#151 Chris Coyier from ceramics to CSS-Tricks and CodePen
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Chris Coyier 0:00
My whole life is code pen. Now, it's big. It has full time employees, we have big dreams for it, I have co founder, that's, you know, 90 plus percent of my life now. And even though it's 10 years old, or eight, or nine, or whatever exactly, we'd call it, we have huge dreams for it. Alex and I, the co founder, kopen are very aligned in where we're headed with this thing. And we have a long way to go. And that snuffs out any desire, I have to do anything totally new, because I'm like, I have what I want to build, if somehow code pen blew up tomorrow in some tragic accident. So you know, however that might happen. My best idea for a startup is what we're trying to build that code pen, I would just start over and build what we're already trying to build. If I ask myself, what's your best startup idea? What could you do if you're doing anything at all, I'd be like this, this is a good idea. This is what I want to do.
Tim Bourguignon 1:15
Hello, and welcome to developer's journey, the podcast bringing you the making of stories of successful software developers to help you on your upcoming journey. My name is Tim Bourguignon. And on this episode 151, I received Chris Coyier. Chris is a web designer and developer, you might know him as the creator of CSS tricks, the co-creator of Codepen, the co-host of the podcast Shoptalk, the author of the books "Practical SVG" and "Digging into WordPress," or any of the many talks and workshops he held around the world. Chris, welcome to devjourney.
Chris Coyier 1:52
Thank you for having me.
Tim Bourguignon 1:54
So Chris, as always, like to go back to your beginning, this show exists to help the listeners understand what your story look like, and imagine how to shape their own future. So where would you place the start of your dev journey?
Chris Coyier 2:08
Yeah, yeah, there's so many fun places to pick. I mean, you could just be like, well, let's just start my first tech job, which is kind of where maybe my adults, you know, career began, which would be a perfectly good place to start, but because I think your podcast is, the point of it is maybe deeper than that, that it's fun, it's maybe more fun to go, you know, as far back as you can, although, you know, let's just try it. Hmm. Like, some of this, I've only uncovered in the last few years. Because as I don't know, as I get older, I like, ask my parents more questions about my early life, just as I don't know, you know, like, I don't know what I was, like, when I was five, I have no idea. And I don't have any strong memories of them. But I have this memory, my first, you know, computer memory, because I definitely think of myself as like a computer nerd, you know, just like, that's the story is that I liked computers. And then I found some way to have a career in computers. It was kind of as simple as that. It's not like I, you know, the web didn't exist when I was a kid. So the story starts long before, you know, designing websites starts long before CSS, you know, it started with just computers, period. And I had a Commodore 64, which I think I've seen other guests of yours mentioned, it's kind of a, you know, classic, early computer, I think if you're, you know, my age or around there, I'm 40 That would have been a, you know, a possible computer and you're really young kid days. And if you're older, maybe it was even more a part of your life. Fun little computer, you know, just this, you know, ugly beige keyboard hooked up to this giant monitor, and you'd put floppy disks in it and stuff. And, you know, it turned out that the way that thing entered my life wasn't because my parents were computer people. My stepdad owned, like a screen printing business, which just sold like last year. So that was a part of our lives for a long, long time. Wow. And had employees that work there. In when you're an employee at a silkscreen printing place. What your job mostly is, is, you know, we need to print 5000 of these large pieces of paper and you take one piece of paper out and you put it under the silk screen, and then you take this giant squeegee, then pull paint across it and then lift it and take the one piece of paper output one piece of paper back in. So it's like a just a laborer job. So it attracted this very, like a eclectic group of people that would want to do that job. And nobody's like, passionate about that job. So it'd be a little bit like flipping burgers or something. You know, I'm sure there's some people out there that are passionate chefs. Sure. But few people are, you know, passionate about working at McDonald's say anyway, so there's a collective group of people that work for him pull in screen He's at the shop. And one of them is like, you know, hey, I'm pulling screens for now. But my real passion is computer stuff. And he's older than me. I barely knew him. But you know, it's just some guy that works for my stepdad and somehow got his hands on a whole bunch of competing, Commodore 60 fours. And we just got a hand me down one somehow. The guy's name though, is Steve raffle who who's still around and went on to found Raven Software, who now makes Call of Duty. So that was kind of a interesting little side journey. I was like, Wow, this this guy that I got to hand me down computer for when I was a kid went on to like, be very, very big into computers, obviously. But me, I'm just like, he'd be like, you'd send me home a pack of 10 floppy disks with like games like commando and jungle hunt and stuff, and just really simple games. And I did nothing on that computer, other than put it in a floppy disk, run the command at the simple command line to boot the game off the disk and play it. I didn't learn to program on it or anything. I just thought it was fun, you know? So that's it, you know that now I'm like, Okay, I'm a computer kid, I guess. And then when you're like, when you're the kid that has a computer in the room at my age, you know, your whole family just starts to think of you that way. Oh, you're the computer kid. You know, I think that stuff sticks. When you're like, Yeah, I guess I am the computer kid then. And then my parents really actually started to spend money on computers after that, you know, we got a Commodore 128 after that. I don't know why, but we upgraded it that maybe they felt that was important. I barely remember it. But then they buy me computer after computer. You know, how nice is that? You know, even even I looked back at the, you know, the prices adjusted for inflation for some of the computers. They bought me as a young kid. And I was like, dang, that's a lot of money. You know, we were very middle class. And they must have just decided that this was important for my life, or that was a big hobby for me and bought the computers. So I just became a computer kid, and then just never lost it. Till today. Yeah, I just liked computers, don't you?
