to ask you about is composability, it comes up all the time. Can you just take us on a very low level, introductory understanding of what composability means when we’re talking about web3, and why it’s important?
Kevin Jones (23:07):
The general idea with composability is when you’re building systems and you want to encourage other developers to use those systems, you want to build them in a composable way where people can build modules that enhance the functionality of something. Or it could be even simple as just a GitHub repo, like a base repo. And someone can fork that repo and reuse it for some other implementation. And so, the more composable and the more you can actually break down any object or any logic, I think the more powerful it is. This is why we saw with the web2 world the concept of microservices became very powerful. Because at first it was like, okay, you deploy your application and it’s this giant application that runs on the cloud and this database, and all these things have to work together, and you have to deploy them all at the same time.
And then microservices came out and it was like, oh, okay, now we can break down this application into composable pieces that can come together to solve one problem. And so I think we see that a lot with web3 now with tooling, there’s a lot of composable tools that can be pulled in and out depending on what you want to do. In other words, if you want to use Foundry, you can use Foundry. If you want to use HardHat, you can use HardHat. But the underlying idea is EVM chain. There’s a lot of this composability that we see in the web3 space, and that’s what makes it so powerful.
Well, Kevin, I got to say I really love the story arc of your journey into technology, because there’s something incredibly cool about somebody starting off in sales at Best Buy and eventually going to NGINX, an industry leader, and leading an important part of that team. If we track then that story arc and everything you were doing, at what point do you become aware of crypto, and what were your first impressions at the time?
Kevin Jones (24:55):
Yeah. We used to carpool, me and Mario and Alex. We would carpool all the way from Rancho Cucamonga, or Upland area, all the way down into Glendale. That’s where our office was. And that entire road was always a lot of fun, we were talking about whatever was the hot topic at the time. And I remember this is not obviously the beginning of crypto, but I remember that was the first time that I heard about it on this car ride. It was like, “Oh, have you guys heard about Bitcoin?” I’m like, “Oh, yeah, it sounds interesting.” But no one was really knowledgeable. And I just remember actually that on one of the rides we were talking about Bitcoin, and we were discussing some of the understanding of how the cryptography works and how the ledger works. And I was like, “You know what, I’m going to go on it now and I’m going to try to buy some.”
And I think I remember at the time they had just tried to launch it on, I believe, I think it was Coinbase. Coinbase just came out. And I tried to buy it, and I remember I bought pretty good sizable amount, and then my transaction never went through. The UI showed it went through, but it never went through on my phone. So then I looked back on my bank records and it got returned because the bank declined my transaction because they were like, “Coinbase, that sounds shady,” or something. So they blocked my transaction even though I had put it through. Basically what I’m trying to say is I could have been rich right now, but it’s okay, it doesn’t matter.
Did you at that time recognize the technology element of crypto and what Bitcoin was doing, or was it at this point just a little bit more about the speculative nature of an investment opportunity?
Kevin Jones (26:26):
Yeah. I think most of the hype was obviously when you first see something like that you’re looking at it from the outside. I obviously understood the public key cryptography aspect of things, and this concept of a public ledger. I don’t think I had really fully grasped the concept of proof of work and understanding how the chains are connected. And I didn’t get that deep down the rabbit hole, it wasn’t until really later that I did that. Yeah, for me, it was just like, oh, okay, this is a little bit of a hype. And I wasn’t really sure it was going to take off, it just sounded interesting to me. I just wanted to get involved.
Well, clearly we’re talking today, so eventually you moved away from seeing it as a headline or speculative asset and became very interested in the technology. When did that happen for you?
Kevin Jones (27:10):
Actually, it was right around COVID time, or maybe a little bit before that I started seeing my portfolio. I had been an investor in some various crypto, some “shit” coins. But I had just done some investing, I had bought some Bitcoin, I had bought some Ethereum. And I think at the time my Ethereum, I had already known of this concept of smart contracts, but I didn’t really know how to write them. I didn’t know what Solidity was, but I knew that there was this more advanced way that you could make crypto transactions, and I just didn’t know much about it. I also saw my portfolio grow and I was like, this is interesting. And I started realizing that, hey, you know what, I want to look into these smart contracts and understand what the hype is.
