Empowering Economic Growth Through Tech Innovations with Angie Jones

Episode Summary

Technology meets economic empowerment in this episode featuring Angie Jones, Global Vice President of Developer Relations at TBD, a Block division. Angie sheds light on the role of decentralized technologies in shaping the future of digital identity and cross-border payments. Her journey from software engineering to a leadership role in tech innovation illustrates her profound impact on the industry. This episode offers valuable insights into how technological advancements are driving economic growth and changing the financial landscape. Angie's expertise and unique perspective make this a must-listen for anyone interested in the cutting-edge intersection of technology, finance, and innovation.

Episode Show Notes & Transcript

About Angie

Angie Jones is the Global Vice President of Developer Relations for TBD, Block’s new business unit focused on decentralized technologies. She is an award-winning teacher and international keynote speaker who shares her wealth of knowledge at software companies and conferences all over the world.

As a Master Inventor, Angie is known for her innovative and out-of-the-box thinking style which has resulted in 27 patented inventions in the areas of metaverses, collaboration software, social networking, smarter planet, and software development processes.

Show notes:

Introduction to Angie Jones and Her Role at TBD

(01:25) Angie’s Recognition in a USA Today Crossword

(02:50) Career Journey and Transition into Developer Relations

Block’s Mission and Services in Economic Empowerment

(10:09) Convenience vs. Decentralization in Technology

(16:49) Innovations in Cross-Border Payments

(25:01) Decentralized Tech Stories and Reflections on Tech Innovation

(30:22) Challenging Tech Industry Norms and Global Perspectives

Links Referenced:


Angie: Convenience always wins. The internet was actually designed to be decentralized. And we saw, just like you mentioned, like this mass movement to kind of simplify everything and make it more convenient, and with that comes centralization.

Corey: Welcome to Screaming in the Cloud. I’m Corey Quinn. I’m joined today by Angie Jones, who’s the head of developer relations over at TBD. And I have to admit, Angie, when I saw that I thought it was TBD—oh you’re changing jobs. No, it turns out it is a division or subsidiary of Block, which is a rebranding of the company formerly known as Square. And my stars, we’re having to connect a lot of dots just to get that introduction out of the way.

Angie: [laugh] Hey, Corey, thanks for having me.

Corey: Thank you so much for agreeing to chat with me. Your career has been one of those things that I have been following with intense interest, and I found out a week or so ago, that something that I don’t think I will ever not be jealous of, you were referenced in a USA Today crossword, and I believe the answer was ‘engineer,’ but it was—they casually mentioned, “Yeah, everyone knows who Angie Jones is.” And I read that, and I’m like, you know, they absolutely should.

Angie: [laugh].

Corey: Yes, they should. Did you know that was happening, or did this just show up one day out of the blue, and you had no idea?

Angie: I had no idea. Someone tweeted at me on Twitter about, “Oh, my God, Angie, you’re in a crossword puzzle,” and my friend who is not in tech, I guess, who does the daily crossword puzzle or whatever, text me and was like, “Oh, my God, is this, like, you? Like ‘Angie Jones,’ you?” I was like, “I don’t know. Fill it in, and let’s see,” or whatever. But yeah, that was pretty cool.

Corey: So, you’ve been in a lot of fascinating roles. You’ve been an adjunct professor at a community college, you’ve done a lot of engineering work yourself. You were a senior software engineer at the company formerly known as Twitter, and then transitioned on over to the company then called Square. And I used to live directly between those two buildings, myself, in San Francisco. So, it was like, great, I figured eventually, you just decided you were only willing to extend your commute by half a Block. So. That’s a good reason as any to wind up picking a role.

And then Square changed into other things. But you went from being a senior software engineer, you took a little time off there to go to Applitools for a while, and there you were an engineering manager. And now you’re doing DevRel. But all right, I’m going to out you a little bit here. You’re the head of DevRel is how you self-describe, but let’s call this what it actually is for a second here; you are the global vice president of developer relations. This is not, “Okay, it’s like a team-lead-plus, or something like that.” No, you are and executive role within the company.

