Chris Coyier joined host Jonathan Denwood and guest co-host John Locke for episode 265 of the WP-Tonic Podcast.
This week’s sponsor is Kinsta Hosting (https://kinsta.com/?kaid=QTZIMOYOCEZL). Kinsta hosting is the official web host of the WP-Tonic website.
This Weeks Episode is Sponsored By…..
This episode covered information about CodePen, CSS-Tricks and delved into Chris’s ideas about online training and learning.
CSS-Tricks is a blog site for developers that consists of many tutorials.
Jonathan speaks of CSS-Tricks as part of the online training arena popular right now and asked Chris where he sees online training.
Online training isn’t fully baked yet. Chris sees many options coming in the future for online training and sees opportunities arising. He particularly spoke to this in terms of technical training and development. He also sees CSS-Tricks as a tutorial site but not an official online learning site, because there is no learning path.
Here’s A Full Transcription of Our Interview With Chris
Jonathan: Welcome back folks to the WP-Tonic show. This is episode 265. And to say that I’m excited would be an understatement. I’ve got a fantastic guest. I’ve been a fanboy and just think he’s the bee’s knees basically. I’ve got Chris Coyier as my guest on the show. Chris.
Chris: Yeah. Hey. Thanks so much for having me on. It’s a pleasure. I love getting the chance to talk.
Jonathan: And also I’ve got my friend John Locke, a former co-host of the show coming on. Kim couldn’t make it this week so I thought I would ask John because he’s equally a great fan of Chris. John, would you like to introduce yourself to the audience?
John: Sure thing. John Locke of Lockedown SEO holding it down.
Jonathan: And I’m the founder of WP-Tonic. We’re a maintenance support company only with WordPress with a specialty with Learning Management Systems and Membership sites. And before we go into the interview, I just want to quickly talk about our main sponsor which is Kinsta Hosting. They’ve been hosting the WP-Tonic website now, I think for 4 months now and also some of my clients’ websites. And I’ve got to say I’ve just been really impressed with the speed of the hosting, the customer support. It’s just been fantastic. If you’re looking for a really good WordPress hosting solution for you or your clients, go to the WP-Tonic website.
There’s banners. They are affiliate links. But if you use one of those, you’ll be helping the show. And like I say, I push them because I use them myself. So I think they’re just a great hosting company. Right, let’s get into it. Thank you so much for coming on the show Chris. You’re noted as the joint founder of CodePen but also the founder of CSS-Tricks, which I’ve got to say kind of really introduced me to the world of frontend development. Let’s start off with CodePen. How’s it going with CodePen? I think it’s been over 3, 4 years that you’ve been running it as a joint founder?
Chris: It’s something like 5, 6. Yeah.
Jonathan: It just goes so quick, doesn’t it?
Chris: I know. I know. So, yeah, yeah. CodePen’s going great. In fact, we’re doing a little bit of hiring, although I wish we were hiring like 50 people. We’re not quite there yet. We’re still a very small company. I think we’re 7 or 8 kind of thing. But that feels big to me. I’ve never been in charge of that many people before.
Jonathan: Responsibilities Chris.
Chris: Yeah. It’s tough stuff. But we’re throwing a Conference this year. That’s big news for us for the first time. So that’s codepenworldsfair.com. Check that out.
Jonathan: Why are you doing it? Because that’s a big undertaking to do a Conference. What was the thoughts behind that, Chris?
Chris: It’s a community website anyway. There’s all these people on it that meet each other and know each other and we have loads of people that do it. It almost just seems like a, “Of course we should do this”. Of course, we should at least attempt once to try to get people together and kind of celebrate the idea of what’s possible in the browser and Art online and just kind of see what happens. It’s still coming together really.
But the idea is, we’re going to hold it in Chicago which has some history of World’s Fairs anyway. So it’s kind of thematically playing off that. And having one day where, well, both of the days of the conference are at a big warehouse space called in downtown Chicago. But it’s just like kind of a big raw but fancied up warehouse space that you can have a lot of opportunity to do stuff inside. So we’re just going to, I don’t know, fill it up with people doing interesting Art.
