Not many people can claim they’ve been a web developer since age 15, but Wes Bos can.
He grew up with ready access to tech—there was always a computer in the house, with fast internet since his dad worked in computing. Combined with his natural curiosity about technology, it was a potent environment for learning, so he started teaching himself to code and build websites early on.
By the time Wes was in college, he was already starting to freelance. Instead of studying a raw technical field in school, he studied Business Technology Management, which focused more on managerial and business elements of technology projects.
This episode was transcribed with the help of an AI transcription tool. Please forgive any typos. Laurence Bradford 0:10 Laurence Bradford 0:30 Laurence Bradford 0:52 Laurence Bradford 1:17 Laurence Bradford 2:24 Wes Bos 2:26 Laurence Bradford 2:28 Wes Bos 2:54 Laurence Bradford 4:14 Wes Bos 4:20 Laurence Bradford 4:52 Wes Bos 5:00 Laurence Bradford 5:04 Wes Bos 5:14 Laurence Bradford 5:16 Wes Bos 5:21 Laurence Bradford 5:40 Wes Bos 5:43 Laurence Bradford 5:50 Wes Bos 5:53 Laurence Bradford 6:04 Wes Bos 6:07 Laurence Bradford 6:52 Wes Bos 7:01 Laurence Bradford 7:56 Wes Bos 8:04 Wes Bos 9:04 Wes Bos 9:53 Laurence Bradford 10:21 Wes Bos 10:32 Laurence Bradford 10:46 Wes Bos 11:03 Wes Bos 11:36 Laurence Bradford 12:21 Wes Bos 13:10 Laurence Bradford 13:42 Wes Bos 14:08 Laurence Bradford 15:26 Wes Bos 16:01 Laurence Bradford 16:44 Wes Bos 17:06 Laurence Bradford 17:21 Wes Bos 17:28 Laurence Bradford 17:55 Wes Bos 18:06 Laurence Bradford 18:07 Wes Bos 18:19 Wes Bos 19:18 Laurence Bradford 20:09 Wes Bos 20:51 Wes Bos 21:27 Laurence Bradford 22:27 Laurence Bradford 22:35 Laurence Bradford 23:38 Laurence Bradford 24:37 Wes Bos 25:14 Laurence Bradford 26:35 Wes Bos 26:54 Laurence Bradford 27:53 Wes Bos 27:58 Laurence Bradford 28:28 Wes Bos 29:11 Wes Bos 30:09 Laurence Bradford 31:16 Wes Bos 31:26 Laurence Bradford 31:27 Wes Bos 31:29 Laurence Bradford 31:59 Wes Bos 32:49 Wes Bos 33:39 Laurence Bradford 35:09 Wes Bos 35:14 Laurence Bradford 35:45 Laurence Bradford 35:57 Wes Bos 36:44 Wes Bos 37:32 Laurence Bradford 38:42 Wes Bos 39:00 Laurence Bradford 39:26 Wes Bos 39:31 Wes Bos 40:28 Laurence Bradford 41:35 Wes Bos 41:42 Laurence Bradford 42:07 Wes Bos 42:13 Laurence Bradford 42:38 Wes Bos 42:39 Laurence Bradford 42:47
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Hey, Wes, thank you so much for coming on the show.
Thanks for having me. I'm excited to be here.
Yeah, really excited to finally get to talk to you. I've been following your work for a while now and actually dug into my email archives and saw the first time we spoke was in 2016. So it's been a long time coming, but it's really great to. Yeah, it's great to properly connect and have you on. Awesome. So I'd love to get things started by having you tell us about your background and how you first got interested in technology and learning to code?
Sure. Yeah. So my name is Wes. I'm from Canada. And I've been a a web developer for a long time, I was just renewing some of my domain names and moving them over. And I realized I had owned westbos.com for 16 years already. So I've been a web developer for at least 16 years now most of that was a large part of that was when I was a kid. So how did I get involved in technology? I always grew up with a computer in the in the house, my dad was he worked in it. So we always had a computer, we always had fast internet. I can remember having dial up when no one had internet at all. And I remember having high speed when everyone was just getting dial up. And just from there, I was just naturally curious as to how computers worked and how websites worked. And if I could make my own website, which I didn't, didn't know if that was possible, like how do people get these things on the internet? How do you get something on the internet? So I've just fiddled around with that when I was a And just from there, I don't know how much you want to hear about it. But just from there, I was just super interested in how it works. And I built a couple of websites. And I've just always been super interested in web development.