Tim Bourguignon 7:13
Oh, I do. I still have in my dad's office recently. In school, I don't know what grade that would be something like age eight, and nine. So we did some sculpting on some porous, porous stone. I've no idea how that's cool in English. And probably all the kids did some nice sculpture and I sculpted an apple two.
Chris Coyier 7:39
At the age of Sure, I guess we'll do an activity that isn't computer related, but I'm gonna make a computer.
Tim Bourguignon 7:46
Absolutely. That still has his own any of the office. So that's yeah, that's for nerd. Did you did you have the feeling that this would be your life? Or was it just yeah, there was there was the your hobby at that time? But would there? Was there something for Ulsan there
Chris Coyier 8:03
kinda, I think I probably did. But I don't you know, when you're, I'm trying to think of what age that would have sunk in. And probably not until high school. Because I think at high school, you are starting to finally think about your life. But while I was in middle school, which is for us, like grades 678, which is, I don't know, 1314 15 kind of thing. Maybe younger than that 1230 Morning, I'm not thinking about my life. At that time, I'm just having fun. I'm just riding my bike around and screwing off, you know, and in high school, I still was absolutely screwing off. But it does occur to you that it was expected of me that I would go to college after high school. That was just, that was the thing. My parents didn't, but for some reason, that was just more expected of me for some reason, good on them. That was cool, was a good idea. But then, certain realities are true to you that like I'm gonna have to pick a major, I should think about that, you know, and things like that. And I liked these computers. And it was it's fairly obvious because you're like, basically an adult at that point that people need to make money in the world. And that's a way that you can make money in the world. I'm not sure I understood how exactly but computers equal money. And that seems like a career. It was that was part of my mind because I had an you know, several other passions. I'd say, I mean, passion might be a strong word, but in high school, I was really into a variety of things. You know, I like played sports, but you know, that wasn't a passion of mine because I kind of knew like, Well, I'm not really an athlete. That's just I'm just doing this for fun. But I was really into ceramics. That was really sweet. I really, really exceptionally good ceramics program in high school for some reason. I don't know how they manage that. That's pretty rare at the high school level, but it was a great program for that. And my absolute best friend at the time, was guy named Jeff Kim panna who's who somehow was just born knowing that he was going to be a ceramicist for his whole life? Never has he ever wavered from that path. We're still friends today. And he's still a ceramicist today. So he just never, never want I've never seen and he doesn't even think about it in that way. It's not like he's like, Yep, that was or at least it doesn't seem so to me, it just doesn't seem like he has any option like that's just the world that he lives in. And I followed in his footsteps to some degree like i He was so passionate about that it made me want to be passionate about it too. And I was for a while I wasn't in in high school with him. I'm like, This is so cool. Like, I was still a computer nerd. And I still played sports. And I still had nerdy hobbies, like playing Magic, the Gathering and you know, just loved all that stuff. But but, you know, it was hard to split time between them. And I'd say at some point ceramics was the number one, I guess you could call it a hobby. But you know, you took the actual classes in it in high school, too. And then by the time you're older, in high school, you have like electives. And, you know, it was very easy to take it, you could fill up half your day with ceramics, and no, he did. But I knew that there's no money in it, you know, there's no money in it, then there's still not, you know, you'd have to be an just an outstanding artist who was extremely productive to ever make, like a good career out of it. And Jeff has made a career out of it, but ended up teaching, you know, that was one of the possible paths is you can just make stuff. And hopefully you make the kind of stuff that people want to buy, and then you make a lot of it and can maybe make a living. That's a much harder life than just being like, I'm gonna make some stuff, but then teach or something tangential to the thing. So he does that great, good for him, you know, pretty cool life, I think. But I was like, I can't, you know, I'm half or less as naturally talented at this stuff as you not just manipulating clay, but how you think about clay and how the chemicals work and how the equipment works, and how the processes work and stuff. He's in his mind, just digest all of that in a good way. And I was like, looking at my own mind. And I'm like, my mind can does that better with computers? Yeah, so yeah,
Tim Bourguignon 12:15
did you know there was any money in computers?
