On May 15th, we sat down with Brian Hennessey-Hsieh, Head of Developer Relations at Sui Foundation to discuss his thoughts on the web3 developer journey and how his team is working to support builders get started and succeed with Sui.
Tell us a little about yourself and your journey into blockchain.
Good question. I always struggle to answer this well. I come from an open source background. I actually have spent more than, wow, 20 years in open source since graduate school. I started working on GCC, Linux, all the way up to Cloud Computing, like OpenStack.
I always had an affinity to open source and not just the technology. It was fascinating that people would just get together and work on this without getting paid. Also how people could collaborate across the world at that scale of work. Over time, I formed this belief that open collaboration and transparency are key to software development.
I tried to find a job in open source from the time I graduated with my PhD but was unable to find any job that allowed me to do open source full time until I joined Uber in 2017. I created their open source program office and was there for about four years when Coinbase reached out to me. Before speaking with the team at Coinbase Cloud, I had been skeptical of the crypto industry but was very interested in the technology.
As a PhD in computer science, the technology is naturally very appealing to me. You put distributed systems and you put cryptography and you put programming languages and everything together and it's just very appealing from a technical perspective. I had been looking into blockchains, trying to understand the technology, the use cases, and how people use the tech to solve real problems. But I hadn’t been sure about working full time in blockchain. I had been saying no to opportunities. But I was intrigued about Coinbase Cloud because it was an infrastructure company. It had nothing to do with crypto, right? If you really think about it, it is providing infrastructure for people to be productive and solve their problems. So I was like, okay, I can do that. So I decided to join and that is how I started my official web3 journey. And one thing led to another, and I landed at Mysten Labs, and now lead Developer Relations at the Sui Foundation.
Given your initial skepticism, how have you found the industry since joining?
It’s interesting. I have three different views of web3.
First is my job. My job is to help there to be more open collaboration and governance, because fundamentally we need to have those systems to be truly decentralized. We need to operationalize the principles of decentralization. When I focus on that, everything makes sense. It is a journey, right? It’s just like an open source project. One group of people created the project and now we have to determine how we can educate the community to participate, not just the way they can participate but the knowledge to be able to contribute meaningfully.
The second view is our technology. Sui is pretty new but we know we have solid technology. But there is still the problem of how we explain to people what this technology is and how they can use it to solve their problems. Instead of thinking about web3 technology the way it is often discussed today, we need to break it down the way we would any technology. Here are the characteristics of this tech, consider if this can solve the problem you have, if it does, use it. If it doesn’t make sense, you can find something else.
The last view is the applications and current use cases. Some make sense to me, others don’t. There’s a big spectrum. But I think that breadth validates the value of technology. I don’t know how long it will take until there is mass adoption and it becomes the backbone of the new internet. But I do believe it will happen. The longer I spend in the industry, the more I believe that.
For those who may not be familiar with the concept of Developer Relations at a Layer 1 blockchain, can you share a bit about the team and the work you do?
Personally, I think Developer Relations at an L1 is all about decentralization and engaging with the developers. Decentralization fundamentally is part open source, part open collaboration, and part open governance. You need a group of people at the beginning of an L1 to make sure the principles, community approaches, and culture are set up well. How do we engage with developers? How do we engage with and empower the community? How do we take contributions?
Take the improvement proposal process as an example. How do we make sure it’s fair and inclusive and at the same time ensure it is the best for the technology? The reality is you don’t have lots of contributors who understand the technology on day 1. How can you bring them in and educate them so that eventually they can contribute more fully?
We take a lot of principles from the open source world including open collaboration, transparency, meritocracy, inclusivity, and community. In some way, I feel open source enabled web3 and web3 disrupted the open source way.
What attracts developers to web3, and how can they be successful?
The first wave of developers on the Sui Network were the visionary technologists. The true believers, “maxis,” that are driving the industry forward. They’ve been through many cycles in the industry, learned and failed and succeeded, and have ideas of how to improve web3 and Sui.