Angie: Yeah, I went to Applitools to do developer relations. So like, when I was at Twitter and the company prior to that, I was doing a lot of, you know, conference talks and things like that, and eventually decided I wanted to do that full time. And so, went into DevRel over at Applitools and spent a bit of time there—I think, maybe about four years there—they’re building out that developer relations initiative. And so yeah, I went over to Block. I knew Jack Dorsey from Twitter days, right, and so I saw that they were doing some interesting things there and thought I might be able to lend my voice.

Corey: Square is—I’ve always thought of it because that’s when the Square payment terminals show up, and then there was announced as rebranding to Block. It’s like, okay, so you’re going from two dimensions to three. Great. Okay, now we’re thinking with geometry. Fantastic. But it was an interesting direction to go in. And they also went a bit in the decentralized direction; they did a lot of blockchain work as well, but for me, I always found the most interesting parts of the company are—to be direct—the stuff that a lot of people find intensely uninteresting themselves—

Angie: [laugh].

Corey: —because I’m a nerd. I like finance. I like understanding the nuts and bolts that drive the world, and you folks had been the first on the scene, and were almost uncontested for a while with anything that even remotely resembled a modern payments system. Before that, you go into random coffee shops, they have this thing behind the counter, and occasionally or once in a while, I’ll still see one of those knuckle-busters that would—for taking imprints of physical credit cards. And it was modern. It was something that worked all the time.

There are drawbacks to it. For example, every time I buy, it feels like literally anything, I’m now prompted if I want to leave a tip, and I have to deal with a bit of an existential crisis, on some level, because obviously, yes, I want to support workers, but at the same time, I had self-checkout. Come on, who exactly am I tipping? A robot? And I digress.

But the company has been doing a lot of stuff in a bunch of different directions. And you’ve also become largely invisible as a company because payments are not something the vast majority of the world even thinks about. Like, they don’t even necessarily know that oh, that’s the Block logo. It’s not. It’s just the design on the payment thing that they’re putting their credit card into. And they’re not your customer. I don’t know that it matters that they know who it is.

But what would you say the company is? Because I still think of it as the payments company with an emphasis on terminals that then expanded into online payments. But that probably has way too many commas and clauses smashed together to be the tagline on the website.

Angie: Yeah.

Corey: What does Block do?

Angie: So, Block is all about economic empowerment, right? And you’re right, like, payments are fascinating. This is my first go in payments, right, and there’s just so much behind the scenes that most of us don’t have to think about, but there’s a lot that goes on. But anyway, yeah, economic empowerment. So, the way that the company was started with the Square piece was actually, like, a friend of Jack Dorsey’s was having a garage sale, and someone came and they wanted to buy something, but they didn’t have cash, right? And at garage sales, you need cash.

Why? Because individual people don’t accept credit cards, right? And that’s how Square was born. It was like, this is ridiculous. Like, how can we empower just, like, everyday people to take payments? And that’s when you saw the little Square thing that you can plug into your phone dongle.

Corey: The dongle was genius. It plugged into the headphone jack, and then Apple looked at that and said, “Ah pah pah, we found the big problem with this. That’s right. It’s the payment reader, so let’s take away the headphone jack and fix their little red wagon.”

Angie: [laugh] That’s right. And so, then we had the app. So, now we have Cash app, right, so now I can send you money, Corey. If we need to split the bill or something like that, I can Cash app you. And then we had the cash registers, like you mentioned, for your mom-and-pop shops, for your small businesses, right?

I don’t need the whole big IBM cash register. I run a little diner on the corner, and so now we’re seeing that more. And we’ve expanded, and now it’s not just the payments, but now we have TIDAL, for example, which is economic empowerment for artists. So, this is a streaming platform that pays musicians more than they would get on, like, your Spotify or your Apple Music.

Corey: Not to be unkind, but frankly, you could basically hit some of these musicians with a nickel from a slingshot, and you’ve just paid them more than they’re going to make on Spotify. But that’s a bit uncharitable.

