Interview: Jeffrey Way, founder of Laracasts

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An interview with Jeffrey Way, the founder of Laracasts.


Transcription sponsored by LaraJobs

Matt Stauffer: Welcome back to the Laravel Podcast. Today I'm interviewing Jeffrey Way, the creator of Laracasts, and one of the original ... Wait, the original? One of the OGs of Laravel. Stay tuned.

All right. Welcome back to the Laravel Podcast. This is season three, and like I said, I'm not giving you crazy people episode numbers, because I'm bad at counting, so this is the latest, whatever it is, episode of the Laravel Podcast season three, and I've actually got one of our long-term recurring guests with me. I've got Jeffrey Way, the man, the legend, the creator of Laracasts, and one of the significant popularizers of Laravel. Man, half of y'all, more than half of y'all, when you learned Laravel, you were learning it from this guy. But what I like about this season is that you might know about what he's taught you. A lot of people say, "You know what? I listen to him every single day. I feel like I basically have a relationship with him at this point." But you might not know a lot about where he came from, so I'm really excited about the opportunity to sit down with Jeffrey for a little bit and kind of ask some questions about who he is, and where he came from.

Jeffrey, I have some things I already have queued up, but I'm also excited to see kind of what's going to come up as we go. First thing, top of the line, say hi to the people, and when you introduce yourself to someone new, not in our context, what do you tell people you do? I just want to hear your pitch.

Jeffrey Way: My name is Jeffrey. I'm a web developer. I've been doing it for about 15 years at this point. I run a business call Laracasts, which hopefully listeners of this podcast know. If not, it's dedicated to education mostly in Laravel, but really just the Laravel developers. It covers a lot of the ecosystem that we use, like Vue, and Webpack, and HTML, and CSS. It's kind of for that type of developer. Lots of sites cover everything. They cover Ruby, and Python, and PHP, and Node, and it ends up getting a little overwhelming, because most people do have a focus.

Matt Stauffer: Right.

Jeffrey Way: That's why I created Laracasts.

Matt Stauffer: Well, the interesting thing is, in some ways it's very focused, right? It's the video tutorial site for the Laravel world. But on the other hand, it's everything the Laravel developer needs, and so it's not just PHP. It's not just Laravel, right? You're covering front-end. You're covering back-end. You're covering process. It's got Git, and it's got PhpStorm. That's what I love about it, is that you say it's not just Laravel, but it is for the Laravel developer. Everything that person needs. I love that. I love that you gave yourself the freedom to say, "You know what? Whatever. As a Laravel developer, I write CSS. Then therefore Laracasts can cover CSS."

Jeffrey Way: Yeah, because really, as you know, Laravel ends up being a big piece of the puzzle, but really most of your time you're trying to solve other problems, or you're trying to figure out, "I screwed up this Git commit. How do I fix that?" Laravel is one piece of the puzzle, but there's countless pieces that we have to deal with every single day. It tries to cover all of that.

Matt Stauffer: I remember your talk a few years ago, I think it was at Laracon, where you went on that whole kind of prepared rant about all the things that you have to know to be a web developer today. I'll make sure to link that in the show notes.

Jeffrey Way: Yeah. You know, that ended up being the most popular presentation I've ever given.

Matt Stauffer: I believe it.

Jeffrey Way: On YouTube, it has 100,000 views or something. It's crazy.

Matt Stauffer: That's awesome.

Jeffrey Way: I've never had a presentation that popular.

Matt Stauffer: Now that you heard that, you probably know that if you are listening to this podcast, and by some crazy, crazy, crazy reason you've never heard of Jeffrey, you've never heard of Laracasts, everyone else is already kind of giving credit to this, but I want to put my voice behind it. I have said for years, since long before I knew Jeffrey, before Laravel even existed, Jeffrey Way is one of the best teachers on the entire internet. Period.

Jeffrey Way: Thank you, Matt.

Matt Stauffer: If you are not subscribed to Laracasts right now, go to Laracasts.com and subscribe. I promise you you'll thank me for it. When you said that thing about what we have to learn, I'm actually onboarding a new developer to Titan as of this week, and she just graduated with her computer science degree, but she's been learning Laravel and kind of doing this stuff on the side, and so I did one of our first pairing sessions where I know what her level of Laravel knowledge is, but this morning I was like, or last night I was like, "Oh, yeah. I guess you need to learn responsive web design, and you need to learn what media queries are, and what rems and ems are." I thought about all the Laravel stuff she needed to learn, and not all this other stuff. I was like, "Okay, yeah. All these things all together."

Jeffrey Way: It's crazy when you think about how much we have to learn. We all just agree to it, too. Like, why are we agreeing to this? It's so difficult. I look back and it's like, for 10 or 15 years now, every day I'm probably learning something new. That's why we have that joke that we all spend our days on Stack Overflow.

Matt Stauffer: Right.

Jeffrey Way: It's like, every day you're presented with something where you're like, "I don't know how to do this." You know?

Matt Stauffer: Yup.

Jeffrey Way: It's a little overwhelming, but that's how it goes.

Matt Stauffer: Well, a lot of us, honestly, the first time ... I'll tell a little story about this in a second, but a lot of us the first thing we do when we have a problem is not go to Stack Overflow, but we go to Laracasts and see if you've covered it. It's funny, because in our Telegram chat, sometimes somebody will be like, "You know what? I need to learn this thing. Jeffrey, please go make a video about that so I don't have to learn it on my own."

We're starting to get into code, and I promise you that that was not what this is going to be about. We are going to talk about Jeffrey. Here's what I know about your story, and I hope that this is going to give us an opportunity to figure out where to dig in. I know that your parents were composers and songwriters in Nashville, or in the music industry in general. I know that before you were full-time in programming, that you did ... I'm guessing classical guitar, but I know it's basically professional guitar playing. I know at some point you transitioned to web. I know that you did some web development teaching. You ended up at NetTuts, and eventually you split off and created Laracasts. That's the high-level knowledge. There's so many spaces to fill in.

First of all, let's start out with growing up. My guess is that you grew up in a music family, and you were just into music at an early age, but is that actually true?

Jeffrey Way: Yeah. Yeah. It's pretty true.

Matt Stauffer: Was it mainly guitar?