The next wave is hard to pinpoint. But going back to our earlier discussion, this is a technology, and just like other technology, it has its pros and cons. Instead of thinking about what attracts developers to web3, we need to think about how we can present this technology so the developer can consider it as a way to solve their problems. It’s not about web2 or web3. Maybe this is just a technology that can solve your problem in a very scalable way. How can we make sure we are teaching people in the right way?
Once we can do that well, we’ll attract developers just like in the web2 world…excellent technology. Can it solve their problems quickly with high performance, high efficiency, large scale, and minimum tech debt? They would adopt that, right? They would just evaluate this technology the way they evaluate other technologies.
If a developer is already mid-career and wants to transition to building on Sui, how should they get started?
It’s always good to know the fundamental theories involved. Have a fundamental understanding of distributed systems, cryptography, and the different programming languages. That’s always a good start. You need that fundamental knowledge to get going. Otherwise, you might design or create something that doesn’t really fit the system.
Also, developers should decide which path they want to go on - app developer, core protocol developer, and so on. If you want to be a protocol developer, part of the core contributors to the network, then really going deep into distributed systems, cryptography is very, very important. That’s basically the building blocks of blockchain. Study the codebase. Sui is open source, the source code is right there. Read the documentation. Play with the code, change something, and see what happens.
If you want to be an app developer, there are no limits. Use our samples. Or find a project, clone it, build it, play with it, and see if you can make sense of it.
It’s always good to talk to people. And there are lots of web3 events. But pick the right events. Some are really developer-focused. Talk to other developers, talk to other builders. And this is where we go back to community, right? Find your community, find where you want to belong, either online or in real life. You need people that can really work with you and give you guidance.
The Sui community is really welcoming. We believe this is the future of technology and want to make sure that we can educate as many people as possible. Sui Builder House is intentionally builder focused so you get to talk to a lot of engineers and builders at a variety of experience levels.
What programs and tools are being developed to accelerate learning and productivity for Sui builders?
We are really new. We recognize we are missing educational content, just as simple as documentation sometimes. So that is definitely something we are focusing on. Making sure our content takes care of different audiences, from beginners to seasoned developers, as well as different media formats. Also, localization. We want to make sure our content is accessible to everyone.
Along this line, we are trying to be very mindful in programming our Builder Houses to make sure we take in feedback, and curate and customize it for the attendees. And then share the content created on YouTube or other media so everyone can watch it.
Tooling is another issue altogether. We have some but I am hoping the community can help with that. I have seen a lot of great SDKs and IDEs. But that takes time and they are hard to build. And at the same time, it’s very hard to monetize. So reach out to us, talk to us, and let us know how we can help on the foundation side. Core contributors are also looking into how to make it as easy as possible for developers to develop.
Because the network is really new, things are moving really fast. I encourage the team to engage closely with the community. So we can iterate together. If there’s a new development and it might break or change the way of doing things, we want to be able to share that as quickly as possible to take feedback and adjust as soon as possible. The feedback loop is very important.
What are some of the most exciting developments in the community right now, and how do you see these trends shaping the future of Sui?
People are trying to figure out creative ways to use new features. How can they use dynamic fields? Programmable Transaction Blocks? People are finding those features and thinking about how they can use them to improve their existing codebase or create new use cases.
But we need to articulate and explain all the new tools they can use better. Encourage developers to have fun with them. People are slowly coming to understand the power of Sui. They are seriously looking into it from various different angles and trying to battle-test it. Does this really live up to theory? What else can we do with it?
This is an exciting moment. This is where I feel you can have a technology breakthrough because you have a bunch of intelligent and passionate people get excited and those developers start thinking about something more.
Are there any specific apps or experiences that you’d like to enable builders to build on Sui?
There are a lot but, for me, going back to open source and open collaboration, and I have seen a lot of different versions of this but I really want to see an amazing solution, is how we can reward contributors in a fair, transparent, and verifiable way.
For example, if contributors propose a patch to the network or a SIP, how do we verify that contribution? How do we estimate the size of the contribution to reward it appropriately? How can we reward it in a way that takes care of fairness, equity, and privacy, and that everyone can agree on? If we can find a solution and enable that, this would open up a new wave of working, pushing decentralization even further.