So was that when you were in high school or when you were in college or even before that?
It was grade school. I'm trying to think back. So I'm 31 now and if I bought my domain name 16 years ago, I probably bought it when I was 15 or 16 years old. And I believe that is seventh grade eighth grade. Around then I remember my my first website I built I think I was in grade five. It was like a PlayStation two website that I had built as like sort of a fan page and preparation for PlayStation two coming out.
Is it still online? Can we find it? Yeah, it is actually totally joking.
Okay, we'll have to add that to the show notes. I said that really jokingly because I was like, oh, fit that mean? That's Like what? Like, how long ago? Wait, I can't even do the math right until
2002 or something like that. It was a long time ago.
Oh, wow. So it must say just keep renewing it.
Actually, I built it on this, like free servers website. And I'm not sure why they've kept it alive. Or they I think they probably put ads on it. But it's just like this like artifact frozen in time. Somebody is paying the hostess thing. And it still works, which is amazing.
And you can even like log in to update it or something?
No, I wouldn't even know. I like that. No,
That's nothing. Yeah, bigger things to worry about. Right then updating that. Yeah,
Yes. I don't want to disrupt it. Like you'd be fine. Like, if you're an archaeologist, you don't want to disrupt the bones without like, I don't Want to like accidentally upgraded or something like that? You know? Yeah. Gonna let you
Did you write all the content on like yourself as well?
Yeah, yeah, I wrote all the FAQs and and like, I don't know just added all the content and the polls and things like that and I also had like a like another website for my friends at the time that you could get .tk domain names for free and that blew my mind because you could get like a top level domain I had westbos.tk and that was free. I couldn't believe it and everybody had .TK domain names at the time. And that was just that was an actual HTML website. This was just like a site builder. But that was the actual HTML website with frames. And I built that one in high school I remember I That one's long gone though and I can't even find it on I can't even find it on like the archives things like that.
Oh, wow. So fast where I had a bit, you know, did you end up studying something related to Technology and college?
Yeah, kind of. So I have a Bachelor of Commerce, which is a business degree in what's called Information Technology Management. It's been renamed now to Business Technology Management. So it's, it's focused on like the the management of technology projects. So a lot of people go on to work at these big consulting firms like Deloitte and Price Waterhouse, Cooper, and then they just like take on these big projects where people need to build systems and have analysis and all that kind of stuff. So it's not really targeted at like web development or coding at all is more just that like a problem solving with computers and, and managing the people that that run these things. So that's kind of what I had all of the coding skills that I have are self taught.
Back chest. So after college, did you ever work in a career that used those business technology skills?
I'm trying to think so I in when I was in university I had I had a couple co ops which is like a four to eight month thing where you go into different types of companies and work for them for a couple months. And I had worked at Exxon Mobil which is largest gas company in the world had worked at a on a on a trading floor at a bank which was really exciting during the 2008 financial crisis. Which was crazy because like, like you work on the trading floor which is like, like you watch these like Wolf of Wall Street movies and it's not that crazy, but it is those types of people that work there. And and then the whole thing crashed and it I just got to keep my job but it was really interesting to see that goes through. I only look back at it now realizing now that I know a little bit more about economics. And whatever that that I actually lived through the, I worked through that.
So I did that I worked at a video agency doing a lot of web development for them. So that was like one thing that I that they hired me and I was like, Look, I want to do all your web stuff because I'm super interested in that. And then my fourth Co Op, I, I convinced them to let me call up for myself. Because I was already running like a, like a freelance consulting business during school. And I was telling them like, Look, I'm making more money at night than I am at this Co Op. Can I just like work for myself. And then I got like a grant from the government, which is 30 $500 to start your own business, and it's for students, and most of the students there were starting like lawn mowing businesses or like cleaning businesses or, you know, the types of businesses that college students start.
And I started this like web development business and it's really cool because they they gave you 3500 bucks, which is spend it all on like techno like laptops and stuff like that. And then they give us like mentorship in terms of like marketing and things like that, which I thought was pretty neat. And then from there, I did the co op, I had six more months of school, I did the rest of school. And then by the time I was done, university, I was just I hit the ground running, running my own web development company.
