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12: Chris Coyier, Part Two - Getting Good At Pretty Much Anything

Published 1/30/2015

On this episode, I continue the interview Chris Coyier. Chris is the creator of CSS-Tricks.com, Codepen.io, and hosts Shoptalk Show with Dave Rupert. In this second part of a two-part interview, Chris and I talk about getting good at being a musician (or at cutting hair), why we rewrite code we've already written, and lots of other necessary things.


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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
Hey everyone and welcome to this episode of Developer Tea. My name is Jonathan Cutrell and today we continue the interview with Chris Coyer. Again, if you don't know who Chris is, Chris created css-tricks.com, CodePen and ShopTalk Show. These three things are incredibly valuable to the development community. Chris created css-tricks a long time ago. Back when I was first learning about CSS, I referenced css-tricks pretty much every single day. Now I use CodePen constantly when I'm trying to learn about a new thing in CSS or SASS or JavaScript. CodePen is a fantastic tool for getting things into the browser very quickly. It also allows you, as Chris will tell you later on in the show, it allows you to do social things like commenting. And there's even a blog feature on there. So if you've been wanting to write a blog, you can easily go and write a blog on CodePen where all of the front-end developers who know what they're doing basically are living. Now that's not to say that there aren't good front-end developers on CodePen but they should be. And lastly, ShopTalk Show. ShopTalk Show is Chris and Dave Rupert's podcast where they talk all about front-end web development. You can go and check out ShopTalkShow at ShopTalkShow.com. If you listen to any other podcast today, make sure this is the one. Fantastic content over there. All right, so let's start the second part of the interview with Chris Coyier. You said something recently and correct me if I get the exact wording wrong. I guess it doesn't really matter all that much anyway. But you said in relation to writing better CSS, you said, basically, try your best. And I think that struck a chord with, I mean, I know it struck a chord with me and the Developer That I work with. But I think it also struck a kind of a larger chord with the development community as well. And there's another quote from you that kind of harkens back to the same concept, which is like, make more websites. Like if you want to be better at this, just keep on doing it. And I think that your history proves that you've experienced that. And it's really cool to see you still doing today, for instance. I guess it was today or the last post that you put on CSS tricks. You're still really interested in CSS. It looks like, for all intents and purposes, nothing really has changed about Chris Coyier since 2007 in that you're still doing this day-to-day writing CSS. And that's really awesome. Talk about the importance of, I guess, work ethic. And if you want to make more websites, or if you want to make better websites, just make more of them. Yeah. Yeah. Well, it's, I mean, the point of both of those two things, like to do a good job post and the just build websites kind of mantra is to make people feel a little better about all this because it's just so easy to be overwhelmed by it and then have some feelings of giving up. I'll never make it that kind of thing. And then to draw on an analogy to, okay, the analogy for this and learning how to be a better web developer is basically learning how to do anything else ever at all, anything. Right. It's just do it a bunch and you'll get better at it. You're a musician. You're a history with that. For some reason, expectations are like more correct in people's minds for musicianship. They assume that in order to become a better musician that they have to work at it and then they'll get better at it. And I don't, you know, and the expectation level should be exactly the same for getting better at CSS. It should be the exact same for being a better cook and stuff. But I'm always fascinated by how those expectations are wrong across different areas. For example, like cooking people will be like, I'm just a terrible cook. You'll be like, no, you're not. You're average at cooking because you haven't practiced it a bunch. And if you practice it a bunch, then you could level up and get better at cooking if you want it to. Right. Just like I'm not no good at cutting hair. I'm no good at cutting hair yet. But if I cut a hair, like I cut like a thousand people's hair, I would be okay at it. I happen to be a little okay at front end development because I've spent a whole bunch of time doing it. That's why that like 10,000 hours resonated with so many people because they're like, oh, get it if I spend a crap load of time doing something, I'll get good at it. Yes, obviously, it's been like that for everything ever through the history of time and human brains. That's so funny. I think that's totally true that, you know, people, for whatever reason, you know, your musician, I'm a musician, why is it that people are like, oh, yeah, to be great at guitar, I better practice my scales, you know, like what is the equivalent? Do I need to practice like my syntax? I don't know. Like what is it? Well, it's just build what? It's do the job. Whatever that job happens to be. Yeah, maybe there isn't scales. Maybe there is, you know, because it's like a cotton or whatever. Yeah, you could read, you could read specs or you could, you could practice certain things. You could do hello world tutorials. Maybe that's the same, that's the same kind of idea. But just in that, in that same kind of way, you could get, you can get discouraged just playing scales all the time. You can get discouraged just doing hello world tutorials all the time. Because they're not real. It's a lot easier to go find like a Mike Ness song that you really like and be like, yeah, you know, or whatever. Sure. Because there's, because it feels real then. It feels like I'm playing a song that I wanted to play. That's why I bought this guitar in the first place. That's why I bought this domain name in the first place. That's why I bought this domain name in the first place. That's great. Yeah. For sure. So