Software Developers Journey Podcast

#240 Chris Ferdinandi from HR professional to vanillajs-guy


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Chris Ferdinandi 0:00
Where I've seen most folks get frustrated is when they try to do something that's too big. And they can't find help because they don't even know the right questions to ask because they've taken on something that's just too big for where they're at. And, you know, one of the things I've found for my own students is that kind of that learning inertia is one of the biggest drivers of success. So if you're able to just keep learning and keep creating things in a way that is not necessarily linear, but like, just gets progressively more complex, you're a lot more likely to be successful than if you throw yourself into this immovable wall over and over again, and hope that you chip away enough at it to actually make something happen. So like, I always tell people your first project like a really good one is I have a button and I have some content. When I click the button, the content gets hidden. When I click it again, the content shows back up.

Tim Bourguignon 0:54
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. I'm your host, Tim bourguignon. On this episode 214. I received Chris Ferdinand de Chris is the author of The Vania Jas guide. He runs the vanilla Jas Academy. He maintains the vanilla Jas toolkit and hosts the vanilla Jas podcast. I think there's a trend here, Chris simply helps people learn vanilla JavaScript, and believe there's a simpler way, our more resistant than a resilient way to make things for the web. And I love it already. Chris, welcome to step three.

Chris Ferdinandi 1:38
Tim, thanks so much for having me. And I'm sorry for making you say vanilla Jas so many times.

Tim Bourguignon 1:44
It's almost a tongue twister, isn't it? It's a really is. But before we come to your story, I want to thank the terrific listeners who support the show every month, you are keeping the Debjani lights up. If you would like to join this fine crew, and help me spend more time on finding phenomenal guests, then editing audio tracks, please go to our website, Dev journey dot info and click on the Support me on Patreon button. Even the smallest contributions are giant steps toward a sustainable dev journey. journey. Thank you. And now back to today's guest. So Chris, as you know, the show exists to help the listeners understand what your story look like, and imagine how to shape their own future. So as usual on this show, let's go back to your beginnings. Where would you place the start of your journey?

Chris Ferdinandi 2:39
Yeah, so my dev journey actually started as an HR professional, I had kind of a windy path I had like five or six majors in college, I eventually landed on anthropology. And then in my second senior year of college, I realized that as much as I loved learning about this stuff, I didn't want to do it professionally, like I didn't want to anthropology usually involves a lot of time, like a way out in the field, and I'm kind of a homebody, so I ended up getting an internship and human resources, I liked it well enough that I just kind of stuck with it out of habit out of college. And along the way, I had some really strong opinions about things that I didn't like things I wanted to see done differently. And so I started blogging, and I really wanted to have more control over how my site looked and some of the stuff that was on it. So I started kind of hacking around with WordPress and PHP and some HTML and CSS. And I got hooked. And that was kind of a that was the start of it. For me, there was a second pivotal moment in my career as part of HR where I had this really awesome boss who unknowingly kind of like really pushed me over the edge to do this professionally. But that was the kind of the origin for me was blogging as an HR guy.

Tim Bourguignon 3:58
There's a site tension there, the site engineer Attention, attention. I love how many stories start either with gaming or tweaking your own blog. Yeah. Seems to be the trend, really, we have our own blogs and at some point, we want to tweak it because it doesn't look the way we want. It starts with CSS mostly. And then here goes the finger and here goes the arm and and in you are and you wake up and you can code in PHP.

Chris Ferdinandi 4:27
Yeah, it was really it's always it's, I used to always be PHP these days. last album, that's certainly a generation of as it was php.

Tim Bourguignon 4:35
So how did you graduated with with big air quotes from tweaking your blow and doing stuff on your own in PHP until saying, well, maybe this career in HR that I'm having is not what I should be doing for my my day job?