Chris Coyier 12:17
I think, I think so. You know, enough, you know, I don't know that I quite got it, or what all the possible paths were or what are what my path would be. But I kind of, you know, I liked all of it. I was willing to learn. And this is pre college, you know, so I do end up going to college. I go, even Jeff went to the same college as I did, along with a bunch of other friends from our high school. And it was just very easy to get into State College an hour away from where I grew up kind of thing. It was a it was an it was an easy choice. I didn't I didn't apply for Stanford or anything. In fact, I did apply for the University of Wisconsin Madison, which is a pretty good college here in the States, and wasn't smart enough for that I was roundly rejected for that college, which is a far cry from Harvard. So I can see you're my not exactly a high graded student, you know, but I had a I had a like, I don't care how smart you think I am. I didn't feel dumb. I felt smart. And I was like, screw you for not accepting me. You know, like I can, I can extract what I need from the world's intelligence wise and wisdom wise, without you, you know, I don't care that I'm going to a dumb school. I can be smart wherever I go. I think that was my I have that level of cockiness, I guess at least. So I go to that school. And I was like, I'm gonna do computer science. I can't compete with Jeff, I can't compete with these real artists that are really making a life out of this thing. I think it's fun, but I can't make a life out of it. So I go for computer science or what that college called something else. It was like management computer systems or something. It had programming classes, but it wasn't full bore computer science. And I did it for three and a half years or something like just forced myself through it. And I just hated every second of it, is all the computer labs were all PCs, and I was a Mac guy forever. Like after the Commodores. I went Mac and I never went back. I was a Mac guy all through the arrow and Max were very not cool. That's changed. Fortunately, over time, they're back to being cool again, but I don't even care if they stopped being cool. I'm in I'm a Mac guy, whatever. So I even just that made me made me hate it. I was like, I guess I'll use your crappy PCs, whatever. But the teachers were not interesting or passionate. I connected with none of them. The I didn't like the languages. I didn't like the assignments. I just didn't like any of it. And I was like, Oh great. My cool thing. My computer passion is just being snuffed out by the stupid, you know thing, but it's not I kept my computers. I kept having fun on computers. I was still a computer kid, even college, but just had nothing to do with what I was actually doing in classes. So felt like two different lives. And that sucked. And it made me unhappy. I was just about to graduate with it. And this was my, normally my parents are very chill and just could care less what I do for the most part with my life, which I appreciate it and I think is a good way to parents generally. They were pissed when I totally dropped the computer science stuff, the management computer system stuff and just said, I'm going back to ceramics, I ended up, I ended up getting my degree in, I got a Bachelor of Arts focusing on ceramics instead just totally blew away all my computer stuff, because I just hated it. I was like, if I'm going to do computers, I'm going to find a way to do it my way. And not this other way, especially watching kids graduate from that program. And at the time, it was, there was a lot of people just getting a job doing like, why 2k conversion work for banks, remember that when like your 2000 switched, it was like, we're gonna, all the money in the world is gonna disappear. Unless, unless we get you young college bughouse to come update our, you know, our old legacy system to have extra zeros at the hell that meant. And then that came, you know, anyway, that sounded miserable to me to like, go work at a bank or whatever, no offense to anybody that gets a bank job, I'm sure they pay very well. And that's a pretty good reason to have a job too. But that was not the life for me. So anyway, I have all this, I still am a computer nerd spending a lot of my time, you know, leveling up when I'm able to use computers for which was like, maybe I'll learn design, maybe I'll get into building websites, maybe I'll get into the, you know, different online communities and just try to be important somehow and compete in a community. So that was fun, and then get the degree and then left. And I was like, now what the hell do I do, my mom ends up getting me a job in the printing industry, basically, where she works, because there's this computer job you can have in the printing industry that's like that your job is to take files from designers. So somebody designs like a brochure or something and you know, it's destined for paper, it's, you know, it's gonna be a literal folded brochure, or booklet, or something that gets mailed or a poster or something. And we're gonna print 15,000 of them or something. And so how do you get that document ready for the press? I think some people imagine that the printing industry is a lot like your home printer. So you open up the file, you hit Command P print, print 15,000 copies, send, the printer fires up prints, 15,000 of them, and you put them in a box and you send them not how it works, actually, you know, I think it can there starting to be you know, there's very large scale digital, digital printers that are close to that. But there's, that's just not, it's not how it works for a bunch of reasons. One is, the chances of the designer preparing the document perfectly for a large scale press is like zero, you they designers just, it's not like there's no print focus designers. But it's rare, you know, usually they just design anything and send it over and expect that it works. There's all kinds of prep that has to happen to that document to fix all this stuff you screwed up. So that was kind of my job for a while is to like fix design documents, to actually be ready for a press not what you think is ready for a press, you know. And then if it's a really large run, usually, you know, different printing companies specialize in different aspects of this, but