Dave Thomas is a, I'm a huge fan of Dave Thomas. Pragmatic programmer or all those things. He talks about Code Kata. I'm actually doing another episode specifically talking about Code Kata and like, I think that we're addicted to problem solving sometimes and that kind of can cause problems, which is unfortunate because it's self feeding. But the idea is that we, we as programmers, like we'll rewrite the same slider. I mean, I know that once you, once you've done it enough, you realize I need to stop doing this. Hopefully. But we keep on redoing the same stuff over and over and over because we're, I don't know, I think it's like a rush to be able to write something that works. And we don't get that practice time that we need. What do you have? Have you had it curious? That's interesting that you might rewrite something just because you're in a rush. I think that's true, probably. That's, I've certainly like, was faced with the problem and then rushed into solving it probably without applying like super strong problem solving skills to it or somebody else might be like, okay, here's the problem. Now let's do a little research and just think of ways that we could solve this problem before doing it. Yeah, for sure. And then, you know, I think there's some connections here to that, like what do they call that? And I asked, are not invented here, syndrome? Whatever the analog is for that. There's some people like, you know, prefer not to pick pre-baked solutions because it's handcrafted. Yeah, like I have control. Well, I know it does exactly the thing that I need it to do, presumably in less lines of code, especially because if you have a solution to a problem that you intend to like give the world, you probably solve it in more generic, more configurable ways. Whereas like, I know exactly what I need. There needs to be no configuration to this problem because I'm just going to code it exactly as it needs to be for this scenario. That can be kind of appealing. Right. Yeah. And I'm totally guilty of that. That's, I have written like 100 sliders, you know, it's just, it seems like that's my job is to write sliders. My job isn't to go out and research slider plugins. It's to write code. And so I get into this rut of rewriting things and I think a lot of us do. I think a lot of us end up, you know, doing the same stuff over and over, writing another grid. It might be part of your personality, though. I've definitely met other developers who say, okay, I make websites, I use WordPress, I use the owl slider plugin. And that's what I do. And if you want that, I will make you one of them for $2,000. And they, you know, or whatever and they do it and they get a bunch of clients and they're just like, okay, with that, like they just say, this is the type of developer I am. And this is what I have to offer. And this is how I do it. Because that's their personality and more custom solutions are your personality. You know, I tend to err on your side a little bit. Like, let's do it. You know, hopefully the reason that you're have written so many sliders is because you're, I don't know, you're working with the client and you're trying to make sure that, you know, exactly how they're seeing it and you're seeing it. And hopefully it's like solving little things that do it just right for them. Right. The buzz word is design integrity. That's true. Yeah. And it's really fancy. But the idea is just like, you know, I want it to do this only when the user has done these three things. And also, can you populate it with these special posts and blah, blah, blah, blah, whatever. And so like having to figure out the configuration and customize, you know, whatever the prebuilt CSS is for a plugin is like, ah, that's just not, it's not the same level of design integrity as if I were to just hand it to my service too. You're just, you're saying yes and you're making sure things work for them. It's, you know, that's, it's also worth more money. Right. It just says, ah, sorry. It's not what, what all, all slider does. So, yeah, it's what our slider does. If you want to put something in the slider, follow these instructions. And I'm sure that then the people are like, oh, okay. You know, and they might be like, yeah, that's fine. Here's your $2,000 check by. Right. Or somebody that you're like, well, okay, that's, that's interesting. You want to take the two most popular posts and put them in there. Well, it's not really built for that. But, you know, I can, I can do that. It'll take me three days at this rate. And, you know, the, you know, you end up extracting more like $10,000 from that client. Right. I'm just making up stuff. Okay. Yeah. Well, you and Dave talked about this on an episode I couldn't recall what it is. But you talked about like the difference between the guy who's doing the theme, like implementation. Here's your site and give me your DNS and we're done versus, you know, we're going to do like an exploration of your brand and go through this whole process of figuring out what the website is for you, you know, two totally different processes. And I think there's a sliding scale between the two. But I definitely think that there are a lot of people on the extremes of that spectrum. You know, on the end of that. You got it, man. And I always try to preface this with this like I haven't been in client services for a long time. So it's a little weird. Like don't take too much advice from what I have to say. But I just use, you know, I, people talk about it a lot in our industry and I hear a lot about it and I'm around a lot of it being at conferences and through the podcast and stuff. So I occasionally have opinions on them. But my opinions are usually grounded in like, you know, absolute logic only. Yeah. I am an adult. I am applying basic problem solving to this problem. Anyway, I'm sure that, you know, like you said, there's a sliding scale and there's a lot of muddiness to how this all actually goes down. Right. But we can't work with sliding scales when we're talking about logic very easily, right? So we tend to put these people into buckets. But anyway, so you said, I sent you an email a few months back because I'm writing this book. And you were kind enough to respond. And you had one of your responses, which is fantastic. And I wanted to talk about it, but I don't have it in front of me. But basically what