Jonathan: You’re going to party.
Jonathan: party, are you? All right.
Chris: Yeah. So it’s new.
Jonathan: Because funny enough there’s been some articles recently about that Conferences were kind of dying really but I never agreed with that. I think your formal trade show kind of thing probably, I’m not too sure about that. But I think actually meeting your users, trying to build a community, it still has a kind of strong place, doesn’t it Chris?
Chris: I hope so. I mean, I don’t know. I don’t know if I’ve read all the same articles you have but I’ve had that thought over the years that like, “Holy cow. Is there a lot of these Conferences? How can the world possibly sustain this many?”. And it’s something like, people are writing an article. It’s got to swing back the other way. Somebody’s got to fold kind of thing. I think so many of them are run like the normal laws of economics don’t apply almost. That so many people run them at a loss or breaking even. But it’s like normally in the real world, people would stop doing them. But there’s something about a conference that’s so fun and has other benefits that people just keep doing them anyway. So it’s like this weird thing that, if they don’t seem to be and if it’s not harming anyone, who cares.
Jonathan: Yeah. Exactly. But as a trend in general with online, there seems to be some people going in one direction and there’s other people going the other direction really. Let’s get back on to CodePen. Are there any major developments that around CodePen that you’re excited about?
And people use that for all kinds of reasons. Some people even use it kind of to show off themselves. Like look at this amazing thing that I did or they just use it to play around or they’ll build a little component for a client and send them that for sign off. So the use cases of it are a lot. You can use it for whatever you want. There’s no mandatory use case. As CodePen has evolved over time and frontend development has changed over time, CodePen kind of needs to change with it. So one of the things early on was like, sometimes you need more than just one place to write HTML, one place to write CSS. So we made CodePen Projects which is more like if you’re working in Sublime Text or BS Code or whatever. You have that sidebar of files. You can drag stuff in there. You have folders and they can be full of images and data and whatever it wants to be. So that’s what CodePen Project is, like kind of an evolution of CodePen while people need to be able to do more with it. And I would think in the next year, we need to continue to keep up with what Developers expect out of their development.
Jonathan: Oh, sounds great. John. Do you have any questions you’d like to . . .?
John: Yeah. I have noticed that you guys are having CodePen Conferences and you’re a well-known speaker on the Event Apart line up. And one of the things I wanted to ask you is, what can WordCamps learn from some of the larger Conferences? What are some of the lessons that maybe could rub off on the WordPress community?
Chris: I wonder. I have been to some WordCamps, probably like 10-ish over the course of my life. So I’m not like a super expert on how all they do and how they work out and stuff. But I would almost think that there’s an equal amount of stuff that could be learned either way. And then, I would think by all accounts that WordCamp is like a shining example of Conferences done right, usually. If nothing else but looking at them, how long they’ve been running and how excited people still get about them and how often an organizer will keep running it. I mean, that’s successful in a way. But I would think if somebody’s trying to model like, “I want my Conference to be like a WordCamp”, that’s trickier to pull off.
One, you need a big community like WordPress has already got. And two, in a sense, you kind of need to not care, ain’t nobody getting rich running WordCamps. That’s not a motivation for it. So it’s like you just need some community love and some desire to get these people together for that to work. So I don’t know that it’s a model for somebody to just pick up and run with it for any brand. But like what could WordPress steal, WordCamp steal from other Conferences was kind of the question?
I’m not sure. I’m not sure that they should be looking at that as a model. I mean, the way Event Apart runs and I’m a big fan of it but it’s very like, it’s a business. It’s the life and livelihood of a small band of people that own and operate that brand and that Conference. They make money running those things. It’s a business very intentionally. And they have great speakers come and it benefits everybody. But the, I don’t know, the alignment of what it’s there for and what it’s doing is kind of different.