Angie: [laugh] Right, right. And so, that was the purpose of the rebrand is that we’re expanding beyond just Square. So, Square is still a thing, right? It’s a division within Block because now we have more business units.

Corey: And your division is TBD, which I still mentally shorthand to ‘To Be Determined,’ aka, we’ll figure it out later. What is it you do? Please don’t tell me you’re going to figure it out later.

Angie: [laugh] Yeah, so we work on cross-border payments and decentralized technologies. So mostly, these decentralized technologies are around, like, identity or being able to verify some sort of claims about yourself, right? So, when you do any sort of payment, there’s all of these un-fun things that happen in the background to comply with, like, legal requirements, right? You have to do what they call KYC—Know Your Customer. You have to do anti-money laundering. Like, all of these things are… not fun [laugh], they’re expensive, they’re time intensive. And so, we’re looking at, like, how do you speed these things up using, like, decentralized technology?

Corey: One of the questions that I’ve always had around these sorts of things: is there a requirement for it to be decentralized? Because we’ve seen a bunch of decentralized things being tried in the past. My personal favorite example of this is, we used to have problems with servers being a lot less reliable than they generally are today, so when the version control server went down, no one was going to be doing work, and you had thousands of developers sitting around twiddling their thumbs for hours on end while the IT people got screamed at. So ah, we now have a decentralized version control system called Git. Awesome. So, what’s the first thing we collectively did is we rushed to centralize it on GitHub for, at the time of their acquisition, $8 billion company, now over at Microsoft. So, whenever you start seeing things get decentralized, there’s almost an implicit rush to centralize again, in some respects. I don’t know what that says about society, but how do you think about it?

Angie: You know what? People value convenience more than anything else. Like if we look at anything in regards to, like, privacy and things like this, like, there’s so many terms of service documents that we all sign on these websites, and we’re just kind of like trying to get to whatever it is we want to get to, and sure, we’ll sign away our rights. We all know, like, “Oh, my God, I’m giving them, like, all this information or the rights to do whatever they want with my data and my content, and”—[sigh] but I really want to go talk to my friends, or—like, you know what I mean?. So, it’s like, whatever. We do it. Convenience always wins. The internet was actually designed to be decentralized, and we saw, like, just like you mentioned, like this mass movement to kind of simplify everything, and make it more convenient, and with that comes centralization.

Corey: Yeah. It became decentralized, and now we can’t migrate things onto AWS fast enough.

Angie: Yeah [laugh]. That’s right. That’s right. But the problem with that then comes where I’m now like, locked into something. Like, Google just announced that they are getting rid of Google Podcasts.

Corey: Google turning something off? No!

Angie: Right? Right. So, I use Google Podcasts. Now, what this means is either I’m going to lose, like, my subscriptions—you know, I’m subscribed to your podcast, for example, right—so I lose that. Um, I have a bunch of episodes of different podcasts queued up of things I want to listen to, or maybe I want to find something I’ve listened to in the past, so my historical da—all of that is, like, kind of siloed within that application.

Now, they’re going out of business. They have told me I can, like, download this stuff. So okay, whatever. Most people aren’t going to do all of that, but like, all right, let’s see, I download it, and now I got to, like, go find another podcast that’ll allow me to import this. So like, it’s a nightmare. It’s a pain.

So, the centralization part comes from what if I could just, like, kind of keep my content with me? In this case, I keep, like, my preferences, my subscriptions, my listening history, and all of that stuff in, like, maybe my device or my own web node or something like that, and then I can plug that thing into any podcast application, right, and I can just resume without export or import. That’s basically the idea, right? You still want the convenience of maybe a cloud hosting your data for you, but you want to just have access so that you can make it, like, interoperable between applications. Like, I don’t think that’s too much to ask [laugh].

