Geek of the Week: With laser focus, Jon-Tait Beason embraces iOS engineering at Glowforge

Jon-Tait Beason on the Seattle waterfront. (Adventures With Kate Photo)

When Jon-Tait “Jazbo” Beason moved from Jamaica to the United States 15 years ago, he was pursuing his goal to become a physician. While studying Radiologic Technology and Biochemistry at the University of Charleston in West Virginia, he ran into complications related to being an international student and decided to shift his focus.

Working as a math and science tutor, he noticed that his students all had iPhones but none were being leveraged to make learning accessible and fun, as he put it. He decided to learn to write software and edX’s free Introduction to Computer Science course kickstarted his journey of learning and discovery.

“When I completed that, I still needed to learn how to make iOS apps so I took another free course from Stanford,” Beason said. “I then shipped an app to the store, learning a ton in the process and started looking for jobs.”

Beason sent applications to about 40 companies, mostly getting silent rejections before seeing a tweet during Black History Month in 2016 from someone looking to help underrepresented folks get into tech. Beason was put in touch with Glowforge in Seattle and he’s now been with the Seattle startup as an iOS engineer for almost four years.

Our latest Geek of the Week writes software for various systems, mostly for front end applications. He also makes his fare share of stuff with the company’s 3D laser cutter.

“I make a lot of cool things such as iPad cases, personalized wallets (lots of wallets), dominoes, tool holders, photo frames, necklaces,” Beason said. “With the Glowforge, you are only limited by your imagination.”

Away from work, Beason is an admin with two of the biggest iOS engineering slack communities in the world and loves hanging out in those spaces. He gives conference talks — most recently at try! Swift Tokyo — and attends Xcoders, an iOS and MacOs engineering meet up in Seattle. Beason is also working on a chapter for Swift For Good, a book where 20 authors from the iOS engineering community contributed a technical chapter and all proceeds will go to the non-profit organization Black Girls Code.

“I love to hang with the fam, teach and learn, solve interesting problems, and invest resources in things that are bigger than me,” he said.

Learn more about this week’s Geek of the Week, Jon-Tait Beason

What do you do, and why do you do it? As an iOS engineer, I work in a field that evolves at the speed of light, providing a constant source of intellectual stimulation. I get to learn and impart the knowledge I gather to others. Furthermore, I can convert seemingly senseless concentration changes of synaptic sodium and potassium ions into something I can interact with — into something you can interact with. At times, I feel like I can watch these ions flow from my brain through fingers, into my Mac and eventually onto my device. Ions to pixels. This way, I have the ability to build amazing experiences that can bring joy to people. WATTBA.

What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? If you can write software, you can build anything you can imagine, putting you in a position where you can really impact people’s lives positively. That said, our field isn’t exactly equitable, failing at times to see how exclusive and reeking of fraternalism it can be, and how boardroom decisions to maximize profits can put vulnerable people at risk.

Where do you find your inspiration? The journey of learning and discovery when creating things or thinking about creating things keeps me inspired. Even more so, having friends across the creative spectrum, making things from exotic furniture to category-defining software keeps me motivated to do my best work.

What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? My Mac. I never leave it behind because behind this Mac, there is no telling what I will create.

(Photo courtesy of Jon-Tait Beason)

What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? A standing desk, an external monitor, keyboard and a magic mouse when I am at the office. Otherwise, just my MBP and any location with reliable WiFi :sweat_smile:

Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) First, be radical about setting up your devices in a way such that they can’t summon you, at least when you are away from the office. Keep “Do Not Disturb” on all the time, turn off all notifications, quit Slack unless unless you are actively using it, don’t use your devices in your bed or after waking up and block most _distraction_ apps until 1 p.m. Obviously, some folks take calls and that requires adjustments. Otherwise, folks with real emergencies will call 911.

Secondly, get active outside of work. Our kids play sports and have practices multiple times per week so I have to leave work at 4 p.m. most days to get them to practice and for me to go to the gym. By the time we get back home and have dinner, it is time for showers and bed. They have weekend games so we spend whole weekends attending those sometimes. Being engaged and keeping those around you engaged makes it easier to disconnect. To be frank, writing software and learning to write it better is actually one of my hobbies. So, I take my Mac with me everywhere I go, even if I may not use it. Having a work machine might mean I pick up a ticket on a flight but it also means I can help someone out in one of our Slack communities, work on side project or write a blog post. But I choose when I open my device, not my notifications. I do it for fun, not to get promoted.

Mac, Windows or Linux? Mac.

Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? I don’t know who those people are. And no, I won’t Google them.

Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? Transporter.

If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … I would start a company to build software that empowers anyone to create, publish and get paid, not just those with specialized design skills and hefty budgets. Maybe one day that company could have a major office on the North Coast of Jamaica, hiring local talent.

I once waited in line for … The iPhone.

Your role models: My mom. She raised seven kids as a single mother. Most of the things that drive today me are values my mom inculcated in me as a child. Her attention to detail, her discipline, her persistence and her resilience are at levels I aspire to reach.

Greatest game in history: “Mortal Kombat Trilogy.”

Best gadget ever: iPhone, Apple Watch, Nokia 3310 in that order.

First computer: HP tx1000 Convertible Notebook.

Current phone: iPhone 11 Pro.

Favorite app: Overcast.

Favorite cause: Black Girls Code.

Most important technology of 2020: Artificial intelligence.

Most important technology of 2022: Augmented reality.

Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: We should do collabs like YouTubers.

Website: bugkrusha.com (currently offline getting some fresh paint)

Twitter: @bugkrusha

LinkedIn: Jon-Tait Beason

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