Wow, that's really awesome. And that's really cool that they, like gave you that grant and you're allowed to do that for yourself. So just for context, what year was that around when you start doing that?
Ah, that would have been, I think -- Yeah. 2010-2011 I'm thinking it was.
Nice. So you went right from college graduation to running your own agency or freelancing consulting business. That's, that's really cool. And how like, do you still do that today? I feel like no. But--
I don't do any more, probably about to a year and a half ago, almost two years. So I build and sell web development training courses. That's my sort of bread and butter now. And probably for about 10 years, I was a freelance consultant. And I slowly did more and more building up my own products and less and less of the client work, which is the best thing about client work because I didn't have a full time job. So I was able to as I started making more money from these products, I was able to do less and less client work.
And probably about a year and a half, two years ago, I sunsetted, my last client, which was kind of sad because I like doing client work. I love the different challenges that every single project like I learned a lot doing freelancing because you're thrown into all of these different environments. You have all of these different problems to solve. Often people say like freelancing is not as good as actually having a full time job because you don't, you don't get that mentorship and things like that. But I felt like my skills grew so much more rapidly, because of all of the different types of projects that I was able to work on. So I've been off of it for about two years now. And just full time working on my own web development courses.
Yeah, I mean, that makes a ton of sense to me like going right the dick dropping you know, everything going right to making courses is a really big job. And yeah, you know, I'm I'm starting to make my own small courses and information products or you want to call them and I used to work you know, I teachable so I would see a bunch of people making courses and it's so different. I've been I've just it's really top of mind right now because I'm like, Oh my gosh, making courses is so hard even though I worked at course company for two years. Now. I'm in the driver's seat and I'm like, Oh my gosh, this is going to kill me because it Not like anything else, you know, like, yeah, I write tons of blog posts I do the podcast but it's really not comparable.
No, it's it's so much work like I initially I thought like you see these people making courses you're like, must be nice to just throw your screen recorder on record whatever it is you're just doing normally and then make all this money from it. And the reality is that it takes months and months and months to build these things and they have to be updated and there's the progression like the linear trying to take something that is web development, which is not really all that linear and trying to make it into a story that is linear is is a really hard thing to do.
Yeah, that's a great question. Um, I don't I don't know that I go off to tell a story. But I, I try to make my my stuff progressive progress in a way that you could in a way that I would do it myself and also in a way that someone could see themselves applying it to whatever problem is that they're trying to solve. Because often when people take a course, they have an idea of what they want to build, they have, they're really excited about a specific tech or a specific idea that they want to see come to fruition, but they just don't have have the skills. So if you can make the course in such a way that they can see themselves applying the same sort of methodologies and patterns and technologies to their own ideas. I think it makes them a little bit more excited, as well as like I'm really big about to other things in my courts as well, which is First making it fun. It has to be like, word vomit is incredibly frustrating. And if it's not fun or it's boring, it's not going to to keep your interest all that much. And then the other one is, well, what was the other one? Oh, man, I totally forget. It was fun. And and, uh, oh, man, I totally forget, if it comes to me, I'll let you know.
Okay, perfect. Yeah, you can just, you know, jump back in and we can either edit around Later, we'll just have a fun little segment. I don't mind that. Yeah, but I do like what you're saying about it takes a lot of work to make the content or whether you're doing video or writing or whatever it is, you know, and like thinking of the presented view, like okay, if someone is taking this course whether it's free, but even especially if they're paying for this course, it's like, how can I explain this to them in the fastest, most concise way but they're still getting tons of value in in you No impact from it.
Yeah, totally. Yeah, it's like, I remember was the other thing was, the other thing was that it was well designed. So I always make sure that the thing that you're building has, like, it looks nice, right? Because otherwise, if it just if it's just like a bootstrap thing that you slap on or, or it's got Times New Roman and you you haven't really added a whole lot of styles to it. You're not that all that invested in the thing that you're you're building. And I see that all the time where people just drop off or they don't want to put it in their portfolio because it doesn't look good. And, and the reality is, that probably doesn't matter all that much, because we're focusing on the stuff that's under the hood, but but to me, and to the people taking it doesn't matter.