Corey: On some level, it feels like we have that, and we have since before either of us were born. Like, we don’t talk about this when it comes to the aspects of security, but all right, if I want to become you on the internet, the single thing that I need to compromise to be able to do that is your email inbox. If I can get into your email, I can become you. That has been the central store of our identity; the cornerstone that all the rest rests upon for virtually everything. And for better or worse, that is portable, that is agnostic. It’s a pain in the butt, no one ever does it, and so many of them are all on Gmail anyway now that it’s almost beside the point, but we do have that.

But of course, then every site has its own different authentication flow. Some of them just gives you a username and a password, some make you click a link every time you log in, some do both with multifactor and the rest. It’s clunky. It’s not consistent across the board. I’m not at all opposed to the idea of a decentralized source of identity, but as I recall, they tried that I think very early naughts or late-’90s. I think Thawte was doing some stuff like that where they were talking about doing a… I think it was a—if I remember, this was a personal identity certificate issued thing. Turns out that humans are very bad at oh, keep this thing private and never lose it, or you’re in trouble. Yeah, there’s a reason that GPG key-signing parties are not really a mainstream event.

Angie: You’re right. And even with the email aspect though, like okay, that’s my identifier. I use it all across the web to, like, when I got to log in to something else, “Say what’s your email address,” and then I picked me a new password, right? But like, I don’t really control that email address or manage it, right? Like, that can be taken away from me. It’s not, like, my—or if I’m locked out of it, then you’re right. Like, I run into the same issues as if I had, like, my own identifier.

So, what we’re working on is, like, this W3C standard—we’re working on it, a lot of people working on it, including several governments—called, like, a decentralized identifier. And with this decentralized identifier, like, yes, I’m in control of it. Corey, I can tell you now, I don’t want to manage it. Most people don’t want to manage it, but I do want ownership. I want control. I want it to be mine.

I don’t want anyone to be able to take it from me, but can you hold it for me [laugh]? You know what I mean? And so, multiple people, the European government and things like this, are working on, like, these sorts of wallets. We started to see these wallets more and more now, like our Apple Wallet, and mine is my Google Wallet—I hope they don’t take that from me. But [laugh]—

Corey: Not this week.

Angie: But you know, if I have—this is the thing, if I have it, and it’s mine, maybe I can even have multiple applications that can hold this thing for me so that is not just locked into one vendor who could go out of business or disable the service or anything like that, right? So, maybe I have a couple of these things that I trust, and I say, like, this is my identifier.

Corey: And if I’m the infrastructure for you, I should also not have the ability to act as you without your knowledge and consent.

Angie: That’s right. That’s right. But yeah, we see these sorts of things, like AWS has a key management service and things like that, right? I can utilize those for sure to, like, hold my private keys and things of that nature. But yeah, so we’re working on that. We’re working on these really cool things called verifiable credentials. So I’m, like, going knee-deep into that technology.

We call all this ID Tech. Fascinating stuff. ID Tech and payment tech is pretty fascinating to me right now. But with the verifiable credentials, these are, like, digital tokens, basically, that can prove claims about me. So say, for example, my college degree. Or let’s go with my high school diploma because my school, I’m from New Orleans, right, and so a lot of those records kind of got lost during Hurricane Katrina.

A lot of those schools got just kind of—they just no longer exist. So, if I needed to prove to someone that I went there, there’s no number I can give them to call, right? So, this is what I mean about, like, just give me my things, and then let me, like, hold on to them. And sure, I might use some centralized services to help me manage this stuff, but I have access to it at the very least, you know what I mean?

Corey: Oh, dear Lord, I just had to go through the citizenship process with Germany to get my citizenship restored, and I had to scramble around to so many different county clerks where every recordable event in my life and my parents’ life and my childrens’ lives have happened. It’s all these weird little Byzantine bureaucracy things, made friends with a few of the people working in those various offices to help get what I needed. But it was a living nightmare, and it took me two years.

Angie: Mm-hm. I know.

Corey: And it was always expensive, too. “Oh, you want a copy of your birth certificate? $50.”

Angie: That’s right [laugh].

