« All Episodes

12: Chris Coyier, Part One - The Lifecycle of the Web and the Non-Evil of Doing Business

Published 1/28/2015

On this episode, I interview Chris Coyier. Chris is the creator of CSS-Tricks.com, Codepen.io, and hosts Shoptalk Show with Dave Rupert. In this first part of a two-part interview, Chris and I talk about how he got started with CSS Tricks. We also talk about what it's like to make such a massive amount of freely available resources.


Don't forget to subscribe, rate/review on iTunes, and get in touch!

If you are enjoying the show, would you consider buying me some tea?

Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
Hey everyone, welcome to Developer Tea. My name is Jonathan Cutrell, I'm your host, and today I have the privilege of interviewing one of my personal heroes, Chris Coyier. If you don't know who Chris is yet and you're a web developer, then I am sincerely surprised. Chris has done so much for the web development community. He created CSS tricks, which actually, when I was just learning development, that was one of the very first resources that I found, and I still use it today. Just a fantastic library of information. Go check it out, css-tricks.com. Chris is also responsible for ShopTalk Show. ShopTalk Show is another podcast that Chris hosts with Dave Rupert, just another fantastic resource, full of information. If you haven't listened to ShopTalk Show, make it the other podcasts that you listen to today. Chris also created CodePen. CodePen is an incredible resource for developers who are looking to get a demo put together very quickly. It allows you to drop in HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, and see it rendered to the screen like you would if you were actually building a website locally. But it also has a bunch of other tools. For instance, you can drop in a Haml or you could write less or sass. You can also include a bunch of JavaScript libraries or you can write in CoffeeScript. It does everything for you, compiles everything on the fly, and drops it right into the browser for you to see immediately. Just a fantastic resource, CodePen.io. In fact, CodePen is the thing that I send young developers who are just learning how to do things with the web, who are just now learning how to write HTML, CSS. I tell them to go to CodePen because it's just such a quick from code to browser transition. Immediately, when you write the code, you can view it and play around with it in the browser. There's validations. It's just a fantastic tool. It's free for most of these awesome features. But if you become a premium member, I don't know what the premium tier thing is called, but if you get a pro account, that's what it is. If you get a pro account, CodePen has just a plethora of even more valuable features, including a teaching mode, just really great stuff. I'll talk to Chris more about that. For now, I'm going to jump over and we'll start the interview with Chris. Chris, welcome to the show. We're good. Chris, welcome to the show. Thanks so much for having me. Thank you for being here. Chris and I had a little flood this morning. Actually, I had told him that we were going to do the interview at, I think, it was like nine o'clock. And so he sends me an email and I'm about to go to my day job. And Chris was saying, he was like, oh, I'm actually late. And I was like, you're actually not late at all. I just totally forgot to put PM in the email. Yeah, it's one of those, it's not every time of day where AM and PM is ambiguous, but eight, I think, might be one of them. Yeah, especially for podcasts, because I think people who are recording these things are doing it like in addition to other things. It turns out we're not one of the four people on earth making a living. Yeah, it's no serial. Oh, anyway, well, I've got so many things that I want to ask you. In the intro, I talk about you being a personal hero of mine. I know you probably hear that, at least a few times a week. When I first started out writing CSS, I did so so that I could show off my, what I thought then was a great photography portfolio. Turns out that was a complete, terrible idea. In any case, CSS tricks was like one of the most important resources for me. And I just want to kind of hear when you first started CSS tricks, that was back in 2007, you said, right? What did you expect? Kind of why did you decide to start that project? Yeah, it was like a mistake almost. I don't mean to say it quite that. I'm trying to figure out the best way to say it. Being oblivious to the world was maybe a closer way to do it. It was kind of a, I started it as kind of in combination with a bunch of other blogs at the time. And it was just kind of in a sense, it was like a get rich quick scheme kind of not quite like that. But it was kind of like a, I want to start at these blogs and I'm going to fill them up with content. And I'm going to put Google ads on them. And I'm going to get some side income because I think everybody kind of desires that a little bit. Like, wouldn't it be so cool if I could do some passive work and money would just show up in my bank account kind of thing? And CSS tricks was like one of those back then. But it was one that I, I don't know, I liked doing the most. You know, the rest of them were like Adobe help blog kind of things. And the idea was to get people to, you know, Google mis, you know, problems they were having with Adobe software and get them. And it just, it was boring and not, it was not, I had no soul in it at all. But CSS was fun because I was building all these sites to go with it. And I was really into web design and something about CSS just really appealed to me. And it was, it turned out after I had started the blog. I'm like, this is really fun. I really like writing about CSS and technology in general. And some other people are kind of enjoying it too. It seems like. And when I started this, I said, you know, I was kind of oblivious to it. It just was a weird time in 2007 to be doing that. There was plenty of people blogging about CSS before that. But there was a weird time. It was like really browser worry at the time. There wasn't a whole lot of interesting things happening in CSS. So there's kind of this sense that like, I think we got this thing licked team. Yeah. You know, yeah. Anyway, but what there was, though, is people were starting their careers in web design. It was still like a healthy industry. And so I think people like that were reading me, were like, maybe we're also new. And I had that new feeling about it. Yeah, it's kind of like how, you know, eight year old's like playing with other eight year old's, you know, they're just like they like people to that are saying things that are at their level, maybe. And I feel like I picked up like a new wave, maybe of people that I don't know if that's entirely true. I'm kind of just making this up as I go. But I think that's the sense that it was harder to read some of those like CSS things that people were talking about that were have been around longer because they just kind of spoke a different language. And sure, it's kind of like the, well, you should know this much obviously because if you're looking up CSS, then you probably experienced the hell that was, you know, inline styles first. And now you should know how to do that, except this is obviously