Tim Bourguignon 4:52
Yeah, yeah, there was a it was it was one of these things where it was just like a gradual shift, and then it happened all All at once. So there were probably two, two moments that really solidified things. For me. The first was we, I was pretty early in my HR career. And I had to work with a, like a manager to let someone go. And, you know, so. So we fired this person. And they had been there for like 12 years, they had gone from being like just an individual worker to someone who was trying to be a manager, and they weren't very good at it. And rather than maybe helping them transition back into being an individual contributor, they're like, alright, we're just gonna fire them after 12 years, which didn't, just on its face didn't feel particularly well. But this person then, you know, wanted to say goodbye to their co workers, and I let them because that's just a normal human thing to do. And I got like, scolded by the HR person who was coaching me about how you shouldn't do that, because they could steal stuff and like, like, upset the people by making their firing public, and I'm like, Look, dude, when they don't show up tomorrow, everyone's gonna know what happened. Like, this is stupid, like, obviously. So that really just like, really, really sat wrong with me. And I, I had, I had always kind of approached HR is like this thing where you can remove roadblocks and help people do their best work. And it eventually kind of became very clear to me that it was like a cover your ass tool for employers. And I just really didn't want to be part of that. I ended up I stuck with HR for a while I transitioned out of kind of that caught like a business partner role into more of like a training and development kind of thing. And eventually found a niche teaching. Ironically, software engineers how to grow and change careers and find their next job, and yada yada, yada. And at the time, I had this this really like, super rad manager who he came from, like an academia background. And he was really into like experimenting with weird stuff. And we were kind of playing around with this idea that rather than training being this thing, where you get, like 40 people in a room for a day and a half, while someone talks to them, if it could be more like YouTube, which is not very revolutionary today. But like a decade and a half ago, this was kind of a novel idea that, you know, you could just watch a few short videos, and then get on with your, with your work day and do whatever you needed to do. So we kind of came up with this mock up for an app, and we went to our internal IT department were like, Hey, we really want to like prototype this thing? What's it going to take? And they're like, well, we could do it for $150,000. And it's going to take us about a year, and it's probably not going to have some of the things you want. And we're like, alright, well, a year isn't really going to work for like a quick prototype just to see if this ideal, you know, has legs. So we reached out to a couple of external agencies, and we had one that came back, they're like, oh, yeah, no, no, we can do that in like a month and a half. It'll only cost you half a million dollars. Well, that's not going to work for a quick prototype of a thing that's not really like production ready. So this was the point that really changed my career. So so my manager, John, he looks at me and he goes, he goes, Well, Keith knew I had, you know, kind of, he'd seen some other stuff. I'd done some like dabbling in HTML and CSS at work. And so he'd see you on put together like a little static web page with some career resources and stuff. So he's like, oh, you know, you know, web stuff. Can you build it? And I looked him dead in the eye? And I go, absolutely not. No way I can tell that I way beyond my capabilities. And, and then he goes, Well, can you learn? And like it that hadn't even crossed my mind? That might be something I could figure out how to do. So I'm like, John, probably not. But let me go. Let me go, you know, figure out what I can do. And I'll get back to you. And I knew WordPress at the time. So in my head, this is by no means a novel idea. But it was novel to me, the idea that you could hack WordPress into some sort of app platform instead of just being like a blogging thing. So I spent two weeks just last in the bowels of Stack Overflow, trying to figure out how to make all these modifications to WordPress to be happy with some sort of like user authentication and displaying videos and saving your like progress and things like that. And after two weeks, I had like, literally the shittiest code I've ever written, but it was functional. It was like very, very badly functional, like barely limping along, but it was a prototype of an app. And I was absolutely hooked like that was the moment for me that I was like, forget this age or bullshit. This is what I want to do for the rest of my life. It's so like, I really like as my blog name so I blog over at go make things.com and the name really it comes from the fact that like, I just really enjoy making things nice. socket working with my hands like I'm very bad at MIT, like, I don't have any, like woodworking talent or anything like that. And so development is a way for me to take all these crazy ideas and make them into actual things at work. And so that was just that was it that lit this fire in my belly and I was off I spent the next. Well, it took me like two years, but I spent Yeah, that was it. I was just solely focused on leaving HR and becoming a web developer professionally from that point on.

Tim Bourguignon 11:12
Did you did you leave HR right away and learn and then transition or? No. So

Chris Ferdinandi 11:17
I was one of those things. I spent a lot of time you know, nights, weekends, hobby coding, working on like personal projects, open sourcing some stuff, looking at job descriptions, trying to figure out what sorts of things I might need to know to make this jump. I applied to a bunch of jobs. I looked around internally first. So I was like, I'm already here. People know me, I had built a bit of a reputation as the HR guy who knows tech, because a lot of folks in HR did not at the time. And so I was like, Oh, this will be a pretty easy, easy transition. And it was not I spent like, literally the first eight months, maybe just looking internally for things and discovering that most of the cool work at the company I worked at was outsourced to agencies and the folks that were internal, were just kind of like making sure the lights stay on. So that wasn't gonna work. Mobile was like a new and emerging thing at the time. So I remember actually, one point, I met with a woman who worked she was like the, the head maybe like director for some like wing of the company that built software. And I was like, Oh, so you know, what's your mobile strategy? And she's like, Oh, mobile is a fad. And it's pretty much over. We don't have one. I was like, Alright, this is not this is not good. Clearly, this is not going to work. Like I need to go look elsewhere. So yeah, so I spent, I spent a good amount of time looking internally, and then I eventually kind of started looking for outside jobs. But I stayed in HR, the whole so I kind of I I'm glad I did, because I would have gone a really long time without making any money if I just quit right away. And even like, now I run my own education business. But I did that on the side for like five years while I had a day job because I just really, for me, it's I'm very impulsive. But I'm also maybe a little bit risk averse. And so like, I really I am a big fan of kind of doing things in tandem. And then like slowly transitioning over until you hit this moment where like, you're just you're there and you kind of make that leap.