Corey: It’s like, “Wait. $50 for a copy of my own certificate?” “Plus that mailing fee.” Oh, dear lord.

Angie: Okay, but let’s say you pay your 50 bucks, and they issued you this as, like, a verifiable credential that you then could store in a couple of places so, you know, you have access even if one goes down. But then you can utilize that whenever—you can reuse it. Whenever you might happen to need to pull out your birth certificate again in life, you have this token that says, “Hey, I was issued from”—what country were you born in, Corey?

Corey: I was born in the United States.

Angie: Okay. So, you have the US government who has issued you this credential that says yes, here’s the information from his birth certificates in digital format, and now you can present this to anyone who might happen to need that information without you having to go back to whatever, like, government office and ask for this yet again.

Corey: It feels, on some level, like there’s a uniquely American aversion to the idea of anything that remotely resembles a national ID or a national ID number. So, as a result, we use the social security number, which is explicitly not supposed to be used that way, in that stead as well. But in, you know, civilized countries, they have things like national ID numbers, and you can use those for all manner of things, and it makes things a lot smoother, rather than this patchwork of jurisdictional nonsense that we have in this country.

Angie: Mm-hm. And everyone has, like, pretty much agreed and accepted, like, national identification numbers, right, so your decentralized identifier is a version of that that’s online. Basically, we’ve solved a lot of these problems for physical spaces, and now we live more online than we do in the physical spaces, and so we got to solve them there as well. So, unfortunately, the internet doesn’t have an identity layer, right? That’s why we have to, for every app that we use, we create a new identity for each app, right? That’s the problem [laugh].

Corey: I was making an IRS payment earlier this week, and I was—okay, I’ll create an account and log into this thing because they use their id.me service, which is a US government-only thing. And okay, to build that it’s a multistep process, and I gave up halfway through because I just wanted to send money from one place to another. Leave me alone. But it went, “Oh, now we need copies of your driver’s licenses, and the rest.”

It’s okay, then why isn’t the state that issues the driver’s licenses then serving this digital ID at the same time, so I don’t wind up with this ridiculous chain of requirements and effects? I mean, one of the strangest things that, bureaucracy-wise, I ever had to go through was in 2010 when I got married. My wife and I both changed our last name to Quinn. And you have to—there’s this entire foundational process where, first you have to get the new social security number issued, once you have that, then you can go and get the driver’s license, and once you have that, then you can go and get the passport, and so on and so forth. And it becomes this long chain at the end of it where, finally after many, many months of effort, I finally got to update my frequent flier number. Great. Awesome.

Angie: Yeah [laugh].

Corey: And then we’re done. And my loyalty program at the grocery store, and whatever it is. But it’s this whole system where, because we don’t have something like what you’re talking about, instead, we have this patchwork thing that does not serve anyone particularly well.

Angie: That’s right, Corey, and you got to the crux of what we’re working on. It’s like, okay, look at all those hoops you have to go through to send money, right? Let’s expedite this. This is a pain for everyone. It’s not just even a pain for you, the user. Is a pain for the companies and everything, right?

Like, stuff starts dropping off. When you start having to fill out so many different forms and things, you’re like, “Oh, don’t worry about it.” You know?“, forget it.” [laugh] I didn’t want to loan him that money anyway. But like, that’s what we’re working on is, like, how do I send money or payments or, you know, whatever, in a frictionless way, when like, there’s all of these requirements that have to be met?

So, if we could give you, like, the digital credentials that you need, and you can reuse those, like, anytime you needed to send money, no matter how you were doing that, that would really help you, the user, as well as the businesses, right? If they could accept it, they can say, “Okay, great. You got this.” Let’s even take a really simple example because the one you used was, like, an edge case, right? Most of us aren’t, like, changing our names more than once.

But they’re saying when you go to the DMV to do anything. That’s a pain. And I have to go and find, like, my mail [laugh] and things to prove my residency. I’m looking for, light bills in the mail, or I’m, like, going long into these applications to print this paperwork out. And I got to go there with, like, four or five different types of documentation to prove my identity.