And so, doing some searching, looking around. And first thing I came across was ETHGlobal. And now ETHGlobal, if anyone that’s listening doesn’t know, they do a lot of hackathons and events around the Ethereum community to help onboard developers into the ecosystem. And at the time COVID had happened and I wanted to get involved, and I saw there was all of these online hackathons happening. And so this was cool because I was stuck at home. I had actually just moved to Seattle, because we were expecting our first son. And I was living in Seattle and we were on lockdown, but it was great. I could do these online hackathons and I could start getting involved and learn about the space.
So I started learning about Solidity, how to write smart contracts, started searching around for tools. And this is where I stumbled upon Scaffold-ETH, and I’m sure we can talk about it a little bit, but Scaffold-ETH was this aha moment for me. Where I realized that, hey, this is some powerful stuff. We can actually create some pretty awesome applications, and I can get away from having the mundane life of spinning up a cloud environment and a database, and writing a backend and a front-end. And I could do things in a more fun way and a little bit more exciting.
Put us inside your mind for a minute here. You’re working at NGINX, you have this really cool career, you’re working on an important team, doing some very cool things in the open source community. You come across Ethereum, you start developing an appreciation for the underlying tech. What do you see? What is it about what you see in the Ethereum community and what they’re doing there that’s so different than what you’d been used to that it pulls you into it?
Kevin Jones (29:33):
Yeah. I think as simple as Solidity is and as simple as the concepts of a smart contract are, they are very powerful. And I had already had a pretty good understanding of how cryptocurrency can help enable peer-to-peer transactions amongst people in communities just for transferring value. But then I saw that there was a smart contract capability where we could start going outside of the box. And I think at the time ERC-721 was coming to fruition, so this concept of NFTs was exploding. And no one really understand what an NFT was. And so being able to look at the smart contract and look at, oh, this is what an NFT is, this is how it’s composed, this is how we propose these transactions.
And just digging into the weeds and knowing that I could actually deploy an application that gets deployed to the network and it will live forever if I program it, and the programmability is there. That was just a light bulb went on for me. I was like, oh, we can build unstoppable applications on Ethereum. If we do this right, this is going to be a game changer for decentralization and openness and empowering people to build what they want.
So anyone tracking your story here, and I’ve already said this once, knows that you’re self-taught, you’re doing some really cool stuff to educate yourself and to level up your own capabilities and skills. But if we subtract away that inherent ability that you have, was that leap from web2 into web3 and the Ethereum community, was that a difficult one to make or did it come somewhat naturally? Did it build on what you had learned thus far in your career?
Kevin Jones (31:12):
Yeah, it’s an interesting story, actually. Ethereum, for the longest time, was more of a hobby to me. I found myself on the weekends and at nights building dapps and deploying stuff to test nets. And I mentioned earlier I got very interested in this toolkit called Scaffold-ETH. And if anyone hasn’t heard of Scaffold-ETH, Scaffold-ETH is this toolkit that essentially comes with really everything you need to build a dapp. And at the time, that was one of my struggles when I first got started is there’s so many different tools to choose from. I don’t know what’s better. I don’t know how to put them together. Scaffold-ETH was this awesome thing that I could just start out and I knew that, hey, it’s got everything I need. I can start building dapps. And I liked it so much that I actually started creating some content around it.
I started creating some YouTube videos just on my own accord. I eventually joined The Build Guild. Which, The Build Guild is a group of developers. They’re developers that support the Scaffold-ETH community, or have used Scaffold-ETH. And they’re all in this large community, there’s about 800 developers there. But my point is, is that I really, really was interested in being involved in the space, but it was just a hobby. I was still working at NGINX, I was still selling NGINX, I was still supporting… I was actually at the time working as a technical evangelist, which is essentially a developer relations engineer, but for web2. And so I was doing toxic conferences and I was still very highly involved in the web2 community, but I would say that I longed for getting into web3, and I wanted to. And I can go more into it, but I actually started attending a lot of in-person hackathons, and that was my gateway into web3.