Tim Bourguignon 13:09
But if you can do that feel burning out in the process, then. Yes, yeah.

Chris Ferdinandi 13:13
And you know, this was like, I was young ish when this happened. Like, I don't know if I'd be able to do that now. But when I was like 2528, something like that. It was it was definitely easier to easier to do.

Tim Bourguignon 13:25
I hear you're the father of three kids who rode belly virus or stomach virus last weekend, some flu the weekend before. And it's been like this for ages. I can say, I've just tired, I want to impact it. Oh, not just a few comments before I had to cringe when you were talking about this, this agency or those agencies? Because I used to work for one of those probably really looking at you and say, Well, half a million that that's a good, that's a good, good price. And then I was one of you saying you're not serious, right? We can do that. It's three days. It will be crappy, but they will have something we have to make it right. So it's gonna be a few months and left them at some point. And then I had to laugh as well as it was your that was there were some weird words and when it just said hey, we were talking about layoffs. And it really sounded like in all the the Hollywood movies where where people are laid off and they get a box and they just leave right away.

Chris Ferdinandi 14:22
Yeah, the company policy was that was the company policy was you escort them out of the beating building immediately. You don't let them talk to anyone. Like it was just really? Like just cook eggs.

Tim Bourguignon 14:33
Okay, from a European standpoint, it's very weird.

Chris Ferdinandi 14:37
You know, and that, wouldn't I you guys have like good laws around workers stuff. Whereas here it's like, you know, everybody's like, Oh, yeah, no, you can, you can quit whenever you want. It's like yeah, but the flip side is you can get fired and just like shoved out on your ass with nothing whenever the company wants and that's often like, oh, shareholders lost 10 cents. Time to fire 100 people

Tim Bourguignon 14:57
at the time it was just recording Twitter's Living this the big way, we've seen this in the US. Okay. The other thing I wanted to do to come back to is the comment you said, you were doing some training as an HR professional for developers, how was this this first glimpse into the developer world? As somebody who hadn't dipped your toes into development yet? Or really dipped your toes into software development for for for real, yet?

Chris Ferdinandi 15:26
Yeah, not as enlightening, as you might think I knew so little about kind of their world. And my focus was more on just kind of the, it was, uh, to be honest, a lot of the kind of the career development stuff I was working on with them was generic advice lightly flavored for kind of software developers, you know, so it was a lot of like, really common advice, just contextualized for their world a little bit, or maybe focused a little bit more on kind of internal. So like, one of the, one of the big challenges I was trying to solve, or one of the things we were trying to do was, a lot of our software engineers felt like they didn't have a good sense of what their career path was, what they do next, how to find open roles internally, when they're ready to move on to the next thing. And so we were trying to answer a lot of those questions.

Tim Bourguignon 16:13
I think so let's come back to your transition from HR to how did you find this first job?