Jeffrey Way: Well, I started playing guitar when I was about seven.

Matt Stauffer: Wow.

Jeffrey Way: My parents divorced when I was five, but my mom was-

Matt Stauffer: I'm sorry.

Jeffrey Way: It's okay. My mom was a professional songwriter in Nashville. My earliest years, I spent in music studios. I remember sometimes we'd be in the studio until midnight, and I'd be passing out on some couch while they were just at this huge recording setup.

Matt Stauffer: Wow.

Jeffrey Way: It was very fun in hindsight, but at the time, you're a little kid. You don't think it's very cool.

Matt Stauffer: Right.

Jeffrey Way: When in fact, it's actually incredibly cool, because this is where some of the most famous songs ever have been recorded, but yeah. That's how I grew up, so of course I got into guitar at a very young age. Both of my brothers played, so you just kind of follow in your siblings' footsteps, and that's what I did for a very, very long time. I got hooked. I don't know what it is, but for kids, you never know what it's going to be, but there's one thing that hooks them. Everything else, they brush off. You'll find one or two things that they just latch on to. Guitar was that for me. I loved guitar and finding patterns. I thought that was the coolest thing with guitar. It's not like that with other instruments, but with guitar, there are patterns. There are shapes that you can play on the guitar, and you know, "Okay, if I memorize this shape, if I move it up here I can play that same shape in an entirely different key." I always thought that was very cool.

That's what I did all the way through middle school and high school, and college. I had a music scholarship.

Matt Stauffer: I mean, you were playing at seven years old. I didn't even touch a guitar until I was in high school, and I never got very good. Was it very casual at seven, and it never got really significant until college? Were you the type where people are looking at you at 12 years old, being like, "What? Is that 12-year-old playing that right now?"

Jeffrey Way: I would sound like a jerk if I said yes. No. I mean, naturally it starts off kind of slow. I'd learned how to play a few blues progressions and things like that, and then the older I got, the more serious I got about it.

Matt Stauffer: Sure.

Jeffrey Way: By the time I got to college, it was four hours a day in practice rooms and doing that.

Matt Stauffer: Yeah.

Jeffrey Way: Yeah. I don't know. It just hooked me, and then at some point after college, it left. I don't know what it is. I always worry about that with coding, is just the obsession that I felt for guitar just left. Completely left. I have a guitar right here I'm looking at, but I just don't even play it that much. It makes me sad, honestly, but that's just how it is.

Matt Stauffer: I'm sorry to be fascinated by your sorrow, but I'm fascinated by this whole progression, but I want to go back just a second. When you were talking about being in the studio with your mom while she was writing, I'm picturing- and I've watched way too many movies- but I'm picturing this mom working hard to put bread on the table, and she's working late nights, and the kid's in the background doing his homework while he's kind of laid out on some couch in some studio. Am I getting the right vibe there, or am I romanticizing it?

Jeffrey Way: Pretty much. Yeah, no. You can think of a dark room with a huge recording setup, and yeah. Them playing the same track over and over. They play the track for five seconds. "Whoops, made a mistake. Rewind it. Play it again." As they go through each layer, and the singer goes-

Matt Stauffer: She was a songwriter, but she was in the studio with the people who were actually recording it?

Jeffrey Way: Yeah. Yeah. She would do demos. For songwriters, they write a song, and then they'll go in the studio and do a demo.

Matt Stauffer: Oh, okay.

Jeffrey Way: At least this is how it works in Nashville. Then that demo will be shopped around to all of the labels for ... She was in Nashville, so it would be shopped around to people like Shania Twain, or Faith Hill, or those types of people.

Matt Stauffer: Would she sing the demo?

Jeffrey Way: No. No, no. We'd get professionals to do it. Then I started playing guitar, and I wanted to be the one playing. Of course, I wasn't even remotely good enough, and my mom let me know that, which hurt my feelings significantly, but she was of course completely right. In my head, I thought I should be the one in there playing guitar in this demo, with two years experience, which is ridiculous.

Matt Stauffer: Right. Was your goal to be a studio musician, or performance, or just whatever came?

Jeffrey Way: Of course I wanted to be like a rock star as a kid, but then as I started getting older, I started figuring out my personality, and I started realizing, "I'm probably not the personality type to go on tour and stuff like that." But I did like the idea of being a studio musician, where it's like you have your day job, and you go in, and you do your work, and then you go home and you can be with your family. Because I always thought, even when I started dating my wife in college, and even then I was still focused on guitar a lot, and I was thinking to myself, "Do I want to go on tour and then just not be with her for four months out of the year?" That ends up what happens if you're a touring musician. You leave for months at a time. You come back for a week, and then you're back on the road. Even then, I was thinking, "I don't want to be away from my girlfriend or my wife for long periods of time."

That's when I switched to being a studio musician, but I don't know. Whatever it was completely left, that obsession. I think about it a lot, actually.

Matt Stauffer: It's not just the obsession that left, because it seems like even the simple joy that comes from playing. Because it wouldn't hurt you. You run your own business. You could take an hour and just go play right now, and the whole thing wouldn't come crumbling down, but that's not even the first thing you would do right now. It seems, and maybe I'm reading it wrong. It's not just the obsession that's gone. Is it even the joy from playing?

Jeffrey Way: Yeah, kind of. I always think the things you love will come back, so I have this feeling when I'm older it will come back, but I don't know if it was because I was doing it from such a young age so seriously, for so long that I burned out?

Matt Stauffer: Yeah. That's what I was wondering.

Jeffrey Way: I feel like it's the guitar version of burnout. Like, I completely burned out on it, and it just wasn't fun anymore.

Matt Stauffer: I assume this was just a couple of years out of college, so it was probably you had gone from it being the thing that you pursued on your own to all of a sudden a more structured thing? Or is that not a true characteristic?

Jeffrey Way: It was right in college when I kind of stopped. Maybe it was this. I was in college on a music scholarship, and in college, for whatever reason, it was like, "You don't go to college to be a rock star."

Matt Stauffer: Right.

Jeffrey Way: They're going to have you either playing jazz music or playing classical guitar. There, it's like, what's required of you is you go into a study room and you practice four hours a day to get the notes exactly right. Even at the time, I remember thinking, "This isn't why I got into guitar." I didn't get into guitar to play this piece from the 1500s perfectly in front of a bunch of people while I'm wearing a suit. That's not why I got into it. I think that somewhat ruined it for me.