I always worked at and I worked in a bunch of these over the years, offset lithography places, meaning that they're when things are printed, they're literally printed with plates, CMYK plates, so you take that digital document that you've fixed up, and literally produce metal plates out of it. And then that's where my job stopped. Once I had the plates, I'd bring them to the Pressman and be like, here you go, your job now and then they actually did the printing. So my job was bad design document two plates. But there's lots of jobs, you know, so in a shop like that, there's like an, you know, basically an inbox, you get to work, you pluck a file off the inbox. You look at what's going on in that file, try to figure out what it is they're trying to do. Get it Get it ready for the next step and put it in the outbox, you know, but it was computer work, and it was on Macs. So I didn't hate it. You know, I was like, this is interesting. They were involved some troubleshooting. It wasn't wrote it wasn't pulling ink across the screen. At least I got to, you know, employ some troubleshooting in my mind. And the money was good because I was 20. You know, I don't have a kid. I didn't have a house. I didn't you know, I was just out of college where you're used to making zero money. So even if you're making $28,000 a year, which in the US is you know, not great. It's Basically McDonald's ish money, it still feels okay, at least I get to sit in a comfortable chair and play with computers and play with computers. So, but you know, I was, that's what I think the entrepreneurialism started started to settle in, like the career path for it was called Digital pre press is that job, you know, I could level up a little bit, but there's not, I'm not going anywhere. That's it's just cannot be my life's work. You know, I knew that and but I was like, I don't know how what else to do, really, I don't know how careers work. And like, I don't know, I would like to think kids these days, like understand it a little better, that there's junior and senior and principal developers, and you can get into a shop and rise the ranks and bounce jobs and stuff. I just I guess I just didn't understand that. And I was like, the way to make this work to make the kind of money I'd prefer to be making is to keep the job, but just do other stuff on the side, which I still think is a common thing. Like, maybe there's some other way I can extract money from the internet, you know, I would read blogs, because that was kind of the heyday of blogging. I feel like maybe that maybe that's now I don't know. But at the time, I thought that blogging was was like cool. And certainly just part that was part of my computer habits of the day was to just read blogs. And I remember a literal blog called ProBlogger. Darren, I think was his name. And his whole purpose in life was to teach you how to make money blogging, and I was infatuated with it, but did nothing with it, you know, I would just read about it me like, Oh, you're so cool. You have this digital photography blog, and you fill it up with affiliate links, and you make money selling other people digital cameras. And so I eventually tried to get in on that, and just started blogs of different topics and tried to put advertising on them and affiliate links and stuff and see if I could make any money. And it worked a little bit. It's definitely not a super success story. But when you're 20 or whatever, you know, young, if you make $8, you're like, awesome. You know, that's $8 I didn't have before it like made a material impact on my life, you know, you make $42 I could like buy some cool shoes or something that I wanted to, you know, like felt free. And I that became kind of addictive over time. Well, let's try to scale this thing up. So that's kind of where my career went. And because I was then making blogs, that's being a developer, like now that that line had been crossed without me like intentionally crossing it. I was building literal websites. And then I'm like, This is awesome. You know, that was definitely a clicky moment of like, this is what I want to do. How can there not be money on the internet? You know, like, there definitely is, other people might want to have me make these and I definitely dabbled in the freelance thing for a minute. And then realize that that's like a skill set that I don't even want really, I learned this lesson over and over and over. I just did a freelance website for somebody and I just hated it. And I never want to do it again. But I'm sure I will next year and learn the lesson that I don't like to make websites for other people.
Tim Bourguignon 23:18
What do you don't like?
Unknown Speaker 23:20
I just don't like the like, you know, there was even like some crying involved in at one point that I was not that people shouldn't cry, cry all you want, but like, I don't want your crying. It was like it was like I showed this website to somebody else. They didn't like it. Now I'm questioning whether I should have done this redesign at all. And I'm so frustrated. And now I need to vent that to you kind of thing and I'm like, Whoa, I don't know what to do with that. This is a freebie. Like so not only now you regret it I really regret it in any way that's that's my own lack of skill in that area. I should be able that's part of the job I should be able to deal with that. I should have seen that coming I should have I think there's a huge skill set that is dealing with clients and handling client style work that I don't have. I have a different skill set. But anyway, I don't freelance I never have people email me asking for freelance and I just straight up say no, usually, you know end up getting roped in for weird reasons sometimes, but that's not a that's not the path I went. And I realized that early on as every single time I tried to make a website for somebody else for money. I didn't like it ever. There's never a moment where I I made a website for somebody else and the money was so good that it like was worth the pain ever and never had that so so it's that I think led to today where I just I make websites for myself. I'll teach you how to make websites I will you know make my own websites to try to make money in other ways, but I prefer leading my own teams and building my own websites than building yours.