Oh, I have so many questions. I don't want to talk too much about this. But I do want to ask really quick about talking about design, because Okay, I'm thinking of your courses. There's video components. I'm assuming there's also text, maybe a text editor it may be in some maybe not all like when you see this Do you mean that just the holistic like everything? Or do you just mean like the website?
I just mean the thing that you're building looks nice and it's something you can be proud of. As a lot of people use them in job interviews and they put them in their portfolio and it just looks like a nice application that really helps.
Ah, you're talking about the projects you build there I'm talking about like the I'm thinking like the website you use to deliver the content on.
Oh that to like the the marketing website that has a huge me I think that is a huge play into how much I sell has to do with the little the fun little bits of the the web development website because there's always little hidden things and I always try to use new CSS techniques on on these websites just so that it I know it piques your interest is Oh, what is this West guy? What is he building?
Yeah, your websites all look really great like the link your course wants and they all look different till we So once I've seen like, it doesn't look like they all look unique and yeah, like separate kind of but but similar at the same time.
Yeah, yeah. That's though.
Yeah, so maybe backtracking I guess now, but I wanted to talk about how you started blogging and podcasting, and speaking and making products and all this stuff that you're doing today.
Yeah. So, uh, I don't know, maybe eight years ago, I started just blogging in general, I just love the idea of sharing what, you know, I started YouTubing at the same time around that then just kind of like finding these problems on Twitter that people were having and flipping on my screen recorder or writing a quick little blog post and, and solving that because at the time, I was just answering people's questions on Stack Overflow. But as as helpful as Stack Overflow is, you're really giving this other company all this amazing free content. So why not put it on your own course platform. So actually After blogging for, I don't know, maybe a couple months a year or so I was asked by this local organization in Toronto called ladies learning code, which was a sort of like a weekend, one day workshop thing targeted at women who want to learn how to code.
And they asked me to learn lead their second ever workshop, which was on WordPress. And I thought, that sounds kind of fun. Maybe I'll create a, a one day workshop on that. So I created that. And people, people liked it. And I really liked it. I was surprised that how much how enjoyable it was. And I was surprised at the feedback in terms of like, you explain it so like, it's so simple and and people kept saying, I really liked the way that you explained things. And I thought, like, oh, like, I don't have any sort of like, traditional teaching background. I don't know anything about teaching, but I do know how hard it was for me to learn this stuff. And now it makes make sense to me. So how do I explain it is still remembering how hard it was to learn and I think that is a bit of my my secret sauce in what I do.
Yeah, what I now actually do remember I think one of the first times I ever came across you on Twitter or just seeing your photo online was three ladies learning cokes. I remember doing research for something I was doing an article of like places where women learn to code I think that's where I first said that it makes it doesn't Yeah, yeah. So so that's where you got your start. Okay, teaching and and all that. Um, and today, of course, like you have a really large online following you have court, you know, various courses online. You know, I know it's been years in the making, but what is it like having such an online presence slash following now?
Uh, it's, it's good. It's really nice to be able to have these outlets were up can create the things that I want to create. And I have the community that is willing to support me and not even just like, like support me like, Oh, good job less high five, this is good content but like, like this community is is paying for my mortgage and this community is like I don't have a company behind me obviously it's my own company, but the people that buy these things are and the people that watch my YouTube videos and stuff like that they are the ones that are supporting me.
So it's amazing because, like, I remember very clearly like this didn't happen by accident. I remember very clearly like six or seven years ago being like, I need to be like Chris Korea, or where you just have this big audience, and you can work on really fun, exciting stuff, and teach people this kind of stuff. And I thought like, Okay, I need to start working towards that kind of thing. And at the time, I already had a fairly large Twitter following, but I realized like, Okay, I need to, I need to do it on email. I need to boost up the Twitter because that was was really big at the time. I need to do well on YouTube and all of that stuff was sort of intentional to grow that. And now I'm at a point where the audience is big enough where you can. I don't have to create stuff that I think will sell well, I just have to create stuff that I know that people need, based on hearing from them and hearing their pain points.
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Yeah, next and I think like I don't know the biggest thing I take away from that is you saying six or seven years ago so it goes to show like how much time and effort you know what, which is. I mean, there's so many people I've talked to the really large online followings whether it's on YouTube or Instagram or something, and they're like, Oh, no, like, you know, I've been posting everyday to Instagram for two years like this didn't happen, you know, in a month like it's been A long time coming and then I feel like once it's kind of like, like a ball like rolling down a hill, he starts getting more momentum, more momentum. And then next thing you know, it's like, at the bottom of the hill and like, wow, like how did it get? So how did things go so fast?