I know for a fact that they get companies that, they do a good job of like, “You should send your employees here to learn what’s going on in the industry”. And we know that it’s a little bit expensive but that’s the deal where it’s not training but it’s like this is keeping your finger on the pulse of the industry kind of thing. And that’s kind of a promise that they make. That this is what you’re going to get when you come here. Whereas, maybe WordCamps don’t have like a promise like that. Maybe it’s kind of implied but it’s not saying, “You should come to WordCamp because when you leave here you’ll be that much more attuned with what’s happening”.
John: And I have a question too. I don’t know if you’ve kept your finger on the pulse to what’s happening with WordPress with Gutenberg. But, you know, just a generalized question. Is that something that’s on people’s radar in the larger Web community. And here’s a question too, in the larger community, how do they perceive the WordPress ecosystem and has that perception improved in the last few years?
Chris: Well, has it improved? I don’t know. It’s hard for me to say because I see both sides of it so often, which is one of them is WordPress which you see in the inner circle I’m sure a lot. This an incredible product and lots of people make money using it. There’s lots of people having success with it. It powers a third of the Internet. You hear those talking points all the time, which is great. And then, there’s an equally powerful force that’s just eyerolly at WordPress that’s just like takes any opportunity to just say how it’s not appropriate for some situations or whatever. It almost feels like a political argument in that it’s just like a 50/50 pick some sides and have at it kind of thing that doesn’t really benefit anybody. I consider myself pretty middle ground like. I shouldn’t even say that. More like pro WordPress. Why would anybody care what anybody else picks? Is website harming the Internet? Absolutely not. If anything it’s helped tons of people. I feel like that’s a bit of rambling thought. It’s not like the entire world’s madly in love with WordPress. It’s much more divided.
John: I guess it’s good to be polarizing. That means you’re taking a stance.
Chris: Yeah. I suppose. And the Gutenberg stuff is absolutely fascinating. So I don’t know how much you want to talk about that. It’s not like I, I haven’t followed it immensely closely but we are, I’ve even doing a podcast later this week with some people involved directly with Gutenberg because I do find it one of the more fascinating tech stories at the moment. Certainly, some people could care less. It’s just, “Oh, wow. WordPress is doing something”. But I think if you work in WordPress, you certainly have or have products involved with WordPress, holy crap, that’s much more polarizing than even WordPress itself.
John: Agree. Agree.
Jonathan: I think we’ll go for our break and I think we will delve a little bit into that and some other subjects. We’ll be back in a few moments folks.
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Jonathan: We’re coming back. We’ve had a, it seems to have gone in a flash, a quick conversation with Chris Coyier. We’re continuing it. Great fun. It’s caused a lot of controversial discussion to say the least. The whole of this project. It’s going to totally revolutionize publishing, even more than what WordPress did.
Chris: I would hold off on that. It was like maybe a few months ago I was like, “Oh, this is fascinating. This idea of blocks and an editor. I wonder how other CMSs have handled it”. And it turns out like, they all have. I would say, “Everybody has blocks”. Some kind of way to deal with content blocks. Whether it’s a plugin or built-in or native or whatever. It feels a little bit like Apple in a way where they’ll like, they’ll release a product and say, “Look, this is the best thing that’s ever happened”. But really it’s like, other people have beaten them to it. They just did a good job with it. So hopefully, that’s what Gutenberg turns out to be. This is certainly not the first concept of a block editor in a CMS but it’s a good take.
Jonathan: Yeah. I take exactly what you’ve just said. But the thing is, we’ve have another great individual Morten Hendriksen from LinkedIn training, whatever it’s called there. He’s a bit like you. He thought it’s just going to be an editor. But then when you delve into what the core group and what Matt wants, it’s much bigger than just an inline editor, what they’re planning. I think this is what’s caused a lot of the controversial discussion about the whole project really, Chris.
Chris: Yeah. You probably follow it closer than I have. But look at, fire up Dropbox Paper and look at how their editor operates. Look at notion.so. I think Notion’s a fabulous note-taking tool. It’s just like in the air lately. This idea of having blocks in which you can customize what kind of block it is and have inline editing and stuff. It feels like that’s just how people are expected to.