Tim Bourguignon 25:55
That makes a lot of sense. Do you remember when you this, this, this switch, flipped in your mind and say, Okay, now it's becoming a career, and I can leave my printing job behind and do something else. You spoke Off, off side, side project site activities. And when that became your main activity,
Chris Coyier 26:17
even CSS tricks was one of those, you know, it was I was working at the print shop and just being like that, let's, I'll spin up this blog, and this blog and this blog and see how they all do, I was kind of doing it with a friend of mine, too, they were kind of help based sites, and yada, yada. So we ended up having a bunch of them, and then a bunch of them had to be pulled down for various reasons. And, but I liked blogging about CSS the most and kept doing that, because I was just learning so much about it, then I'd be like, I'm gonna, you know, I played in a band, of course, like everything else, I'm like, the band website, I'll make a personal website, I'll make, you know, this fictitional restaurant website, just because I was just addicted to making websites, you know, then I was working in the print industry being like, Okay, I've clearly made like a bunch of websites, I actually know that I'm not crazy skilled in this, but I'm, you know, the websites I make, if I'm looking around the internet, they're not bad. You know, there's, there's people out there making money that are worse than I am. So I straight up had the desire, I was like, I'm gonna leave print behind. And I am going to find a job. As a web designer, developer, as a web something. I don't even know how that industry works, but I want it in. My mom knew that and helped me a second time. She knew people in town because she's worked at the printing company. Remember, she's the one who got me into the digital pre press thing, knows ad agencies all around town, because that's who her clients are, she sells. She sells printing. So she's, you know, just knows has contacts all over town. I was in Madison, Wisconsin at the time, and found this little shop who she would do printing work sometime. And they had one web developer, because they were they were a print shop, you know, they did design work for people or an ad agency kind of thing. But at the time, that world was going through a shift where they're like, Okay, you design our catalog, but we want you to design our website that has the catalog on it, too, like the same agency should be able to do both of those jobs in their mind. And the owner of that little company was like, Yeah, we should, because that means I can charge you twice as much or four times as much or whatever. Right, like but, and then the problem of we don't have anybody that knows how to do that was just a problem of hiring. You know, like, I don't know how to the owners, I don't know how to do that. But I can hire somebody who does, you know, hired one person to do it got pretty far in this world with maybe four or five, six clients. And to have that one person just be like, I quit. So that agency then was in a, you know, in a place where they needed to hire somebody and quick to manage the properties, they already had to fulfill some promises they were wanting to make and stuff like that. So it was very much like a in the deep end, they I ended up taking that job. I was like hell yeah, let's do it. And it was extremely fun for me extremely quickly and stressful. Because we had probably a for example, had promised a website for a magician, literally, like, you know, card tricks and stuff that had a but they had a whole they own the property. Like they did shows, sometimes twice nightly shows where they, you know, they would disappear a race car. And so it was like big time magician stuff. I loved them. They were so cool. Their show was awesome. Anyway, the idea was, we should be able to sell tickets online. You know, these days? I still don't even know how I would build that. Exactly. I'd probably look for like a WordPress plugin or something. I didn't know. At the time, I really didn't know, you know, but I ended up you know, I was like, I think we can do this. I'm just gonna tell you we can and then we'll figure it out. And I remember that being one of my first real Like, sweat, bullets, jobs. Because not only that is like, the requirements are weird sometimes, you know, like, let's say you, you know, I'm learning development for the very first time figure out how to wire up a calendar. Wow, that was a big enough pain in the ass, then you can buy tickets on certain days. And then I remember while they're like, Okay, well, some of the days the show is at 7pm. And some of the days it's at 8pm. I was like, Oh, shucks, I have to re architect this whole thing to like, figure that out, because I must have hard coded something. And then they're like, well, sometimes not only is there a seven o'clock show, there's a 930, show two in here, like, Oh, my God. So not only have to re architect this, I need to design the page such that it's clear what things are on what days, I just remember that the kind of the requirements shifting underneath me as we're trying to build this, which made it extra stressful, but we pulled it off. And I think we did a good job. And it's they sold tickets on that system for, you know, a decade or something. So it was pretty cool, pretty satisfying. And that was like one of five clients, you know, because I was really busting my ass for in the end kind of trivially more money than I was making at the print industry. So I think, instead of making $28,000 a year, I was making, like $38,000 a year. And I think at that point, I was starting to grow up a little bit and understand what salaries were like for web developers. And they're not $38,000 a year, even then, they were way better, you know. So I started to look around and be like, if I have jobs, I might be able to literally double my salary. So I could probably be working on less projects with less stress for double the money. Yeah, you know, I think that's what kids understand. Now. You know, talk to boots, bootcamp, Grads, they know that they're headed for six figure salaries in the US, they know that that's if they don't get it. On day one. They know they're not far away from that they're a Job Hopper two away from six feet. I didn't it took me a long time to know that. But now they know that,
Tim Bourguignon 32:05
how did this first job working for somebody else feel compared to the freelancing you did since then? You said freelancing was not your stuff.
Chris Coyier 32:15
Yeah, I only did the freelancing. Like, while I was in the print industry, I had never like I never, I never had a period of my life where I sustained myself with freelancing. So it was better. You know, I liked having some buffer between the clients and me, you know, having a boss that was that the buck stop there, that Mike didn't, I didn't always have to directly deal with him. It did turn out that I'd mostly did though, because it was that that job where I worked there at the office for most of the years, and then towards the end of it, I had an opportunity to move to Portland, Oregon. And I had never left I'd never been more than an hour. From you know, where I was born, essentially. It was like, I'm gonna do this because I want my life to be bigger, you know. And I picked up and went to Portland, Oregon, but I had to convince that boss at the time to let me do it remotely. remote work very much not a thing then. But I was like, dude, all we do is email and sit we at the time, our number one business communication tool was AOL Instant Messenger. We were literally on AOL Instant Messenger all day, just chatting back and forth. We barely even talked at the office, even though we sat like 10 feet apart. You just chat
Tim Bourguignon 33:26
was weird, very modern. Yeah.
