An interesting aspect of Kent's career is his involvement with Remix, including his decision to leave Shopify (which acquired Remix) to return to teaching, which led to the development of his latest project, Epic Web Dev, an extensive and innovative web development course.
This interview provides a comprehensive view of Kent C. Dodds's life and career, showcasing his professional achievements in web development and teaching, his personal life as a family man, and his unique upbringing in a large family.
- Epic Web
- Follow Kent C. Dodds on LinkedIn or X. Visit his website at kentcdodds.com.
- Follow thoughtbot on X or LinkedIn.
Become a Sponsor of Giant Robots!
KENT: Thank you so much for having me. It's an honor to be here.
WILL: Yeah. And it's an honor for me to have you. I am a huge fan. I think you're the one that taught me how to write tests and the importance of it. So, I'm excited to talk to you and just pick your brain and learn more about you.
KENT: Oh, thank you.
WILL: Yeah. So, I just want to start off just: who is Kent? What do you like to do? Tell us about your family, your hobbies, and things like that.
KENT: Yeah, sure. So, you mentioned I'm the father of four kids. That is true. We are actually expecting our fifth child any day now. So, we are really excited to have our growing family. And when I'm not developing software or material for people to learn how to develop software, I'm spending time with my family. I do have some other hobbies and things, but I try to share those with my family as much as I can.
So, it's starting to snow around here in Utah. And so, the mountains are starting to get white, and I look forward to going up there with my family to go skiing and snowboarding this season. During the summertime, I spend a lot of time on my one-wheel just riding around town and bring my kids with me when I can to ride bikes and stuff, too. So, that's sort of the personal side of my life.
I bounced around to a couple of different companies, most of them you don't know, but you'd probably be familiar with PayPal. I was there for a couple of years and then decided to go full-time on teaching, which I had been doing as, like, a part-time thing, or, like, on the side all those years. And yeah, when teaching was able to sustain my family's needs, then I just switched full-time. So, that was a couple of years ago that I did that. I think like, 2018 is when I did that.
I took a 10-month break to help Remix get off the ground, the Remix web framework. They got acquired by Shopify. And so, I went back to full-time teaching, not that I don't like Shopify, but I felt like my work was done, and I could go back to teaching. So, that's what I'm doing now, full-time teacher.
WILL: Wow. Yes, I definitely have questions around that.
KENT: [laughs] Okay.
WILL: So many. But I want to start back...you were saying you have four kids. What are their ages?
KENT: Yeah, my oldest is 11, youngest right now is 6, and then we'll have our fifth one. So, all four of the kids are pretty close in age. And then my wife and I thought we were done. And then last December, we kind of decided, you know what? I don't think we're done. I kind of think we want to do another. So, here we go. We've got a larger gap between my youngest and the next child than we have between my oldest and the youngest child.
KENT: So, we're, like, starting a new family, or [laughs] something.
WILL: Yeah [laughs]. I just want to congratulate you on your fifth child. That's amazing.
KENT: Thank you.
WILL: Yeah. How are you feeling about that gap?
KENT: Yeah, we were pretty intentional about having our kids close together because when you do that, they have built-in friends that are always around. And as they grow older, you can do the same sorts of things with them. So, like, earlier this year, we went to Disneyland, and they all had a great time. They're all at the good age for that. And so, they actually will remember things and everything.
Yeah, we were pretty certain that four is a good number for us and everything. But yeah, we just started getting this nagging feeling we wanted another one. So, like, the fact that there's a big gap was definitely not in the plan. But I know a lot of people have big gaps in their families, and it's just fine. So, we're going to be okay; just it's going to change the dynamic and change some plans for us. But we're just super excited to have this next one.
WILL: I totally understand what you mean by having them close together. So, I have three little ones, and my oldest and my youngest share the same exact birthday, so they're exactly three years apart.
KENT: Oh, wow. Yeah, that's actually...that's fun. My current youngest and his next oldest brother are exactly two years apart. They share the same birthday, too [laughs].
WILL: Wow. You're the first one I've heard that their kids share a birthday.
KENT: Yeah, I've got a sister who shares a birthday with her son. And I think we've got a couple of birthdays that are shared, but I also have 11 brothers and sisters [laughs]. And so, I have got a big family, lots of opportunity for shared birthdays in my family.
WILL: Yeah, I was actually going to ask you about that. How was it? I think you're the 11th. So, you're the youngest of 11?
KENT: I'm the second youngest. So, there are 12 of us total. I'm number 11.
WILL: Okay, how was that growing up with that many siblings?
KENT: I loved it. Being one of the youngest I didn't really...my experience was very different from my older siblings. Where my older siblings probably ended up doing a fair bit of babysitting and helping around the house in that way, I was the one being babysat. And so, like, by the time I got to be, like, a preteen, or whatever, lots of my siblings had already moved out. I was already an uncle by the time I was six.
I vaguely remember all 12 of us being together, but most of my growing up was just every other year; I'd have another sibling move out of the house, which was kind of sad. But they'd always come back and visit. And now I just have an awesome relationship with every one of my family members. And I have something, like, 55 nieces and nephews or more. Yeah, getting all of us together every couple of years for reunions is really a special experience. It's a lot of fun.
WILL: Yeah. My mom, she had 12 brothers and sisters.
WILL: And I honestly miss it because we used to get together all the time. I used to live a lot closer. Most of them are in Louisiana or around that area, and now I'm in South Florida, so I don't get to see them as often. But yeah, I used to love getting together. I had so many cousins, and we got in so much trouble...and it was --
WILL: We loved it [laughs].
KENT: Yeah, that's wonderful. I love that.
WILL: Yeah. Well, I want to start here, like, how did you get your start? Because I know...I was doing some research, and I saw that, at one point, you were an AV tech. You were a computer technician. You even did maintenance. Like, what was the early start of your career like, and how did you get into web dev?
