/blog/interviews

Written and published by Martin Wolf

A conversation with Brad Frost

brad-frost-portrait-large
Brad Frost - Web developer for the future

Hey Brad, I suppose most of my readers will know who you are, but for those who don’t, how would you introduce yourself in three sentences?

I’m a web designer, speaker, consultant, writer, musician, and artist living in beautiful PA. I’m passionate about the Web and the things it enables. I try to make great Web experiences that work on a multitude of connected devices, and help people and organizations do the same.

Let’s talk about your beginnings. Where and when did your life journey begin? Have you always known that you want to work in a creative field or with computers?

I was born and raised in a small, post-industrial town called Oil City in northwestern Pennsylvania. My mom is an art teacher and my dad is an accountant, and I definitely feel I inherited their respective artistic and analytical genes.

I grew up making things. When my little brother was crawling, I made a vehicle out of waffle blocks, hitched it to his overalls, and had him pull me around. I loved Lego, and never followed the instructions on the box. I would play drums on anything.

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Childhood Collage of Brad Frost

And I drew a ton. I drew cartoon characters, made mazes, and created comic strips. When I got to high school I lived in the art room as much as possible. It was there where I was introduced to Photoshop (version 5.0) and Illustrator (version 7). I had a lot of fun editing photos and abusing gradients and shapes, although most of my focus stayed on painting, drawing, and pottery.

Going into high school I got a bass guitar so that I could play with my cousins who already had electric guitars. My cousin, my brother, and I started a band that covered a bunch of Led Zeppelin songs but also played original songs that I wrote.

So yeah, my childhood was full of creativity, and I’m super happy that making art and music are still very much a part of my life.

That sounds like a really nice and creative childhood. How did you get from the extremely creative side of drawing and painting to the more analytic world of programming and computers?

I still don’t think I’ve crossed over to the more analytical world of programming and computers. But that’s not to say I haven’t gotten better at faking it!

My first job out of university was designing and building websites for mortgage and real estate companies. I was doing print design, trade show design, web design, and front-end development. A jack-of-all-trades if you will.

When the real estate bubble burst, I moved to New York City and got a job as a web developer for a small fashion e-commerce agency. At that job I was solely responsible for all things code, and since that wasn’t my background I had to really up my game. I grinded away working 60–90 weeks and learning things the hard way. I jokingly say that experience was my Cavern Club.

I had to get better at development and learn the basics of programming because that’s what my job entailed. And while I’m thankful for that experience, I also don’t want to relive it!

Haha, often it’s good to know very little when going on a big journey like that. Otherwise no one would even start.
Do you sometimes feel like you are losing focus because you are involved in so many different disciplines (Art, Music, Web Design, Web Development, …)? I myself find it hard sometimes to know on which of my interests I should concentrate because if I constantly switch between them I’m not really good at anything in the end - or at least that’s my fear.

That’s a very good question, as we tend to apply a negative connotation to the phrase “jack of all trades, master of none.” But in my experience, having many passions is nothing but a great–and necessary–thing.

We like to pigeon hole ourselves into our professions, but the sooner you realize you can call yourself a musician without having to tour in the back of a crusty 15-passenger van, or call yourself an artist without going to art school, the more you’ll be able to pursue your passions and interests without feeling any pressure or expectations. It’s amazingly freeing. Everyone should try it.

Creativity and inspiration reveal themselves in unusual ways, and the ability take breaks from my primary focus and skip around is extremely healthy. By allowing myself to lose focus and explore other interests, I’m able to recharge my batteries and eventually come back to my primary task with a fresh new perspective.

When lightning strikes, act on it. Get as far as humanly possible with an idea before life, work, and other obligations inevitably drag you back to reality. Keep track of your ideas and projects. When you find your mind suddenly wandering back to a certain project, jump back on the horse and make as much progress as you can. Move the bar a little further. It’s OK to have many passions, varied interests, and hundreds of side projects. That’s the stuff that makes you interesting.

I like that, thank you Brad!
So after you worked your ass off at that job you talked about, what came next for you?

After I burnt out (several times), I realized I needed a new job. My wife worked at R/GA in Hell’s Kitchen, and I ended up applying there. The only position they had open at the time was for a “mobile web developer.”

My thoughts were, “OK, I’ll use this whole mobile web developer thing as my foot in the door, and eventually I’ll get a chance to make real websites.” Of course, a couple months into the job I realized this was where everything was going. I got to see the launch of the iPad, the rise of Android, and slowly learned how to make things for all these newfangled devices.

I consider myself to be extremely lucky to get into all this mobile Web stuff when I did. It was just before mobile became a necessity for every organization, so I was happy to get my foot in the door early.

I remember that when I first heard your name, you were working at that exact position. And now you are a freelancer, right? When and why did you decide to go out on your own? And how was the transition like?

Yep, I went out on my own at the beginning of 2013, and haven’t looked back since. I’m doing combination of front-end design, consulting, workshops, and speaking, which all seems to keep me pretty busy.

The transition was thankfully an organic one, thanks to Josh Clark, who got me onboard for redesigns of both TechCrunch and Entertainment Weekly. So it was really nice to step out onto my own knowing that I had some work and speaking engagements lined up.

Heading into my third year on my own I still feel like I’m getting my head around everything, but I’ve come to terms that I no longer have a conventional 40-hour-a-week, 9-to–5 job. I’m more than OK with that.

