Tim Smith is a designer and front-end developer from Saint Paul, MN. He’s worked on the web for over a decade, working with different companies and clients.
Tim loves passing on knowledge by speaking and giving workshops. In 2013, he created The Bold Report, a blog about design, development, technology, and most importantly, Star Wars. When away from his desk, he’s with partner-in-crime Kelly, eating brunch, watching movies, walking the mall, and other sappy-sounding couple stuff.
What Your Favorite Motivation or Business Books?
Design is a Job. Love that book.
Can You List 3 to 5 Life Success or Leadership Principles?
- Work hard
- Be humble
- Be Grateful
Summary of our Interview with Tim Smith
Tim Smith started his design career at the age of fifteen, and is an accomplished UX designer, talented front end developer, and noted podcaster. Today we talk with Tim about being a digital creator, and what he’s focusing on now.
We also look at the state of the web industry, both from an agency employee’s view, and from a freelancer’s view. Lastly, Tim shares his advice on working in the web design industry and what it means to be a great collaborator.
Links mentioned on the show:
Tim’s website https://ttimsmith.com/ Tim Smith on Twitter @smithtimmytim on Twitter The East Wing (podcast archive on Player.fm) https://player.fm/series/the-east-wing-19230 The Bold Report https://theboldreport.net/ Tim’s YouTube channel https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC1IRnf7JYYUkWqPO8wx_QNQ Bloc: Online Coding Bootcamp https://www.bloc.io/ The Pipeline Classic (archives w/ Dan Benjamin) https://5by5.tv/pipelineclassic Happy Monday Podcast (Sarah Parmenter and Josh Long) https://www.happymondaypodcast.com/ Sparkbox https://seesparkbox.com/ Ira Glass on Good Taste and Pushing Through to Become a Great Creator https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/309485-nobody-tells-this-to-people-who-are-beginners-i-wish
John: Welcome to WP-Tonic, episode 210. Today I’ve got the immense pleasure of having as a guest Tim Smith.
Tim: Hello. How are you?
John: I’m doing great.
Tim: Thanks for having me.
John: No problem. A lot of people don’t know this, but Tim actually was the very first person to have me on a Podcast like ever ever. Yeah definitely. For those who don’t know you Tim, just tell us a little bit about yourself.
Tim: Sure. I’m Tim Smith. I am a designer and Front-End Developer that lives in St. Paul Minnesota. On my free time, I write a site called The Bold Report. I also make some YouTube videos on Tech reviews as well as some movie reviews. I do a little bit of everything. Still trying to find my voice on YouTube, but yeah.
John: It takes some time. Definitely. I think you’re doing good. I actually have seen some of your videos. They’re actually quite good.
Tim: Oh, thank you.
John: Yeah. Yeah.
Tim: Thank you.
John: How did you first get into design? How’d that come about?
Tim: It was by accident. I was taking college courses while I was in high school because the high school that I went to had some type of agreement with the local community college. At the time I was really interested in radio. That’s what I was doing there. I was taking radio classes. I was really enjoying that. But then, I took a Photoshop class and things changed for me. I really enjoyed Photoshop. We were using Photoshop for things that probably you shouldn’t use it for. But it was a lot of fun. It spiraled from there. After I learned Photoshop, I was introduced to the whole Graphic Communications Department which was all in the same building. So you could see a lot of the different things that they were doing there. They were printing presses. They had a four color press. They had a one color press. They had a few laser presses as well. So it piqued my interest. That’s how I got into Graphic Design. And from there, I’ve told this story before, but I took a lot of classes in design. I took an InDesign class. I took an Illustrator class. I quickly realized as the Professor told us, that we needed a portfolio. And a lot of my classmates were doing P.D.F. portfolios. I just felt I could do something better. And that’s how I got introduced to the Web. So I started tinkering with the Web to see how I could display my terrible looking work.
John: Excellent. What were your first jobs like in the Web? Were you just freelance or did you work for someone?