KENT: I've always been very interested in computers, my interest was largely video games. So, when I was younger, I had a friend who was a computer programmer or, like, would program stuff. We had visions of...I don't know if you're familiar with RuneScape, but it's this game that he used to play, and I would play a little bit. It was just a massive online multiplayer game. And so, we had visions of building one of those and having it just running in the background, making us money, as if that's how that works [laughter]. But he tried to teach me programming, and I just could not get it at all.
And so I realized at some point that playing video games all the time wasn't the most productive use of my time on computers, and if I wanted my parents to allow me to be on computers, I needed to demonstrate that I could be productive in learning, and making things, and stuff. So, I started blogging and making videos and just, like, music videos.
My friend, who was the programmer, he was into anime, or anime, as people incorrectly pronounce it. And [laughs] there was this website called amv.com or .org or something. It's Anime Music Videos. And so, we would watch these music videos. And I'd say, "I want to make a music video with Naruto." And so, I would make a bunch of music videos from the Naruto videos I downloaded, and that was a lot of fun. I also ran around with a camera to do that.
Then I go to college, I'm thinking, you know what? I think I want to be a video editor. I really enjoy that. And so, my brother, who at the time was working at Micron, he did quality assurance on the memory they were making. So, he would build test automation, software and hardware for testing the memory they build. And so, he recommended that I go into electrical engineering. Because what he would say is, "If you understand computers at that foundational level, you can do anything with computers." And I'd say, "Well, I like computers. And if I go into video editing, I'm going to need to understand computers, too. So yeah, sure, let's let's do that."
I was also kind of interested in 3D animation and stuff like that, too. Like, I wasn't very good at it, but I was kind of interested in that, too. So, I thought, like, having a really good foundation on computers would be a good thing for me. Well, I was only at school for a semester when I took a break to go on a mission for my church [inaudible 09:42] mission. And when I got back and started getting back into things, I took a math refresher course. That was, like, a half a credit. It wasn't really a big thing, but I did terrible in it. I did so bad.
And it was about that time that I realized, you know what? I've been thinking my whole life that I'm good at math. And just thinking back, I have no idea why or any justification for why I thought I was good at math because in high school, I always struggled with it. I spent so much time with it. And in fact, my senior year, I somehow ended up with a free period of nothing else to do. I don't know how this happened. But, I used that free period to go to an extra edition of my calculus class. So, I was going to twice as much calculus working, like, crazy hard and thinking that I was good at this, and I superduper was not [laughter].
And so, after getting back from my mission and taking that refresher course, I was like, you know what? Math is a really important part of engineering, and I'm not good at it at all, obviously. And so, I've got to pivot to something else. Well, before my mission, as part of the engineering major, you needed to take some programming classes. So, there was a Java programming class that I took and a computer systems class that included a lot of programming.
The computer systems was very low level, so we were doing zeros and ones. And I wrote a program in zeros and ones. All that it did was it would take input from the keyboard, and then spit that back out to you as output. That was what it did. But still, you know, many lines of zeros and ones and just, like, still, I can't believe I did that [laughter]. And then we upgraded from that to Assembly, and what a godsend that was [laughs], how wonderful Assembly was after working in machine code. But then we upgraded from that to C, and that's as far as that class went. And then, yeah, my Java class, we did a bunch of stuff.
And I just remember thinking or really struggling to find any practicality to what we were doing. Like, in the Java class, we were implementing the link to list data structure. And I was like, I do not care about this. This does not make any sense. Why should I care? We were doing these transistor diagrams in the computer systems class. And why do I care about that? I do not care about this at all. Like, this is not an interesting thing for me. So, I was convinced computer programming was definitely not what I wanted to do.
So, when I'm switching from electrical engineering, I'm thinking, well, what do I do? And my dad convinced me to try accounting. That was his profession. He was a certified public accountant. And so, I said, "Okay, I'll try that." I liked the first class, and so I switched my major to go into the business school for accounting. I needed to take the next accounting class, and I hated that so much. It was just dull and boring. And I'm so glad that I got out of that because [laughs] I can't imagine doing anything like that.
KENT: But as part of switching over to business school, I discovered information systems. What's really cool about that is that we were doing Excel spreadsheets and building web pages. But it was all, like, with a practical application of business and, like, solving business problems. And then, I was like, oh, okay, so I can do stuff with computers in a practical setting, and that's what got me really interested. So, I switched, finally, to information systems–made it into that program. And I was still not convinced I wanted to do programming. I just wanted to work with computers.
What ended up happening is the same time I got into the information systems program, I got married to my wife, and then I got this part-time job at a company called the More Good Foundation. It's a non-profit organization. And one of my jobs was to rip DVDs and upload those videos to YouTube, and then also download videos from one site and upload those to YouTube as well. And so, I was doing a lot of stuff with YouTube and video stuff.
And as part of my information systems class, I was taking another Java class. At that same time, I was like, you know, what I'm doing at work is super boring. Like, can you imagine your job is to put in a [inaudible 13:45] and then click a couple of buttons? And, like, it was so boring and error-prone, too. Like, okay, now I've got to type this out and, you know, I got to make sure it's the same, try and copy-paste as much as I can. And it was not fun.
And so, I thought, well, I'm pretty sure there are pieces of this that I could automate. And so, with the knowledge that I was getting in my information systems programming class, that was another Java class, I decided to write a program that automated a bunch of my stuff. And so, I asked my boss, like, "Can I automate this with writing software?" And I'm so glad that they said I could.
KENT: Because by the end of it, I had built software that allowed me to do way more than I ever could have before. I ended up uploading thousands of videos to their YouTube channels, which would have taken years to do. And they ended up actually being so happy with me. They had me present to the board of directors when they were asking for more money [laughs] and stuff. And it was really awesome. But still, I was not interested in being a programmer. Programming, to me, was just a means to an end.
WILL: Oh, wow.
KENT: Yeah, I guess there was just something in me that was like, I am not a programmer. So, anyway, further into the program of information systems, I interned as a business intelligence engineer over that next summer, and I ended up staying on there. And while I was supposed to be a business intelligence engineer, I did learn a lot about SQL, and star schema, and denormalized databases to optimize for read speed and everything. I learned a lot about that. But I just kept finding myself in positions where I would use my programming experience to automate things that were problematic for us in the business realm. And this was all still Java.