better. Right? Yeah. I think that's totally fair. And now the same thing is probably happening to me. And I don't, I don't post as much like really beginner-y stuff anymore. I kind of assume a base level of knowledge just because that's where I'm at. And that's how I write. And there's new blogs starting up that probably have a different voice that different people are attracted to. And that's totally fine. It's just a part of the ebb and flow of it all. Sure. Yeah, that's a, I mean, that's a great, a great story. I feel like, you know, it was, it was such a huge resource to me. And I'm sure plenty of other people because you still have a ton of canonical content in there that's just like, it's going to stay relevant for a long time, you know, like the selector 4 draft just came out. I wrote a, I wrote a post about it. And I was realizing like, man, it's going to be like 2020 before all this stuff actually gets implemented. So this post that I'm writing about selector 4 draft, you know, it could be relevant in like 10 years from now, you know. Like, yeah. And it's kind of wild. I mean, I know things are moving more quickly now. So we can't really like expect things to be like to continue at the same pace necessarily. But, uh, but it is interesting because all that content that that you created is still providing just a constant value. What's interesting also to me is that so much of what you've done for the community has been, I mean, for my bank account, it's been free, right? Like you have a lot of premium resources that are absolutely, you know, they offer value, but you've offered so much value as well through these free resources, CodePen, you know, even shop talk being a freely accessible podcast. Obviously this stuff is like ad supported and whatever, but can you talk a little bit about how providing something for a community? Like there's just a, I would guess probably 90% or whatever number of the people who are engaging with the stuff that you create are doing so on a, like, I'm not paying you anything level other than my viewership. So what is that like from your end to be creating something that's constantly free? Yeah, that's, I mean, it's, it's not tremendously different than most websites out there. Though, you know, like nobody, I think it's worse, it's worse for, for true journalists who are trying to do real journalism and nobody will pay for that. I mean, they're in a worse position than I'm in, you know, I'm just, you know, it's not, it's not altruistic of me to be doing what I'm doing. Like I said, I really do sell ads on the thing and I make no bones about it. I'm trying to run a business doing it. I'd like it to, you know, I try to be absolutely tasteful with everything I do and that type of thing, I'm not trying to say, I'm just a greedy, schlub like all the rest of them. I'm trying to do a good job with it. But I'm also trying to run a business too because I think that's responsible. If I didn't this body of work that it's now become could go away. I mean, there's some chance of that running any website has material costs. You have to pay for hosting and you have to pay with your time to make sure it's all good, you know. Yeah. There's no, the web isn't quite a place where there's like really great places where you can dump stuff and then expect it to live forever. It's just not going to happen. It takes, it takes maintenance. It takes my time and it takes money and stuff. So I'm happy to, you know, I just a becoming more and more like that's at the forefront of my mind is that this is a, this is a business I take care of this content because it's important and part of that business and it's good for the web and that makes it all feel good. It makes it feel like this is a job that's worth doing. Yeah. I think everybody wins in this scenario. That's a good way to put it. Because I mean, there's nothing wrong with a business, right? Like presumably, at least you're not trying to cheat people out of something and we all win because we've chosen a way of engaging with content that's valuable to the wider audience of the web. But it also, luckily, you can make a living off of it because people also need to buy things. Like there is a material cost for Squarespace, you know, and Squarespace has to charge for all of what they do, right? Like, or, well, I guess not all, they probably have some kind of free tier or whatever. But the fact of the matter is what you are doing has an ability to make money without directly charging the consumer line, which I think it's just, that's always been interesting and fascinating to me about the web as a whole anyway. But, you know, things like CodePen, for instance, that offers this very tangible value day to day to people. And sure, it's not altruistic, but it's it's definitely valuable. So on behalf of the development community and large, let me thank you for creating these things, even though you are running a business, there's no like evil, I don't think in that. I hope not. Again, it's part of the circle of life of web business. I think there's different types of businesses that fill different areas of it in a supply and demand kind of way. For example, I used to work at a company called Wufoo, right? It was a online form builder company. Wufoo doesn't, there's nothing that you can do on Wufoo that is suit. How do I put this exactly? You can make a form and other people can see that form. So in some sense, there's some other people, the more people that use it, the more people that see it. But mostly there isn't like a lot of like content on Wufoo. It's not, you know, you need to, if you're trying to grow the business of Wufoo, you need to put it in front of you, you need to make the value proposition that this is a useful product in some other way. You need to like, you know, do marketing is what you need to do. And a part of marketing is advertising. Of course, there's more to it than that. But that's one way that you can grow a business like that is like, okay, well, we are this business, the charges money for this thing that we do. And we need to get that in front of some people's faces because just the nature of the product doesn't automatically do that. So maybe we'll buy some ads and people will see those ads and then come to it. That occupies like one area of the circle of life of web things. And right. CSS Tricks is like, by nature, it's all this open content. It has a ton of SEO value. You know, people are landing on CSS Tricks because there's all this open free content on it. Well, that, you know, there's just more traffic to that. That means that I have space on that page to sell advertising. I can sell it to a company like Wufoo to get people to come over to it. You know, it's just all it all feeds each other. You know, there's all different parts of it. It is a life cycle. I like that term. That's perfect. Thank you so much to Chris once again for being on the show. There is a second part to this interview that will be released in the next episode of Developer Tea. If you enjoy the show, make sure you leave a rating and review in iTunes. It's the best way to help other people find the show. If you would like to get in touch with me, you can reach me on Twitter at at Developer Tea or you can email me at developertea at gmail.com. Thanks so much for listening. And until next time, enjoy your tea.