Tim: I worked for someone, yes. I had my first design job when I was 15. I was working at this small backyard of some dude’s house. And we were making Ads for the local carpet company. So what we had to do was grab the pictures of different carpets and put them on the Ad. And we would smush text and the text was all not proportional and it was terrible. It was really bad. And again, we were using Photoshop for things that it really wasn’t built for, especially at the time. Photoshop has gotten a lot better. It was really bad back then for Layout and Graphic Design. So we should have been using InDesign for that type of stuff. I did that for a while. I think I was with him for about three months. And then, I found another job doing Production Design where basically I was in charge of grabbing a client’s logo and plastering it on top of a ton of different marketing materials. We would make tote bags and pens and T-shirts and caps and mugs. All of this stuff that some people buy. And my job was just to make sure that the artwork looked good on there. Again, it was production work. It wasn’t design work necessarily. But yeah, that was a lot of fun.
John: Cool. I also want to introduce at this time. This is my co-host Jonathan Denwood.
Jonathan: Thanks folks. I’m a little bit late. I’ve had some technical troubles with the Internet. But, we’ve overcome them.
John: No worries. Yeah. No worries.
Tim: Hi. Jonathan.
John: But anyway, yeah definitely. We were just talking with Tim here about his early start in Graphic Design and in the Web. And I know since then that you’ve had, and I’ve heard you say, I know you have multiple disciplines, design and you act. But you’re also a very good talented Front-End Developer. You’ve done a lot of things in a short amount time. Some of those things you’ve worked in a Drupal shop.
John: Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think you worked in WordPress. You were part of a Podcast network a couple times. You’ve just got this wide array of things you’ve done. What are some of the things that you’ve learned working both as a Freelancer and working in agencies?
Tim: I think one of the biggest lessons that I’ve learned in both working freelance and working at an agency has been that relations with people matter. That’s been one of the biggest takeaways that I’ve had. Again, I started my career pretty young. I was 15 years old and that is basically a child. You relate to other people like a child. You make decisions like a child. You treat other people like a child sometimes. That’s one of the biggest things that I regret. That there are really great opportunities that I was given because people either saw that I was talented or that I worked hard. But there were many opportunities that I ruined because I was stupid and I was young. Again, it all comes down to people. It comes down to getting along with people. It comes down to not assuming the worst of people. That’s happened to me a few times, where I’ve on a magically thought, “Oh. Well, this person is just being a jerk”. And I’ve made stupid decisions based on that. I think there have been times where I have been unduly offended over something. That’s ruined a perfectly great opportunity. I had a really great job that I really loved that I left because I felt that I was being treated unfairly. Maybe that is the case. Maybe I was subject to some ageism there. But I wish I would have stayed anyway because even in adversity there are things to be learned. So I think that’s one of the biggest lessons or big takeaways that I have.
John: Cool. Definitely. A lot of our listeners, they’re either small agencies or Freelancers. Or there are people who are using the Web to make their living. That’s really the core of our audience.
John: What advice would you give them when it comes to either working with other people? Or going out and either trying to find a job or finding work? Those sorts of things.
Tim: Man. That’s a . . .
John: Yeah. I know. That’s a multifaceted question.
John: I apologize. Yeah.
Tim: That’s a huge question.
Jonathan: That sounds like one of my questions John.
John: I know.
John: It’s terrible.
Tim: So one of the biggest things that I would say to anyone who is making money on the Web would be to remember that the Web is not your life. I’m sorry if that’s not the answer that you wanted. I have fallen into the trap many times to give too much priority to what we do. To feel like somehow I’m saving lives or helping people and sometimes I give too much importance to what it is that I do. As a web designer, yes, we can make an impact on the world, on the people around us, on society. But at the end of the day, we’re not saving lives. And that’s something I think to keep in mind. Because when things aren’t doing well, it can really bring us down. When things are going great, it could inflate our egos beyond what it should be. And that’s been something important for me to remember throughout my career.
John: So, essentially what you’re saying is keep a level head and don’t get caught up.
Tim: Yeah. Yeah. Keep a level head. You have great opportunities that are sometimes given to you either because you worked hard and because of luck. And because of right place at the right time. I think that’s something to always remember that an opportunity being given to you doesn’t always mean that you worked hard for it. It doesn’t mean that that’s the only factor in you getting it. I think a lot of people forget that not only is that a combination of working hard, but it’s a combination of working hard and luck and being in the right place. So it’s important not to overinflate accomplishments sometimes. And just remember that we’re really privileged to work on the Web. To make money from working on the Web. That’s an amazing opportunity. There are a lot of people who have to work very very difficult jobs. Jobs that tire their bodies and that wear out their bodies. We don’t. So that’s a huge privilege.