Matt Stauffer: That's what I was wondering, whether it's the process of taking the thing that you loved, which is playing guitar on the songs you love, in the way you want, when it's your motivation to do it, and turning it into playing somebody else's music with pressure, in contexts that you normally wouldn't choose, with the structure and the pressure around it. It's like some people say, "I loved coding when it was my side thing, but once it became my full-time job, it kind of sucked the joy out of it."

Jeffrey Way: Yeah. You hear about that a lot, in tons of industries, where it's like if you take your passion and then suddenly it's your job, it goes away. I've heard about that with photographers, where it's like they love photography, but then suddenly they do it every day for a living, and they grow to hate it. I worry about this with coding a lot, honestly. Like, "Will I get to the point where I hate it and I dread it every day?" Do you think about that at all?

Matt Stauffer: All the time. I think about it all the time because it's the same thing. I've had that happen before, and I can't believe I can't think of it right now, but I know that at least in some ways when I was doing some art, I had a little bit of the same experience. It was fun, and it was creative, and when it became work and there's pressure to perform a creative act in a certain ... You know, it was very difficult.

Jeffrey Way: Right.

Matt Stauffer: But for some reason, with programming, I often tell people, at least for now, I've been back into professional programming for seven years I think at this point. I don't see any signs of it. I'm worried about it just like you are, but for me, every new day there's 100 things I could be doing that are fascinating to me. I think maybe we joke about the fact that there's so much pressure on us to learn all these things, but maybe the fact that there's so much new, there's so much open, and there's even within that, there's so much choice for us about what we want to pursue, that even though we have to sit down and perform, if our jobs are healthy ... I mean, your job is. You get to pick what you're doing. My job is. I give everybody 20% time. We have that breathing room to go and explore and be fascinated, maybe, like we were before it was a profession. That gives us a little bit of that breathing room.

Jeffrey Way: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely. I think about it sometimes with school, you know? When you force kids to learn, are you ruining it for them?

Matt Stauffer: Right.

Jeffrey Way: That's that common discussion that goes back and forth. It's got to be this hard line to walk, where it's like you need to encourage kids to learn these specific things, but if you push too hard, you're going to ruin it, because you're going to ruin it for them. I think about that a lot now that I have a daughter. I'm not sure how we're going to do that. I guess you have to present them with lots of choices, lots of things, and then wait to see what they really latch on to.

Matt Stauffer: Yeah, and really good teachers help make things fascinating. I think the best kind of teacher, whether it's in school, or even I'm trying to remember what it was, but I was listening to somebody talk about being a good podcast host. The best way to make something interesting is to be curious, and to invite kids along with this curiosity, to invite their learners along, where you are helping basically infect them with the desire to know more, and the fascination. Instead of forcing you to learn this, you're developing within you a curiosity and a fascination, and once you think about it that way, a lot of the best teachers use that language, but I don't know if that language would have clicked before we started thinking this way.

It's the same thing for me. Once I had kids, I totally thought about learning and school a very different way.

Jeffrey Way: No, I agree. It's contagious, too. Who I think does this better than anyone is Neil Degrasse Tyson. You don't even have to be interested in astrophysics.

Matt Stauffer: Yeah.

Jeffrey Way: But if you listen to him talk, just go on YouTube and find any presentation he gives, he's so passionate and so enthusiastic about it that he'll be talking about something so mundane, and he will make it sound incredibly interesting. Sometimes I'll just go on YouTube and watch video after video of his, because it's contagious.

Matt Stauffer: Yeah.

Jeffrey Way: Really interesting stuff.

Matt Stauffer: It's interesting, because it's a two-way thing. I think individual people can be so fascinated in maybe a relatively uninteresting thing that their fascination can be contagious, but I also think that we can develop within us a curiosity and hopefully develop within other people a curiosity that makes otherwise boring things more interesting. I often have conversations, I'll meet somebody at a dinner party or something like that, and my wife will make fun of me because I'll meet this new person I've never met before who doesn't seem that interesting, but they are very interested in something, and they might not have the Neil Degrasse Tyson in them to make it sound interesting, but I can spend an hour with them and be fascinated by ...

I remember meeting this guy who at first was just very neckbeardy, judgey, makes everybody else feel dumb. But I was like, "There's something this guy is brilliant about. He's a PhD, blah blah blah." I discovered that he cares about certain phase quasars, blah blah blah blah blah, and ended up learning about those things for hours. I don't care about those things, but for those couple hours, I was fascinated by it. I think it's an intentional curiosity that we can try to develop in ourselves that helps us. I don't know. That's my hope for my kid, is that they become curious, you know?

Jeffrey Way: Yeah. No. That's great. That's great.

Matt Stauffer: Okay. Studied music, went off to school. I assume that you were majoring in guitar performance? Was that what they called it?

Jeffrey Way: Music theory was-

Matt Stauffer: Music. Oh, so you weren't even in performance, so the theory, was that part of the load?

Jeffrey Way: I'm actually trying to remember. It was like performance ... One was a major. One was a minor.

Matt Stauffer: Okay. Got it. A little bit of both.

Jeffrey Way: I can't even remember, but yeah. I was doing both every single day.

Matt Stauffer: You lost the passion in the middle of college. Did you graduate with that degree, or did you switch to a different degree program?

Jeffrey Way: I didn't even finish college.

Matt Stauffer: Oh, yeah.

Jeffrey Way: I dropped out. Yeah. In the middle of all of this, I started losing interest, and then I started focusing on code a little bit. It was funny, I remember talking to my mom about it, and she was very upset about this, because of course she was a musician and a writer, so she thought her kids was going to follow in her footsteps. Then suddenly, I'm leaning towards programming. I was trying to explain to her, "No, there's a huge amount of creativity in this." But to her, it's just like, "Code. Code. Code."

Matt Stauffer: Right. Right. Right. Soulless.

Jeffrey Way: Very mechanical, soulless. Not an ounce of creativity in it, which couldn't be further from the truth.

Matt Stauffer: Yeah.