It was there that I finally realized, you know what? I think I actually do want to be a programmer. I actually really do enjoy this. And I like that it's practical, and it makes sense for me, so…
WILL: What year was that?
KENT: That would have been 2012. Then I got a new job where my job was actually to be a programmer at a company called Domo, where they do business intelligence, actually. So, it got my foot in the door a little bit since I was a business intelligence engineer already. I got hired on, actually, as a QA engineer doing automated testing, but I never really got into that. And they shifted me over pretty quick into helping with the web app.
KENT: And so, yeah, I was there for a year and a half before I finally graduated. And I took a little break to work at USAA for a summer internship. And when I came back, I had another year and then converted to full-time. And so, yeah, there's my more detail than you were probably looking for, story of how I got into programming [laughs].
KENT: Yeah, it is kind of funny to think, like, some people have the story of, like, I knew I wanted to be a programmer from the very beginning, and it's just kind of funny for me to think back and, like, I was pretty certain I didn't want to be a programmer.
KENT: Like, not only did I, like, lots of people will say, "I never really thought about it, and then I saw it, and it was great." But I had thought about it. And I saw it, and I thought it was awful [laughter]. And so, yeah, I'm really glad that it worked out the way it did, though, because programming has just been a really fun thing. Like, I feel so blessed to be doing something that I actually enjoy doing.
Like so many of our ancestors, they would go to work because they cared about their family and they just wanted to feed their family. I'm so grateful to them for doing that. I am so lucky that I get to go to work to take care of my family, but also, I just love doing it.
KENT: I've been teaching for my whole life. It's ingrained in my religion. Even as a kid, you know, I'd prepare a talk, a five-minute talk, and stand up in front of 30 of my peers. And even when you're an early teenager, you get into speaking in front of the entire congregation. It took a while before I got good enough at something, enough hubris to think that people would care about what I have to say --
KENT: Outside of my religion where, like, they're sitting there, and I've been asked to speak, and so they're going to listen to me. And so, when I started getting pretty good at programming, I decided, hey, I want to teach this stuff that I'm learning. And so, when I was still at school and working at Domo, the business intelligence company, one of our co-workers, Dave Geddes, he put together a workshop to teach AngularJS because we were migrating from Backbone to Angular. And I asked him if I could use his workshop material to teach my classmates.
This was, like, soon after ng-conf, the first ng-conf, which my co-workers at Domo actually put on. So, I wasn't involved in the organization, but I was very much present when it was being organized. I attended there and developed a relationship with Firebase with the people there. I was actually...they had a developer evangelist program, which they called Torchbearers or something. And actually, that was my idea to call them Torchbearers. I think they wanted to call us torches, and I'm like, that just doesn't make sense.
KENT: I developed a relationship with them. And I asked them, "Hey, I want to teach my classmates AngularJS. Would you be interested in sponsoring some pizza and stuff?" And they said, "Yeah, we'll send you stickers, and hot sauce, and [laughs] a bunch of..." Like, they sent us, like, headphones [laughs] and stuff. So, I was like, sweet. I taught my classmates AngularJS in a workshop, brought a bunch of pizza, and it was, you know, just an extracurricular thing.
And actually, the recording is still on my YouTube channel, so if you want to go look at one of my early YouTube videos. I was very into publishing video online. So, if you are diligent, you'll be able to find some of my very early [laughter] videos from my teenage years.
But anyway, so, yes, I've been teaching since the very beginning. As soon as I graduated from college, I started speaking at meetups. I'd never been to a meetup before, and I just saw, oh, they want a speaker. I can talk about something.
KENT: And not realizing that, like, meetups are literally always looking for speakers. This wasn't some special occasion.
KENT: And one of the meetups I spoke at was recorded and put on YouTube. And the guy who started Egghead io, John Lindquist, he is local here in Utah. And he saw that I spoke at that meetup, but he wasn't able to attend. So, he watched the recording, and he thought it was pretty good. He thought I would do a good job turning that into a video course. And that first video course paid my mortgage.
KENT: And I was blown away. This thing that I had been doing just kind of for fun speaking at meetups, and I realized, oh, I can actually, like, make some legit good money out of this. From there, I just started making more courses on the side after I put the kids to bed. My wife is like, "Hey, I love you, but I want you to stay away for now because I've just been with these tiny babies all day.
KENT: And I just need some alone time."
KENT: And so, I was like, okay.
KENT: I'll just go and work on some courses. And so, I spent a lot of time for the next couple of years doing course material on the side. I reached out to Frontend Masters and just told them, "Hey, I've been doing courses for Egghead." I actually met Marc Grabanski at a conference a couple of years before. And so, we established a little bit of relationship. And I just said, "Hey, I want to come and teach there." So, I taught at Frontend Masters. I started putting on my own workshops at conferences.
In fact, just a few months after graduating, I got accepted to speak at a conference. And only after I was accepted did I realize it was in Sweden [laughter]. I didn't think to look where in the world this conference was. So, that was my first international trip, actually, and I ended up speaking there. I gave, actually, two talks. One of them was a three-hour talk.
KENT: Which was, yeah, that was wild.
WILL: Oh wow.
WILL: Wow. So, for me, I think so many times the imposter syndrome comes up whenever I want to teach or do things at the level you're saying you're doing. Because I love teaching. I love mentoring. I remember when I came into development, it was hard. I had to find the right person to help me mentor. So now, I almost made a vow to myself that if someone wants to learn and they're willing to put in the energy, I'm going to sit down however long it takes to help them because I remember how hard it was for me whenever I was doing it.
So, you said in 2014, you were only a couple years doing development. How did you overcome impostor syndrome to stand in front of people, teach, go around the world, and give talks and podcasts? Like, how did you do that portion?
KENT: Part of it is a certain level of hubris like I said. Like, you just have to be willing to believe that somebody's going to care. You know, the other part of it is, it's a secret to getting really, really good at something. They sometimes will say, like, those who can't do teach. That's total baloney because it requires a lot of being able to do to get you in a position where you can teach effectively. But the process of teaching makes you better at the process of doing as well. It's how you solidify your experience as a whatever. So, if you're a cook, you're really good at that; you will get better by teaching other people how to cook.