That sounds like an awesome start for a freelance career but also a lot of responsibility.
Besides all the different tasks you tackle you now decided to write a book about Atomic Design. Can you talk a little bit more about what you are doing and how the idea came about?

Yup! The book is called Atomic Design, and it focuses on how to create effective interface design systems. The book is going to discuss the importance of systematic interface thinking, introduce atomic design as an effective methodology, discuss tools for making and maintaining design systems, and detail how to make pattern-based design and development a core part of your workflow.

I’m writing the whole book in the open, and I’m sharing the progress live on my site and on Github. I really wanted to write this book, but I wasn’t very excited about holing myself up for a long time and keeping things secret until it was done. I’m so excited to share the work in progress, and I’ve already had people submit pull requests to fix my grammar, requests to help me edit, and I’ve even gotten a few offers to help translate the book into other languages. And I’m not even done with chapter 1 yet!

That’s awesome! I already preordered the book and am looking forward to the follow along. I dont’ think I have ever heard of someone doing a book this way.

As far as I know you are working from home. Do you feel alone sometimes and miss the office atmosphere? And what do you do to stay focused at home when the distractions are all around you?

I don’t have a hard time being alone. Because I spend so much time traveling, I really welcome the times when I’m at home and don’t have to go anywhere. I can go days without leaving my house, and even longer without leaving my neighborhood. But again because I’m on the road about every other week, I’m perfectly fine staying put.

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Workplace of Brad Frost (on the left)

That being said, working from home can be distracting sometimes, especially because I have a bulldog who constantly begs for my attention. And I’m very good at productive procrastination, meaning that if I have something that really needs to get done, I’ll clean the house, achieve inbox zero, and do pretty much anything besides the thing I really need to do. For those times, I’ll walk up to a coffee shop in my neighborhood so that I can focus.

What are you looking forward to the most/the least this year?

Oh jeez. There’s a whole lot to look forward to that’s for sure. Obviously I’m looking forward to writing this book in the open and seeing what comes of that. I’ve also got a lot of great travel plans for the year, and I’m looking forward to meeting more people and learning at a load of different conferences.

As much as I love traveling, it can be hard being away from my family and friends for so long. I’m fully aware that I can’t complain all that much, but sometimes it’s nice to stay put for a while.

I can totally understand that. I like being on the road, but it’s best at home.

Have you heard of Tachyons? Basically the idea to have a whole lot of single purpose classes which you can add to your HTML and style it that way? Classes like .pos-abs { position: absolute; } or .ttu { text-transform: uppercase; }
I see this trend in a lot of different places at the moment. Do you have any thoughts on it?

I have not seen this. And sort of wish I hadn’t :)

This is from one of the demo sites:

<p class="center serif fw1 f3 f2-m f1-l lh-title white mw6 mw9-ns phl phn-ns tc tl-ns ptn ptl-ns"></p>

I’d rather slam a car door on my hand than maintain that code.

On a serious note, it’s important to understand where you have the most flexibility in the system you’re creating. For some projects, it’s extremely challenging to make markup changes due to CMS limitations/lockdown/etc, so as a result CSS has to do a bit more of the heavy lifting. Other times markup might be more accessible to edit than the CSS, so you might end up with something with a little more akin to the above example. Although again it’s important to keep a sound separation of concerns and decouple structure, style, and behavior.

I’m glad you say this. I thought I was going crazy that I thought this approach was over the top since I saw something like that pop up around me several times over a period of only a few days.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned since working for yourself and what advice would you give someone starting out on his/her own?

I’d say the biggest thing I’ve learned is to trust my gut and try to be my truest self. I’ve found the more I trust my instinct and don’t compromise on my principles, the better off I seem to be. Self-employment has been a wild ride so far, and it’s been really fascinating that I can make a living without feeling like I have to compromise on my values.

As for advice to others, the short version is: Work hard. Don’t be an asshole. Share what you know.

To expound on that, I think it’s extremely important to dive into your craft, learn as much as you can, and make things. Don’t wait for permission to explore, play, and experiment. Put in the time and effort and recognize there’s no substitute for hard work.

Be honest. Try to make things that respect people and their time. Don’t be a jerk to other people. Collaboration is better than straight competition. There are ways to get ahead in your career while still exhibiting empathy and compassion.

And share what you know. Share your thoughts. Share what you’ve learned. Share what you haven’t. Share what went right. Share what went wrong. Share your words, code, designs, case studies, rough drafts, data, whatever you can. It’s never been easier to contribute to something greater than yourself. And that’s amazing.

This is truly great advice and a perfect ending to this conversation. Thank you so much for your time, Brad. I wish you all the best for your future!

A Conversation With Dave Rupert

Dave Rupert
Dave Rupert — Lead Developer of Paravel

Hey Dave, so let's start where all our lives began. Where were you born and did you have a childhood full of computers and other nerdy stuff?

I was born in Lincoln, Nebraska and grew up in the midwest. My family bought our first computer, an Apple //e, from my COBOL programmer uncle in 1990. It had word processing and all that but I used it to play Carmen Sandiego. In 1993 after moving to Pasadena, Texas (outside Houston), my step-dad bought our first PC. It was a pre-pentium 33MHz machine that ran Windows 3.1. I watched my step-dad stay up night after night hacking away at that computer. He was learning how to program, work in AutoCAD, and do complex 3D renderings that he would use in his job as an estimator in industrial sector. I didn't realize it at the time but that was a huge inspiration for me.