Chris Coyier 33:30
I was like, Dude, no, the AOL Instant Messenger works in Portland too, you know. And he was really hesitant to do it. But I was really prepared. I was like, I actually can do this without you. Like, I don't know what I'm gonna do, I'll find a job or something. But like, I wanted to go so bad that I was like, I will make coffee, I don't care. You know, I will, I will take a step down in my career if I have to do this journey. So fire me or not, but I'm willing to make this work. And it did. And I did it for years and years after that. So I think it was kind of a success of remote work. Very cool.
Tim Bourguignon 34:05
Indeed. And I have to ask, because before forget, you spoke about having many, many websites. So how many domains do you own right now?
Chris Coyier 34:13
No, right now? Less than I did, then.
Tim Bourguignon 34:18
How many of them are dead or pointing to nothing and wanted to do something?
Chris Coyier 34:25
Yeah, yeah, all at the time. Those websites I was referring to were like, we bought the websites, Photoshop, help.com, InDesign help.com, illustrator help.com. We bought a bunch of Adobe specific help sites, and then filled it with content that were like, problems that you might have with Adobe software things in the point was SEO. The point was if if somebody has that problem, and they Google it, maybe they'll land on our site, and we'll not only attempt to answer that question as best we can, but we'll have ads on that site too. Like Google AdSense. stuff. And even if we make five bucks per site per month, that's cool, because we were young. And the problem was Adobe doesn't like it when you have websites with their named properties in the URL. So we got like a cease and desist that was moving those sites down. But at the time, we had kind of lost passion for those anyway, in the one that I really liked, was blogging about CSS, which I was doing the same thing on, put AdSense on and try to sell ads on it and stuff that has its own separate story where, you know, it was fun, you know, I started getting not notoriety, but linked to sometimes started, the traffic started to grow on it. But then I would get contacted by companies in that niche that wanted to advertise on it specifically, and I don't know, you know, I don't know, hardly know about this industry enough. But it was like a straight up, like, I'll pay pal, you $40 to put 125 by 125 pixel ad on your website for two months. They'd like to spell it out for you what they're willing to do. And I was like, Oh, yes, please pay pal me at this address. And they did. I was like, give me that pixel. And then I was like, Wow, holy crap, that was way more than I'm making google adsense, and, you know, then sold it to multiple companies and then was would would be really, you know, businessy about it, you know, I'd write back to him and say, oh, here, your thing got 38 clicks this week. And, you know, would you like to renew it, we have a new rate, though, it's $45 a month now. You know, eventually sold enough of them, and then started using networks to put ads on the site too, and just kind of grew up that to the point where it made real money, I guess, not like quit your job money, but money that was like, this is definitely worth the time investment. And it's a part of the career now. And that has grown slowly over time. There's never a big moment where it made twice as much money one year as it did before, really, but it's just grown slowly and well enough that whatever was happening in my career, that was always part of it. And I was very honest about the companies I work with, like, Yeah, I'll work here, but I do this too. And then finally, you know, it made enough money that I was able to take a leap and be like, I think I'm only going to do that, and just see if I can do it. When was it? I probably could look up the exact year. But I was working at SurveyMonkey, I was working there because the company I worked at before that Wufu got bought by Survey Monkey, which was a kind of a positive moment, especially for them, it was a very small team, and three of them were owners, so they got rich, I did not. I had a fairly because I was just a new employee there, you know, and then went off to work at Survey Monkey in Silicon Valley. And that was fun. It was like this cool experience. But at the time, I was like, man, but I have so little control here. I'm such a nobody, that it was, I felt like a downgrade in my life a little bit. And that's where I was like, I'm gonna, I'm gonna do it. I'm gonna peace out and leave. So that was 2012 Oh, my God, I feel old. That was almost 10 years ago. But I remember that. I was like, I had an, you know, an Oh, crap moment, right after I quit being like, Okay, I did it, I quit. These websites, I'm making better frickin pan out. CSS tricks itself was the biggest one, it needs to step up here, it needs to do a good job, it needs to make money so that I can pay my rent at the time I was paying rent in Palo Alto, California, which is bad Islamically. So I was like, You know what I'm gonna do, I'm going to get really serious about CSS tricks, I'm going to invest in it, I'm going to have strategy, I'm going to, you know, work with advertising partners, to maximize what we can do here, I'm gonna find new ways to monetize what's possible on CSS tricks. So that's going to all be coupled with design work, because well, that's gonna be I'm gonna do content strategy. I'm gonna do all this stuff. But there's design work to be done to. But at that time, on SEO strict, that's what I wrote about, I wrote about how to make websites and the, you know, anything and everything that has to do with building websites is a blog post away, you know, so I was like, I'm going to blog it, and I'm going to make videos on it. I feel like I was not super early, but pretty early in the making videos about web development thing, like I can't even compete on YouTube these days, like the YouTube gets totally taken over. But at the time, I was one of the few people you know, making web development videos. Instead, I'm going to make a huge series, where I introspectively look at what it's going to take to really seriously rebuild this site, with help with content strategists, with illustrators with WordPress people with all this stuff. And I said, if you want to watch those videos, you got to back my Kickstarter, and did a Kickstarter campaign, which was kind of cool. It ended up making like So 880 $9,000 was pretty good for a Kickstarter, only the problem was that I spent all of it and more, because it was like, we'll send you a t shirt. The T shirt was expensive to print, I hired a designer who was totally expensive to design the t shirt that went with it. I hired all these people that I hired to do the website, I made nothing actually on it, you know? So it's not like Chris got rich in one year kind of thing people do you know, but at the time, there was like a perception. I was like, Oh, what are you gonna do moneybags after your Kickstarter? I'm like, I'm telling you between the taxes and this, I didn't make anything. But what I got out of it was a better CSS tricks. You know, I got the first like, real serious version of that website. And now it's still kicking.