Jonathan: Yeah. Let’s go on to another subject because there’s so much.
Jonathan: You know, you started CSS-Tricks and I learned so much from it Chris. A very passionate forum by the way. But I learned so much from it. I think your videos and your training videos and your enthusiasm about learning, in general, has encouraged so many people. Do you have any idea that you were going to touch so many people in such a positive way through your blog and your training videos?
Chris: I mean, I don’t know how to answer that, I guess. It’s beyond my wildest dreams if that makes sense. It’s to imagine on day one what you’re going to do. But that dream evolves as you evolve with the site. So it’s like if you have, you start out and you’re working and you’re like, “I hope that this goes a little bit better for me. I have dreams that are a little bit above where I am right now”. And then, you hit those goals and your dreams just notch up with it a little bit. And now, CSS-Tricks is over 10 years old. I guess we’re edging on 11 years old and those dreams keep notching up a little bit with it and everything just kind of slowly evolves. It’s been a WordPress site since day 1, which is pretty cool. I still feel pretty happy. I’d say at least once a week I have my Dev environment open up and I’m making sure I’m on the latest version of WordPress and seeing what’s changed there and making sure all the plugins are up to date and that kind of thing. So that’s been cool to evolve as well as technology evolves and WordPress is going to make use of that.
Jonathan: That’s great. So really, you know, the Tricks website and CodePen, the CodePen is an application and a community around helping Developers practice new technology and learn. And also, you’re CSS-Tricks is a blog but it’s also really about education and training. So there’s some linkage there really. You know, you’ve got the application, which is a community training and this website. How do you see online training? Do you think it’s still got a lot more traction in it? A lot more development to come about developing tools that can really make online training more than just videos and written documentation. How do you see that going?
Chris: It’s one of the more fascinating things going on I’d say. It’s definitely not shaken out yet. A lot of us came up and made our bones working on websites at a time when there was hardly any training at all and that you just figured what you needed to figure out and hopefully that went okay for you. And then, tech explodes and now people talk about a big hiring gap and that there’s just not enough people to fill the shoes of all the tech jobs that need to be filled and opportunity’s arising. I’m sure you’ve seen there’s a proliferation of boot camps in different forms. There’s ones that are brick and mortar schools all over the world. There’s some that are online only. There’s some that are both. There’s some that are just sign up and watch this series of videos.
There’s some that are more just pick and choose little things that you want to watch. I don’t know that CSS-Tricks or CodePen is necessarily part of that movement. We’re educational in a way but you don’t come to me for training. It would be interesting some day perhaps but I don’t have like a learning path for you. So if somebody’s like, “What do you recommend to learn Web stuff these days?”, I have to dig around in my brain to figure out the perfect thing to send somebody to because it’s probably not something that I’ve built necessarily. more, I don’t know, scattered than that.
Jonathan: I see where you’re coming from. But I also think you’re not being fair to yourself in a way. I know it’s bizarre for me to say that Chris. What I admire about you is that I watched some of your videos where, I think one was where you were trying to utilize MAMP and there was a couple of other things. And you say at the start, “I’ve never used this before. It’s new to me. I’m just going to go in”. And there’s a little bit of a struggle and I actually admired you for videoing that and showing it because it showed a master, somebody that’s got a high skill level. But when they’re shown something new, they go through a learning process. I actually admire you for having the courage to show that. I think it encourages other people that there is a kind of, I’m trying to struggle for the right word, that some people just learn things and they don’t have to struggle. They’re just so brilliant. It just comes to them straight away.
Chris: Very few though, don’t you think? I work with lots of incredibly smart people and we’re all the same. Nobody knows anything just out of the bucket. They’re not like, “I went to College for this. Don’t worry. I have the answers”. They’re never like that. They’re always just like, “I guess I’ll Google around and see what’s up. Maybe I’ll try it out”. I’ve had feedback like that over the years is that they like seeing a video in which there’s some mistakes and stuff. You’re one of them apparently. Some people feel exactly the opposite and they don’t want to watch that.