Jeffrey Way: Anyways, I started focusing on that more and more, and the more I got into programming, the less I was into music, and it just slowly faded off.

Matt Stauffer: One of the questions I always ask everybody ... Sorry to cut you off. When did you first get access to a computer, and when did you first start getting into programming?

Jeffrey Way: I'm going to have to apologize, because I was listening to some of your other episodes, and everyone got into programming when they were 10 years old or something. Not for me. Not for me at all.

Matt Stauffer: Oh, that's good.

Jeffrey Way: My first computer wasn't even my computer, of course. It was the family computer. I remember playing Number Munchers, which was this old game on the Mac.

Matt Stauffer: Yes!

Jeffrey Way: Yeah. I think we've talked about that before. I was obsessed with Number Munchers. I'll listen to DHH interviews and he'll talk about when he was seven years old, learning this old language that I've never heard of. That wasn't me, honestly. I didn't even show much interest at all until I was about 17, honestly. Even then, I'd learn a little HTML. Just enough to write a blog post or something like that, but I didn't have any huge fascination with code ... I didn't know what it was, honestly. I was focused on music. But I would say, so much of what I learned from music I feel like has crossed over, weirdly enough. The whole idea of looking for patterns, and shapes, and just the discipline to stick with something that you can't do, and then suddenly you can do it. I feel like that helped me when learning programming, because there's so many things with programming, it's like you just have to sit there for four hours until it clicks in your head.

Matt Stauffer: Yeah.

Jeffrey Way: I have lots of memories of ... In the early days. I don't do it anymore, but when I was young I'd stay up til 3:00 in the morning just trying to figure something out, because it wouldn't click. Then I love that feeling of all of a sudden, you think, "Oh. I get it."

Matt Stauffer: Glorious revelation.

Jeffrey Way:"I understand how this works now." There's no shortcut. You just have to sit there for hours until it clicks. It is a great feeling.

Matt Stauffer: I had that moment both with object-oriented programming, and unit testing. Obviously I've had much smaller ones, but those were both ones where it took months, and everyone would talk about the thing, and then talk about the thing, and I just didn't get it. Then all of a sudden it was like, "What have I been doing my whole life up until now?"

Jeffrey Way: Right. Right.

Matt Stauffer: A lot of people who have your story, and by the way, I want to totally affirm the fact that I think that if everybody said, "Hey, I started computers when I was seven." Then it would be discouraging to folks who are just getting into it now. There is plenty of space, and even Mohammed's story a little bit had a little bit of the later as well. There's space for anybody to come in at any age and any time. I think that really the most significant thing is, people in our generation, people in the ... Probably, I don't know exactly, but their late 20s to late 30s probably, somewhere around there. We're kind of old millennials or young Gen Xers or whatever. I feel like a lot of us have a similar story, just because in order to be a full-time programmer right now, it's likely that you got into it earlier. Otherwise you wouldn't have had enough history to be a full-time programmer now, but that's not guaranteed. I mean, you're a full-time programmer and have been for years. It's cool to hear a story that's a little bit different than what we've had.

Jeffrey Way: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Matt Stauffer: A lot of people, when they talk about ... Especially since you didn't get to it because you had somebody in the family who's a programmer. You weren't taking classes. A lot of people say, "Well, you know, I played video games, and my clan, I made the clan website," or something. What was it for you?

Jeffrey Way: Oh. My parents were starting this ... Because my mom was a writer, they had this idea for a business. I talked about this at the last Laracon. They had this idea for a business where aspiring songwriters could mail in their tapes, and then you'd get actual professionals to review it, and they would actually record themselves. They'd go over the song. They'd give you advice. This was a long time ago, and then they'd send it back. They'd been talking about this idea for a long time, and I remember it was Christmas night, we went out for Chinese food, when I was ... I don't know how old I was. 19 maybe. We were talking about it, and I said, "You know, I could probably build this website." Once again, not even close. I was so arrogant, so ridiculously arrogant. No, I couldn't build the site, but in my head I was like, "You know what? I could get a book, and I'll just figure it out, and I'll build this for you guys."

Matt Stauffer: Did you know any back-end programming language at all at that point?

Jeffrey Way: No. I knew HTML, and when I created HTML tags, of course they were in all uppercase.

Matt Stauffer: Yeah. Yeah.

Jeffrey Way: But that's it. That's all I knew, and I was just thinking, "Oh, I'll go get some programming book." Of course when you think, "Okay, I'm going to learn how to build a website. I need a programming book." You're immediately presented with choices that you're not capable of solving. Like, okay, do you get a PHP book, or are you going to learn Visual Basic, or C#? Do I try ASP.net?

Matt Stauffer: Classic ASP?

Jeffrey Way: It's like, "I don't know what any of these things are. I don't know how to distinguish between a language or a framework, so I have no clue which book to get." I had no clue which book. I had no idea where to start, even remotely, but it was a good adventure, in hindsight.

Matt Stauffer: Do you remember what book you got?

Jeffrey Way: I'm kind of mad at this. My brother recommended I get an ASP.net book.

Matt Stauffer: Oh, yeah.

Jeffrey Way: You know what? In hindsight, I feel like that was bad advice, not to throw him under the bus, but I didn't know ... I knew HTML, but no, I didn't. I knew how to make a bold tag, and an italic tag. But I feel like the advice should have been, "Okay, go find some kind of HTML and CSS for Dummies type book. Learn that. Figure out how to create boxes and move things around." That's really step one, before you even get to programming.

Matt Stauffer: Yeah.

Jeffrey Way: But no, I kind of started with ASP.net, and I was learning Visual Basic, and then all of a sudden I'm trying to build this site for them, but going through the book it's having me build more little programs, like a little calculator. Making a calculator in Visual Basic really has no relevance to how you would construct a website, but that's what I was learning how to do, and it was cool that I was figuring out, "Oh, I'm making a little crappy calculator here." But it didn't get me any closer whatsoever to building this website.

Matt Stauffer: Right.

Jeffrey Way: Then at some point, I worked in .NET for a little while, but then ... It's been so long. At some point, I switched over to PHP, because it seemed ... I switched over to PHP, and I was kind of learning Ruby too, and I think a lot of people do that, where it's like you're not really sure. You kind of experiment with a handful of different languages, but yeah. Eventually I zeroed in on PHP. You know what? Actually looking back, for that website, it was built in ASP.net, actually.