When I turned 15 years old in 1995, I got a 75MHz Pentium because my DOOM habit was monopolizing the family computer. I was in some bands but I wasn't very sporty, so I spent a lot of time tinkering on the PC. I eventually convinced them to let me get my own phone line and I dialed my 28.8k baud modem into AOL. That's about the time I began building web pages. My first one was about farts and the rest, as they say, is history.

Haha, cool. So like so many of us, you taught yourself how to build websites very early on. Do you also have a formal education?

For my first year of college I was a Computer Science major with a minor in Japanese. My goal was to make video games for Nintendo. However, after making C's and D's in Computer Science and straight A's in Japanese, I decided to play to my strengths. Eventually, I graduated in 2002 with a B.A. in Asian Cultures and Languages (Japanese). Looking back I can say three things about my education:

  1. If my school offered a degree in web design/development that's what I would have done. Back then "web designer" wasn't even a job title. I would have had to piece a program together from 6 different colleges within my University: Computer Science, Communications, Psychology, Library and Information Sciences, and Business.
  2. I learned a lot of foundational stuff in that first year of formal Computer Science, like how to read code, so it was somewhat worth it.
  3. Most of going to college isn't about the degree. It's a lot about how to make relationships and teaching yourself to learn. You can learn those outside of college, but higher education creates fertile ground for those kinds of skills.

So there ya have it. Yes, I majored in "anime".

Wow, that's pretty cool. So did you ever work in the "anime" world or did you start out as a web developer straight after college?

Right out of college, I worked a couple jobs, but ultimately traded it all for the opportunity to join the JET Programme, a program created of Japan's Ministry of Education. Every year the Japanese government imports ~10,000 or so English speakers to be ambassadors for cultural diversity and to teach at local schools (high school and junior high) in towns across Japan.

I spent three years teaching English at a junior high school in a small city called Sasayama, in Hyogo Prefecture. It was life changing to say the least. I slept on the floor, I ate rice balls for breakfast everyday, I had a mountain in the front of my small apartment and a rice patty in the back. I met a lot of great people, ate a lot of great food, drank a lot of drinks with the locals, and created a lot of great memories and friendships.

While in Japan, I maintained a few blogs and forums for some friends. Even though we were thousands of miles apart, Trent Walton and I would code websites over iChat whenever our timezones overlapped. In 2006, I came back to the states and slowly began my career in web design. Trent and I made a site for some dudes for ~$300. Then Reagan Ray and I did the design and development for a real estate company in Phoenix. Then about six months later, under Trent's leadership, we formed Paravel and have kept our heads above water ever since.

That's an impressive journey. Paravel is quite well know in the developer community. You recently were involved in the responsive redesign of the Microsoft.com homepage, which turned out great. How did this come about and how was working for such a big company?

Over the years Paravel has built a lot of websites for a lot of great clients. Among those, we had the privilege of working with Microsoft on a few smaller promotional projects: Lost World's Fairs, The Responsive 10k Apart, and the Build Windows conference website. Based off that relationship, when the Microsoft.com team decided they wanted a new responsive homepage, Paravel's name came up for the project. We were excited for the chance to integrate with the homepage team in Redmond, Washington and work on such a high traffic site.

Nishant Kothary tells the story of the new Microsoft.com really well, so read his post for the full story. On a personal note, and this may come as some surprise, but working with Microsoft goes down as one of the greatest projects ever. Excellent project management and an eager team of skilled engineers is about all you can ask for in this business and we had that in spades. It's also a neat feeling when you're working on website and you know Steve Ballmer will look at it. Together, with the team in Redmond, we worked hard and tested rigorously. When the time came for us to phase out of the daily standup calls, we at Paravel all got a little emotional about it.

This really sounds like a great client. And we both know that this isn't always the case. How does a typical day in your life look like? Can you walk me through it?

I'm woken up at day break thanks to either my dog or cat. From there I mope around, feed animals, make coffee, eat, get freshened up, and read an article or two from the Twitter stream. Everyone at Paravel works from home, so there's no rushing out the door to fight traffic. I just stroll down the hall. I like that part about my job, but maintaining a good work/life balance is a constant struggle. Checking out of work is difficult when its just down the hall barking at me with notifications.

The first couple hours of the morning tend to be dedicated to Basecamps, emails, Campfire stand-ups, Skype calls, reading "breaking" articles, and prioritizing my daily to-do list. Although, code-wise, I'm probably most productive in the morning, getting organized sets me up for better success in the afternoon. I also drink a metric ton of coffee each day, that aids in productivity. The afternoon is filled with programming and interacting with west coast clients.

Throughout the day, I listen to lots of music and podcasts as I navigate the forty apps I have open at any given moment. Trent once wrote a blog post on "Unitasking", I'm the complete opposite. I routinely attend a multitude of tasks and my desk is covered in garbage and to-do lists.

I also co-host two weekly podcasts, ShopTalk and ATX Web Show, so a few hours a week are dedicated towards those ventures. Up until about a month ago, I did all the mixing and production work on both podcasts, but have employed some much needed help to prevent burnout. Now both podcasts sound better. There's a lesson in there for generalists: Don't be a hero, hire people better than you.

I wrap up the day around 6pm and head down the hall to watch Star Trek with my wife and dog. That's pretty alright if you ask me.