They just want a shorter video that’s more, “It shows me exactly what I need to do”. It depends on where somebody’s at in life and what they need right at that moment. So, yeah. I do have a bunch of videos on CSS-Tricks but again, they’re really random. They’re just like, “I just think this is interesting right now so I’m going to shot a video on it”. And there actually are some courses too. So I’m contradicting myself a little bit. And I have some courses that are meant to be watched, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. But these days, it’s more like signing up for, you know. You’re probably going get a better, just like intro education if you go with some kind of online market service that is designed.
Jonathan: That’s great. John, you’ve got some more questions?
John: I do actually and I want to piggyback on something that you asked Chris here. I know that on CSS-Tricks you have like a page where it’s your most asked questions. And a lot of people come through and they turn to you for advice about like getting a job or, “Should I go back to College to learn stuff?”. And that’s something I did as well to start on this but a lot of people could be self-taught. My question to you is and you have your ear to the ground, you’re close to the metal. Why do more tech companies look for fully formed Developers that are already fluent in like a million things instead of like having internal apprenticeship programs?
Chris: That’s a fascinating and wonderful question. It’s near and dear to me. For one reason is that I recently needed to hire somebody kind of quickly at CodePen and we did exactly what maybe you’re pushing back on, is that I needed to write a job description and against my better judgment, I had to write it that is was like, “We’re looking for a react Developer”.
That’s what we really need. And I cringed a little bit writing it because I was like, and I even put some of that in the job posting itself that was, I don’t want to hire like this. I don’t want to start with somebody who’s super senior and already know everything and is a, but that’s just the position we’re in as a company of a size of less than 10. We have somebody going on maternity leave and I need to replace her exact skill set right now. I don’t have time to take on somebody super junior and take me away from other things.
But I don’t necessarily feel bad about it because I understand the place that we’re in. But if we were 20 people, 30 people, I think there’s a threshold that’s fairly low that at some point we would stop that entirely. I look at companies like Sparkbox. They do a great job with this. They’re much bigger than us and having a wonderful apprenticeship program that’s like, they grow their own Developers in a way and give back in a big way to hiring, not necessarily younger people but people that just have less experience and teaching them what they need to go to grow up in the world. That’s a happier world. I think that’s a healthier environment for hiring, certainly. Not everybody can do it and I guess I kind of get that.
John: And definitely, that wasn’t meant to be a judgmental thing. I totally get it because I’ve known Agency Principals who’ve been in that same position where they’ve got to hire somebody that’s going on maternity leave or they have a family emergency or whatever. But definitely, I think as an industry, we can grow our own like better.
Chris: I agree. Let’s do that more. Maybe even one to one. You hire one really senior person and then the next person you hire maybe is junior. And then, everybody can contribute to the growth of them. Knowing full well that there’s risk to it too, you know. You hire them and you pay them a junior wage and you level them up a bunch. There’s a really good chance they’re going to leave you and you need to think of that as like a, that’s just the way of the world here. It’s not a negative thing that they’ve left you.
Jonathan: Got another question, John?
John: Yeah. Definitely. I wanted to ask too. When you were growing CSS-Tricks, obviously we’re talking about how in the beginning, you had goals and then once you reached them, your goals grew. How did you know when it was time to bring on people to help you with CSS-Tricks? And how did that free you up to do other things, maybe, such as start CodePen?
Chris: That was super tricky. I remember feeling so clearly like, “I want and need this thing to make some money”, which became more and more true after I left my job that was a huge source of income. Ever since day 1 with CSS-Tricks, my goal was for it to be at least slightly business like for it to make money. And I remember feeling like, “I make this much money from this site right now. The second I hire somebody, that number just goes down a whole bunch, just immediately”. And it took a while for me to like be okay with that.
