378: RapidFire Q&A on Podcast Sponsorships, npm Dependencies, and Front End Developers

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Chris and Dave open up the mailbag and answer your questions in an return of a classic RapidFire episode. How do you know if you're a senior developer? How do we handle sponsors in WordPress?



Chris Coyier and Dave Rupert in silly sunglasses and a sign that says Shawp Tawlkk Shough DOT COM

Chris Coyier and Dave Rupert

This episode is with just Chris & Dave, ShopTalk Show's hosts. Chris is the co-founder of CodePen and creator of CSS-Tricks, and Dave is lead developer at Paravel.

Time Jump Links

  • 00:39 How do I know if I'm ready to become a senior/lead developer?
  • 04:33 Do you have any struggle when handling sponsors in WordPress?
  • 12:28 Sponsor: Backlog
  • 13:23 How do you go from a single design comp down to a responsive implementation?
  • 18:48 How do I grow my podcast audience in a efficient yet valuable way?
  • 34:58 Sponsor: Netlify
  • 37:17 What have you found is the best way to keep the front-end developer and back-end developer roles separate?
  • 42:27 How come when installing dependencies in a project (npm install), there are always like 38 warnings and 3 errors in the terminal!?
  • 47:49 What is up with Customized Built-in Elements?


[Banjo music]

MANTRA: Just Build Websites!

Dave Rupert: Hey there, Shop-o-maniacs. You're listening to another episode of the ShopTalk Show, a podcast all about front-end Web design and development. I'm Dave Rupert and with me is Chris Coyier.

Chris Coyier: Hey! Absolutely. Just Dave and I this week. We thought we'd do a RapidFire show or answer as many questions as we can, anyway. Let's just get into it. We have Rachael N. here asking kind of a classic question that we have had a number of times over the year and it's a hot topic in the industry, which is, "How do I know if I'm ready to be a senior or lead developer?"

Rachael says, "I get recruited for these positions all the time, but my impostor syndrome gets the best of me. I have turned down two different senior role offers because I'm just not sure if I'll live up to their expectations. I love Web development. I feel like I understand the entire lifecycle of making websites. I freelance in my spare time. I've been programming professionally for about three years total."

I don't know. Is she ready? She asks us, when did we know we were ready to be a senior developer? Did it just happen, sink or swim?

Dave: Hmm. Good question. Am I a senior? I guess, technically, being the loan developer. [Laughter]

Chris: Yeah, well, we both work at such small, little companies that we just never get the title, really.

Dave: Here's what I was going to say. Take it, Rachael. Take the money and F'in run. Just cash -- get the money while you can.

This may be silly, but these are so poorly defined.

Chris: Oh, for sure.

Dave: I think you should just get the title and move up from there.

Chris: Hell, yeah.

Dave: This is capitalism Dave talking, but I definitely agree with you.

Chris: Do you want it, Rachael? Yeah? Then take it.

Dave: Yeah, but there is this, like, it's so poorly defined. We tried to define it on the show a couple, few times. I think we had a panel of, like, what is a senior developer, right?

Chris: Yeah, and I love that. There are things I think of that I still really like, like, a senior developer is a force multiplier. Absolutely love that one. It means that it's not your skill, necessarily. It's your team player-ness and you're lifting up everybody around you.

I know you're partial to the rising tide lifts all boats kind of concept. That factors in with people, too. If you're the one standing in a room that's making everybody better because you're there, that's a senior developer.

In this case, that doesn't matter. It does. That'll make you a good senior developer, but you're just trying to get the job at all.

If you've got people offering you the job, you're a listener of ShopTalk Show, people are trying to get you for this, and you want it because you're into it, clearly, if you're freelancing, it's your job and, yeah, you're living this stuff, then live it. Do it. Take it. End of story.

Dave: Yeah. I think this is yours, Rachael, Rachael Ann. I don't know if your last name is Ann.

Anyway, I think that force multiplier is a really good thing. Do people come to you with questions? I think that's a good, personal metric. If you're in a team of ten people, do people say, "Rachael, how do I do this? What's the best way to embed an SVG icon?" or something like, and you're just like, "Oh, yeah. I know this one"? I think that's where, at least in this situation where it's very loosely defined, I think that can work out for you.

If you work in an organization where it's very strictly defined, you may have to climb the ladder quite a bit. You have to maybe be an engineer 1, and engineer 2, and then a senior engineer.

If it's not strictly defined, just take the title. Get it. I hate to be that -- [laughter] -- I hate to be that ruthless but, I think, at three years, if you've been doing this job, people are probably starting to ask you questions and stuff like that. I think it makes a big deal and you could probably do that.

Chris: Heck yeah. Igor Benic writes in. I think he's working on a WordPress plugin for handling sponsorships of podcasts or at least sponsorships.