Chris Ferdinandi 16:20
Yeah, slowly. So I applied to a bunch of jobs. So let's back up for a second. So it's funny, I've actually, I was just writing about this this week on on my site. So this is this is particularly kind of timely. But you know, Tim, if you're my age, you may remember that there was a time where people used to send paper resumes to apply for jobs, like they mail it in, you know, and then somewhere along the line, the internet happened and people started applying online. And it was a godsend, because you could you could easily kind of just get a bunch of resumes and go through them and find jobs that were were like, well fitted for you. But at some point, the economy went bad and people started applying for jobs, they were not a good fit for recruiters just got inundated. So most recruiters these days use a piece of software called an applicant tracking system, or ATS. And one of the biggest features of the software is that it will scan resumes for keywords. And if there's not enough matches, the resume just gets tossed to the side never seen by a real human. So because I worked in HR, and I worked with a lot of recruiters, I understood how this worked. And I was able to craft a resume that would actually get past this system and see my real people. And it's not like you don't put a bunch of like skills that you don't have or anything, but like just the cheat code here is most of the keywords that get populated in the ATS are already in the job description. So rather than getting creative with your language, you pull the words that match skills you actually have and use those in your resume instead of you know, so if they say, you know, looking for experience with 11 T, don't put, I have static site generator experience, you put 11 T if that's something you actually have experience with, because you're more likely to be a match. And so you know, I kind of I used this process, I applied to a ton of jobs, I got called back for a bunch of interviews, and I failed, almost every single one. When they came around to the JavaScript portion of things, it became very apparent that my JavaScript skills were awful. And that's what kind of started me down this whole vanilla JavaScript journey because I could kind of hack my way through jQuery, but I had no idea why or how it worked the way it did, how it worked under the hood. And I felt very much like not a real developer. So I started learning browser native JavaScript in the hopes of better understanding the platform and the language so that I would stop failing all these all these interviews. So that was that was a big part of it was just applying and interviewing are really good at interviewing, but at the same time, I was also doing things like going to meetups giving talks on stuff that I'd worked at, like really just you know, 1520 people like you know, local WordPress group WordPress has awesome meetups all over the place. And they except speakers who are not WordPress people, so like if you're just someone who does something front end, you can give a talk at a WordPress meetup. I also attended a few conferences, and I always made a point of letting folks know that I was looking that I was, you know, in the process of transitioning careers and kind of trying to find my next big thing. So one of those conferences was artifact conference, which was run by Jennifer Robbins, and Christopher Christopher Schmidt and Ari styles. And they had they had an event out in Austin, Texas, and they had another one like really close to me in Providence, Rhode Island. I went to it. And I talked to a bunch of people I made some people like it was like decade ago, I met some folks that I'm still friends with now, which is amazing is literally the best conference I've ever been to. And then like six months later, I got an interview from some dude, I sat next to at lunch, who I didn't even remember. And he's like, Hey, my team is hiring. And I remember you just saying you were looking so I've looked you up and I found your website and I thought I'd shoot you an email, it seems like it'd be a good fit for some of this stuff you've done. And turns out actually, the dude like literally lives one town over for me too. And we somehow never run into, like real life. But so I went in, I interviewed, I got hired, the company was Constant Contact, the email marketing folks, they do other marketing too, but they're really they're focused on like, small business marketing. And yeah, it was an amazing team, and amazing learning culture. Like they were so focused on growing developers, they had like, every week, they'd have these amazing, you know, like Lunch and Learn kind of sessions, a lot of they bring in external speakers, it was so awesome. I left after two and a half months, I was very short lived experience for me. So their office was 45 minutes away without traffic during like, you know, commuting hours. It was I was like, in a car for three hours every day. And when I interviewed, I specifically asked about remote work, because I had been doing that in my previous job, very experienced with it super comfortable, no issues. And the hiring manager was like, Well, you know, we can talk about that once you get settled in, like, I'm not opposed to it, we can talk about it once you get settled in. So after, you know, a few weeks to get settled down, I'm like, Alright, so what you know, can we talk about remote work? And Not yet Not yet. So this this, some version of this happened several times. And then finally, she was like, well, remote work isn't really something we do here. Now. They were and I believe this is a manager thing, not a like a company thing. But so, you know, she said that. And then like three days later, the director, her boss had some big meeting where he like, gave this whole speech about how the expectation was that everyone is in the office every day no matter what. And I was like, Alright, I'm out. Like, this is not what I signed up for my back was literally starting to hurt from like, just being in the car so much. And yeah, so I in my head, I was like, right, I'm gonna start looking for something else. And then like, literally the next day, some HR Recruiter that I used to work with in my previous company was like, Hey, man, we're looking for front end developers. Do you know anybody? I know. That's like, what you do now? You know, is there anybody like you've connected with that might be interested. And I was like, Vic, me? Let's chat. And so I nother interview another round of interviews, and I got the hell out of there. Yeah, Constant Contact was like the, the worst thing about it for me was like they had a like, a fun workplace, which I loved was all the video games everywhere. And like an arcade machine down in the, like the first floor and unlimited snacks. And like, they would have no problem with people spending two hours playing Call of Duty. But if I wanted to work from home, or leave a little bit early to like, be traffic, that was a big issue, because I wasn't in the office, and I don't, life's too short for that, that kind of nonsense. So my next job was fully remote. And I was in that job for like, eight years, I stuck around for a really long time, probably, probably longer than I should have. There was definitely a point where like, I wasn't really like, learning anything new. I wasn't really like growing or pushing myself out of my comfort zone much. And at where I was in life, I kind of I kind of liked that, you know, it was like, it was easy, it was comfortable. But it definitely got boring. After

Tim Bourguignon 23:12
a while. There's time for everything. I guess it's time when you this is the time where you need time for your side projects. I mean, when I started this podcast, that was a pretty I wouldn't say easy place but comfortable place definitely. It was a lot of work. But I knew it, it was always the same pattern. I knew where I was there was less or little unexpected. And so I had free time, in my mind at least to craft things whereas nowadays, it's much the opposite.

Chris Ferdinandi 23:42
Well, you know, the other thing too is like I'm American, he's you can tell by my obnoxious accent. And we are obsessed with both work and work is like your sense of like, values like really early in my career. I was like really like grow climb more responsibility. And now that I'm older I'm like I don't I want free time and then like the COVID pandemic just really like accelerated that for me even more than like I already kind of like had this like I'm work is not who I am kind of thing but yeah, and the last few years even more so I just have no no interest in making work my entire personality.

Tim Bourguignon 24:23
I hear how does your your past as an HR professional colors the way you look at our profession nowadays?