Well, let’s dive more into that because you quickly established some real thought leadership within the Ethereum community, and you were speaking at different events across the world, mainly on the Scaffold-ETH and some of the other content that you were working on and producing. What was that experience like contributing nights and weekends, creating content freely of your own will, and now you’re actually speaking at conferences and leading workshops? That’s got to be a strange experience.
Kevin Jones (33:14):
Yes. For me, I’m one of these individuals that if I’m going to get involved in something, I’m going to dive in. I’m going to go all in. Even if it’s just a hobby, I try to just go all out and then learn something from it. And so, actually what happened is I’m also a photographer. So anyone who is listening who knows me, my ENS name is Shutterblock.eth, which is a pun on Shutterstock, but Shutterblock. But the concept is that I was involved in photography as a hobby, but I would also do some professional stuff. I’m actually a Canon certified photographer, and you can actually book me through Canon’s website. Which a lot of people don’t know that. But I do some stuff, I shoot portraits, I shot weddings, I shot some events. And I had started actually doing photography for ETHGlobal events.
I actually met Kartik. I was actually at Eth Denver. If anyone does know, Kartik is the founder of ETHGlobal. And I didn’t quite corner him, but if you talk to him, he might tell you that I came up to him and surprised him. And I was like, “Hey, I shot you an email. I’m interested in shooting your hackathons. I’m a photographer, here’s my resume,” yada, yada, yada. So he started hiring me actually to do photography at these hackathons. And the first hackathon I did was Eth Amsterdam. This was about two years ago. This is where I met Austin Griffith. Well, actually it wasn’t where I met Austin Griffith, but it is where me and Austin Griffith finally spent some time to sit down and talk about Scaffold-ETH. And he had seen one of my videos that I had done on YouTube, or maybe it was actually I did it on the NGINX website, I can’t remember.
But anyways, he saw my delivery of the introduction to Scaffold-ETH, which is usually the talk he does. And I had watched him do it many, many, many times. And I was like, I can do this and teach to people. That’s what I like to do, I’m a passionate teacher. I had done this presentation, he saw it and he was very excited to see that I was so involved in the community, and he actually hired me as a part-time Build Guilder at this point. What that means is the Build Guild is if you’re really involved in the community, you can actually get an active stream of Eth, and you can get compensation for doing events. And so, basically from that point forward, if Austin wasn’t able to go to a hackathon, then I would be the person probably that would be going to the hackathon. And I would shoot photography there and then I would give the workshop. And so I was wearing a few hats, and I was still working at NGINX. But it was a lot of fun. It was kind of busy, but it was a lot of fun.
I’m interested in talking more about Scaffold-ETH. And to be transparent with you, and I think you know this, I’m non-technical. So this isn’t something I actually knew too much about until I prepped for this interview and got to know you a little bit. But can you just explain to us how important that tool is, or those resources are to onboarding devs into the space? And of course you’re going to know a lot of listeners are going to be curious, is The Graph part of Scaffold-ETH.
Kevin Jones (36:05):
Yeah, that’s a great question. For me, obviously Scaffold-ETH was a huge point of me actually getting highly involved in the Ethereum community and started building dapps. And it was just because of the… I would say the feature richness of Scaffold-ETH, and completeness that it has really is just going to get anyone, like I said before, off the ground running quickly. It literally it comes with a chain, it comes with a front-end for you that’s already running and already has some boilerplate code. It also has a lot of the things tied up for you. If you ever have deployed a smart contract and then wanted to inject it into your front-end, you’ll know that you have to load in what’s called the ABI, which can be a little bit of a pain to do, and it does that for you automatically. And automatically builds some tables for you to be able to manage your functions and call your functions up your smart contracts.
So there’s a lot of stuff that’s just there that’s really out of the box. And then to answer your question, we have a… Right now it’s a current branch of Scaffold-ETH-2. Which Scaffold-ETH-2 is the newest version of Scaffold-ETH. And there’s a separate branch inside the repository where you can actually set up an instance of The Graph, which is IPFS, Graph Node, and Postgres. And then you can also deploy your subgraph, which is already built for you to that dockerized instance of your subgraph, or graph instance. And you can essentially then take that and then push it to the Subgraph Studio in a decentralized way. And so there’s this kind of, yes, there’s a lifecycle. I just did a really good workshop and it’s available on the Edge & Node House of web3 YouTube channel.