And then when I get there, I wait in line for two hours, they finally get to me, and they go, “Oh, you’re missing, like, this one, doc.” And so, now I got to go back home and, like, go through my mail and stuff again, right? So, what if, like, all of that was digitized where they can specify what requirements they need, I can have my wallet—my digital wallet—checked against those requirements, and say, “Yep, you got all the credentials that they’re looking for,” and we speed up this entire process, you know?

Corey: That feels like it’d be such a great approach. The problem is this: that adoption on this is going to be a living nightmare. And I would tell you that it’s impossible, except it’s been done before, including by your corporate predecessors. I think one of the most amazing sales jobs in the entire world must have been day one of selling credit cards. You’re trying to get merchants to accept it. “Here, it’s a new thing that people will use to give you money.” It’s like, “Great. What other stores are using this?” “You would be the first.” “Who has the cards?” “Nobody yet, but it’s going to be the big thing.” It feels like it’s an impossible to bootstrap thing, and yet, it was done on the backs of individual store cards that then formed networks and grew from there. So, it is possible. I just struggle to see how we get there from here.

Angie: No, no, no. It’s not hard at all. Like, it’s already in use, actually. So, I have a story where I—okay, I live in New Orleans, y’all so we drink here, okay? Like, that’s the thing.

Corey: Oh, wow. You’re just like the rest of us. Kidding. Kidding.

Angie: So, it was like, you know, Friday after work, and I wanted to order some wine off, like, Instacart or something like—you know, a delivery service, right? Because that’s now a convenience. Now, in order for them to sell me this liquor and deliver it to me, right, that’s two different companies: one that’s selling it to me, and one that’s delivering it to me. Both have requirements—legal requirements—to make sure that I’m 21 years old. How do you solve this when I’m ordering it online? Do you, like, make me take a selfie, do I got to, like, take a picture of my driver’s license, or like, what are we doing here right now?

Corey: In my case, what they deliver it, they basically deputize the poor DoorDash delivery person they subcontract stuff out to, and oh, great. Your job is to drive from A to B, and also, you’re going to have to make sure you’re not giving it to someone underage, or you personally will be found massively liable.

Angie: And then I met someone from DoorDash, and said those drivers always would forget to do that sort of thing. Or maybe they didn’t forget, and it just didn’t feel like it. But either way, like, that’s a lot of responsibility to put on a, like, delivery person, right? So, in Louisiana, we actually have mobile driver’s licenses now, and that delivery app was able to connect to—with my permission—connect to my mobile driver’s license, who then issued this verifiable credential and shared with them, “Yes, she is over 21 years old.” They didn’t give them my whole ID, so it was privacy preserving. They didn’t give them even my age. They just said, “Yes, she is over 21 years old.”

And that served as a proof because they got it not from me telling them, but they got it from a credible source, which day trust—this mobile driver’s license—government, right—so they trusted that was valid. So, this is already in use, right? It’s already being adopted. I went to Aruba last month, and Aruba is using these verifiable credentials for entry into their country to expedite the whole process of everything, right? And so, you do a little prep work in advance, you get this credential, and now I can just scan my credential and enter the country without, like, this long line of someone, like, verifying and asking me a bunch of questions.

And so, we’re starting to see adoption. The governments are all on top of it. I just saw something from the US where they had some sort of competition around, like, digital wallets, and these credentials, and something they were trying to do. Europe is, you know, they’re all about privacy-preserving technologies and stuff like that, so they’re looking into it quite heavily as well. So, we’re definitely—oh, a lot of schools are doing it. Just like the case I told you, right? I don’t want—nobody wants people calling them all day asking, “Did Corey graduate from here?” You know [laugh]? I mean, like, that’s a job someone has to do, right? What if I could just give Corey his credential—

Corey: And then they come back and say, “They have no record of you being there. What do you think about that,” like they’ve caught me in some grand lie. It’s like, and did you miss the part earlier in this conversation where I said in 2010, I changed my last name. Ohhhhh. Yeah.