Dave: Yeah.

Chris: I think it's specifically podcasts, so a pretty niche thing but cool. He wrote in. He was kind of doing data research on us, which is fine, but we'll just do it on the show instead.

Dave: Yeah.

Chris: "Do you have any struggles when handling sponsors? Do you have a process between the sponsorship request, the purchase, and moving them onto the site from there?"

I thought it would be an opportunity for us to just explain how we do it, in a way. We have a page on the site that just says, "Hey." It's There's a link in the sidebar to it, I'm sure. We just charge a price for them and you can buy them.

You don't buy them through us. You buy them through a company called Syndicate Ads, which is like a child company of a company called By Sell Ads. Now, that's the self-service way of doing it, meaning you can just look at a calendar, pick off a date, and buy it. We work with them because, hey, they offer that service and that's cool.

What makes them particularly valuable to me is that they then take over the wrangling of the advertising, meaning that they communicate with the person who bought it, get all the content together, and then let us know when that content is ready to go. We use it, produce the ad, and put it on the site. That's great because that's a lot of emailing and just back and forth stuff that I'm not that interested in doing.

It's funny because we work with direct sponsorships, too, because that's probably the way we sell half our ads. It's not direct through a calendar like that but through a packaged deal that we hand put together for sponsors and sometimes podcasts are a part of that. In that case, I am happy to communicate and make sure that that messaging is perfect for the whole package together -- that kind of thing.

It's work. Igor is asking, what kind of technological solution could be useful here. There may be things that ease the process here, but I'd say mostly it's just work and you've got to do it. It's email.

Dave: Yeah, it's email. It's a lot. People can book shows or whatever, like, "Oh, I want these four shows in August," or something like that. We can do that, but there is some risk involved on our part. There's a chance we miss a show. Somebody breaks to arms or somebody has a kid. You know?

Chris: Right. Right, right.

Dave: This stuff happens.

Chris: You know what's funny? Out of all these years, we've never had just me or just you do the show, ever.

Dave: I think once.

Chris: Once?

Dave: I think once you had to do it because I might have had a kid or something.

Chris: Oh. Huh.

Dave: I think there's just one show or two if you count the guy who hacked your website.

Chris: It could happen, though, and I don't even mind if it does. If it happened next week, so what? It happened. You know?

Chris: Right. Right, but in the grand history, we schedule and then we try to get sponsors into those shows. Our podcast editor, Chris Enns, he helps out a lot managing that and selling some stuff too.

Chris: Yeah, it's funny. There is a little bit more to the process, right? Once they're sold, scheduled, and it's clear what the advertiser wants, because sometimes they say, "Here's a script;" you read the script. Sometimes they want you to just totally spitball it. Fine.

Dave: Riff.

Chris: Talking points is probably the most common, like, "Here's some stuff that's important to us right now and riff off those." Great. I don't care. Honestly, of all three of them, I don't mind. I have no preference between any of them.

Dave: Some want you to send an MP3 to them to review to QA the spot read.

Chris: That's true.

Dave: That's okay. It's tough when it's on a tight deadline.

Chris: It is. The worst time, I think I had to do one four times, once. By the fourth time, you're just like, "Okay." [Laughter] You know?

Dave: Mm-hmm. [Laughter]

Chris: Is it you or me or what? But then, I remember it distinctly. I think I smiled my way through the fourth one because I'm like, "You know what? This is the job. This is what I sell. I sell an advertiser being happy with their spot. If they're not happy, that's me failing," so I just damn did it.

Anyway, there's just not a lot of….

Dave: We also -- well--

Chris: What's that?

Dave: Well, I was going to say, we try to make sure the company fits our ethos of a show, provides value to the listener, and provides value too.

Chris: Right.

Dave: We don't have maybe 100% approval or thumbs up/thumbs down, but I can remember situations where we've had to kind of be like, "Yeah, we're not going to do this company."

Chris: Yeah. Yep.

Dave: We've tried to keep it in the wheelhouse.

Chris: We have first right of refusal, for sure.

Dave: That's stuff, too. If you're designing software specifically for Egor's case, just because somebody clicked--

Chris: Who did we say no to?

Dave: I can't even remember, but it was Have you ever heard--? [Laughter] No--


Chris: No, I don't mind Squarespace, but whatever. That's a complicated story.

Dave: Yeah.

Chris: If it was political in nature, I'd probably say no. Why go there?

Dave: Yeah, out of the wheelhouse of what we're trying to do.

Chris: Yeah.

Dave: If it was -- I don't even know what -- yeah, political in nature would probably be a probably not, stuff like that.