Chris Ferdinandi 24:32
Yeah, so I don't know if it's our profession specifically, but my experience with HR really colors, my colors, my perspective on like, what am I trying to say here? Companies and kind of their view of workers, at least from an American culture perspective. I know it's a little bit different where you are but like, you know, I I've, I've really come to believe you know, like, early in my career. I was like, you know, like So my dad is a company man he worked at, I think two, maybe three companies his whole life, he was with each one for at least a decade, sometimes longer, deeply loyal even now to the companies he used to work for and their brands. And, you know, I've, I've seen from working in HR, how companies will cut employees loose at the drop of a hat to save a few pennies. And, you know, I like a lot of this traditional advice, you get around how you need to stick with a job for at least a year or two. So you don't look like a Job Hopper. And it's really important to give your companies a certain amount of notice and like leave on good terms, it's like, they will cut you loose for the dumbest reasons just to save like a little bit of money. Like they don't care about you. You don't owe them anything. So I it made me jaded, to be honest with, like, my time in HR really, really soured my perspective on what most employers are like, you even like a few, save about a year ago, I was just getting ready to like, leave my last job, and do the, like the thing that had been my side business as my permanent business full time, and I was interviewing with this other company has a potential, like, get a full time, another full time job instead. And, you know, I had gotten, like a really good offer. And they had this agreement, they wanted me to sign. And it had this non compete clause that seemed like it would completely kill my education business, like some of the stuff that they did overlapped with some of the stuff that my business did. And I saw potential conflict. And I flagged it. And I was like, you know, we need to add an addendum that says this is okay. And they're like, Well, you know, our lawyers won't really put that in there. But you know, we were agreeing on it right now. So you're all set. And there is a time in my life where I've been like, oh, yeah, they said they agree with it. We're all good. But, you know, I've, I've, I've seen now. Now having done what I've done professionally, I am like, there's no way that would fly with me. Like if you mean it, put it in writing. And if you won't put it in writing the you don't need it. And that's, that's all there is to it. So that one obviously didn't work out.

Tim Bourguignon 27:12
And that's very true. Indeed. When things go hard. It's only what's on paper that counts. All the rest just flies away. Yeah. Sad. But but true. This is all experience pushed you as well into being self employed or having your own company.

Chris Ferdinandi 27:28
Yeah, you know, it was it that was something I wanted for a while. It's so the we haven't talked about this yet. But so I have ADHD, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, which I think in Germany might be called ADHS. hyperactivity, attention deficit hyperactivity syndrome. But the working world is really not well set up for people with ADHD is a little bit better now that so many things have gone remote. But like offices are a nightmare. And the I think the biggest thing I often struggle with is I have like really extreme peaks and troughs in terms of productivity. So if you work in a place that has like weekly stand ups, you know, a neurotypical person might be like, this week, I did this, and then this week, I did this, and you know, they're like, just consistent output. Whereas like, I'll have weeks where I've output to three times as much as my peers, and then weeks where I get absolutely nothing done, because I just stare at a screen waiting for the words to come out. And, you know, I've learned how to basically work with that. So when I'm in one of these moods, where nothing is happening, I don't try to fight it, I just get out and do something else. And you know, in a traditional job, that doesn't really work as well. So I knew for a while that I kind of wanted to work for myself, I wanted more control over the type of work I do the types of people I work with, I wanted to be able to have more control over my own schedule. And then the pandemic, I think, just really dialed that up to 11. For me, so So yeah, so I had been working towards this for like five ish, maybe six years, when I finally made the jump. It's just something I've wanted for for a while. The other piece of it is I did a little freelancing on the side for a while. And that was okay, it paid really well. But in many ways, it felt like very similar to having a like a traditional job except without, especially because I'm in America without reliable health insurance, and just with like a rotating cast of bosses. So I for me, like the whole, I want to work directly with developers, I want to I want to focus on products. And a big part of it for me was was I had a really tough time learning because a lot of resources that are out there seem to assume you have some base level of knowledge that I as a self taught developer definitely did not have. And so I've I really wanted to create some resources for people who were like me so that they wouldn't have as hard time of it as I did. Yeah, so it was a whole to answer your questions. It was a whole like combination. You know, factors that kind of drove me towards wanting to have my own my own thing

Tim Bourguignon 30:05
are going to tell us how this became a business from this passion started growing for five years on the side and then at some point flipped around and became a business from which you can live.

