The Jon Wong Interview (Part 2): Teaching Crypto and Blockchain To Non-Technical People
Jon Wong tells us how to explain the blockchain in a simple way, the easiest way to learn about Solana, working on crypto regulation in Washington D.C. and how to teach non-technical people.
Jon Wong gives us examples he uses to explain the blockchain to non-technical people, easy ways to learn about building on Solana, his experiences working crypto regulation in the United States and methods for teaching people about web3.
Read the first installment of this two-part series where Jon hints at major xNFT alpha, gives us a behind the scenes look at the Solana Foundation, speculates on the future of blockchain careers and tells us why Backpack is disrupting Web3.
How do you explain the blockchain to your friends and family that are outside of the web3 world?
Jon: I typically describe the blockchain as a slow, public database. Most people don’t really understand databases, let alone why a slow or public one might be valuable.
I follow that up with a more visceral example: if Instagram were to ban your account, everything you have ever created is lost forever, because the data was never yours to begin with.
This breaks with folks’ mental model of the world—as our identity becomes increasingly associated with our digital selves, having things we “created” not actually be ours is fairly shocking.
Then, we’re able to dig into what data is, and why it might be valuable to “own”.
Jon: It can be a tough example to relate with, because unless it has happened to you before you may not actually care that much.
What are good ways for young people to learn about blockchain technology?
Jon: This advice is good for anyone of any age, but like most technology the easiest way to learn it is to begin pulling on threads.
Learning how the web works can be iteratively expanded upon by answering the question “what happens when you go to google.com in your browser”.
[For blockchain you answer the question] “what happens when you sign and send a transaction to the network” which allows one to unpack the entire stack from dApps to consensus mechanisms.
What is a good strategy for new developers looking to enter the blockchain?
Jon: Just build!
Some of the most critical primitives on Solana like NFTs can be created and managed without knowing anything about writing or deploying smart contracts, making it really simple to get started.
Jon has a long history working on technical solutions for public goods projects like first responders in disaster zones, database infrastructure for bio research and a wildlife prevention NFT project.
More recently Jon has been working in a new vertical: blockchain regulation.
How did you find yourself on a plane to talk about blockchain in Washington DC?
Jon: Actually not a plane, but a train! For the last couple of years, I’ve been living in Washington DC, previously having worked remotely at Coursera. I’m just one of a handful of Foundation folks that had lived in the area, so I’d get the head’s up to join web3-related events on the Hill every now and again.
What was your experience like with the Global Blockchain Business Council?
Jon: They’ve been running some pretty great events in DC, and in particular this roundtable was a unique opportunity to touch base with government officials in Bermuda to get a sense of how they view the role of blockchain.
Bermuda prides itself on regulation and has actually established a fairly clear and thorough licensing scheme for companies looking to deploy blockchain-enabled products there, and in fact are actively inviting folks to test on the small-scale before bringing them to larger markets
Jon: Bermuda is an island nation, and thus prides themselves on being able to provide economic opportunities for the populace while simultaneously being at a lack of natural resources.
With just 10 or so folks in the room it was a chance to learn more about how folks in the web3 policy world approach their work. Ultimately, though, rounding off my introduction by showing off the Solana Saga helped make sure my time there would at least be a memorable one!
Turns out, the Prime Minister had previously gotten a chance to check out Solana Spaces in Hudson Yards, and did know about the some of latest in the Solana ecosystem
How is Solana playing a role in these blockchain conversations at the highest level?
Jon: Most often it plays the foil to the “high gas fees, slow transaction times” of most other chains.
Decision-makers of every sort, both in government and industry, are continually surprised to hear what Solana is capable of, how active the ecosystem is, and what sort of products are only possible on Solana.
Jon worked as a software engineer focused on front-end infrastructure at Coursera for eight years before joining the Solana team. During his time he routinely hosted workshops (both internally and externally) while speaking on various tech stages.
What is something unexpected from your Coursera days that has been impactful at Solana?
Jon: The obviously impactful things have been my extended experience architecting and coordinating large-scale technical migrations. Those efforts involved tons of alignment across business units, technical teams, as well as making sure they were well thought through.
Jon: The unexpectedly impactful thing: understanding how to teach others and learn about things you don’t know.
I entered the Solana ecosystem with a really naive and shallow understanding of blockchain technologies, but I spent the majority of my time digging into overly technical topics and explaining them to non-technical people.
Eventually I learned enough to able to guide folks across a myriad of different business models and product lines, across every part of the Solana stack: from validators all the way to dApps.
Do you have any speaking events lined up this year?
Jon: Nothing yet! I do enjoy public speaking, but tend to want to be able to tell a story or explain something new. I have plenty to share on both… but it can also take time and care to prepare.
But always happy to jump on podcasts or anything that is a little more off-the-cuff!