To get myself up to a number where I’m like, “This is my salary”. And that’s just what I earn from the site. And everything else is like business money that goes to do business things. And that’s even a somewhat recent revelation really. My very first sticking my foot in that direction was I had put forums on CSS-Tricks, it uses bbPress. Although it’s changed technology a million times, it felt good to finally be on bbPress. Now everything on CSS-Tricks was under one kind of technological roof of WordPress, which is nice. But there’s been forums on here forever. And at some point, the forums started to become a little hard to manage in that there were spam problems that we fought for years, which are now fortunately mostly in the mostly fine. Somebody needed to at least look for spam everybody in the forum. Like go in there and figure stuff out and encourage people. And if there’s weird password problems or something I was like, “You know what I should have? A forum’s manager.
And it should probably be someone from the forums already. And it should probably be someone who can really do this part-time and it’s a little tiny gig for that. This is not a full-time position. This is just a little bonus thing that maybe you can do while you’re at work anyway or whatever”. And so, I hired a guy named Rob. I think I paid him $150 a month or something. Just a very small about of money to just do, kind of do what you’re doing in there anyway but let’s formalize it a little bit like, “You’re the spam master”.
And then, that role grew and changed. And then, I was like, “Okay. I’ve got one employee. I could really use like some generic help and ended up working with a woman name for a long time, who was, I think got her foot in the door and I was like, “We should sell some T-shirts and you can manage that whole thing. You can take the orders. Ship the shirts. Do all that type of stuff. I need help with that”. But once she’s already there, “Hey. Why don’t you help me edit articles sometimes? Why don’t you help me with the inbox?”. And she just kind of became an assistant on CSS-Tricks for years and years. Now that your foot has been wet multi times, it starts getting easier to be like, “Hey. Maybe I should have like a couple of staff writers.
We’ll pay them a fixed cost”. And so, these roles have changed and evolved many times over the course of CSS-Tricks. Where we’re at now, I’m just going into my second month of having a full on like Content Editor Publisher. So a guy named Jeff Graham does that role for me. And that’s been phenomenal this last month. But it’s a bigger chunk of the profit of CSS-Tricks that I’ve ever given up before. This is a bigger role. It’s maybe not quite full-time but it’s not like a little tiny part-time thing either. So it’s kind of in the middle.
But it frees me up. CSS-Tricks isn’t like a ton of work but it’s an everyday kind of job. More and more I’d like to give those jobs away to people to free up my time. If I have 2 more extra hours in the day, I can do stuff like be writing more, which I like to be doing anyway. I can use those hours to drum up interesting sponsors or come up with interesting sponsorship ideas and stuff. Hopefully, I can turn the hours that I buy back into paying his salary and more, which is always a roll of the dice.
Jonathan: Oh, that’s great. I think we’re going to wrap it up for the podcast part of the show. Chris has agreed to keep on the discussion for a little while, which you’ll be able to see on the WP-Tonic website with a full transcript of our conversation with Chris. Chris, it’s been a pleasure having this discussion with you so far. How can people find more about you and what you’re up to Chris?
Chris: Yeah. I mean, I keep a personal website just for that very reason, a WordPress site no less. And it’s just my name .net. So chriscoyier.net is my personal site which is just the basics about me. I put a section on the site that says, “Things I want you to do”, to be really clear about what I’m asking people of in this world. And it has a blog and it says where I’m speaking next and things like that. And links to all the things that I do. So chriscoyier.net.
Jonathan: And my former co-host and friend John Locke, how can people find out more about what you’re up to?
John: You can follow me at my website which is LockedownSEO.com. And how do people get a hold of you, Jonathan?
Jonathan: It’s really easy. Go to the WP-Tonic website. We’ve got a ton of material for 2018 planned, written and also video and the podcast as well. So there’s going to be a ton of material around WordPress, Learning Management Systems, Business and Membership sites. That’s what we’re going to be concentrating on 2018. And if you really want to support the website, go to iTunes and give us a review. I know it’s a pain on PC but not so bad on the Mac and it does really help the show and it would be much appreciated. We’ll see you next week when we’re going to have somebody doing something interesting with WordPress. See you next week folks. By
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