John: No. I’ve been on both sides of that fence. So I can speak to that and say, “That’s definitely true”. And I think a lot of people that have only ever worked behind a computer, don’t realize how blessed they are. And especially, you see it in today’s shifting economy. I want to shift the conversation to something more positive for a second. One thing that I’ve always admired about you is, you’ve always been a maker. You’re always doing some sort of project. And when I first heard of you, you were doing your Podcast The East Wing. But prior to that, you had actually done Podcasting for a few years. But, when it came to The East Wing, that was nominated for an award in Dot Net. And it was pretty successful for a while there. But, what kind of experience did you have on that Podcast at that time, before everybody started doing Podcasting, and what did you learn from it? What things did you gain from it?
Tim: Yeah. It was awesome. It’s interesting to think that that was still the ground floor of Podcasting. It definitely didn’t even feel that way at the time. There were a lot of different shows that were all competing for a similar audience. Back then, Dan was so still doing his show called the, what is that show called? Shoot. It was an interview show. There was still Happy Monday with Justin Long.
Tim: Josh Long, sorry, and Sarah Parmenter. There were a few other shows that were doing similar things interviewing people. I really enjoyed it. The East Wing is one of my fondest memories just because I had the opportunity to talk to a lot of different people. Had the opportunity to meet very talented folks in our industry. And that was a huge privilege for me. I didn’t know anybody. Nobody knew me. So the fact that people would come on my show was really awesome. It was only a year or so or maybe a year and a half after I had started the show that I got nominated for an award. I was actually nominated for the Dot Net magazine award twice #humblebrag. But yeah, it was really awesome. One of the lessons that I feel I took away from that show was that it really is as easy as reaching out to someone that you really want to talk to. The web community as a whole, for the most part, is still one of the nicest communities. And is very open about how we do things, is very open about the mistakes that we’ve made as well. I’ve always appreciated that. I think even though there are a lot of difficulties in Tech right now, I think for the most part, we try to be very open about those mistakes as well. I really appreciate that. I think it’s led to some really nice conversations. And for me at least, it’s led to having friends and mentors that maybe in any other industry I wouldn’t be able to have. Because usually, people that are at the top don’t really talk to people who are not at the top. I felt that in the Web there are those people. And of course, there are going to be people that are full of themselves. But for the most part, they’re really really nice people who will share knowledge with you and share mistakes with you and share what they’ve learned, how they’ve tried to be better. That’s definitely helped me in my career.
John: Yeah. I think before we go to break. To paraphrase KRS-One, the Web on a whole is not even 30 years old and no one’s from the old school because it’s still a brand new tool.
John: We’re going to . . .
Jonathan: I feel old John.
John: Age is just a number. We’re going to head to a break and when we come back we’re going to be talking more with broadcaster, friend, and developer and designer Tim Smith.
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John: We’re coming back from our break. We’re talking more with Tim Smith. One of the other things that you’re involved in is The Bold Report. How did you get the inspiration for that and what has it been like maintaining that for several years?
Tim: Yeah. So I always wanted to start a blog. Again, I’m kind of late to all these things. I was late to blogging. I was late to Podcasting. I was late to creating YouTube videos. But I wanted to create a blog where I just talked about things that I enjoyed and didn’t really have an objective. I think when I started, I wanted to be you know, “I want to be a full-time writer”, and do that. But I think that quickly wore off. It wasn’t what I wanted to do full time. It was just something that I was casually interested in. The Bold Report, the name, it was kind of a rip off. I was a big fan of The Colbert Report or The Colbert Report. I loved how official The Colbert Report sounded. I wanted to do something similar that was also kind of silly because the site was never going to be very official or formal or anything like that. So that’s why I chose The Bold Report. I started The Bold Report in 2013. So this September it’ll be four years that I’ve done that site. I’ve really really enjoyed it. It’s been a great place. It’s been a great home for a lot of my different writing. There are times where I feel very inspirational. There are times where I feel negative. There are times where I feel happy. And there are times where I feel sad. Obviously, I’m a human like everybody else that goes through all these different emotions. And The Bold Report has been a really nice home to put words to some of those feelings. There’ve been times of great discouragement in my career and in my personal life and The Bold Report has been the home for those type of writings.