There's an element of selfishness in what I do. I just want to get really, really good at this, and so I'm going to teach people so that I can. So yeah, I think there's got to be also, like, a little bit of thick skin, too, because people are going to maybe not like what you have to share or think that you're posing or whatever. Learn how to let that slide off you a little bit.
But another thing is, like, as far as that's concerned, just being really honest about what your skill set is. So, if somebody asks me a question about GraphQL, I'm going to tell them, "Well, I did use GraphQL at PayPal, but I was pretty limited. And so, I don't have a lot of experience with that," and then I'll answer their question. And so, like, communicating your limitations of knowledge effectively and being okay being judged by people because they're going to judge you. It just is the way it is. So, you just have to learn how to cope well with that.
There are definitely some times where I felt like I was in over my head on some subjects or I was involved in a conversation I had no business being there. I actually felt that a lot when I was sent as PayPal's delegate to the TC39 meetings. Wow, what am I doing here? I've only been in the industry for, like, two or three years at [laughter] that point. It takes a certain level of confidence in your own abilities. But also, like, being realistic about your inexperience as well, I think, is important too.
WILL: Yeah, I know that you had a lot of success, and I want to cover that next. But were there any failures when you were doing those teaching moments?
And so, there was a...yeah, I would say it's a bug in Babel at that time, where it would allow you to write your ES modules in a way that was not actually spec-compliant. It was incorrect. So, I would say export default some object, and then in another module, I would say import. And then, I'd select properties off of the object that I exported, that default I exported. That was allowed by Babel, but it is superduper, not how ECMAScript modules work.
Well, the problem is that I taught, like, a ton of people how to use ECMAScript modules this way. And when I realized that I was mistaken, it was just, like, a knife to the heart because I was, like, I taught so many people this wrong thing. And so, I wrote a blog post about it. I gave a big, long talk titled “More Than You Want to Know About ECMAScript Modules,” where I talk about that with many other things as well. And so, yeah, just trying to do my part to make up for the mistake that I made. So yes, I definitely have had mistakes like that.
There's also, like, the aspect that technology moves at a rapid pace. And so, I have old things that I would show people how to do, which they still work just as well as they worked back then. But I wouldn't recommend doing it that way because we have better ways now. For some people, the old way to do it is the only way they can do it based on the constraints they have and the tools that they're using and stuff. And so, it's not, like, it's not valuable at all. But it is a struggle to make sure that people understand that, like, this is the way that you do it if you have to do it this way, but, like, we've got better ways.
WILL: I'm glad you shared that because it helps. And I love how you say it: when I make a mistake, I own up to it and let everyone know, "Hey, I made a mistake. Let's correct it and move on." So, I really like that.
KENT: Yeah, 100%.
Are your engineers spending too much time on DevOps and maintenance issues when you need them on new features?
We know maintaining your own servers can be costly and that it’s easy for spending creep to sneak in when your team isn’t looking.
By delegating server management, maintenance, and security to thoughtbot and our network of service partners, you can get 24x7 support from our team of experts, all for less than the cost of one in-house engineer.
Save time and money with our DevOps and Maintenance service. Find out more at: tbot.io/devops.
KENT: That was a pretty special thing, honestly. In 2018, I had put together a bunch of workshops related to testing. There was this conference called Assert(js) that invited me to come, taught them. In the year prior, I went to Midwest JS and taught how to test React. I had this material about testing. I'd gotten into testing just because of open-source stuff. I didn't want to have to manually go through all my stuff again every time I wanted to check for breakages and stuff, so that got me into testing. And whatever I'm into is what I'm going to teach. So, I started teaching that testing.
And then my friend, Ryan Florence, put together...he separated from Michael Jackson with React Training, and built his own thing called Workshop.me. He asked me to join up with him. And he would, like, put together these workshops for me, and I would just...my job was just to show up and teach. And so, I did that. I have a picture, actually, in this blog post, The 2010s Decade in Review, of me in front of 60 people at a two-day workshop at Trulia in San Francisco.
WILL: Oh, wow.
KENT: And this is where I was teaching my testing workshop. Well, what's interesting about that photo is that two weeks before that, I had gotten really frustrated with the tool that everybody uses or used at the time for testing React, and that was Enzyme. And so I was preparing this workshop or working on it. I had already delivered it a number of times, but I was working on it, improving it, as I always do [laughs] when I'm preparing.
KENT: I can never give the same workshop twice, I guess. And I was just so frustrated that Enzyme was so difficult to work with. And, like, I was going to prepare this document that said, "Here are all the things you should never do with Enzyme. Like, Enzyme encourages you to do these things; you should not do these things. And let me explain why." And I just hated that I needed a document like that.
And so, I tweeted, "I'm seriously starting to think that I should make my own very small testing lib and drop Enzyme entirely. Most of Enzyme's features are not at all useful and many damaging to my test bases. I'd rather have something smaller that encourages better practices." And so, I tweeted that March 15th, 2018. I did that. I did exactly that.
What I often do in my workshops is I try to build the abstraction that we're going to use so that you can use it better. So, I was, like, building Enzyme, and I realized the jump between what I had built, the little utilities that I had built as part of the workshop, from that to Enzyme was just a huge leap. And so, I thought, you know what? These utilities that I have built to teach Enzyme are actually really good. What if I just turned that into a testing utility? And that became Testing Library, which, fast forward to today, is the number one testing library for React. And it's recommended for testing React, and Vue, and Angular.
The ideas that are in Testing Library got adopted by Playwright. If you're writing tests for anything in the browser, you are very likely using something that was either originally developed by me or inspired by the work that I did. And it all came from that testing workshop that I was working on. So, with that, I had not only that testing workshop; I had a number of other workshops around testing.
And so I approached Joel Hooks from Egghead.io. I say, "Hey, I'm getting ready to record a bunch of Egghead courses. I've got, like, six or seven courses I want to do." And he'd seen my work before, you know, I was a very productive course creator. And he said, "Hey, how about we, you know, we've been thinking about doing this special thing. How about we make a website just dedicated to your courses?" And I said, "That sounds great."