If anyone wants to watch it, it’s about an hour and a half long where I go and teach you about how to do this using Scaffold-ETH, and use the subgraph package. And one cool thing is that we are actually working with the Build Guild team to have a module that is going to be available in Scaffold-ETH-2. Scaffold-ETH-2 now has a NPX command that you can run where you can spin it up really quickly, and one of the first modules that’s going to be available is going to be The Graph. And so you’ll be able to spin up The Graph using that NPX command, which is really, really cool.
Kevin, you’re working at NGINX, you’re moonlighting as a photographer/thought leader within the Ethereum community. You’re leveling up everybody on this topic in resources related to Scaffold-ETH-2. You just mentioned there that The Graph factors into that. When did you first become aware of The Graph, however? Do you remember when you started hearing about it and what your original impressions were of the problem The Graph was trying to solve?
Kevin Jones (39:07):
I believe the first time that I actually sat down… One of my things is I would be going to these hackathons, and every once in a while my talk would be right around the same time as The Graph talk, actually. It might be maybe at the same time or just right before. And I usually would have this break where I was like, all right, I’m not going to shoot any more photos, I’m going to go get ready for my talk. And I just remember that I was in East New York. And I believe it was, I want to say it was last year. Maybe would’ve been the year before where I was in the East New York and I saw Simon. And anyone who knows Simon, he is the lead DevRel engineer at Edge & Node. And awesome guy. If you don’t follow him, I recommend following him on Twitter and keep an eye on what he does.
But I saw him giving the talk about The Graph. And I was like, this is a major improvement over just the standard, hey, set up a dapp, deploy your smart contract and do these calls to the RPC. And I remember that I was like, this has got to be one of the coolest projects in web3, and really filling this really niche problem that I hadn’t really seen anyone solve. And so for me it was quite interesting. And actually, right after I saw his talk, I actually applied to become a Graph Advocate. I actually started giving some talks about The Graph at a couple conferences. And yeah, that was how I got involved with The Graph.
Longtime listeners of the podcast will know that I’ve had the opportunity to have Simon on the podcast twice. He was featured for his own full length interview for Episode 48, and of course he recently joined on a panel to talk about the L2 transfer tools and the move to Arbitrary. Indeed, have a high opinion of him as well. And so interesting that he factors into your story. I want to talk then about getting involved within The Graph. And clearly you’re now presently working at Edge & Node, you mentioned it became a Graph Advocate. Can you just line us up sequentially what happens? You meet Simon, you become aware of The Graph. How did you get to where you are now?
Kevin Jones (41:03):
I think shortly after I had seen Simon talk about The Graph, I had also watched a video with Adam Fuller. Who, Adam Fuller is a product manager here at Edge & Node as well. Very, very, very knowledgeable, very, very skilled. He did a video with Austin Griffith, the creator of Scaffold-ETH. And I remember just like, oh, this is quite interesting. I’m going to try to figure out how this toolkit known as Scaffold-ETH, as far as integration with The Graph works, and I want to start teaching this. Because I feel like it’s the perfect solution to have all of these things working together. Then, I don’t remember when, but I remember on Twitter The Graph Advocates program was launching. And so I was already started to toy around with Scaffold-ETH-1 at the time, which had a special build of a docker that The Graph set up, and all the composability was already there for you.
And then I saw The Graph Advocates program, and I was already starting to dive a lot into The Graph. So I applied for the Advocates. And I went through that process. I had some interviews, people checked me for my technical capabilities to make sure that I was someone who could provide some value. And then, yeah, I got invited to the Advocates program, and I started giving some talks. I actually gave a talk at API World in San Jose, which is a web2 style conference. But I was trying to get some people into web3 a little bit, so I gave a talk about The Graph there. It was a lot of fun. I also spoke at Graph Hack as well, in San Francisco, which was a couple of years ago. They did The Graph Hack, and I did a workshop there where I showed off Scaffold-ETH and The Graph at the time.