It’s never been immensely popular. It’s modestly popular I would say in my eyes. I think it’s got somewhere around 200 subscribers, RSS feed subscribers. So that’s always nice to see. But I think more than anything, it’s been therapeutic for me because it’s where I write my yearly goals and my yearly wrap up. It’s where I’ve written reviews of things that I like, like my desk and other things, apps that I use, the Sonos speakers that I absolutely love. It’s been the home to a series that I called The Brief Review Of and then whatever it was. That’s been really awesome too. Because I hate writing long reviews. It seems like everybody wants to write 2,000 word reviews for everything. I just don’t feel like most things need that. Most people just want to know, “Do I like it? Do I not like it? What I like about it? What I don’t like?”. And that’s it. I feel like you can do that in a lot less than 2,000 words. Traditionally, those brief reviews have been just a few paragraphs long. And then my grade if it’s a movie. But yeah, it’s been awesome. I love The Bold Report. I don’t ever plan to stop writing there. There’ve been times where I don’t write as much as other times. There have been times where I write every day. But I love writing on there. I’m glad I started it.
Jonathan: Sounds like my school report in a way. Two paragraphs. Jonathan is obviously highly intelligent, but lazy.
Tim: Exactly. There we go. Yea.
Jonathan: The truth was I was that 15 times. I’m sorry John.
John: No. Pass the mic. Definitely, get involved.
Jonathan: I’m just in the mood for one-liners John.
John: Okay. Cool. I want to ask you Tim, this is something that I’ve seen you get involved with, The Try Block.
John: I’ve said a bunch of times, “Why don’t we have apprenticeships in Web development?”. Every other trade that you see out there, they have apprenticeships, they teach people. But Tech is so weird because not only do you have to go and get all your equipment to get started. It’s fully on you to learn the trade and then go get a job somewhere.
Jonathan: Yeah. I’ll be really. You must read my mind John actually. You’ve got an uncanny way of reading my mind. I’ve been really thinking because you’ve brought this up a couple of times, haven’t you John? And just before we ask Tim, I just want to quickly put this to Tim. John’s really put this point a couple of times and I was thinking about it last night, it was coming into my mind. I think the Web community in a way has been blessed but also cursed. It’s been blessed by, you said you started at the age of 15.
Jonathan: And there’s been a lot of young people being able to make either a side hassle through school and college. Or they’ve done a side hassle. That’s enabled them to progress in their skill level until they’ve decided either they’re going a different direction or they make an application for a full-time job or they go totally freelance.
Jonathan: And then somebody tries them out and then they’re given a job offer. And that really helps agencies not to have proper mentorship or proper apprenticeships. Because why bother. There’s always a pure group of young developers coming up or people that have self-trained themselves. But I can see that changing a little bit in the next few years. What do you think Tim?
Tim: I would love to see that change. Most of the people I’ve worked with when I was that young didn’t really know that I was that young. Just because, either I was being paid under the table or other circumstances. So age was always a difficult thing for me to reveal when I was young, when I was really really young. Because I’m still young. So I would love to see that change. I would love for there to be more mentorship. Sparkbox is one of those agencies that have really really pioneered apprenticeships. I’ve met Ben Callahan and he is one of the nicest people that you’ll find. They’ve just done a great job with that. And you can tell that they care about that. There are always difficulties with hiring young people. Like I had mentioned before, when you’re young you’re stupid and to a certain degree, especially if this is one of your first jobs, you are a little bit entitled. I’d worked at Subway before and Best Buy as well. But I was still, I don’t know, I still felt entitled to certain things. And that’s always the difficulty with young people. You can have some people that feel that they deserve to be here. And that can make apprenticeships a little bit difficult. But I think overall, the idea of having apprenticeships to teach young people how this industry works, how to work with clients, how to interface with business people and their concerns is very very important.
John: I would love to point out too that apprenticeships don’t even have to be just for young people.
John: It could break old people as well.
Tim: That’s true. Yeah. That’s true. Yeah. You’re very right.
Jonathan: Spot on John. I just wonder with all page builders and the Graphic Designers if it’s going to change at all. But I think there’s the historic reason why. But on the other hand, I won’t be totally wrong because I just think in other industries, you’ve had apprenticeship. It’s more in Britain really. You’ve had a decline in that. In America, it’s actually in the actual trades. Because of the structure of regulation in this country. There’s still a structure of apprenticeship. But if you go to Britain John, it’s totally collapsed. Because what were formally Community Colleges have totally disappeared in Britain John. They’re totally gone. So it’s quite interesting how different countries and different environments around training and apprenticeship and mentorship.