I was a little bit apprehensive because I knew that putting stuff on Egghead meant that I had, like, a built-in audience and everything that was on Egghead, so this would be really the first time of me just branching out with video material on my own. Because, otherwise, if it wasn't Egghead, it was Frontend Masters, and there was the built-in audience there. But yeah, we decided to go for it. And we released it in, I think, November.
And it was that first week...which is always when you make the most is during the launch period. But that launch week, I made more than my PayPal salary for the entire year. And so, that was when I realized, oh, yeah, okay, let's go full-time on this because I don't need two PayPal salaries. I just need one. And then I can spend more time with my family and stuff. And especially as the kids are getting older, they're staying up later, and I want to hang out with them instead of with my computer at night [laughter], and so...
KENT: Aw, thank you so much.
And so, I thought, you know, let's do this again, and we'll do it with React this time. The other thing was, I'd never really planned on being the testing guy. It just kind of happened, and I actually didn't really like it either. I wanted to be more broad than just testing. So, that kind of motivated me to say, hey, let's do something with React to be a little bit more broad.
Yeah, so I worked on putting those workshops together and delivered them remotely. And then, yeah, COVID hit, and just really messed everything up [laughs] really bad. So, I had everything done on my end for Epic React by March of 2020, which is, like, immediately after COVID got started, in the U.S. at least. And so, yeah, then we actually didn't end up releasing Epic React until October that year, which, honestly [laughs], was a little bit frustrating for me because I was like, "Hey, guys, I have recorded all the videos and everything. Can we get this released?" But, like, that just was a really rough year for everybody.
WILL: Once again, I've used Epic React. It's taught me so many...stretched me. And I do like the format, so yes, I totally agree with that, yeah. The next thing, Remix, correct?
KENT: Yeah. So, how I got into Remix, around the same time we finished recording Epic React videos, I was doing some other stuff kind of to keep content going and stuff while we were waiting to launch Epic React. And around that same time, my friend Ryan Florence and Michael Jackson––they were doing the React training thing. And so, we were technically competitors. Like I said, Ryan and I kind of joined forces temporarily for his Workshop Me thing, but that didn't end up working out very well. And Michael really wanted Ryan back, and so they got back together.
And their React training business went way better than it had before. They were hiring people and all sorts of stuff. And then, a training business that focuses on in-person training just doesn't do very well when COVID comes around. And so, they ended up having to lay off everybody and tried to figure out, okay, now what are we going to do? Our income has gone overnight. This is a bit of a simplification. But they decided to build software and get paid for it like one does.
So, they started building Remix. Ryan, actually, around that time, moved back to Utah. He and I would hang out sometimes, and he would share what he was working on with Michael. We would do, like, Zoom calls and stuff, too. I just got really excited about what they were working on. I could see the foundation was really solid, and I thought it was awesome. But I was still working on Epic React.
I end up launching Epic React. He launches Remix the very next month as a developer preview thing. Yeah, it definitely...it looked a lot like current Remix in some ways but very, very different in lots of others. But I was super hooked on that. And so, I paid for the developer preview and started developing my website with it. And around the next year in August, I was getting close to finishing my website.
My website is, like, pretty legit. If you haven't gone to kentcdodds.com. Yet, it is cooler than you think it is. There's a lot that goes into that website. So, I had a team help me with the product planning and getting illustrations and had somebody help me implement the designs and all that stuff. It was a pretty big project.
And then, by August of 2021, Ryan and I were talking, and I said, "Hey, listen, I want to update Epic React to use Remix because I just think that is the best way to build React applications. But I have this little problem where Remix is a paid framework. That's just going to really reduce the number of people who are interested in learning what I have to teach. And on top of that, like, it just makes it difficult for people to test things out." And so, he, around that time, was like, "Hey, just hold off a little bit. We've got some announcements."
And so, I think it was September when they announced that they'd raised VC money and they were going to make Remix open source. That was when Ryan said, "Hey, listen, Kent, I think that it's awesome you want to update Epic React to use Remix. But the problem is that Remix isn't even 1.0 yet. The community is super small. It needs a lot of help. If you release a course on Remix right now, then you're not going to get any attention because, like, nobody even knows what it is."
So, part of me is like, yeah, that's true. But also, the other part of me is like, how do people find out what it is [laughs] unless there's, like, material about it? But he was right. And he said, "Listen, we've got a bunch of VC money. I've always wanted to work with you. How about we just hire you? And you can be a full-time teacher about Remix. But you don't have to charge anything. You just, like, make a bunch of stuff for free about Remix." I said, "That sounds great. But, you know, to make that worth my while because I'm really happy with what I'm doing with this teaching thing, like, I'm going to need a lot of Remix."
And so, Michael Jackson was like, "How about we just make you a co-founder, and we give you a lot of Remix?" And I said, "Okay, let's do this." And so I jumped on board with them as a year-delayed co-founder. I guess that's pretty common. But, like, that felt kind of weird to me [laughs] to be called a co-founder. But yeah, so I joined up with them.
I worked on documentation a little bit, mostly community building. I ran Remix Conf. Shopify was interested in what we were doing. And we were interested in what Shopify was doing because, at the time, they were working on Hydrogen, which was one of the early adopters of React Server Components. And, of course, everybody was interested in whether Remix was going to be adding support for server components. And Ryan put together a couple of experiments and found out that server components were nowhere near ready. And we could do better than server components could as of, you know, the time that he wrote the blog posts, like, two years ago.
So, Hydrogen was working with server components. And I put us in touch with the Hydrogen team—I think it was me—to, like, talk with the Hydrogen team about, like, "Hey, how about instead of spending all this time building your own framework, you just build on top of Remix then you can, you know, make your Shopify starter projects just, like, a really thin layer on top of Remix and people will love it? And this is very important to us because we need to get users, especially really big and high profile users, so people will take us seriously."