Chris: Just any kind of known company that looks like it sucks. It's surprising. It's not always big names. Sometimes it's something you haven't even heard of and they sell janky fonts or something. You look at their homepage and you're like, "That doesn't look right." [Laughter]

Dave: Yeah.

Chris: You're like, "Nah."

Dave: Fonts and workout supplements.

Chris: Yeah.

Dave: You're like, "Wait a minute."


Chris: You know there is some technology. Yeah, we should. But real quick, the concept that you don't. Like on our show, your ad will be integrated onto the MP3 forever. Have you seen the technology where it injects them dynamically upon the server request of what gets played?

Dave: Yeah, that's wild too. They can buy out almost like an ad impression, right? Yeah. No, I think that's probably the future of podcasting, if I'm going to say. That's probably the future. I think that's kind of what Stitcher does, right? Stitcher will be like, "Hey, you want to be on our network, but we're also going to run an ad in between your podcast and your friend's podcast."

Chris: You know one of the reasons it's the future is nobody cares about the perpetuity thing. I feel like that should be so valuable.

Dave: Oh, yeah.

Chris: When you're offering an ad that gets permanently embedded into content forever, you'd think, like, "God, that's something. That's a permanent link. That's got to be worth 10x, I would think." I just don't feel advertisers are thinking that way. They're just like, "Oh, I just want some clicks. I just want to buy some impressions," or whatever. You're like, "Well, okay."

Dave: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, I mean you'd think it would have value too. I have so many podcasting advertising deals, like, to this day I pay for products I heard on, Netflix, GoDaddy.

Chris: Oh, it works.

Dave: These are things I heard and I still am a member of these things 12, 15 years later. To tell me podcasts are not -- I feel like they should be 10x the value of normal advertising and I would love that for everybody.

Chris: Yeah. Hey, let's play an ad right now.

[Banjo music]

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[Banjo music]

Chris: [Laughter] Why not, you know?

Dave: You fell for it.


Dave: You walked right into that one asking that question, so hey.

All right, Tyler Williams writes in, "I work on a team of designers who usually hand us designs built at 1920x1080. Our product owners reasonably want everything to be responsive. I can make 1920 breakpoint pretty spot on and I have a good grasp of basic document design and styling. I can choose a smaller viewport, say 320, and shrink it down to one column."

Chris: Whoa.

Dave: "The in-between has inconsistencies and I get reasonable, constructive feedback that the comps don't match the implementation on things like medium PDI screens. How do you go from single design comp down to responsive implementation?"

Chris: That's an interesting situation. I think there's not enough detail about who you're working with and what the workflow is to get there. You're saying you have these giant comps; 1920 is huge. Is there a column down the middle there? Are they designing the super-duper widescreen?

My widescreen is wider than that, but 1920, my God. That's way too long for a column of text.

Dave: A big screen.

Chris: It's a big screen. Then immediately the next thing you make -- you're just handed that and then you make a 320 out of it with no comp at all? You're making some choices there, bro. You know?

Dave: Right. Right, I mean this is where I would probably call yourself a designer.

Chris: Hell, yeah.

Dave: You're responsible for--I'm doing some quick math--1600 pixels of riffing.

Chris: [Chuckling]

Dave: That's a lot of riffing. That's a lot of design that happens in those 1600 pixels and you're definitely right. The middle breakpoints, like the tablet or even just large, old phones, like the 550 pixels wide, that's where it gets so weird and it's so ugly and it's so bad.

I don't know. There are a few things that I would maybe say is, one, I think it might help if your designers let go of pixel perfection. That's easier said than done because a lot of this is just playing the averages in trying to make it as good as possible but, also, ensure flexibility so it does scale up the 1600 pixels of scaling.

Then the second thing is, I would start mobile-first and work up to the big. You're maybe doing that already, but just make sure your code is growing up and not shrinking down only because I think it's a lot easier to code a website, to grow a website than to shrink it down into one column.

Then the third thing I'd maybe suggest, and I'm kind of blanking on it, but I would try to figure out a way to work with your designers more in real-time, like sharing production builds and be like, "Here is this. Pull it up on a phone or a tablet and give me some feedback," or take screenshots. I do this a lot. Take screenshots, post them in Slack, and be like, "Hey, this is looking weird at 728 pixels. I could use some direction."

Be very collaborative with your design team if possible. Maybe don't solve one layout. Try to solve multiple layouts like, "Hey, this sidebar view doesn't quite work, so how would the sidebar view work at 600 pixels or something?"

Chris: Yeah, I'm still just very caught up on the idea that somebody tossed you a 1920 comp and expects you to just invent exactly every breakpoint in between that. It's like, "Really? Not even a small comp? Nothing?" That's cool; that's a lot of trust, so if anybody has any problem with the choices you made along the way, then they need to get more involved.

Dave: Yeah. Yeah, exactly.