Matt Stauffer: I didn't know that. That's fascinating.

Jeffrey Way: Yeah. It was horrible. A horrible site.

Matt Stauffer: Yeah. I've written some ASP.net in my days, and it was not exactly the same, but I was a PHP developer who got an internship at an ASP.net site or company, and I was able to do most of what I needed to do. I was building little reporting front-ends for them in PHP, but every once in a while I had to write ASP.net. Walking into ASP.net and Visual Basic not knowing what you're doing, I feel like is not the same as walking into PHP not knowing what you're doing.

Jeffrey Way: No. No.

Matt Stauffer: Yeah. I can imagine.

Jeffrey Way: It was horrible. It's so complicated. Oh my gosh. Still to this day, I feel like my brother told me that just because he worked in the industry too, and maybe he was like, "Oh, this is too hard for you, Jeffrey. Take a look at this book and you'll be scared away."

Matt Stauffer: Is he still a programmer?

Jeffrey Way: Yeah. He is. He hates it. He hates it.

Matt Stauffer: Okay, so you've got both music and programming in the family, then.

Jeffrey Way: Yeah. Yeah.

Matt Stauffer: My brother is a .NET programmer as well.

Jeffrey Way: Oh, he is? Okay.

Matt Stauffer: Yeah, but he's the one who originally taught me Vim and PHP, so I can at least credit him for getting me in the right angle.

Jeffrey Way: Yeah. Why didn't you stick with .NET? How did you switch to PHP?

Matt Stauffer: No, he taught me Vim and PHP. He switched over to .NET later.

Jeffrey Way: Oh. Oh, gotcha.

Matt Stauffer: I was doing WordPress at the time, so there's no reason for me to switch.

Jeffrey Way: Okay. Gotcha.

Matt Stauffer: You and Taylor both have .NET in your background.

Jeffrey Way: I know. Isn't that funny?

Matt Stauffer: Yeah. I did .NET at that job and hated it. I was like, "You guys are doing these crazy compile processes, whereas I can build this web base front-end and PHP to give them all the information they need. That's going to take me three days, and it's going to take you guys three weeks and 15 compiles, and this crazy environment, and I can write it in a text editor and get it online in three days."

Jeffrey Way: I know. That was the joy of PHP for me, and I was always amazed because ... Not so much now. It still happens now, but especially way back then, 10 or 15 years ago, PHP just kind of crapped all over.

Matt Stauffer: It sure did.

Jeffrey Way: People would make fun of it. When I came to that from working with ASP and HP.net, it was really nice.

Matt Stauffer: Yeah.

Jeffrey Way: I was like, "Oh my god. I can just create an HTML file, I'll add a little PHP above the doc type, and then it actually kind of works."

Matt Stauffer: Boom. Dynamic data, right there.

Jeffrey Way: It's like, "Holy crap. This is really nice."

Matt Stauffer: Yeah.

Jeffrey Way: I know people trash that way of programming, but to me it was like, "Wow, this is so much simpler than what I've been doing over here."

Matt Stauffer: Yeah, especially if you'd written any ASP. I went from classic ASP to PHP, so at that point, PHP is glorious, because classic ASP was like PHP but not as good, basically. That transition just makes you love PHP. I can understand. You crap on it if it's coming from somewhere else, but there's some places where you come to PHP and it's like the motherland.

Jeffrey Way: Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely.

Matt Stauffer: Okay. You got into .NET a little bit. You didn't finish the guitar stuff, so you were out on your own. Were you doing freelance web development, or what were you doing kind of to pass the time, or to pay the bills or whatever for those first couple of years?

Jeffrey Way: Yeah. I did a number of things. I started doing freelance web development. Once again, just so in over my head. The arrogance of thinking I could take on these projects for people when I had six months of experience, but I created a website called Detached Designs. I had this idea in my head that I was a designer, which couldn't be further from the truth.

Matt Stauffer: You and me both.

Jeffrey Way: But that's what it started out as. I was like, "Yeah, I'm going to go custom web design for people." I created Craigslist ads.

Matt Stauffer: Nice.

Jeffrey Way: For some reason, they always got reported as spam. I'm like, "They're not spam, folks. I'm trying to make some money." But anyways, somebody eventually hired me, and one of the first projects I ever did ... I think I talked about this somewhere else. I can't remember, but it was an urn site.

Matt Stauffer: What's that?

Jeffrey Way: Urn as in like when you die, and you're cremated.

Matt Stauffer: Oh, like ceremonial urns.

Jeffrey Way: They put you in, yeah, a decorative urn.

Matt Stauffer: Yeah, yeah. Wait, is this the one where you were storing the credit card information?

Jeffrey Way: No. No, no, no. That was another one.

Matt Stauffer: That was later.

Jeffrey Way: No. This was just a simple site. Some woman out of her house was selling decorative urns. So morbid. She wanted me to create a website to show them, and people could pick the one they wanted, but once again, that was horrible.

Matt Stauffer: Was it dynamic, where she could upload them to CMS, or was it just kind of-

Jeffrey Way: No.

Matt Stauffer: Yeah, okay. That's what I thought. Just a whole bunch of pictures.

Jeffrey Way: Heck no. I was just proud enough to get the images on the page, honestly.

Matt Stauffer: Yeah.

Jeffrey Way: I had a nice ... I was probably using a table layout or something. Actually, no. I was learning CSS. I don't know. I might have been fancy there. Probably not. Anyways, yeah. Just a crappy little thing. I don't even know if I had pagination. Probably rather than pagination, I just created ... If there were four pages for the urns, I would just create four HTML pages to show them.

Matt Stauffer: Yeah.

Jeffrey Way: But you know what? That stuff is good for you. Everyone kind of has to go through that process of just building junk. I made a little money off of it, and I think she eventually abandoned it, but that's okay. It's a good memory.

Matt Stauffer: I was just going to ask if it was still online.

Jeffrey Way: No. I was hoping. I probably could use the Wayback Machine to find it, but I can't even remember what the domain name was.

Matt Stauffer: That was your first paid project?

Jeffrey Way: Yeah. I think I made $350 bucks off that. I was like, "I'm doing it. I'm making some money here. This is the future. I'm all in."