Oh, I didn't know you all work at home and don't have an office. If it works for you, I think that's great. I was never able to work at home, but I imagine it's pretty cool but also even harder to take a break from work as it is anyway.
So how do you guys stay in touch and how does the collaboration work? You mentioned Campfire and Basecamp. Anything else? Do you meet each other on a regular schedule?

Our remote working strategy has been tweaked a bit over the years.

  • Email for personal messages and (we don't call it this, but) "pre-sales" sort of interactions with clients. Once we're engaged with clients, we bring them into a Basecamp project.
  • Basecamp is for all client communication. This is for two reasons, it's a better documented email chain that everyone can see and messages reference-able by a URL. This is handy if conversations overlap or you need documented proof of a client request.
  • Campfire for internal discussion. It lets us discuss and rapidly iterate on designs, share URLs to private builds so we can all test interactions before handing code or demos over to the client. We used to use iChat, but if your computer went to sleep you had no history of the chat. Campfire allows us less-than-realtime communication. It's been wonderful.

Depending on our workload, Paravel gets together every other week or so for a "Team Day". On Team Days we usually plan the initial IA/UX for projects in their beginning stages. We sketch on graph paper, we prototype ideas in code, we argue, we invent new side projects, and we eat $60 worth of BBQ (or sometimes hamburgers). We usually wrap up and head home early because we've found that we tend to get side tracked by DoubleDare YouTube videos or 80s movie trivia... I think once we even watched The Money Pit. Team Days are great for tasks that require our collective brains, but in general, we're more effective at our home work stations.

Speaking of work stations. What does yours look like? Do you have separate computers for work and private stuff?

My work space is currently evolving. Right now, I occupy a spare room in my house with a generous desk with a filing cabinet stuffed below it. Underneath my desk is a rat king of wires.

Workplace of Dave
Dave's workplace

I have two machines side-by-side, a Macbook Air connected to a 24" Cinema Display and a Samsung Series 9 Ultrabook with a 23" Dell Ultrasharp. Both of those are stashed behind their respective displays. My desk is littered with devices at any given moment, right now I'm running testing on an iPad Mini, an iPhone 4 and 5, and a Surface RT.

I tend to use all the devices at some point throughout the day. Though, I'm non-comittaly transitioning to tablets for after-work computing. I like that they don't have a dev environment setup on them, so I use them to read, blog, and play games.

For podcasting, I have a Sterling Audio ST51 (need a better mic) on a boom stand and The Soundboard (an app on the iPad Mini), they run through an Alesis MultiMix 4-channel mixer into my Macbook Air. I also have a Mac Mini for a dedicated broadcasting machine that is hardwired to the router in my living room.

I like your 24" Cinema Display. I often find myself having too much space on the 27" one and doing some work on the 13" Macbook Air only.
Nearly every developer I know has some side projects. I know you have too, the A11Y project for example. Can you tell me a little bit about it? What is it and how did it come about?

I have lots of projects in various states, some have more focus than others. Currently at the top of the list is the A11Y project.

The A11Y Project exists to help developers learn more about making websites accessible. Web accessibililty is hard. Typically information is buried in long form posts or comments and finding the latest best practices is always a struggle. I feel that the majority of information can and should be condensed down to something more readable. The A11Y Project is also open source, that means anyone can contribute or update posts. The goal is that it becomes a constantly updated warehouse of best practices. Progress has slowed down a bit, but we've got lots of posts in the hopper just have to find time for the site.

Noah Stokes recently raised the question or let's say the concern that responsive design has no soul. Buzzword: Flat Design. What's your opinion on that?

In my opinion, the flat design trend isn't being driven by RWD so much as it is being driven by devices and operating systems. For example, high-definition "Retina" screens are the main reason why I'd personally choose a monochrome icon font over a gigantic 1x+2x full fidelity sprite sheet. Background images also bear a similar burden since Google has started ranking based on page performance.

Beyond the technical advantages, I tend to align aesthetically with flatter designs. I enjoy simple sites with strong type, good imagery, and a touch of personality either through good copywriting or a touch of animation. My favorite site on the web right now is probably The Verge; flat and not responsive. So there's that.

Looking into the future, what do you wish for regarding the web as a whole or web development technologies in specific?

For the web, I wish for less trolling. It's a problem and our industry should lead by example by not supporting, retweeting, or employing these offensive, aggressive, and non-apologetic people.

For web development technologies, I think we're in a diaspora of ideas, techniques, and tools. I hope things will homogenize a bit but only to the point where it doesn't stifle innovation.

Okay, last one. Is there any question you'd like to answer but that I didn't ask?

Can't think of one! Thanks for having me for this interview. It was fun.

Thanks Dave! :)

A conversation with Chris Coyier

Chris Coiyer at home

Hey Chris, in case anybody don't know who you are, how would you introduce yourself in three sentences?

I write about the web at CSS-Tricks. I talk about the web on ShopTalk. I am co-founder of the web app CodePen.

Okay, great. So that's the present. Let's dive into the past.
Where are you originally from and how did you get into web development?

I'm from the winter wonderland that is Wisconsin (north central United States). I lived there until I was 27. Through college and my first couple of jobs. My last job in Wisconsin was for a small design agency and I got to the be sole web designer/developer. We had a lot of web clients so I was learning fast how to build and maintain websites. I started CSS-Tricks during that time. I'm 32 now, so in the past five years I've lived in five states: Wisconsin, Oregon, Illinois, Florida, and California.