John: Yeah. Definitely. That’s something I want to circle back to Tim, your work with Try Block, what is that for those who don’t know what that is and what’s your involvement with that program?
Tim: Yeah. So Block is an online school that teaches a range of different things all concerning the Web. So we have a design track and we have a Back-End Development track. And the design track goes into some of the fundamentals and being a Front-End Developer as well. I am a design mentor there. So I am a mentor on the design track and I help students go through the course. The course, like I said, goes into UX, UI, and Front-End. It’s been very rewarding. I really enjoy it. I’ve had a great time helping students of all ages not just young students, like you said John, learn our craft. And try to mentor them to become really great designers. These students all have this curiosity about what the Web is and how to properly design for it. Some have the background in design, like Fashion Design or Graphic Design. There’s some architecture as well for some students. But there are some that don’t have any background in design whatsoever. And that’s always interesting too. It’s interesting to see how their work transforms as the course goes on. It’s been very rewarding. I love it.
John: One last question before we go to the bonus content. And that is, when it comes to design, I can’t remember who said this. But I read this recently and maybe somebody out there will attribute this quote properly. It was a design person and they said, “A lot of people want to be Chefs, but they don’t want to be line cooks first”. Do you find that true? In design, a lot of it is just putting in the reps.
Tim: Yeah. I wouldn’t quite phrase it like that. The quote that I always like is one of Ira Glass, where he talks about the fact that people who start something new or something, in terms of creative work, quit when it still isn’t good. Because the work that they’re creating doesn’t match up with their expectations. Their taste is really good and that’s why they can see that they suck.
Tim: But they quit before they can get better. That I do see. And it has happened with me too. There have been times where I get frustrated that I can’t do something and therefore I quit. A lot of us have that same opinion of drawing. A lot of us will say, “Oh. I can’t draw”. And it’s really probably not true. The fact that we can tell that we can’t draw says that we have the ability to develop that skill. So, yeah. I do see a lot of that, where people quit early. I haven’t seen that at Block much. All of the students really really try hard that I’ve had so far and have put in the work and put in the effort really to get good at this. Because yeah, it does require that. It requires effort. It requires work and that’s not always easy to do. But it’s what is needed. And it requires work and effort over years of time, especially because the Web is an ever changing medium and we have to keep updated with it. Unfortunately and fortunately that means that the web is not just a job. For the most part, it’s not something that you can just do nine to five and be done, for the most part. Because there’s always something new to learn and that can be frustrating. But that comes with the job.
John: I agree with what you’re saying. You have to keep putting time into personal development to keep up with the changes.
John: I am familiar with Ira Glass’ quote. We’ll link that up and show notes. I’ve heard it before. I totally agree with it. You first develop good taste in things and design is very much a thing like that.
John: You have to have good taste in design before you can be a good designer.
John: With that, we’re going to end the regular portion of the show. We’re going to have a few bonus cuts on YouTube with a little bit of bonus content. I want to remind everyone if you’re getting value from this show give it a review on iTunes. Let us know what you think. Give us five stars maybe. And with that, Tim, how do we find you and is there anything you want to promote?
Tim: Yeah. So you can find my website ttimsmith.com. You can find me on Twitter as @smithtimmytim. The link in my Twitter bio is to my YouTube channel and if you’d like to see videos from me, go ahead and subscribe.
John: Very good. Jonathan, how do we get a hold of you, anything you want to promote?
Jonathan: Oh. It’s really easy folks. Get me on Twitter @jonathandenwood or go the he WP-Tonic Facebook page. Got all the videos and bonus content on that and leave some comment there. Or you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll get back to you. There are the ways to get a hold of me John. And how do we get a hold of you and learn more about you John?
John: Well, you can find me at my website which is LockedownSEO.com. You can follow me on Twitter @LockedownSEO. Just follow my Facebook page Lockedown SEO. Recently got 100 likes. Whoo hoo. Raise the roof. And so with that, I want to say for the WP-Tonic posse in effect, peace out and get your dose.
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