Matt Stauffer: That's amazing. My first one's still online, and I made $200 bucks from it, and it's the same.

Jeffrey Way: Oh, yeah?

Matt Stauffer: They sell flowers. They sell daylilies, and it's the same thing. It's just daylily, after daylily, after daylily, after daylily. Basic stuff. Tabled it out.

Jeffrey Way: Yeah. It's still on ... Well, mine's not still online, so you must have done a much better job.

Matt Stauffer: Gotta see if you can find it on the Wayback Machine, though, and we'll put that in the show notes if you can find it.

Jeffrey Way: Then I did a handful of things along those couple of ... Maybe a year or two. I did one for a Harvard sorority, believe it or not. I don't know why they contacted me on Nashville Craigslist. They were called the Harvard ... I can't even remember their name. They were almost like an acapella group, like Pitch Perfect. It was something like that, and I made their site. They wanted all this hot pink and black. It cracked me up. The whole site was hot pink and black.

Matt Stauffer: Right.

Jeffrey Way: That's funny. I'm trying to remember some of the other things I did. It's been so long. It's amazing how quickly that stuff just kind of exits your brain.

Matt Stauffer: Yeah.

Jeffrey Way: Yeah. Lots of little small stuff like that.

Matt Stauffer: During that time, you had decided you weren't going to do music anymore. You were still living in that area, and you were just doing freelance web development, and that was kind of your main thing. Were you working together with any other people? Were you married at this point yet? What else were you doing in your life at that point?

Jeffrey Way: Yeah. At this point, I was probably 21, and I was still trying to piece things together, so I didn't feel qualified to try to get a job anywhere as a developer. Even at that time, I was thinking, "Maybe I should go back to school and actually learn this for real." At this point, nope, I wasn't married. I didn't get married until 25, 26. My wife's going to kill me. I can't remember. 2011 is when I got married.

Matt Stauffer: As long as you remember the day and the year, you're good.

Jeffrey Way: Yeah. Yeah. It's hard to remember the age. I stuck with that for a while, and then I got a pretty big contract, at least for ... I call it "contract" like it's really fancy. I had just got a pretty cool job working for a company called Sirona, and they create all these medical ... I don't even know what it was. It was just all these medical scan machines that they use. Those things that cost like $500,000 a pop. Somehow, once again, they came to me. It's just idiotic why they would take something that big and give it to a stupid kid who didn't know what he was doing, but somehow I was creating their website, and I was even creating those little brochures and mailer. That's where I learned about mailers that they would send out to people. Suddenly, I was doing design work, and I was buying all these design books I could find. Then I was suddenly making a Flash website for them, which was the worst experience I've ever had.

Matt Stauffer: That was my next question. Did you ever get into Flash?

Jeffrey Way: I got into Flash a little bit, and I hated it, and I was so worried because back then I was thinking, "You know what? This is the future." Just to show you whenever people say, "Where's the web going?" I would have told you back then, "I think Flash is probably the future."

Matt Stauffer: Everybody else would, too. Everyone said it all the time. "Flash is the future. Gotta get into Flash."

Jeffrey Way: Yeah. It's like, anyone who made just kind of traditional websites, it's like, "You can't even begin to compete." Because of course every single client you might work with, they wanted music in the background, and they wanted, when you hovered over a link, they wanted a little sound effect.

Matt Stauffer: Yeah.

Jeffrey Way: All that old-school stuff from 2005. But yeah, I was thinking, "I gotta learn this. This is going to be the future." But I hated it. I really don't enjoy that aspect of it whatsoever. Then as it turns out, Flash is almost completely dead at this point. I didn't know that back then.

Matt Stauffer: It makes you a little wary of the promises that JavaScript SPAs are going to take over the whole world. It sounds the same as Flash did back then.

Jeffrey Way: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative). It could be true, as well. I'm not sure about SPAs. SPAs are, on one hand they're so cool and they're so responsive, and then on the other hand, so often they break and they don't work.

Matt Stauffer: Yeah.

Jeffrey Way: Or they suck up memory, and I don't know.

Matt Stauffer: Never let it go.

Jeffrey Way: Sometimes I go to those news sites where there are SPAs and everything is fancy, and you click on a news article, and it slides in, and it's like, "Okay, this is cool, but I'm not sure if this is better."

Matt Stauffer: Yeah.

Jeffrey Way: Anyways, that's a tangent, but yeah, I spent a long time working for Sirona, and that's where I kind of built up a lot of my jack of all trades chops, because I was doing a lot of design work, somehow was piecing it together, and then I was doing web work, and Flash work, so I feel like that gave me this huge crash course in just general design and development, that I'm pretty grateful for.

Matt Stauffer: During this time, you weren't playing music anymore. What were your hobbies then?

Jeffrey Way: Code. I'm pretty obsessive.

Matt Stauffer: You were coding all the time?

Jeffrey Way: That was my thing. Like I was saying earlier with guitar, it's like for a lot of people, but for me, it's like if you find the thing, you get hooked. I got the bug, and I was really focused on that. Also, at the time, I dropped out of college, because I was no longer focusing on music. I don't know. College wasn't a great fit for me personally, so I was still thinking, "I need to focus on something." Because you can't just drop out of college and deliver pizza all day.

Matt Stauffer: Yeah.

Jeffrey Way: I did have the mindset like, "No. I need to be focusing on something." That was my day job, was just during the day, or during the evening I would be reading books every single day. And then during the day, I'd be working on these little projects I got. Then slowly the caliber of project grew and grew, took on some more fancy stuff, got a little more dynamic, so yeah. Interesting.

Matt Stauffer: This is super interesting. I did not realize that this was all part of your story, which is why I was excited to interview you. You dropped out, I think you said you were sometime around 20, 21, and you're doing this freelance stuff. What's the next big transition point? I assume it wasn't straight to there from NetTuts, was it? Where did you go from there?

Jeffrey Way: Probably for four years, maybe, lots of projects that are just me, or me and one or two other people that we tackled together. But I did that for a long time. Lots of freelance stuff. I started a little business to do that with one or two other people. Then I took on NetTuts as side work, because when I take on these projects, the scary thing is, I wasn't at your level even remotely, so it's like I'd get a project, but there's no guarantee that another project's coming in once that's finished.