And so, we have this meeting. They fly a bunch of their people out to Salt Lake. They're asking us questions. We're asking them questions and saying, "Hey, listen, this is why server components are just not going to work out for you." Well, apparently, they didn't listen to us. It felt like they were just like, "No, we're highly invested in this. We've already sunk all this cost into this, but we're going to keep going." And they did end up shipping Hydrogen version 1 on top of server components, which I just thought was a big mistake.
And it wasn't too long after that they came back and said, "Hey, we're kind of interested in having you guys join Shopify." So, right after Remix Conf, I go up into Michael's room at the hotel with Ryan. And they say, "Hey, listen, Kent, we're talking with Shopify about selling Remix and joining Shopify," and kind of bounced back and forth on whether we wanted to do it. All of us were just not sure. Because when I joined Remix, I was thinking, okay, we're going to build something, and it's going to be huge. This is going to be bigger than Vercel, like multibillion-dollar company. So, I really kind of struggled with thinking, hey, we're selling out. Like, we're just getting started here.
So, Ryan and I ended up at RenderATL in Atlanta at that conference. We were both speaking there. And Ryan didn't fill out the right form. So, he actually didn't have a hotel room [laughs], and so he ended up staying in my room. I intentionally always get a double bedroom just in case somebody needs to stay with me because somebody did that for me once, and I just...it was really nice of them. So, I've always done that since. And so, I said, "Yeah, Ryan, you can stay with me."
And so, we spent just a ton of time together. And this was all while we were trying to decide what to do with Shopify. And we had a lot of conversations about, like, what do we want for Remix in the future? And it was there that I realized, oh if I want to take this to, like, multi-billion dollar valuation, I've got to do things that I am not at all interested in doing. Like, you've got to build a business that is worth that much money and do business-related things.
On top of all of that, to get any money out of it...because I just had a percentage of the company, not actually any money. There was no stock. So, the only way you can get money out of a situation like that is if you have a liquidation event like an IPO, which sounds, like, awful—I [laughs] would hate to go through an IP0—or you have to be bought. And if you're worth $2 billion, or 3, or whatever, who can buy you? There's almost nobody who can buy you at that valuation. Do you really want to outprice anybody that could possibly buy you?
And then, on top of that, to get there, that's, like, a decade worth of your life of working really superduper hard to get to that point, and there's no guarantee. Ryan would always say a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. He was saying Shopify is a bird in the hand, and we do not know what the future holds. And so, we were all finally convinced that, yeah, we want to sell, and so we decided, yeah, let's sell.
As things drew closer, I got more and more uneasy about that. And I thought, you know, I could probably do just as well for myself by going full-time teacher again. I've done this thing before. I just really like being a teacher and, like, having total control over everything that I do. And if I work at Shopify, they're going to tell me, "Hey, you need to, like, do this, and that, and the other." And I don't know if I want to go back to that.
And so, I decided, this is awesome. Super, super good job, folks. I think I've done everything for you that you need me to do. I'm going to bail out. And so, yeah, Shopify wasn't super jazzed about that. But the deal went through anyway. And that's how I ended my time at Shopify.
WILL: I love it. It's lining up perfectly because you say you left Shopify to go back doing more teaching. And then you released another course; that's Epic Web, correct?
KENT: Right. That was the reason I left Shopify or I didn't join up with Shopify is because I wanted to work on Epic Web. In this 2010s blog post, one of the last things that I mention...toward the bottom, there's a section, KCD EDU, which is basically, like, I wanted to help someone go from zero to my level as an engineer in a single place where I teach just all of the things that I can teach to get somebody there. And so I wanted to call it KCD EDU, but I guess you have to be an accredited university to get that domain or something. But that was the idea.
Erin Fox, back in 2020 she said, "I'm expecting you to announce your online Kent C. Dodds engineering bootcamp." And I replied, "I'm planning on doing this, no joke." So, I've been wanting to do this for a really long time. And so, leaving Remix was like, yeah, this is what I'm going to go do. I'm going to go build KCD EDU.
And I was talking with Ryan at some point about, like, what I was planning on doing in the future. And something he said or something I said in that conversation made me realize, oh, shoot, I want to build Epic Web Dev. So, I've got Epic React. I don't want Epic Remix. I want people to, like, be web developers. Remix is just, like, an implementation detail. And so, I went and I was relieved to find that the domain was still available: epicweb.dev, and so I bought that. And so, I was always planning on, like, even while I was at Remix, eventually, I would leave Remix and go build Epic Web Dev. So, that's what I did.
Starting in August, I decided, okay, how about this: I will build a legit real-world web application, and then I will use that to teach people how to build legit real-world web applications from start to finish. If it's included as, like, knowledge you would need to build this web app, then that's knowledge you need to be able to build a full-stack application. That was the idea.
So, I started live streaming in, like, August or September, and I would live stream almost everyday development of this web app. So, people can go and watch those on my YouTube channel. I would livestream for, like, sometimes six hours at a time with breaks every 45 minutes. So, I'd just put it on a break slide, go for a quick walk, or take a drink, whatever, and then I would come back. And I would just, like, so much development and live streaming for a long time.
Once I got, like, in a pretty good place with that, the app I was building was called Rocket Rental. It's like Airbnb for rocket ships. So, you could rent, like, your own rocket ship to other people to fly. So, it had to be, like, realistic enough that, like, you could relate it to whatever you were building but not realistic enough that people would actually think it was a real product [laughs].
I worked with Egghead again. They actually have a sister company now called Skill Recordings that's responsible for these types of products. And so, I was working with Skill Recordings on, like, they would get me designs. And then I would, like, work with other people to help implement some of those designs. And then, I started working on turning this stuff into workshops.
And with Epic React, we have this workshop app that you run locally so that you can work in your own editor, in your own environment, and with your own editor plugins and all that stuff. I want you to practice the way that you're going to actually exercise that practice when you're done––when you're working at work. And so we have this workshop app with Epic React. Well, that was built with Create React app, very limited on what you could do.
And so, I started working on a new workshop app that I just called KCD Shop, that was built with Remix. And so, now we've got a bunch of server-side stuff we can do. And this server side is running on your machine. And so, so much stuff that I can do with this thing.