Tim Bourguignon 40:47
And of course, it's been 10 years of rainbows and unicorns.
Chris Coyier 40:50
Yeah, well, I can kind of, at this point, district does really well, and still isn't. I don't have to spend all day of my day on CSS tricks. I still think of it as just like, I don't know, it's a blog, I have some people that helped me with it. People can guess write for the blog, I'll work on it. iteratively over time, but it is not an all day, every day thing for me, which is good. I've always wanted it to be that so I could do other things. But also for those same 10 years because that that was in like September of 2012. By December of 2020 12. I had already launched code pen with friends. So those were like neck and neck happened at the same time shortly after that started Shop Talk show two. So that's like, that was even before that a little bit. So all three of those things, code pen, CSS tricks, and shop talk show were born in 2012. And that's all I do. You know, that's all I've been doing for the last 10 years. Is those three things pretty much?
Tim Bourguignon 41:45
And writing a couple books? Yeah, the books? I've heard it takes a little bit a little while.
Chris Coyier 41:52
Yeah, it was work. But like any career wise, it's, you know, half a percent, you know, like that didn't, whatever. They're interesting stories in and of themselves, but in the grand scheme of my career are a blip, I think,
Tim Bourguignon 42:05
did you try to launch something else since 2012? Now, nothing? Do you miss it? No,
Chris Coyier 42:13
only because I'm having the itch a little bit now. But not enough to like, the biggest one is code pen. I know, we've hardly talked about it at all. But that's my real life. Now, my whole life is code pen. Now. It's big, it has full time employees, we have big dreams for it, I have co founder, that's, you know, 90 plus percent of my life now. And even though it's 10 years old, or eight, or nine, or whatever, exactly, we'd call it. We have huge dreams for it. We strategize for it, we have, you know, Alex and I, the co founder Copan are very aligned in where we're headed with this thing. And we have a long way to go. And that snuffs out any desire, I have to do anything totally new, because I'm like, I have what I want to build, if somehow code pen blew up tomorrow, and some tragic accident, you know, however, that might happen. My best idea for a startup is what we're trying to build that code pen, I would just start over and build what we're already trying to build. If I asked myself, what's your best startup idea? What could you do? If you're doing anything at all? I'd be like this, this is a good idea. This is what I want to do. So I know, I'm being vague about what that thing is. But that's, you know, that's the nature of startups.
Tim Bourguignon 43:34
That must feel awesome. And you said before that aren't that freelancing didn't didn't taste good for you? And we've talked a bit about all you do, etcetera. What does a good day
Chris Coyier 43:46
look like? A good day? Oh, that's a good question. I mean, part of it is healthy, you know, you got to wake up feeling good feeling rested. You know, we like you, you're not tired or sore or whatever else. So I think about that type of stuff these days. But then, you know, I come to work at my, at my office, I've been feeling good. We got I got a new office recently, and the kind of the, you know, the middle of COVID We ended up moving to an office, that's just just me and my wife, and I'm very happy about that. It makes me not that I didn't like the stuff before, but that kind of influences my day. Like, how, how nice my spaces that I get to go to work, you know, I like to get up and get to it. I like to a day where I have, you know, even like a good couple of hours where there's no structure at all to my day, which is like, you know what, I feel like doing just anything. Sometimes it's a hard deep work things sometimes I'm going to write a post sometimes I'm going to do some planning, but it doesn't matter. I'm just following my muse you know, that would be part of a good day if I if I couldn't have that that would be a less good day. And then whatever the rest of my plan day As if it goes, well, it's nice if I go into a meeting and come out of it and feel like that was actually productive. I'm glad that meeting happened, which is, you know, 50% of meetings, if you're lucky. That's part of the good day. I always do like it if I get some good writing done, you know, because I still write on CSS tricks almost every day, you know, it feels feels good to have said something, you know, to have turned your, your days thinking into some words. That's nice. And then, you know, my family is very important to me. So I like it when we're communicating well, and the little one is healthy and laughing. And we just do something fun together. That's a good day.