Angie: [laugh] That’s right. That’s right, Corey. Yeah, so I mean, people always, like, call the adoption card, but I look at, like, how fast technology changes; we don’t even realize it. Like, even the credit card scenario that you mentioned, I was thinking about this in the store today. I didn’t have my purse with me. I didn’t have a credit card at all. I have my phone with me, and I went and bought—I went to two stores, and I bought things with my digital wallet, and I didn’t even have to carry that card with me anymore.

And I was thinking to myself, like, “Man, look how much we’ve advanced now,” right? Like, at some point, it wasn’t that long ago when some of these stores didn’t take tap pay. And it wasn’t that long ago when they put the chips in the card, and you couldn’t insert it in every register because they like, “Oh, we don’t take the chip yet.” And now they do. They take the chip, they take the tap, they tap—

Corey: I’m always scared [unintelligible 00:29:27] because they don’t have the ID in it, too. Get the ID into it, so I don’t need to bring my driver’s license with me, and I’ll leave my wallet at home 90% of the time.

Angie: Now, you got it, Corey. Now, I got my ID, I got my credentials, I got my money in my digital wallet.

Corey: But if this takes off, you have to understand then that when I lose my wallet or my license gets stolen, I—where am I going to spend an entire day at the DMV getting the whole thing laboriously replaced through an obnoxious manual process because surely that’s never happened to someone before. But what am I going to do with all that extra time?

Angie: [laugh] I don’t know, Corey, I don’t know.

Corey: So, I have to ask, when you joined Block, you got some backlash on the internet for it, where—because at that point people—something I noticed collectively about social media is people prefer things in sound-bite-sized talking points, and they don’t think necessarily deeply about this—Block does things in crypto. Crypto equals bad. Therefore, Angie sold out. So, I have to ask, how did you see this coming? Because what you should have just said makes perfect sense, and that’s an exciting problem. I love the approach. I want it to work. I can see why you’re there doing these things. How did you see it in advance, especially with the entire internet screaming at you?

Angie: [laugh] So, I love working on, like, cutting-edge problems in tech, right? I have 27 patents. This is what I do. I work on, like, the cutting edge of things, right? And I see unsolved problems, and I think, “Wow, that’s fascinating. How can we solve this creatively?” And so, the problems that I’ve explained to you today, these are not problems that, like, I was the first one to observe or anything of the sort, and there are several companies and individuals who are trying to solve these problems with crypto or with blockchain, right?

And I thought to myself now—and this is pretty, like, ambitious now that I, like, look back—but as someone who has no experience in decentralization or payments, I’m thinking, surely there has to be a better way—because I am an engineer, said the crossword puzzle, right—so there has to be a better way to solve this. And I wanted to work with Block because they wanted to solve these things without this excessive use of crypto or blockchain. So like, everything that I explained to you today can be done with blockchain, but doesn’t have to be done with blockchain. And so, the way that we’re implementing it is without the use of blockchain. Like, those decentralized identifiers that I told you about, well, they need to be anchored somewhere that’s decentralized and maybe immutable, right?

Most people will say, “Oh, let’s put those on the blockchain.” But what we’re doing is saying, “You know, there’s old and new tech that can be coupled together to solve some of these things.” Like BitTorrent, for example, right? This is nothing new, but this has been used for decentralization purposes in the past, even though we might not have used the d-word to describe that. And so, that’s what we’re doing. It’s like, what if we put the identifiers on BitTorrent instead of, like, this blockchain or whatever, you know? And what if, like, you need the identifiers for the credentials and stuff like that, but now, we’re not using blockchain for any of this.