One of the big challenges with Epic React was that the video you watch is on epicreact.dev, but the exercises you run are on localhost. And so, you have to keep those things in sync. You'd see, okay, I'm in exercise one on the videos. Let me go find exercise one in the app and then find the file exercise one. So, you've got, like, three different things you've got to keep in sync.
And so, with the workshop app for Epic Web, I said, how about we make it so that we can embed the video into the app? And so, you just have localhost running, and you see the video right above the instructions for the exercise. And so, you watch the video that kind of introduces the problem that you're going to be doing, and then you read the instructions. And then we can also make it so that we have links you can click or buttons you can click in the app that will open your editor exactly where you're supposed to go.
So you don't have to keep anything in sync. You go to the app, and you watch the video. You read the instructions. You click this button. It opens your editor. And so, that's exactly what I did. And it's an amazing experience. It is phenomenal, not just for the workshop learners but for me, as a workshop developer, like, creating the workshop––it's just been phenomenal. Because, like, we also have this diff view where you can see the difference between your work in progress and the solution. So, if you get stuck, then it's very easy to see where you went wrong.
It also means that we can build even very large applications as part of our workshop and our exercise where there are dozens or hundreds of files. And you don't have to worry about finding them because it'll tell you exactly which ones you need to be working in, so all sorts of really, really cool things. So, this workshop app––actually, took a lot of time and effort to build. But now that it's done, like, people are going through it now, and they're just loving it.
So, I built the workshop app, I put the first workshop of Rocket Rental into this workshop app, and I delivered it. And I found out very quickly that a full application with all the bells and whistles you'd expect, like, tons of different routes and stuff, was just too much. Even with the workshop app, it was just really pretty difficult for people to gain enough context around what they were building to be effective. So, I was concerned about that.
But with something like Epic Web, it's just so broad that, like, yeah, I am a web developer. I just don't know if I'm a customer to Epic Web. Like, is Epic Web for only really advanced people, or is it only for really beginner people? Or is it only for people who are using this set of tools or... Like, it's just a very difficult thing to, like, identify with. And so I wanted to de-emphasize the fact that we used Remix because the fact is that you can walk away from this material and work in a Next.js app or a SvelteKit app and still use so much of the knowledge that you gained in that environment.
So, I didn't want to focus on the fact that we're using any particular set of tools because the tools themselves I select them, not only because I think that they are really great tools but also because the knowledge you gain from these tools is very transferable. And I'm going to teach it in a way that's very transferable. That was the plan.
But I still had this issue, like, I need people to be able to identify themselves as customers of this thing. So, what I decided to do through some, like, hints and inspiration from other people was how about I turn Rocket Rental into a much simpler app and make that a project starter? And while I was at Remix, actually, I directed the creation of this feature called Remix Stacks. It's basically the CLI allows you to create a Remix app based on a template. I said I can make a Remix Stack out of this, and I called it the Epic Stack.
And so, just took all of the concepts that came from Rocket Rental; applied it to a much simpler app. It's just a note-taking app, but it has, like, all of the features that you would need to build in a typical application. So, it's got a database. It's got deployment, GitHub integration. So, you have GitHub Actions to run tests and stuff. It has the tests. It has authentication already implemented, and even two-factor auth, and third-party auth, and file upload, and, like, just tons and tons of stuff built in. And so, people can start a new project and ship that and have a lot of success, like, skip all the basic stuff.
So, I presented that at Remix Conf. I wasn't working at Remix anymore, but they asked me to run Remix Conf again, so I did. And I told them, "If I'm running it this year, I'm going to select myself to speak." And I spoke and introduced the Epic Stack there. And then that was when I started to create the workshops based on the Epic Stack.
And so, here with Epic Web, I'm going to teach you how to build the framework that you can use to build applications. So, that is what Epic Web is, it's effectively we're building the Epic Stack. In the process, you learn all about really basic things, like, how do you get styles onto the page all the way to really complex things like, how do you validate a user's email? Or how do you implement two-factor auth? Or how do you create a test database? So, you don't have to mock out the database, but you can still run your test in isolation.
Around this time was when my wife and I were trying to become pregnant. And we got the news that we were expecting, and we were super excited. And so, I'm thinking, okay, I've got to ship this thing before the baby comes. Because who knows what happens after this baby comes? So, I am talking with Skill Recordings. I'm saying, "We've got to get this done by October." I think it was May.
And so, I was thinking like, okay, I've probably got, like, maybe eight days worth of workshops here. And so, kind of outlined all of the workshops. Like, I know what needs to be included. I know what the end looks like because I've got the Epic Stack. The end is the Epic Stack. The beginning is, like, a brand new create Remix app creation right there. So, I know what the start and the end looks like. I kind of can figure out how much time I need to teach all of that. And I said, "Let's do eight days."
And so, we got that scheduled and started selling tickets. And we sold out 30 tickets in just a couple of days, and that's what we originally planned for. I'm like, well, gosh, I can handle 80 people in a workshop. I've done that before, but that's about as far as I go. I don't really like going that much. In fact, online, especially, I only like to go up to, like, 40. But we said, "Hey, let's knock this out of the park." So, we doubled it, and we sold another 30 seats. And so, it was sold out before even the early bird sale was over. So, that was pretty encouraging.
The problem was that I hadn't actually developed this material. I'd already given one workshop about testing with Rocket Rental, and I'd given one workshop about the fundamentals with Rocket Rental. But I hadn't done anything of the authentication or, the forms, or data modeling. Also, like, Epic Notes app is different from Rocket Rental. So, I got to rebuild those workshops.
Like, the first workshop was going to start in, like, two weeks, maybe three weeks. And so, I'm working on these workshops. And I'm like, I've finished the first workshop, which was going to be a two-day workshop, and so I get that done. And so, that next week, I'm getting close to finished on the forms workshop, and then I start the workshops.