Well, Adam Fuller, another alum of the podcast featured in episode 54. And of course I’ve had the opportunity to have a lot of Graph Advocates on before. And I think the Advocate community would be very happy to hear that Kevin Jones is also a member of Advocates program, and that was his stepping stone into The Graph community and getting to know more and more members of the community. So here you are now, you work at Edge & Node. Tell us about what you’re doing at Edge & Node and what some of the initiatives are that you’re presently focusing on.
Kevin Jones (43:11):
I am a DevRel engineer, and I’m focused on trying to help onboard developers into The Graph ecosystem. We also are supporting any existing dapps that are maybe deployed to the decentralized network. Or if they’re on the hostess service, we’re helping them with the migration to the decentralized network. And we also are just trying to support developers in general with better solutions. So whether it’s workshops, blog posts, video content on YouTube. Anything that we can do to help the developer experience be a little bit better, that’s where our focus is. One of the things, and I can dive into a little bit more, was we recently launched The Graph Builders Office Hours, which is this time where we can actually get together and build some cool stuff on The Graph. And I think that’s been very useful. And we have a lot more stuff planned for the future as well.
I do want to ask you about Builders DAO and Builders Office Hours. Before I do, I do want to ask a follow-up about what you’ve learned about the dev community building on The Graph, and if you’ve gotten a sense for how important The Graph is presently for builders in web3?
Kevin Jones (44:17):
Yeah. As I said before, I think that The Graph fills this niche that is just not available. And there are a handful of solutions out there that are somewhat centralized, but because The Graph Network and the way it’s set up in a decentralized way, to me, The Graph is doing things the right way. They’re trying to figure out ways to make these composable subgraphs, these collections of API data available to developers, and available to anyone who wants to consume these subgraphs. It is quite interesting. And with some of the interesting stuff that’s going on as well around Firehose and Substreams, and trying to iterate and improve the network. Changing things, like moving to Arbitron to make things obviously on a Layer 2 less expensive and just a little faster. There’s just so much going on at The Graph, and I really think that there’s no other protocol that’s really innovating as much as The Graph right now. And I’m just excited to see where that ends up in the next couple of years.
Well, there’s a lot of momentum and news around Builders Dow and Builders Office Hours, and you and a lot of others are driving a lot of the activity there. Who should be interested in attending Builders Office Hours?
Kevin Jones (45:34):
If you’re in The Graph discord, we meet usually every Thursday. There’s some days where there’s a core dev call that we don’t meet. Anyone who is somewhat technical and wants to get more involved in The Graph and get their hands dirty on building something, or just learn about some of the different stuff going on in the ecosystem, it’s a great place to come. Every week, like I said, mostly we try to have at least one speaker come on and showcase either some kind of tool or showcase some kind of solution, or demonstrate something that they’re working on that relates to The Graph. And so it is a technical thing. So if you are a developer working in The Graph, I would definitely highly recommend checking that out.
I also want to ask you this question about what you’ve learned about The Graph that you didn’t know before in this role at Edge & Node. Is there anything that’s caught you off guard or surprised you that you said, oh, wow, I had no idea about this?
Kevin Jones (46:28):
Well, I think when I first started, it was right around the times that Firehose and Substreams were starting to pick up some speed and get rather popular. And for me, that was quite interesting really understanding how this concept of changing the extraction and the transform layer into something like Firehose can drastically improve performance and extend functionality. That was quite interesting to see. I think the other thing that was difficult to grasp at first is how there’s the core devs, and I touched on it briefly, but there’s just so many different core devs supporting The Graph. And so I think a lot of the learning I did at the beginning was understanding how we all support each other, and it’s really quite amazing that all of these different companies can come together and build solutions and support each other in such a collaborative way. And I think that just speaks to web3. It’s what you have to do on web3 is you have to decentralize. I really did enjoy that when I started working at Edge & Node, is just seeing how we all work together.
Kevin, I’ve got to ask you, and I don’t know if you’ve ever considered this yourself. But as I’ve listened to your story, I’ve come to realize that you’re a guy that finds himself in environments where industry is being disrupted. You were at Best Buy right on the cusp of when Amazon and e-commerce was going to disrupt that. Then you went to yp.com as the Yellow Pages started moving online, which was another signal of disruption. And now here you are, you find yourself after years working in web2, in web3, which has a ton of promise to disrupt. Have you ever thought about that? And what do you make of it?