Corey: It’s one of those weird problems where it just seems like there are-, it’s become co-opted, in some respects, where whenever you talk about anything decentralized, there’s been so much of the crypto hype and whatnot that people’s hackles go up, on some level. But I think for society, it’s great when we see things that work in a decentralized way, where you don’t have gatekeepers who can charge exorbitant fees or other problems on it. I think this is a very real problem, and I sincerely hope that this takes off and gains adoption. I don’t want to have a bunch of irreplaceable or obnoxious to replace small pieces of paper or plastic littering up my life. I want to be able to store all those things digitally because it turns out that regardless of what the format is, the storage space requirements are not onerous. I could generally even afford my own personal AWS S3 bill to keep a copy of them if I need to. It’s… ah… I’m now sad because this has been a terrific conversation, and now I have to go back from the bright possibility of the future you painted to the reality of what we actually have to deal with.

Angie: Yeah, but hopefully, we’ll get to that future pretty soon. The payments piece is really interesting as well, Corey. With that, we’re looking at, like, how do I send payments, like, across borders in a way that is not a nightmare? And for most—us in the US, we don’t really observe this problem often, but as soon as you need to send money to, like, somewhere in, like, Nigeria or Latin America, like, this becomes very difficult to do.

Corey: Oh, I have family abroad in a bunch of places.

Angie: Okay.

Corey: It’s a colossal pain.

Angie: It’s a pain.

Corey: These are ones are when they have US accounts. I just transfer over to there, and that’s the end of it, but they still have to do wire transfers, and jump through all the hoops, and—

Angie: That’s right. And so, that’s what we’re solving for. Like, and how can I use these things like the decentralized identifiers, like the verifiable credentials, to create, like, an environment or network where a wallet app can say, “You know what? I want to integrate with multiple financial institutions, not just one, and I can express my customer’s concern.” So Corey, you want to send some money into Nigeria?

I say, “Okay, let me find, like, credible institutions that do that sort of thing.” And you know, what? Corey wants to send this money. Who wants to take it? And now you have these financial institutions bidding, almost, at the lowest rate possible because they want your business. And so, now you’re no longer locked into, like, the one money, you know, guy or whatever. You have choices now. And with the credentials, we can do all of the verifications for the regulatory compliance and stuff like that.

Corey: And when you’re sending money between borders, in many cases, there is a time sensitivity to it. I don’t have five days to wait for it to clear.

Angie: That’s right. So, what if it was instant? And that’s what we’re working on.

Corey: That would solve an awful lot of problems for an awful lot of people, and I’m surprised, on some level, just because it seems that for a long time, the tech industry has been extraordinarily disinterested in problems that were not experienced by basically, well-paid engineers in San Francisco.

Angie: [laugh].

Corey: That’s a—so there’s a, “Oh, wow. Wait, you mean, the rest of the world has challenges that maybe I don’t encounter on my daily commute? What might that be like?”

Angie: Yeah.

Corey: So, it’s nice to see this becoming a more inclusive industry, thinking about problems that are not directly experienced by the people on their latest version MacBook Pro and the current version of Chrome, talking directly to a data center that’s on a very fast internet connection, and not far away. Like, oh, maybe the rest of world has different lived experience of these things. So, it’s nice to see that expansion of thought.

Angie: Yeah. It’s really fulfilling work.

Corey: I really want to thank you for taking the time to speak with me about all this. If people want to learn more, where can they go to find you?

Angie: Yeah, I live on Twitter. Or what is it called now? I refuse, Corey.

Corey: It’s still called Twitter. Thank you for asking.

Angie: Okay [laugh]. So, you all find me on Twitter. My handle there is @techgirl1908. I’m also on LinkedIn. I’m pretty responsive. My DMs are open in both places, so if you want to reach out, definitely do so.

Corey: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me. I really—

Angie: Yeah.

Corey: Appreciate it.

Angie: Thank you for having me. Thanks so much.

Corey: Angie Jones, head of developer relations at TBD. I’m Cloud Economist Corey Quinn, and this is Screaming in the Cloud. If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please leave a five-star review on your podcast platform of choice, whereas if you’ve hate this podcast, please leave a five-star review on your podcast platform of choice, along with an angry, insulting comment. I won’t care what you write because at least today, there’s no way for me to figure out who the hell you are.

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