Tim Bourguignon 45:45
Did COVID Student change anything for you besides your new office? I mean, you've been working remotely for ever. Professionally wise,
Chris Coyier 45:52
it's true. I got I did get to play COVID on easy mode, in a way, because I was already remote. And I know there's lots of refrain around. Yeah, but COVID remote is different, which is totally fair. But I think probably more different for people at companies that we're now having lots more remote employees, that was not the case. For us, we've always been all remote. So didn't change much there. It does change just how everybody feels and what's on their mind. And they're thinking about and stuff. Of course, it had change. But it wasn't as dramatic as some people often thought about all those people in New York City that got hit so hard, so early, live in these tiny apartments, and just can't literally can't leave them. Why, you know, like that was playing COVID on extra hard mode. I live in a, I think of it as a pretty small town in Central Oregon. There's not even a lot of towns around us, you know, it's pretty, it's pretty remote. I mean, you can live lot more remote than we do. But in the grand scheme of things, it's pretty remote. And it's very beautiful. Here, it's mountainous, and there's forests, and rivers and desert and all kinds of stuff. And not that many people all throughout COVID I could just get in the car and go for a hike and, you know, experience the outdoors in a way that wasn't that different COVID are not, again, easy mode. You know, not everybody has that kind of freedom. And we did
Tim Bourguignon 47:21
indeed, indeed, yeah, my my parents and Cicero said in Paris, it's been an interesting, interesting journey to see what's what happened there. Terrible has ever been the forming advice in your young career when you were still searching your way going to ceramics and back to design and back and forth to computers. A particular advice would say that that was really important to me, you know, whatever advice is, you're not going to listen to me anyway. So is that your advice? Don't listen to me? Yeah.
Chris Coyier 47:56
I just know that you're not going to, you know, what I do think about, though, is that, like, if you could grant honest self reflection to somebody that you should, you know, they'll be people that want to put you see that feel like they're forcing their way into something that you know, isn't going to stick. You know, they're like, I want to be a developer. And they like, somehow they're learning Python or something, which is great. But uh, you know, I'm sure you'll there's lots of jobs in Python or something, but you just can tell that they're, like, frustrated by it. And it's really not that fun. And they thought that being a developer was going to be so much more interesting than it really is. And you're like, okay, that sucks. It could just be Python, you know, it could be that your, your, your don't like that, and what you actually like, is design, or something. Or maybe you like UX, you'd like thinking of like, what's bad about websites and wish you could be involved? Because you could lead the team to fix these things that really suck about this website? You know, from a management perspective, you know, like, like, why don't we have a page that's this? Why is this thing over here, that doesn't make any sense that should be over here. That in that type of work, maybe that clicks with you in another way? Or maybe that's what you're asked to do. But really you like arrays, because it's really interesting to you how to, you know, pop off two things from an array and process them in a way return it because that clicks with you. Those are as different as can be. Those are like super different jobs and roles. And working on the web, doesn't mean that you have to be great at both. You can like, you know, and I think that's not as known as it should be from young people. They're like, oh, I want to work. I want to be in tech. Well, then whatever. The first thing presented to me is that's what tech is. And I either like it or I don't it'd be nice if people can be exposed to more than that really early, so that they could self reflect and figure out which one of those things like click x with them better.
Tim Bourguignon 50:01
That's what reminded me of something I do quite often is when I talk to somebody, I always try to open the door at the end of discussion. And so particularly with juniors, or people new in their career, they ask a question, and we talk about this, and we try to really try to find an answer. But in the end, I just bring a twist that shows them a, there is way more in this direction. And you can go there, and we'll see, we'll see what that leads us. And try to always open the door for a different way of things, seeing things and maybe maybe a follow up. And that's my way of, of granting them maybe not self reflection in this case, but a way to think about something else and steering it all the direction and maybe remove a bit of the fog of war. We're playing strategy games, and see if there's, there's something over there. Maybe you can do there. Yeah, that's good. That's good. I wasn't fishing for compliments, but thank you. Um, so Chris, our time box is way over, actually. Where would be the best place to to contact you if our listeners want to? Do I want to start a discussion with
Chris Coyier 51:14
you? Discussion with me? Yeah, I mean, I just I think the the personal website thing is the easiest to, because it's a portal, you know, so Chris Boyer, my name.net will get you there and and, you know, links to everything I do in the world, but certainly has my email address there too. If it's like, I want to specifically send you a message I, I like email. But if you happen to like social networks and stuff, I'm certainly on Twitter at my name as well. And that's linked from my personal website as well. That's probably the easiest social network to get me on.
Tim Bourguignon 51:46
And all the links will be in the shownotes. Anything timely on your on your plate,
Chris Coyier 51:51
know, just, you know, sign up for code pen pro, it's mandatory after listening to this podcast.
Tim Bourguignon 51:56
Then listeners you heard. Chris, it's been fantastic hearing your story. Thank you very much for sharing. My pleasure. Thank you. And this has been another episode of depression. And we'll see each other next week. Bye. Oh, I love it when stories don't have a straight line toward wept open or double. But in general, I've seen this on the shop floor. I'm amazed by all those journeys and really envy their authors. I have the feeling the gathered a much more diverse set of experience than I did. How did you like Chris's story? Let me know. I'm always delighted by your comments, and all your thoughts and ideas. You can reach me on Twitter at @timothep or use the comments section on our website. We're at journey.info. I asked Chris what a good day looks like. What does a good day looks like to you? Reach out and tell me on Twitter or email or use pictures if you prefer? Maybe I can organize something in an upcoming episode to make your day better.