Chris Coyier – “Just don’t let anything slide and it’ll end up being worth it”

June, 2022
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5 mins
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Image © The Interviewee

Interview with Chris Coyier

In 2007, Chris Coyier started a blog about cascading style sheets. Jump to 2022, and CSS-Tricks has become one of the best and most comprehensive resources for web developers of all levels. In 2012, he co-founded CodePen, an essential (and largely free) tool for testing and sharing code.

CSS-Tricks was recently acquired by Digital Ocean, so at this crossroads, we reached out to find out more.

Why did you start CSS-Tricks?

I blogged about this recently. It was a long time ago! I was a kid! I just wanted to earn a few side bucks and dream about doing better. It was fun. I had literally no business writing about CSS, but I didn’t know that and if I would have I wouldn’t have cared. Probably a lesson in there somewhere.

Digital Ocean CSS Tricks

At what point did you start to feel it was becoming a legit business?

Took a few years. Never in CSS-Tricks history has there been a big obvious leap in traffic or revenue or anything like that. All of it was long, slow, hard-won growth. There was a moment though were I quit my highly decent job and decided to go for it full time, and that’s when I did a Kickstarter to fund a redesign and give the backers some early access to learning materials and such. Contrary to the obvious, that actually lost money (I spent it on giveaway merch, hiring contractors, paying taxes, etc). But it succeeded in the sense of turning CSS-Tricks into much more of a “real” business.

Chris Coyier

The world of web development is fast-moving and it’s not uncommon to stumble across resources (on other sites) which are outdated. Older articles on CSS-Tricks are often updated or linked to a newer article. Do you have a system for keeping on top of this?

There was never an official system, but we did try to stay on top of it. If someone left a comment calling something out, we’d fix it, 100% of the time. If someone sent in an email, we’d fix it, 100% of the time. If I referenced my own site and found information I knew to be outdated, I’d fix it, 100% of the time. Just don’t let anything slide and it’ll end up being worth it. Generally CSS-Tricks gets pretty good traffic via search, and I felt like that’s how we earned it.

“A stagnant WordPress is much scarier than a WordPress that moves quickly”

WordPress seems to be going all-in on full-site editing, which may be a positive thing for some site owners, but many developers feel it gives too much control (room to mess things up) to the client and that they are having to increasingly swim against the current to develop sites with WordPress. You’ve spoken positively about Blocks, but how do you feel about this direction for WordPress developers as a whole?

I haven’t played with Full Site Editing enough to have a super strong opinion. Part of me has empathy for WordPress developers who certainly have had a lot of years of heavy change to keep up with, whether they agree with the direction or not. But another part of me feels like that’s the job. Every other facet of web development changes too, it’s not just a WordPress thing. The fact that WordPress is pushing hard to continue evolving even though it’s an absolutely massive piece of software dedicated to backward compatibility is astounding. A stagnant WordPress is much scarier than a WordPress that moves quickly.

The 161st 366 Award goes to Chris Coyier for his outstanding creative work.

CodePen and CSS-Tricks are great bedfellows, and the paid Pro plan was introduced just six months after launch. What were the differences embarking on a project like CodePen, as opposed to the way CSS-Tricks got started?

There were quite a few very big differences! For one, CSS-Tricks I was the sole founder of while CodePen I had co-founders. When you’re equal partners with other people, that’s just a very different dynamic. They say it’s more like a marriage and I think that’s extremely true. For another, CodePen is entirely a custom-built application. It’s 100x more technically complicated than anything I’ve ever worked on. It’s a lot to manage. Fortunately, reward comes with the risk, and it has been successful enough to support a small team for 10 years now, with only an early angel round of funding. We also have the privilege and burden of hosting people’s data on CodePen. People rely on CodePen to be working and fast because they use it for important things like teaching classes, doing presentations, showing clients work, doing their own work, etc. Everything about CodePen has been as is an order of magnitude more serious than CSS-Tricks was.

See the Pen
Sticky Note
by Chris Coyier (@chriscoyier)
on CodePen.

You sold CSS-Tricks to Digital Ocean – was that an easy decision to make, and of course, what’s will you do next?

It was fairly easy. The deal was fair and CSS-Tricks at DigitalOcean makes a lot of sense given their commitment to developer content. In the months since that has gone down, it’s been surreal to think I was able to manage running CSS-Tricks while doing CodePen as well. What’s next is easy for me, it’s a more extreme focus on CodePen, which it really deserves as we’re deep in the throes of a next-gen version of our editor.

And finally, if you died and got reincarnated as a song, what would it be?

I’d wanna be a real shitkicker. I like playing acoustic instruments — mostly a guitar, banjo, and mandolin guy — and my real happy place is outdoor music festivals with a heavy camping/jamming vibe. So I’d wanna be a bluegrass classic like Old Home Place or an old-time classic like Hangman’s Reel so that I’m always around those loud rowdy jams at festivals where everyone has a big smile on their face.

Old Home Place"
Old Home Place (1975)
J. D. Crowe & The New South
Play on Apple Music
Play on Spotify
Play on YouTube
What began as a fun question to end an interview, has now become a wonderfully eclectic collaborative playlist by 161 people (and counting).
Chris Coyier
Our Forest