Matt Stauffer: Oh, yeah. I remember those days.

Jeffrey Way: Right. It was always this kind of terrifying thing. Then I started writing freelance articles. What was the site called? I think it's called Freelancer.com. It's under new ownership at this point, but back then it was ... There were these websites dedicated to freelancers, because it was the first time I think, way back then, when it suddenly became a real possibility that you could work on the computer at home.

Matt Stauffer: Yeah.

Jeffrey Way: Suddenly they had all these freelancers talking about how to do things, and I was starting to write posts for them kind of for fun. I actually went back and read some of them and they're so horrible. One of them was how, if you're a young freelancer, you have to get an edge over the competition. The way I would do it was to make myself available 24 hours a day. It's so embarrassing at this point, but I was like, "Yeah, if they need me at 2:00 in the morning, I'm going to be available." Like some company's ever going to call me at 2:00 in the morning, but that was my idea of how to stand out, because all the other businesses are 9:00 to 5:00, but I'm going to be 2:00 AM to 2:00 PM, and it was so horrible. It was really embarrassing going back to read that. That's the hard thing about your ideas when you're 19 or 20 or 21. On the web, they are going to be there in 20 more years, and people can go back and find all the stupid crap you wrote, or the forum threads you created where you're asking the most silly, simple questions. It all stays. It never goes away. Scares me sometimes. Yeah. I did that for a long time. After Freelancer, the owner of that website put me in contact with Collis, who is the founder of Envato. I talked to him about NetTuts. Once again, I was like, "Okay, I can make an extra $1,000 a month just kind of learning." Because I was already learning every single day, and then just showing people what I'd learned. I did that kind of on the side. I did both of them simultaneously for ... I'm not sure. I can't remember. A year? Then they asked me to run NetTuts, and I took over that, and then suddenly I was doing this whole other thing where I was focusing on education, and building up a platform, which I had never done before. It was interesting. It was fun.

Matt Stauffer: Were you still doing any freelance work, or did you transition to just a full-time NetTuts at that point?

Jeffrey Way: Well, while I was writing for NetTuts, I was still doing both. But then when I transferred over to ... Actually, no. I managed NetTuts for a while. Maybe a year or two while I was still doing both. Then I started taking on more roles at Envato.

Matt Stauffer: Yeah.

Jeffrey Way: I was helping out with some of the marketplaces that Envato has, like Graphic River, or Theme Forest, or Code Canyon. I was really starting to focus more in that area, so I stopped doing freelance stuff, which I was very happy about. It's a hard life doing freelance stuff on Craigslist. It's hard work. Hard work.

Matt Stauffer: I don't want to talk too much about me, but I did the freelance in that same world, and actually that was part of the reason that I left web for half a decade, or I don't even know however long. For a long time.

Jeffrey Way: Oh, yeah?

Matt Stauffer: Because I hated freelance. I hated that pressure to always come up with the next work. I just wanted to do good work, right? You're doing good work and convincing more people you can do good work, and finding the people to convince, and worrying about your finances all the time. The promise of just stability is something I don't think that a lot of people kind of speak up about enough. You're just like, "Yeah, there's going to be a paycheck." And you get to just worry about doing the thing you want, and let somebody else worry about getting the work coming in.

Jeffrey Way: Yeah. It's so much more stress. If you have a traditional job, you go there 9:00 to 5:00. You get your paycheck. You're good. Once you leave work, you don't think about it again. But when you're freelancing, it's like, yes, you're doing that work, but when you're not working, you're stressing about how you're going to get more work and how you're going to pay next month's rent, because every month on the first, your income goes back to zero. Now you have to figure out, "Okay, how do I pay the rent this month?" And then the next month, goes back to zero. Everything resets. Yeah. It'll wear you down for sure.

Matt Stauffer: Yeah, so you transition. You're full-time at NetTuts and Envato. Outside of the things with the other properties, just your work at NetTuts, what was your day to day like at that point? What kind of stuff were you responsible for?

Jeffrey Way: Yeah. At NetTuts, my main role was build up. Build up this product. That is prime. NetTuts actually got very big. It makes me sad, because big change did a lot, and I don't think it's as popular anymore. I don't visit it as much anymore, because they kind of merged ... The whole idea, to give you a quick recap, they launched this tutorial site called PSDTuts, which was like Photoshop tutorials, and it was huge. Then they started branching, and they're like, "Maybe we should do this same concept for web development." So they had NetTuts, and then they were like, "Let's do another one. Let's branch out." And they kept branching out over and over, but all this time I was really focused on NetTuts. That's all I cared about, and then they decided, probably correctly, "We need to merge everything into this one cohesive whole where people can learn anything." It makes sense, but then also from my perspective, it's like, "Well, I don't care about Photoshop tutorials or craft tutorials, but now you've merged everything together and I no longer feel like the site is for me."

Matt Stauffer: Yeah.

Jeffrey Way: But I feel like they had to do it, looking back. They had no choice. They had to do it, because they were maintaining a dozen different tutorial sites, and each one of those were their own WordPress installations, so when you would make a change, I'm pretty sure they were having to make that change 10 different times across each installation. It's horrible. It makes sense that they merged it.

Matt Stauffer: If there was a technical consideration, it does make you wonder whether some aspect of multi-site might have ended up being something, so you can make the right business decision without allowing the technology to make the call for you, but who knows what all was involved in that decision.

Jeffrey Way: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Exactly. Anyways, a lot of my day to day was suddenly I was an editor. I had never done any of this before. So often in my life, I've gotten thrown into things that I wasn't the least bit qualified for. That might be my fault, just saying, "Oh, yeah. I can do that. Of course." When I had no clue what it meant to be an editor, but suddenly I was doing a lot of writing on my own, but also finding writers and working with developers, and figuring out how that plays, and editing their work. Suddenly I was editing the writing of people 20 years older than me, which was crazy.

Matt Stauffer: Yeah.

Jeffrey Way: One of the coolest things about this, though, I found was that back then I had this idea of my heroes, web developer people I really looked up to, but I'd never contacted them before. Then suddenly I realized, "They're just people exactly like you and me."

Matt Stauffer: Yeah.