Oh, that was a lot of moving. I imagine that wasn't that much fun, was it?
Last year before you switched to CSS-Tricks full time you were working at Wufoo, an online form builder. I have to say I don't like coding forms very much and I haven't met anyone who does. So did you like working there and how was it like to constantly deal with forms?

Going to work for Wufoo was one of the best things that ever happened to me. Before I worked there I was already a super fan. Like you, I also don't like coding forms very much. I used Wufoo for every form I needed, client and personal. When I got the job offer, I jumped at the opportunity. It got me out of Chicago, which I wasn't loving at the time. Wufoo was in Tampa, Florida, which I ended up liking a lot. The team at Wufoo was awesome. Many of my best friends today were/are from Wufoo. It was a pleasure to work with such smart, good people. Everything about it was great: great people, great product, great working style, great location. If it sounds like I'm gushing, I am. Even though it isn't actively developed anymore, it is still actively maintained. There is still no better form builder out there and I still use it for every non core web app form I need.

Sounds great! So the obvious question is, why did you leave Wufoo?

Wufoo sold to SurveyMonkey in April 2011. The entire team moved out West to work out of their offices. SurveyMonkey is a great place to work too, but it wasn't the same after that. Everyone was pulled off Wufoo right away and put on different teams. What made working for Wufoo great was melting away for me, so I decided to leave and go off on my own.

So if I remember this right, you are on you own since the beginning of 2012, right? How is it going so far and are you doing client work as the typical freelancer would do? Or is it "just" CSS-Tricks and CodePen which keep you afloat?

Yep it was April 2012. No client work for me. I don't have the chops for it. Good freelancers are great at making clients happy. They can guide clients through their process, hold their hands (so to speak) through difficult things, and steer them towards the best decisions with grace. I don't have that grace or that much patience. It's noble work, I salute anyone who does it.

I have my big three things like I mentioned at the top: CodePen, CSS-Tricks, and ShopTalk. At the moment, CSS-Tricks is the big earner for me, which is no surprise as I've been chugging away at it for over five years. But all three of them turn a profit now. CodePen has the biggest potential and I'm very excited about that. The team and I are working or butts off on it so we can turn it into the site (and business) we know it can be.

Okay, I can totally understand that. But not everybody has the chance to make a living from their blog. But let's assume someone tries to monetize his blog to someday maybe live from it. What would be you advice, since you've successfully done it?

I'm sure there are a number of different ways to approach it, but they all start with getting an audience. That's means a lot of writing over a long period. I don't believe there is any shortcut to that. Then once you have an audience, you'll need to make money off the traffic they provide. The most traditional way to do that is display advertising. But you could also have a subscription model for the content you write, or a subscription for some of it. You could use affiliate networks and take commission on sales. You could do sponsored posts. You could sell a product of your own. You could ask for donations. Most likely, you'll do a combination of several of these. I don't think you need a master plan to guide you. Just try different things and keep writing. Through persistance, you'll get to the point of being able to live from it.

Yeah, that sounds right. I think you're doing a great job at CSS-Tricks, btw.
Let's talk a bit about CodePen. For those you don't know it: What is it and how came it about? Who are your Co-Founders?

I think of CodePen as a playground for front end code. You might come there for inspiration. To browse different ways people have built, for example, breadcrumb navigation. You might come there to build something yourself, to show off some cool new thing you built and to get feedback on it. You might come because you're having a problem with some code and want to demonstrate the bug to someone with easy to edit code. We also have PRO accounts that open up a number of features and there is more focus on education. For instance, our Professor Mode gives you a classroom where students can watch you code things live, as well as chat with you and fellow students, in real time.

Alex Vazquez, Tim Sabat, and I are all equal co-founders. We worked at Wufoo together, then we all moved out to California together as well when the SurveyMonkey acquisition happened. We're all still out here in California for the time being. We all have different skill sets. Tim is more back end and server oriented. Alex is front end and back end engineer. I'm front end with more design focus.

It's great to build something with friends rather than people you barely know.
If I'm right, you guys don't have an office. So how is working together over the distance? Do you meet from time to time to discuss important things in person? Do you use any tools to help stay organized and informed about what the others are working on? We at QUOTE.fm for example are using Basecamp to stay organized and IRC for communication.

We all live in the same area for now and you're right, we don't have an office. The other two guys are full time at SurveyMonkey, so it would be a pretty baron office anyway. Every Tuesday we go to lunch and talk about what's happening that week. It's a good routine that keeps us all in check. We meet at the same place at the same time and sit at the same table with the same waitress and order the same thing. It's what we talk about that's always different. We learned this at Wufoo where we also only had a meeting once a week on a schedule. We all work best left alone most of the time, but the face to face meeting is crucial to set priorities and clear away blockers. For mid-week communication it's a combination of chat (we often use CodePen Collab Mode), email, and a lot of GitHub issues. I'm likely going to be moving back to my home state of Wisconsin in a few months so we're going to have to make a special effort to plan get togethers pretty soon. Google Hangouts work pretty well though as well, which we use a lot when someone is out of town.

I like having a routine like that.
Why do you want to go back to Wisconsin? Had enough sunny days? Just kiddin'.