you said was I was asking you like, what is your one thing that you would tell Developer That they should absolutely do forever and always for everyone. And your response was basically to say there isn't one thing for everyone when we have these personal experiences, maybe it's good to just say, hey, this thing is working really well for me. You know, try it out and tell me how it works for you. And that was really valuable for me. And I'd like to talk, or maybe just quick kind of recap on that for people who are listening because I think that that perspective is just incredibly valuable. Okay. Cool. Yeah, I think I remember that. I almost was, almost kind of forgot about our little interaction there. Yeah, the, the, how much of you shared about your book already? Is it still kind of a secret or have you been promoting it? No, it's not a secret yet. Well, I'm sorry, it's not a secret. It's not released yet is what I'm into say. The book is hopefully going to release this year that it's kind of being, it's going back through a revision because I read, like reread back through it and realized that I don't agree with myself. That's probably a lot of things. I'm like, man, I can't publish this. So at some point, I'm just going to have to say, you know what? Now I got to push it out and like maybe do a version two of the book where I say, hey, I was being dumb back then. I don't know. But hopefully this year and, and insight from you and other people will be included in the book for sure. But that particular piece of information, I just, it kind of floored me because I, you know, we try to think in terms of like, you know, what do you learn? What is the secret piece thing that you learn as a developer to be better? And I ask everybody who's going to be on the show, I'm going to ask them to kind of give one piece of advice to developers because I think everyone has something different to tell people. Right. Cool. So anyway, actually, if you want to share anything about CodePen or about CSS tricks, ShopTalk or any of the conferences that you're involved with coming up, that'd be, you know, fully welcome here. Nice. Yeah. Thanks for that opportunity. I always try to sometimes I'm like, oh no, but I was like, yes, I get older and I'm thinking more about business. I'm like, I need to seize this opportunity in which to explain the things that I do. Yeah, we've talked about most of them already, but let's CSS tricks is my website where you can go and subscribe and just get posts about, you know, all things web really. It is about CSS, but it's about anything front end web these days really. And I'm trying to, you know, just to continue to do a good job on I'm writing a lot. I'm trying to get other people to write on it more, which is unusual and really what's interesting with that is nobody's seem to have any problem with it. They just like good web content. So if I can hire somebody to write a great article, I'm going to do that. Yeah, for sure. Which is cool. I've seen some great posts on there from guest posts. Yeah. And I kind of try to intro them. So there's still some of my voice in there and stuff. And then code pen is the is the site I do that we didn't talk about mostly, but that's kind of my big. That's where most of my time goes, which is like code editor in the browser kind of thing with social components. So a lot of people have heard of dribble in the design community. There's some connections there because it's kind of like you follow people. They follow you back. You heart the work that they do and kind of have comment threads on things. But what you're building instead of a screenshot is HTML, CSS, JavaScript, building cool interactive things and you can search for it and find stuff. So it's I find it all these years later. It's still a little hard to describe really because it's like you can come there for inspiration or teaching or sharing or bug cases and look, there's all these things you can use it for. So that's code pen. And we've recently added a job board to it. So if anybody out there is working and trying to hire someone for a job, there's a lot of front end developers are hard to hire and there's a lot of them on code pen and hopefully you can reach front end developers by through that job board. So I've just kind of stoked about that at the moment. That's awesome. That's my big pitch for the day. Yeah, for sure. Actually, I was I talked about code pen a little bit in the intro. I was like, man, you know, there's so much of this, so much of like new front end development stuff that if you're coming in, it's a little bit daunting to try to get like less or sass or Haml or, you know, whatever, copy script running locally. But in code pen, you just jump in there and go like you just press a couple of buttons and you're ready to roll, you know. That's certainly one of the advantages of it as all those pre-processors. Yeah, it's a little playground for that. You can just turn it on and now you're right in it, you know. Yeah, I actually switched over to sass recently, finally and great move by the way for anybody who's wondering. Code pen was the way that I learned how to do sass, like coming over from less. And so, yeah, I mean, that was really valuable for me. I'm sure it'll be valuable for plenty of the people listening too. I hope so, yeah. Yeah, thanks so much for having me on, man. It's real pleasure to get to chat. Absolutely. Thanks so much again to Chris for being on the show and thank you for listening. You are the reason that this show is created. So if you have any feedback for me, anything you want to hear on the show and topics you want to hear discussed, please send them my way. You can get at me on Twitter at at Developer Tea or you can email me at Developer Tea at gmail.com. If you are enjoying this show, please let us know by leaving a review and a rating in iTunes. That's the best way to help other developers just like you find Developer Tea. Make sure you go and check out Chris's stuff. Chris created CodePen. That's CodePen.io. Chris also created CSS tricks, CSS-tricks.com. And then finally, ShopTalk Show. That should be the next thing on your playlist for your podcast today. That's shoptalkshow.com. As always, you can find me on developertea.com. You can click contact up at the top of the Developer Tea website. And until next time, as always, enjoy your tea.