Chris: That's not design to design one thing and just be like, "Read my mind. Every size permutation of this should be whatever I would do if I had time, but I don't." [Snickers] Come on.

Dave: No, in the year 2019 here, assuming this episode goes out on time, we've got to be thinking mobile-first. The 1920 comp is dated, so maybe demand a mobile comp first to say, like, "All max-width is set at 600 pixels and you tell me what to do after that." [Laughter] I don't know. I think you've got to be concerned about that, too. In the year 2019, we've got to be a lot more mobile. Yeah.

Chris: Yeah. We were just talking about podcasting. We can probably talk about it a little bit more because Frederick Weiss wrote in. It was a little while back now, but Frederick is on the podcast Thunder Nerds, one of the creators of that.

Dave: Oh, yeah. Yeah.

Chris: I've been on that show. Frederick says, "I believe that I run a podcast that provides value to the community, yet I'm not getting the visibility that I'm looking for. How do I grow my audience in an efficient yet valuable way? There's Google ads and other places that I could advertise, but I'm not sure if those flavors of display ads are right for me and authentic enough for our message. How can I get Thunder Nerds out there?"

Yeah, that's a tricky game. If your end gain it to sell ads, that's a losing battle to buy ads to get audience to sell ads to. You're not going to win that game. The house has got your favor there.

Do you have some numbers in mind? Do you just want it to be a bigger show? The goals seem a little bit vague to me because all you said here is that I'm just not getting the visibility I'm looking for. It's not for lack of trying. I can obviously tell. I go to the website now; 227 episodes. Holy cow! You're doing great that wise.

Dave: It's a lot.

Chris: It's not through lack of effort. The website is fine. You're on all the platforms. It doesn't seem like you're doing anything technological or content wrong, too, because it's a lot like other podcasts, it looks like, like ours too that has some big names of tech people in it. You're even leveraging their audience, too. I am kind of curious what's happening there.

Dave: Yeah. I think I have a blog post in my draft folder about what I think makes a successful podcast. I think there are two core components. One is consistency, and sometimes to a fault. I think having a weekly schedule is maybe more important than having really, really good content, if that makes sense. Being delivered every week and showing up in people's podcatchers is probably the most, like on a consistent cadence.

Chris: That's funny you put so much value in that. Could you go into that more? Why do you think that's such a big deal?

Dave: If I only check in once a week or let's say the average listener has five drives, to work and home from work or something.

Chris: Mm-hmm.

Dave: A podcast like ShopTalk is an hour-long, so that's like a drive there and a drive home, or something, let's say. Right? They're going to listen to five podcasts a week.

Let's say we don't show up on week two, right? Then we're like, "Oh," but then, week three, we come out with two episodes or something, we batched them weird, or whatever. It's not a routine. It's not like, "There's ShopTalk. Every Tuesday, I listen to ShopTalk on the way to work," or something like that.

Everybody is different, but I'm just kind of like the baseline for me is, you've got to show up consistent so that you're a familiar face, you're reminded, you have to be digestible or good enough content. Make sure you're not going too long. Make sure you're honoring people's time. I think that's very important.

Then, number two, I think, honestly, a lot of the podcasts, if you look at large [ones], a lot of the successful podcasts are based on a previous success, if that makes sense. ShopTalk probably rides the coattails of CSS-Tricks a bit. Just like CSS-Tricks was a success, we're kind of riding that.

Chris: Yeah.

Dave: Wes and Scott have killer courses. You look at Gimlet Media, all of those is because they worked with This American Life before that, which was an NPR show back when you could only listen to one NPR station at a time.

Chris: Yeah, all these comedy podcasts for people that are just funny anyway, so they get a show and they do that.

Dave: Right. Right.

Chris: I think that's almost always the case, almost always. Maybe that's the issue. If I poke around at your site, Frederick, I hope this isn't too personal, but your personal website is actually very nice and seems fine. It's like my thing is, I have some Java or whatever, but I do this podcast. Maybe can you throw a blog on that personal site and do that too, so the podcasting just the whole pie. It's not like everything you do. You're known for your writing, you have videos of you speaking, or something that it's not just the thing, especially for a niche show like Web tech like this. This is the smallest thing, I would think, Dave and I do.

Here's another trick. You could just stop caring if you're successful or not. We're certainly not betting the farm on this podcast. It's like a nice, fun thing that we do, but I do it because I like talking to Dave.

Dave: [Laughter] Aw!

Chris: The beer money doesn't hurt.

Dave: Thank you, buddy.

Chris: [Laughter] Yeah, but you know what I mean.

Dave: Yeah.

Chris: It depends on what your goals are. We keep our goals low. [Laughter]

Dave: I do another podcast with my friends Dahn and Zach. It's about videogames. It's called