A bunch of reasons really. My family is in Wisconsin so that'll be nice. It's a lot less expensive to live than silicon valley, so that's nice as my income is down since going off on my own. I have a bunch of friends there as well. And a change of pace is always nice. I haven't lived in the same place longer than about a year and a half since I've been 17.

Wow, that's really not that long. So maybe Wisconsin is where you can really settle down, again. Hope everything works out quite nice. :) Let's talk about ShopTalkShow for a moment. I'm a fan and am looking forward to every episode, so thanks guys. How did the podcast come about and how do you know Dave Rupert?

I think I knew Dave from the internet basically and then ran into him at a few different conferences. I had been wanting to do a podcast but knew I didn't have the time or skills to do it all on my own. Dave just up and asked me one day and I jumped at the chance.

We split up the work it takes to make it happen. It's quite a bit really, between booking guests, communicating with advertisers, managing the incoming questions, the ever-changing equipment and tech to record the shows and broadcast live, post-editing the show, and handling the website. We've always tried to go with the choices that involve the least amount of effort, since we're both very busy, but it still takes a good amount of time to get it all done and be consistent about it.

I hope both of you will always find time for the show in the future.
Since you don't go to an office every day, do you have any tips for working from home? Or what are possible problems that can come up? I for one would like to work from the comfort of my home but maybe I just don't see the problems which can come with it.

The traditional thinking is that working at home is difficult because there are all these distractions around you (My XBOX is right over there...) or that there is nobody looking over you, ready to scold you for slacking off. Personally I don't find this to be true. I enjoy my work so I prefer to be doing it than anything else. I literally can't watch a movie in the middle of the day, because I'd get bored of it and go get my laptop and start doing stuff. Toward the end of the day I do start to feel "done" and do other things though (most days). If you love what you do, I don't think you'll have any problem working from home. If you're luke warm on your work (or sadly, don't like it) working from home is going to be tough. You might want to stay at the office so you can be forced to actually do your job. Hopefully while planning to move to something you'll enjoy more.

Okay, that's how I see it, too.
Recently I thought about looking around dribbble and then coding one of the awesome shots I would find. Have you thought about collaborating with the guys from dribbble in any way? I think there are many cool crossovers possibilities.

We're happy to look at any kind of integration possibility. Dribbble is fantastic and really helped light the way in many ways for CodePen. At the moment we have a huge list of things we want to work on that will keep us busy for quite a while, so we're not actively developing any specific integrations.

This brings up a point worth mentioning about integrations. When I was at Wufoo I did a lot of the talking with other apps about integration possibilities and now it's happening at CodePen with more regularity. A lot of apps have have business development people who's job it is to grow business through partnerships. I'm sure there are some great biz dev people out there, but in my experience these people are a waste of time. They want to get on the phone and "blue sky" some possibilities (that end up going nowhere). Real stuff gets done when developers talk to developers about big ideas. If you desire an integration of your app with another, come to them with a fully formed (yet flexible) ideas and the promise to do actual work to get it done.

What are your plans for CodePen on "mobile/small screens"?

At the moment we're just chipping away at it. For instance when I redesigned the profile pages I made sure they were happily responsive. Most of the site, layout-wise, shouldn't be too hard to make work on small screens. The code editor itself will be more tricky. I have yet to figure out exactly the best way to handle that. It will come though. And then making sure all the functionality bits work with touch. We have a number of menus that are hover-revealed that will need some attention.

Okay, yeah, I can't really imagine myself coding on a smartphone or tablet.
So Chris, we talked a lot about your work projects, but what are you doing if you are not working? In case that even happens. :D

I play the banjo. Just recreationally now, but I'd like to get back into a gigging band someday. Otherwise I'm pretty normal. I like TV and movies. I like American football. I like hitting the pub. I like video games.

Cool, what video games are you playing at the moment? I'm really into Battlefield 3 on the XBox and looking into buying a windows pc for gaming only.

I play Starcraft 2 pretty regularly with friends. Looking forward to the Heart of the Swarm release. I've also been playing Guild Wars 2 a bunch. About to the hit the level cap and get into more pvp and wvw stuff.

I played SC2 as it came out but relatively fast lost interest because only one of my friends played it.
So what does a typical day in your life look like?

On a normal day at home, I get up about 7:30am. I generally set the computer down for good around 9:00pm and unwind with some TV before hitting the sack around 10:00pm. Pretty normal schedule. That's a lot of work hours, but I break it up constantly with little breaks to play with the dog, make meals, do chores, have meetings, etc. It's a lot of work hours but I don't feel like I work particularly hard.

Nice, so thank you Chris for taking the time out of your day for making this interview possible. I really appreciate it and I hope we'll someday might meet in person on a conference or so. I wish you all the best for CSS-Tricks, CodePen and ShopTalkShow.

Interview with CSS wizard Harry Roberts

Hey Harry, I know a little bit about you from your blog and twitter, but if you had to introduce yourself with three sentences, what would you say?

Hey! I’m 21, from the UK, a designer, developer, writer and speaker. I am a Senior UI Developer at BSkyB where I specialise in elegant, scalable solutions for massive front-ends. When I’m not coding I’m usually flying round on one of my bikes.

Great! When and how did you start diving into web development and design?

I was about 16, I think. My friend Sam and I were dead set on being graphic designers and we were making loads of different things—both paid and un-paid—just to have fun. After a while I decided that we needed a portfolio site to host our stuff so I started looking at building websites.