And that was when I started to realize, oh, shoot, I am in huge trouble because I have to not only deliver two workshops a week, so that's two days a week that I'm not able to work on the workshops, really. And then also develop the material as I go, which I don't normally do this at all because I just don't like stressing myself out so much. But, like, I'd had this timeline put together, and I'm like, I need to ship this by October.
For about five weeks, I worked 80 to 100 hours a week, maybe more, in a row to get those workshops created [laughs]. And I do not recommend this, and I will never do it again. I can tell you this now. I didn't tell anybody at the time because I was worried that people would think, well, geez, is that the type of product you create, like, you're just rushing through this stuff?
But I can tell you this safely now because the results speak for themselves. Like, these people loved this stuff. They ate it up. It was so good. I won't do this again. It's not something that I typically do. But it worked. And, like, I put in a crazy amount of work to make this work. People loved it. And yeah, I'm really, really happy with that.
The next step, though, so it was eight days' worth of workshops in four weeks. And I realized, as I almost always realize when I'm presenting workshops, that, like, oh my gosh, I have way more material than I have time for. So, by the end of it, when I was all done, I'm pretty sure we've got around 16 days' worth of workshop material, so twice as much as I thought, which is; honestly, I shouldn't be surprised because this is always how it works.
So, I've got 16 days worth of workshops to record starting in August that needed to get all recorded six weeks before the launch date, which was my birthday. So, I have until, like, the first part of September to get all this stuff recorded. That is a lot to get recorded, but I managed to do that. So, in about four weeks, I recorded 450 videos. Like, anybody go through this material, and you'll be blown away that I was able to do this. So, I'm patting myself on the back, I know. I probably sound super cocky, but I nailed it. And it is so good.
I can credit a lot of my ability to record and get those videos produced, first, to the fact that I wasn't editing the videos. I would export the videos, and an editor would take care of editing it for me. And then, secondly, that I've done this for so long. I've just been creating workshops for a long time. I'm just really practiced at teaching while I'm typing and talking and everything. And then, also, just the level of preparation that I put into this workshop material. It was just a very well-oiled machine by this point. So, it ended up working out super-duper well.
So, I get the videos done. I'm recording a bunch of expert interviews with 25 people during the month of September. Then we launched on my birthday, October 18th. And it went superduper well.
WILL: Wow. That's a lot of video recording and a lot of stuff you have to do. I feel like that's most parents when they're trying to meet a deadline for a kid that you don't know when they're coming. It's like, oh, I got to do this. I got to do that before the baby comes. So, you did it. You were successful with that [laughter].
KENT: Yeah, thank you.
WILL: Wow, who is this course for?
KENT: The course is for anybody who wants to learn how to build web applications the way I do. I like to focus my building of web applications on the primitives of the web platform as much as possible while acknowledging the practicality of using a framework.
If you want to be able to ship really awesome user experiences on the web platform, regardless of whether you're using the same tools I am, like, if you're not using Prisma, if you're not using Tailwind, if you're not using Remix, you're still going to walk away from this with a lot of really, really practical material. Because I don't really focus on the tools as much as I do on the patterns and the practical application of security practices and various things of that nature. So, anybody who wants to be really good at the web will benefit a lot from Epic Web.
WILL: Okay. And I'll put this in the show notes, but they can find it at epicweb.dev?
WILL: Perfect. Okay. Is there anything else that you want to talk about around epicweb.dev?
KENT: I'll just reiterate that, like, your learning experience on epicweb.dev will be different from anything you've ever seen before. It will be a little bit similar to Epic React if you've done that before. But even still, the new workshop app is unreal, and people are loving it.
One feature that I really love about it is we try to make it so that you don't feel like you're learning alone because we learn better when we're learning together, and we feel like we're not alone. So, we have a presence feature on Epic Web. So, when you're working through the workshops, you can see all the other people that are currently working on the workshops as well. Of course, you can opt out of this if you don't want your face on there, but, like, it's just, like, a little pile of faces of people who are working on it. And it says where they're working right now. And it's just really, really cool to be able to have that camaraderie.
So, it's really geared toward retention. So, this is nothing like a Udemy course that is, like, a 45-hour thing that you just sit and watch. This is very hands-on. You will remember this stuff, and you will become a better developer when you're done.
WILL: Wow, wow. I love that I have not gotten the course, but I'm definitely looking into it. You've talked me into it. I'm going to go and try to try it out. So yes.
WILL: Well, I want to close out on a couple of things that I saw. And it was just interesting hearing your story. Like, early on, you were talking about your purpose and kind of the things that you love. One thing that I picked up on is, like, you're saying that you love audio and video programming and teaching. It's amazing that that's essentially what you're doing now.
WILL: Like, that's what you're in right now. You're in teaching with audio and video, and you're teaching programming.
KENT: Hmm. Yeah, it is kind of funny how it, like, comes full circle.
WILL: Yeah, so I really love that. And then I have this thing, whenever I think something, especially positive, I try to tell people. I hate to not share what I'm thinking, especially when it's positive because I feel like if it's negative, we just do it so freely, but we never do the positive.
So, I think, for you, I want to just tell you you had a couple of things you were saying, like your purpose when writing software is the people. You want to teach people how to write awesome software to make the world a better place, and I just want you to know I know, for me, you've done that. You've helped me so much on my journey of coding and development. And I just really appreciate you and what you've done for the space. And I just want to say thank you.
KENT: Aw, Will, thank you. That does mean a lot to me. So, I really appreciate you saying that.
WILL: Yeah, awesome. Well, it was a great conversation. I loved learning more about you and just everything you shared. So, thank you for being a part of the podcast.
KENT: Thank you.
WILL: You can subscribe to the show and find notes along with a complete transcript for this episode at giantrobots.fm. If you have questions or comments, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. And you can find me on Twitter @will23larry.
This podcast is brought to you by thoughtbot and produced and edited by Mandy Moore.
Thanks for listening. See you next time.
Did you know thoughtbot has a referral program? If you introduce us to someone looking for a design or development partner, we will compensate you if they decide to work with us.
More info on our website at: tbot.io/referral. Or you can email us at email@example.com with any questions.Support Giant Robots Smashing Into Other Giant Robots