Chris Ferdinandi 30:17
Yeah, so it's it was a fun it was a fun journey it started with it was a couple of hiccups was a couple of things that kind of converged. So it started with, you know, that HR blog, I eventually abandon I think I have like an archived version of it on my computer somewhere. But I started a new blog that was developer focused, and I was writing, or every time I learned something, I would just publish articles. And for a while those articles were like, if you do this thing in jQuery, here's how you do it without jQuery, like that was. That was the theme for a really long time. When I was at artifact conference, I saw a man named Jonathan Stark gave a talk on something mobile related. And I looked him up. And I discovered that he had a coaching business for people who were looking to start their own businesses. And there was always something I had been interested in doing. So I reached out to him. And we worked together for a little while. But you know, at the time, I was really focused on web performance. And so in my head, I was like, Alright, I'm going to start a web performance business. And I very quickly learned that at least, you know, at that time, no one wanted to pay money for that sort of thing, at least not for me. And so that wasn't gonna work. And then I looked into doing some stuff with nonprofits, because I'd worked with animal rescues in the past. And I discovered that the ones that needed my help had no money and the ones that had money to need my help. So that was not a good, not a good fit. And then one day, on a whim, I decided to look at my site analytics, and I realized that like eight of the 10 most popular articles were, you know how to do jQuery thing without jQuery, like some, you know, some version of that. And I was like, and when Jonathan first met me, he goes, Oh, no, you you're the vanilla Jas guy, like he had, like, seen my stuff on Twitter or something that should have been a light bulb moment. For me, I'm very slow. It was not. And so looking at the analytics was that light bulb moment. And so I yeah, I started by putting together this big ebook called ditching jQuery that had like, just a whole bunch of how to do jQuery things without jQuery kind of resources. And it flopped, like really bad, it was not selling, but like, I knew from my analytics that people wanted this information. So I took the book, and I broke it up into six smaller parts. And I priced them so that if you bought all six of them, and you would get like 20% off or 30% off, and it would cost exactly the same as the old single book had been. So same content, same price, six books instead of one. And it started selling really well. It went from like, I couldn't sell more than like, $100 Total to made like three or $4,000 in a few months, which again, you know, not to quit your day job money, but like, Oh, cool. This is like, this is more than beer money or coffee money, you know, I mean, like, this is this is decent, decent amount of like side, you know, so, um, I kept making more of them. And then I had people who were like, Hey, this is great, but I learned better with video do video versions, so I made a video version of the book. So like, now if you go to vanilla Jas guides.com It's like, you can get the ebook or the video version, or both. And you know, just for different kind of learning styles and things like that. And yeah, it just kind of snowballed from there. We're slowly over the course of several years, more people learned about it, more people bought, they started getting questions started creating new courses, and yeah, just eventually just kind of became a thing of its own. One of the things I kind of unintentionally stumbled upon, because I have ADHD, I tend to be very, like, blunt or direct in like my, my writing style, not so much when talking, I'm a rambling mess, when I talk is listeners of your show will very clearly have figured

Tim Bourguignon 33:59
out that will appreciate it. That's why

Chris Ferdinandi 34:03
but but yet, my courses and my books are very, like, short and direct. And I have heard from a lot of folks, that they really appreciate that because a lot of courses trying to like, pad themselves with a bunch of stuff to like, you know, like 4040 hours of training, you know, because you can sell that as, like a hard metric. And for a lot of folks, that is daunting, whereas like, Hey, give me an hour, I'll teach you everything you need to know about this topic is apparently a really appealing thing, which was totally unintentional. And so that has worked out really well for me, I have inadvertently ended up with a lot of ADHD students because my teaching style resonates really well with their learning style. And yeah, so that's been just kind of this whole, this whole thing that happened a little bit intentionally a little bit by accident, a whole lot of luck and just kind of hitting on a thing at the right time and running into some of the right people who kind of helped me when I was stuck on certain things.

Tim Bourguignon 34:58
That is awesome. So happily ever after your you see yourself in 20 years still doing some version of this?

Chris Ferdinandi 35:05
Yeah, yeah, it's really funny, right? So earlier in my career I was really focused on like, wanting to really grow my career and be known for doing all these things, then it was like I really liked learning about all these new tools. And now I'm at this point where like, I'm sick of constantly learning like the the new hotness that comes out. So vanilla Jas works really well for that, because new things come out. But the old things keep working. But I find it much more exciting to to have someone who is like, I'm interested in development. But I feel really lost. I don't think I'm cut out for this. This happens all the time. Like I've got someone who tried to learn React is like their first thing. And they just got turned upside down and sideways. And they have no idea what they're doing. I I think maybe I should just quit and go do something else. Like, no, no, just give me give me a few months, we'll get this figured out. And to see them go from that too. Hey, I got hired, my first developer job is the coolest thing in the world. Like I love it. It's super exciting. It doesn't matter how much the platform changes that will always be exciting to me, just like helping other people make that transition is absolutely amazing. I can't get enough of it. So yeah, I definitely see myself doing this for a very long time. I've also set up a business that I don't want to say runs itself because I obviously I have to be involved to an extent. But I deliberately designed it so that if I wanted to just like cut off and go on a road trip for a month or two, like I can do that and things aren't just going to completely fall apart or I'm going to be like not making money for two months. That was an intentional kind of decision I made a few years back with how I set things up. I was marked one. Yeah, that has paid well, because we recently got into like RVing, and been doing these long road trips. And it's nice to be able to make money while you're doing that. That is