It was then that I realised that I’m a terrible designer and a far better developer so that became my thing; I used to just tinker with code on loads of throw-away projects just for the hell of it. I kept on and on and eventually landed a full time role at a great, aaward-winning agency in the UK when I was 17.

I’ve not looked back since, but there are a lot of people on the way I’m very grateful to.

It seems you got very good at a fairly young age. Did you attend any conventional design/development school or are you completely self-taught?

Cheers! I am entirely self taught, yeah. I found I loved building websites so much that I decided that I could teach myself enough not to bother with university. As a result my knowledge is a lot narrower than most (I don’t know JS, for example) but a lot lot more honed; a lot more detailed.

My style of learning keeps adapting, too. I learn things in context which gives a greater understanding than being taught it second hand by someone in a lecture room.

Yeah, I like that way of learning. I think it speaks for our industry that you were able to land a pretty good job without a formal education. Did you like working at a big agency?

It’s because—as an industry—we love to share! There’s stuff out there that people write for free that beats formal, paid education into the ground.

Sense wasn’t necessarily that big—about 40 or so people—but it was a hell of a lot of fun. I absolutely loved working there. There was a massive variety of clients, project sizes and a lot of fun to be had. It was the best first-proper-job I could have wished for. It gave me chance to grow on the job and gain a lot of experience in working with people, as a team.

So why did you leave?

It’s a very long story but the company wound itself down over a period of months. It didn’t go bust, but they saw that it was time to make the move to close down operations before things got that far. It was during the really bad economic downturn a couple of years ago and Sense was always super-committed to ethical operations so they closed the doors while there was plenty of cash left to keep everyone happy. A very, very sad day but they acted incredibly responsibly. Everyone from there still keeps in touch, In fact, I just met an old ex-Sense colleague for lunch only an hour ago.

That’s sad, but I experienced something similar and also am still in touch with my ex-colleagues.
Now you work at BSkyB, so I imagine you are part of an in-house team? How did you end up there and what’s it like working for one “client” only instead of working at an agency?

It is sad, but the fact we’re both in touch with our colleagues speaks volumes for the people involved.

Yeah, it’s a fairly massive team as well! I ended up there after they advertised a Senior UI Developer role. I went in for a chat to ‘sound them out’—I was really apprehensive about a large corporate; worried that they’d have to support IE6 and that they’d want round corners in all browsers etc. They’re really clued up though and they said right away that they want to take a real progressive approach. I was impressed so, at 20, I decided bite the bullet and try to apply for my first senior role!

Working here is really different to working on lots of clients. I work on a number of projects so there is variety and there’s no such thing as a rush-job. All projects are agreed in-house so there are no ridiculous deadlines, you can really get stuck into a project and see it through. There’s more incentive to do a better job because once you’ve built the site you can’t just forget about it. I’ve learned more in my year at Sky than all three years previously.

That sounds really good.
So you don’t have to support IE6, phew. What about IE7 or IE8? We at QUOTE.fm decided to support IE8, but stopped looking at the site in IE7. But I could imagine that’s a little bit harder to do when you work for a big company?

Nope, no IE6 at all which is a massive help. IE7 and IE8 we had to support on the last project we rolled out. I was the sole front-end dev on SkyBet.com and that took about a year or so; I managed to get it done with no IE stylesheets—as I said before, we’re given more than enough time to make sure we do our work properly so there’s often very little need to hack front-ends together. At an agency, where you typically have much less time, cross-browser support is often more of a pain than at a big in-house team.

Let’s talk about your work setup. Which hardware and software do you use for your everyday developing needs?

At work I run a dual-screen Windows PC with Notepad++, Git, Photoshop, Chrome and Spotify as my main tools of choice. I also have a 17″ MacBook Pro.

At home I run a MacBook Air with the same software as above but TextMate as my text editor.

(I much prefer Mac to PC, obviously…)

That’s pretty simple and straight forward, but no external display at home? I am sorry you’ve to work on Windows all day. I had the pleasure for two and a half years at one of my old jobs. Luckily I can work all day with my own MacBook Pro since nearly one and a half years now.
Ever used a CSS preprocessor and languages like LESS and SASS? What do you think about them?

Yeah, I do also have an external display at home for my Air but I tend not to use it (I do most of my coding away from the desk, if I can). The Windows thing was my own choice, but I became a Mac convert about a month after starting here at Sky (having opted for a Windows desktop). My own fault!

Pre-processors aren’t really my thing. I installed Sass at the weekend and it’s cool, but the way I write my CSS means that a pre-processor won’t actually help me all that much.

I’ve spent the last year or so really honing and refining an OOCSS approach in vanilla CSS and this largely negates the need for a pre-processor entirely. Where I imagine they may be useful is variables and vendor prefixes but mixins and nesting et al can often be circumvented entirely by just architecting your CSS properly.

I use LESS and am very happy with it but one has do be very careful not to fall in some traps with preprocessors. But I will take a closer look at Object Oriented CSS, thanks.
How many hours a week/day do you invest in doing personal work in the evenings?

I think they’re good, but need to be used properly. To say pre-processors are bad would be like saying knives are bad; it’s not the tool, it’s the person who’s wielding it! I’m looking forward to trying to roll some Sass into my workflow, if I can.

Oh a lot. I couldn’t give an exact number but it’s high. Most of my time lately has been spent preparing for a talk I gave at Front-Trends in Poland and also working on faavorite, so not as much writing as I usually do.