Kevin Jones (48:02):
Yeah, I think it’s a journey that everyone takes as they go through any kind of career. If you start out your career and you don’t think it’s going to work out, you probably need to do some planning to where you get to where you want to be. And I think with technology, it’s just natural that us as engineers and people that are involved in technology, we need to evolve with that technology. You can’t get stuck behind. I couldn’t be still repairing computers at Best Buy or managing Windows Server or something like that, it just doesn’t make sense. No one uses that anymore. In general, I think we evolve as we go through that story. And where I’ve ended up is just where I’ve found the most interests and the most innovative technologies.
Well, Kevin, I only have two more questions for you before I ask you the GRTiQ 10, and these questions are about your vision or optimism for the future. Let’s start with web3. What makes you optimistic about the future of web3?
Kevin Jones (49:02):
Yeah. I am on the ground at some of these hackathons and conferences, and so I see people coming together and building some interesting things, and coming up with some very interesting concepts. And I think with the tools that are at some of their developers’ hands at this point in time are so powerful, and we’re seeing things like zero-knowledge proofs and Layer 2s that are going to be supporting zero-knowledge proofs. And we’re seeing all this really cool stuff happening. Account abstractions starting to really become important. And so I feel like the pieces of the puzzle are really coming together, so I’m very optimistic actually on web3.
I recently downloaded this app, Friend.Tech. I don’t know if anyone’s downloaded that. But I was really quite impressed with the experience that I had with that app because there’s a lot of interesting stuff in that app that is mind-blowing to me that was not there a year ago. One idea is they do instant bridging for you. You can bridge your eths without signing a billion transactions or doing all this crazy stuff inside of a bridge website. You can literally do it all in the app. That’s one example. The other thing was you can pretty much just post and send transactions, so there’s account transaction built-in. I’m starting to see these things happen, and I’m very optimistic that everyone’s coming together now to build some cool stuff, and they’re using all of their tools at disposal to build cool composable apps.
And the second question I want to ask you is about your vision for the future of The Graph. You’ve gone to work full-time on building in the ecosystem and supporting devs that are building in the ecosystem. What’s your vision for the future of The Graph?
Kevin Jones (50:38):
Obviously, as we speak today, The Graph has a very powerful decentralized network. We’re starting to see every day that new dapps are coming onto the network, new chains are coming onto the network. And we’re also, like I said before, we’re seeing a lot of improvements around the protocol, and there’s a lot of just collaboration going on. I’m very optimistic for The Graph, and I really am excited to see as more dapps and protocols built on the network, just seeing them have this light bulb moment where using The Graph is just going to make things a lot easier for them. And so, yeah, I’m bullish on The Graph. And I’m really excited because I think it has a very, very strong community as well. And that’s one of the things I always look at with any protocol, is how is the community? And The Graph community is very strong.
Well, I lied Kevin, there is actually a third question I want to ask before we get to the GRTiQ 10, and it’s about your hustle. As I think about your story, I see a ton of hustle there. And you’re willing to jump in and do things and find ways to contribute, but also increase your contribution. Where does that hustle come from, and why aren’t you afraid? A lot of people have the hustle, maybe they’re a little afraid, but you have both. It doesn’t seem like you’re afraid, and it seems like you’ve got the hustle.
Kevin Jones (51:56):
I guess for me it’s just always been part of my personality. I’ve always been interested in putting my fingers in all sorts of different things. Even when I was a kid, I played hockey and I also played a little bit of baseball, and I played some soccer. And I read comic books, but I also read just normal books. I just always have diversified myself. And so I think for me it just comes natural. Yes, it’s been a hustle and it definitely has been a long journey to get to where I am today. But I can say that over that time, putting in all that work really has paid off and I’ve learned a lot. And so anyone that is afraid to get involved in something that you don’t know, you shouldn’t, because that’s how we learn as humans. That’s how we evolve. That’s how we’ve gotten to where we are today.