Tim Bourguignon 36:49
true. So that means some of the people are creating content and publishing on your platform, or Oh,

Chris Ferdinandi 36:55
no, no, it's just because most of my stuff is kind of self paced. And I have a lot of kind of automated systems in place, there is not a ton that I have to do on my own. So like, if I'm on like a month long vacation, I'm not creating new courses, you know, so there's not new stuff being made. But the, you know, I'm not running a service business where if I'm not doing something for you, I don't get paid. I have these products that have already made and people can buy them whether I'm there or not like I could be dead continue. Continue to sell let's you know, it's occasionally like someone runs into a tech issue or has a question. So most of my day now is spent if I'm not working on something new, it's spent answering some student questions in Slack, I publish a short little email article every day. So you know, 15 or 20 minutes while I drink my tea or coffee in the morning writing that and then you know, after that it's it's very flexible, which is nice. And you can set some of that stuff up in advance. Like if I know I'm going to be gone for a week or two, I'll like write a bunch of articles ahead of time and schedule them to go out every day.

Tim Bourguignon 38:02
Yeah, the combination of evergreen plus automation plus sell face. That's really if you don't have subscribers that are waiting for some new content every week, then you're fine.

Chris Ferdinandi 38:12
Yeah, I've on multiple occasions been like should I create like a like a course on view or react for people who know vanilla Jas. And then I always throw it out. Because whenever a new version comes out, it breaks everything. Redo all your stuff. And I just like right now that still happens sometimes like like I knew I used to have a like, in one of my courses, I had this like helper function on how you deeply clone arrays and objects, you know. And now there's the structured clone method and JavaScript that does the same thing with one line. So I need to update that section of my course. But don't need to throw the whole thing out. It's not like there's this whole new API and that old function still works. There's just an easier way to do it now. So it's nice to be able to just kind of like nudge and tweak things. I have a friend off the Grimm, who writes Ruby courses and he kind of, he frames it as tending a garden, where like, you're not ripping out the whole garden and replanting everything every year, you're just kind of you're relocating some plants and you're watering things and you're putting down some fertilizer, but I really like that analogy.

Tim Bourguignon 39:12
But that is that is a good one. Indeed.

Chris Ferdinandi 39:15
We're I mean, we're nerdy hippies.

Tim Bourguignon 39:20
Oh, good. Oh, good. I'm going for it. Germany, we tend to be hippies. So I'm gonna throw any stone there looking back at the transition you did. It was kind of kind of heavy going from a really non tech world to dipping your toes into WordPress and then suddenly feeling woohoo, coding is cool. What would be the advice you would give somebody who's really facing this but unsure if they should jump?