I’m hoping with talks out of the way I can redesign my site (it really needs it!) and get writing more.

Speaking of Front-Trends. I read your write-up and am very excited and want to be there next year. What was it like to be on a stage that big and do you plan on speaking a lot more at conferences in the future?

It was absolutely terrifying. The most people I’d ever spoken to before was about 50 in a small room in Barnsley; a tiny little town in the north of England. Front-Trends was 470 and I was so nervous.

That said though, the entire Front-Trends experience was the best thing I have ever done in my life. I’ve never had so much fun! Despite my nerves my talk went well (or so people have told me; it was all a blur for me) and I’m definitely up for doing more.

Cool! Do you know if the talks were recorded and will be up on YouTube or the Front-Trends site?

Yeah they were, I’m not sure when they’ll be up though—there were ten hours of talks! I’m not looking forward to seeing mine too much; I imagine the nerves will show.

Let’s talk about your newest project: faavorite.com. What is it about, how did the idea come up and who do you build it with?

faavorite is the result of two developers’ frustration with the way Twitter handles (or rather, doesn’t handle) their favorites feature. We basically built an app that lets you search, organise, tag, discover, read (and more) your (and other peoples’) Twitter favorites. It’s pretty awesome…

It’s a project by me and Nick Payne. It’s been really fun working on such an involved and massive project with someone who is first and foremost a friend, I’ve loved it. faavorite is still well in its infancy at the moment, there’s lots more to come.

QUOTE.fm also started out as a side project with two friends and now we able to do it full time and hired an iOS developer. So good luck with faavorite!
How long did the development take until now and if you have to name one or two things, what did you learn?

That’s awesome, good work! We need a plan for faavorite; it’s so much fun and so much more than just a hobby project!

faavorite went from idea to live in about three months. It was such a massive project, particularly from Nick’s point of view. He’s done a lot of seriously impressive stuff. I jokingly refer to myself as Chief Float-Clearer on faavorite because that’s honestly about as important as I feel at the side of Nick…

I learned a fair bit but the biggest single thing I learned is don’t be too critical if you don’t have context.

By this I mean that by just looking at someone’s source code you shouldn’t judge their development decisions. I used to be terrible for this, saying stuff like ‘I could do that in three less elements’. True—maybe you can—but that means that so can the developer who did it, so why didn’t they? Looking at the source code of faavorite I have absolutely no doubt that people will be like ‘WTF?! How many divs?!’ but each line of code in that build is accounted for. Everything has its own job, everything has its own purpose.

I learned that pretty code is second to powerful code. It’s better to write ‘uglier’ code that never breaks than it is to avoid using three more elements and have something really fragile and flaky.

In short, I learned that you can’t critique because you don’t have the context.

Thank you! Three months is pretty awesome. You two did a good job! I think what you just said is so true and I’ve experienced the same here with QUOTE.fm.
Maybe you can uncover some future features of faavorite?

Thanks, it was pretty full on at points; I was working all day here at Sky then getting to work on an evening too. Nick’s still done most of the work, though!

Yeah exactly, you find it more and more with complex apps. I’d much rather use an extra div and know that nothing will break than not use it and keep having to change code!

I wish I could but we don’t even know ourselves! We have some pretty awesome ideas around weekly faavorite summaries, and community curated stuff, but it’s all up in the air at the moment; what we need to do is beef up our capacity ready to get promoting the app fully!

That sounds pretty good. Looking forward to your development.
With a lot of personal work in the evenings I know I tend to sit in front of the screen all day until I go to bed. What do you do when you need some time away from coding and the screen?

Cheers, me too!
Well I never watch TV (I’ve not turned my TV on since 2011) so it’s unusual I’m not at my computer in the evenings. I listen to a lot of music and, although I’m far from a chef, I do love cooking. I spend at least a good hour or so an evening cooking/eating. When I’m not doing that I love to get out on one of my bikes. I currently have a trials bike and a single-speed roadie which are two bikes just designed for pure fun!

Can you do any tricks on the trials bike?

I can do some (link for outside the US/UK), but I’m not great. Due to work things I don’t get to ride half as much as I’d want to—I’ve just had a year off, too.

Wow, I think that’s pretty cool. So let’s wrap this thing up.
The last one: What question would you like to answer, that I didn’t ask?

How about… ‘What next?’

So. Now really the last one. What next, Harry?

I’m not 100% sure myself really. I know that I’ll be here at Sky for a while yet. Nick and I met (properly) at Sky and we were saying just the other day that we could probably never go back to agency life.

Agencies don’t face the problems massive in-house (and very technical) teams do. With an agency you don’t have great ownership of a project; you build it and get shut of it. There’s no incentive to architect anything or think about 6, 12, 24 months down the line in quite the same way there is in-house.

Other stuff, faavorite needs a plan; we need to work out a strategy for the product and what we want from it.

I was considering taking a week off work and rewriting inuit.css to be super OO—make it an incredibly powerful but design-free CSS framework, but that’s undecided yet.
I think I’d also like to speak at another conference or two.
I have loads of ideas but nothing really certain—I guess I’ll cross each bridge as I come to it.

Sounds great. I wish you all the best for your future. Thank you very much for your time, Harry. Maybe our ways will cross some day on a conference or so.

You can find Harry on Twitter, github and of course on his widely popular blog csswizardry.com.