Well, Kevin, now I’m going to ask you the GRTiQ 10. These are 10 questions I ask each week, and they’re very popular with listeners. And in fact, I’ve come to love them myself. They give us a different insight, a different perspective into each guest every week. And of course, the hope is that by hearing each guest’s answer to the GRTiQ 10, listeners might learn something new, try something different in their own life, or learn how to achieve more. Are you ready for the GRTiQ 10?
Kevin Jones (53:05):
Let’s go for it.
What book or articles had the most impact on your life?
Kevin Jones (53:19):
I would say, actually, I recently read this book called Moonwalking With Einstein, by Joshua Foer. And I found that’s quite an interesting book because it teaches you about memory. And yeah, it’s kind of like some parlor tricks on how you can improve your memory, and it’s really improved me a lot.
Is there a movie or a TV show that you recommend everybody should watch?
Kevin Jones (53:38):
I would say my favorite trouble time is probably Game of Thrones, but it’s a close tie with Rick and Morty. I’m a huge fan of Rick and Morty, so I don’t know which one to pick, but I’ll let you guys decide.
And when it comes to music, if you could only listen to one music album for the rest of your life, which one would you choose?
Kevin Jones (53:54):
I think of all the questions you’ve asked me, this is actually the most difficult question. Because I love music, I love all kinds of music. I was going to pick a soundtrack, because then I get this variety. But then I thought, well, I can always watch the movie, so I’m going to have to go with Metallica, the Black album, because it’s classic.
What’s the best advice someone’s ever given to you?
Kevin Jones (54:12):
My mom, she’s always told me to be kind and always take the time to help others.
And what’s one thing you’ve learned in your life that you don’t think most other people have learned or know yet?
Kevin Jones (54:22):
I think it’s difficult. I’m not the kind of person that likes to say that I know something more than another person. I believe that everyone can provide their own value. But one thing I will say is that there’s so many things beyond our human comprehension, and if there’s something that you don’t know, I’ve actually already said it in the podcast earlier, is don’t fear it. Simply always just strive to learn more and prove yourself.
What’s the best life hack you’ve discovered for yourself?
Kevin Jones (54:46):
This is a tough one. I think there’s lots of life hacks that I could probably recommend, but just something fun that I’ll say is I recently watched a really good Masterclass by Chris Voss, who is actually a former FBI negotiator. If anyone has a Masterclass, you should watch that one. But one of the things that he teaches is about mirroring and labeling, and that’s basically this concept of mirroring your conversation with someone just by repeating what they’re saying, and then putting a label on what you observe from them. And it really helps to draw out more information from the person and build a relationship with that person.
Based on your own life experiences and observations, what’s the one habit or characteristic that you think best explains how or why people find success in life?
Kevin Jones (55:31):
I think in whatever you do, you just always need to learn to accept criticism and improve yourself over time. Because if you don’t learn to accept criticism and listen to other people, you’re going to get stuck. You’re always going to think that in this particular way, that’s the way it has to go. For me, always listen to other people’s criticism and just try to improve yourself.
And then Kevin, the final three questions are complete the sentence type questions. The first one is, the thing that most excites me about web3 is…
Kevin Jones (56:01):
And this one, if you’re on X, formerly Twitter, you should be following…
Kevin Jones (56:07):
Austin Griffith, for sure.
And lastly, complete this sentence, Kevin. I’m happiest when…
Kevin Jones (56:13):
I’m with my family.
Kevin, thank you so much for joining the GRTiQ Podcast, it was a lot of fun to hear your story. And like I said, I love the hustle, I’m inspired by it. And I’m sure a lot of listeners will be as well. If listeners want to stay in touch with you, follow your work. You’re obviously producing a lot of content, you’ve extended an invitation to Builders DAO and Builders Office Hours. What’s the best way for them to stay in touch and connect?
Kevin Jones (56:43):
I think Twitter is probably… Or, X is the best way to find me. It’s Cryptomastery_ is my handle. And then, if you want to follow me, I would probably just… You can search on YouTube for Kevin Jones, The Graph, or Scaffold-ETH, and you can find a lot of my videos there as well if you want to learn more.
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