Chris Ferdinandi 39:46
One of the things I learned kind of back in my HR days when I was reading a lot of like it this was during like the blogging kind of Pinnacle was there was a lot of people you'd look at they would seem like they were overnight successes. Were They've just been doing this forever. And they made it look really easy. But the reality is that most people's journeys are slow and long. And typically very winding, they're not usually like I'm here, I want to be there, bam, there, there's usually a lot of detours inside things and serendipity that kind of gets you to where you are. And so the biggest thing I can tell people is to start small, like I see, I see a lot of folks who are like, Alright, I want to learn web development, I want to build an app. And that is, in my opinion, like one of the worst places to start, even something like a calculator app is terrible, because it's way more complex than you think it would be for what it is, like just adding and multiplying some numbers together. But you know, like I, where I've seen most folks get frustrated is when they try to do something that's too big. And they can't find help, because they don't even know the right questions to ask because they've taken on something that's just too big for where they're at. And, you know, one of the things I've found from my own students is that kind of that learning inertia is one of the biggest drivers of success. So if you are able to just keep learning and keep creating things in a way that is not necessarily linear, but like, just gets progressively more complex, you're a lot more likely to be successful than if you throw yourself into this immovable wall over and over again, and hope that you chip away enough at it to actually make something happen. So like, I was telling people, your first project, like a really good one is I have a button, and I have some content. When I click the button, the content gets hidden. When I click it again, the content shows back up. And then from there, you can start to layer in more stuff, you know, like, Okay, how do I actually set this up so that if someone's using a screen reader, they know what's going on? What if I wanted to have more than one on a page? Can I write a script that will work with both of these pieces of content without me having to duplicate my code? Can I like, you know, abstract that a little bit? Or can I convert it into an accordion where when one opens, the other closes? Like there's, you know, all sorts of kinds of layers you can add in. And so I always tell people to kind of like, start small, that's a really big one. And then the other big thing is that you know what, you know, I guess the other big question I get all the time is like, what should I learn first? And there's really not a right answer, like a people should learn a framework and then learn vanilla. Jas, should I start with vanilla Jas, it doesn't matter. Like, the most important thing is, whichever one is easiest for you to wrap your head around and get you from I have an idea to I made a thing. Like start there, you can always back into the library, if you need to know that for a job or back into the platform stuff, because it's important to know eventually, but you don't have to start there, you just start with whatever is going to get you moving. And then after that any type of advice I give would have to be like really, in the context of what the person is trying to accomplish, because there's so at this point, there's so many different directions you could take your career in, in our field. One thing we didn't talk about, though, Tim, that's just kind of an interesting note is the single best thing I ever did for my career is this thing I like to call coffee conversations that made a lot more sense. In a pre pandemic world. Now, it's usually like zoom chats, but and everybody's so remote and distributed that like the idea that you can only meet with people in person, when you can have coffee, it's kind of silly, but I would reach out to people who were doing jobs I thought I might like to do or working at companies I thought I might look to look at work at and just shoot them a quick email or DM them on Twitter or Mastodon or whatever your platform of choice is these days. And, you know, quick introduction, looking to learn a little bit more about what you do at the time, I used to be like, can I you know, Can I buy you a cup of coffee, my treat and chat for 15 minutes, it's 15 minutes was that anchor? And when I'd meet with people, I'd always ask them just a couple of questions. So what's a typical day in the life like for you? What are some skills you think are critical for someone in in this role or at this company to have? And are there any big changes happening in our industry that you think are going to change the way that you work? And from those three questions, I would get so much information about the types of things I should be learning whether or not I'd even like that job or that company. Like there was a lot of places I thought I wanted to work at an agency for a long time. And then I learned from talking to people that they tend to be chaotic, pay poorly, and involve a lot of grueling hours. And I did not want that. So I cut that out. And it turned out that like boring old products, companies were actually perfect for the kind of lifestyle I wanted. And oh, I need to learn this thing, because it's actually really important. And I didn't know about that. And oh, there's this other big thing coming down the pipe. That's not a big deal now, but will be so if I learned that now. I'll be well positioned in like a year or two when it actually kind of like, happen. And then the other piece of this is at the end of every like chat, I would just I wouldn't ask them like do you know of any jobs? And I'd be like, oh, you know, just so you know, I'm kind of I'm looking for my next thing or I'm looking to change careers. So you know, if you ever hear of anything, just keep me in mind. And are there any other folks you think it might be useful for me to talk to? And that did a couple of things that would, that helped me grow this crazy big network of people. And it also meant that if any sort of openings came up that I might not know about, you know, I might have someone reach out to me and let me know and get me in touch with the hiring manager, sometimes before that Job was even posted, which was awesome. And and that that was a really big thing, just in terms of kind of helping me figure out what I should learn companies, I should look at a got me comfortable doing kind of interviewee type conversations, even though I wasn't actually like interviewing for a job so that when I had real job interviews, I wasn't like panicked the way I would have been before. And I also learned from doing that, that like 80, to 90% of our industry is self taught. And all these fears I had about being this like, con artist who shouldn't be here, because I have an anthropology degree were unfounded. And so highly recommend that for anybody at any point in their career.

Tim Bourguignon 46:04
And I sit on this fully thank you for for highlighting it. And thank God you did it. Because otherwise you might not be here. And that will be all us. Chris, it's been a fantastic ride. Thank you very much for opening up on this story with us today. Tim, thank you so much for having me. This is a really great chat. Thank you. Where would be the best place to find you online and continue this discussion book a coffee conversation over zoom with you. Oh, whatever else.

Chris Ferdinandi 46:29
Yeah. So if you head over to go make things.com/dev journey with or without the dash, either one will get you there. Go make things.com is my home on the web, but go make things.com/dev journey I have put together a bunch of articles, podcasts have made free resources and other things related to all of the stuff that you and I talked about here today. So if someone wants to dig deeper into any of this, that's probably a great place to start.

Tim Bourguignon 46:54
You're actually the first one to create the forehand page for that. So

Chris Ferdinandi 47:00
thank you, not my first rodeo.

Tim Bourguignon 47:03
Awesome, anything timely or not that you want to plug in before we call it A?

Chris Ferdinandi 47:07
No, no. That's That's it. Tim. Thank you so much.

Tim Bourguignon 47:10
Likewise, it's been a blast. And this has been another episode of Devil's journey. We see each other next week. Just thanks a lot for tuning in. I hope you have enjoyed this week's episode. If you liked the show, please share rate and review. It helps more listeners discover new stories. You can find the links to all the platforms the show appears on on our website, Dev journey dot info, slash subscribe. Creating the show every week takes a lot of time, energy, and of course money. Will you please help me continue bringing out those inspiring stories every week by pledging a small monthly donation, you'll find our patreon link at Deaf journey dot info slash donate. And finally don't hesitate to reach out and tell me how this week story is shaping your future. You can find me on Twitter at @timothep ti m o th e p porker email info at Dev journey dot info talk to you soon.