Jeffrey Way: In no way, shape, or form are they actors, celebrity types. They're just regular people, and if you message them, or email them, or Tweet them, they're really friendly, and they'll reply back. That was a very cool thing for me, because it was like, "Oh, I've read all of your books."

Matt Stauffer: Right.

Jeffrey Way:"I know you. You taught me how to write CSS." Then I contact them, and they're pretty cool. Then suddenly they were writing for NetTuts. I would get them to contribute articles and stuff.

Matt Stauffer: That's awesome.

Jeffrey Way: Yeah. It was a fun experience. I did that for about five years, and then throughout that whole thing I ended up taking on a bunch of roles at Envato, so I was doing a lot of things, but once again, I just kind of burned out.

Matt Stauffer: Yeah.

Jeffrey Way: I think it's good as much as you can to sometimes switch to new things, to always have new projects you're working on. I think sometimes if you stick with exactly one project, it starts to wear you down.

Matt Stauffer: Yeah. Yeah. I like talking to independent creators and founders to try and figure out, "What are you able to do to ensure that this one thing that you're working on doesn't just kind of burn you out?" One of my buddies, Matt Green, he went from working at a consultancy, we worked at the same consultancy, to now he's the sole tech and web guy at this very large multi-national corporation. On the one hand, he gets to do really creative things. He's on a single project, and he gets ... Every time a new tech comes out, he's like, "Cool. I'll throw it in here if it's useful." He gets to use tech that I might never get to use, because I never had a project that has it, but in the same token, he's on that same project every day for years. I'm always curious, "What does it look like for somebody who's in that kind of a space, to make sure that you don't get bored of working on it?"

I know for you, one of the things that you do is redesigns. Obviously also, you've got the content, right? When you cover a new piece of content, maybe you're not applying that content to the Laracasts code base, but you're writing little sample projects and stuff. What, in your day to day with Laracasts, does it look like to help yourself kind of get that shift? Or are you not able to get it, and at one point you're going to shut Laracasts down and we'll all kind of fall into despair?

Jeffrey Way: Probably fall into despair. No. I try to have a lot of variety, because I think, once again, Laracasts is my main product, so I do think about that. "What if you burn out on it?" But I think what's helped me a lot is having lots of different things, so it's not just like I focus on the Laracasts code base, and I don't just focus on content for Laracasts, which often is creating demos and stuff. But also, I have open source projects that I maintain. I have lots of different little projects where it keeps me interested, I think. Where I can say, "Okay, today I'm exclusively focusing on Laravel Mix." That is completely different than the type of code I write for Laracasts. Then if I'm done with that, then I will completely focus on some demo or something, which is really fun. Most developers don't get the opportunity to just tinker, because you have a job. You have to get the job done. You don't always have the ability to try out some new language or tool, but Laracasts kind of affords me that, where I can dedicate a day or two a week, or at least a half day a couple times a week, and just tinker around. Try out new stuff, see how it works.

Matt Stauffer: Yeah.

Jeffrey Way: I'm really fortunate for that.

Matt Stauffer: I mean, you could build a whole clone of Facebook and basically call it a part of the development process.

Jeffrey Way: Absolutely.

Matt Stauffer: Or a whole forum software, or whatever. It's legitimate, too. Honestly, you could build the whole thing and not even make any videos about it, and it would have expanded your brain or given you some perspective that nobody else would have had.

Jeffrey Way: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely.

Matt Stauffer: That's cool.

Jeffrey Way: So often, the content I do for Laracasts is usually the result of actual coding work I'm doing. About a month ago, I implemented this really sweet new Algolia Search into Laracasts, where it's like live on the fly. It's really great. But I was like, "Okay. I have this figured out. Most people don't have it figured out yet, so those are a perfect two or three videos that I can do for the site." I feel like those are the best types of content I can do, because I don't know. It's really hard as a teacher. I know you don't want to focus on this too much, but just real quick.

Matt Stauffer: No, it's good. It's good.

Jeffrey Way: As a teacher, if you're too separated from the person learning, they can't under ... The things you take for granted, and the things you don't even realize you take for granted, they don't take for granted. You'll use terminology that's just part of your everyday speak, and they don't know what it means.

Matt Stauffer: Yeah.

Jeffrey Way: It's like you sometimes need to be ... It's that same thing where in school, sometimes the kid sitting next to you can teach a concept way better than the teacher can.

Matt Stauffer: Yup.

Jeffrey Way: It's that same thing, because they're on your same wavelength, and they know where you're struggling. I always worry the more I figure things out and the better I become, the further separated I am from somebody who's just learning PHP for the first time.

Matt Stauffer: Yeah.

Jeffrey Way: I have to deal with it. I get this a lot, where somebody's like, "Slow down. You're going too fast." Or other people will say, "You're going too slow. Speed up." Or somebody will say, "You keep using fancy jargon, and I hate that idea of using fancy jargon." And usually it's just, it's the term for this. I'm not trying to show off here. It's just the term for it, but I forget, "Oh, you don't know what that term is." These are the things I always end up thinking about when I create content for Laracasts. It's very hard. It's very hard to walk that line.

Matt Stauffer: I've talked with, asked Taylor a lot about what are the steps that he takes to make sure that, as he's updating the documentation, he can put himself in the mindset of a new learner. It sounds like one of the things you're saying is, when you learn something, that's the best time to teach it, right? When you're trying a new thing, because you're closest to the wire of the learner. Are there any other things other than putting yourself in a learner's posture by learning new things, or any other things you find that you do that helps you kind of remember that perspective?

Jeffrey Way: That perspective of what makes it easier to learn?

Matt Stauffer: Well, yeah, that and just you've been doing this for a long time. Are there relationships you have, or comments, threads that you look at, or postures you take, or mental exercises, or something that helps you keep yourself grounded to the experience of the person who opened up Laracasts for the first time yesterday, versus who's been with you for the last X years?

Jeffrey Way: Yeah. Nothing that I could describe, I don't think. It's usually just trying to remind myself to assume ... Don't assume too much. I don't know. I love that phrase, "Explain to me like I'm a five-year-old." There's actually a Reddit group for that that I always read. The whole concept is, "Explain this thing to me like I'm a five-year-old." It'll

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