I think that's the word I use all the time is that the momentum is nuts, with with this kind of stuff, because at first you start and like my wife is trying to do is something similar. She is doing something similar in fashion right now. And the first like two years is it's a slog, it's it's slow. And you're you're really excited when you you get like four people a month, sign up for their newsletter, or two people reply to your newsletter saying, Oh, I love this one or something like that. And then a year later, you have 20. And then a year later, that's 1000. Right? And it's it's, it's kind of frustrating, because the answer to like, how do you grow a massive audience is have a large audience. And how do you get a large audience you have a medium sized audience and you really have to just say slog through for a couple of years. there obviously are lots of exceptions. And I think especially with like Instagram right now, a lot of people see these people who have 40 posts, and 20 million Instagram followers, and they think like, ah, or these people started their YouTube channel six months ago, and now they're just killing it. And there's always going to be those types of people that you can look at. But in most cases, it's it's you have to go in for the long run. And it has to be something that you know, you're you want to you want to stick with it for for many, many years.
Yeah, well, I'm sure having folks hear that from you. It makes them feel a lot better and reassured if they're learning or trying to learn right now in in struggling with it.
Wow, that is really wild. How? Just curious, like, how long did that take you to do?
It was four days of probably seven or eight hours per day. So yeah, about that much. I mean, I also had been been planning it for a while. So I had just done a little bit of research before before that actually happened. So yeah, it was it's if you look at the code, it's not all that complex, but it was just the the initial figuring out how to actually send the signals that this piece of hardware requires.
Yeah, wow. I mean, I can't even just flying a drone with a control. I never even done that, actually. Well, I guess in New York, I feel like there's probably like it's not there you go. I doubt.
Yeah, so I always start at nine o'clock in the morning. I've got kids. So I can't start any earlier than that. Usually I used to love to start a little bit earlier than that maybe like eight o'clock or whatever. But now I start at nine o'clock on Got, I come up and I use things, which is a to do list. And I kind of just use that as a brain dump for things that need to happen. And then I decide on what I'm going to work on for the day. So every day is a little bit different, but I try to keep each day for one or two major things. So it's not like I'm going to do an hour of email and an hour of meetings and an hour of social media and just kind of dice up my time.
It's usually today I'm going to spend six hours on working on an outline for an upcoming course. And then I'm going to spend an hour recording a YouTube video or something like that. So every day is a little bit different. But my whole my some of the days I'm recording the podcast and some of the days I have to just spend like doing my taxes and answering support emails and talking to my accountant. So I try to batch all of that stuck together in sort of like days, so that I don't, I'm sure you know this that your your days can very quickly get eaten up by busy work. And before you know it, you haven't actually worked on anything that is the core of your business and very long, because you're just you're just busy work all day long. So that's kind of where it's at. my very favorite thing to do is just to create new content. So I tried to keep most of my days where I can at least have five or six hours where I'm just heads down, working through examples, working on layouts, writing content for what I'm gonna say in the video, things like that.
Oh, yeah, that's, that's really exciting. I could ask you like, so many questions just about what you just said, but I'm low on time. Um, what has been the biggest obstacle for you so far that you're facing your career? So that could be like, real, literally anything and how did you work through it?
Oh, that's a that's a good question. Um, I think the biggest obstacle would be the frustration of not having the skill to do what it is that I want to do. So I'm sure you if you haven't already, you can look at the look up Ira Glass. What do you know what the Ira Glass thing is called?
Oh, man, I actually I know who he is, but I do not know.
The gap. So look up Ira Glass, the gap. And he talks about how you have taste, which is what you want to build. And you have your skill, which is what you can build. And there's a gap between those things. And you understand that what you're making isn't quite as good as what you hoped it to be. And I found that to be very true in web development. Where is simply just was, I want my web app. or website to do this thing, I want it to look a certain way I want the interface to do this. But my skills just weren't there. And I couldn't make it happen. And and that's really frustrating because at the end of the day, it just won't work. And just like knowing that, if you keep putting in the time and you keep on hacking away at it and finding alternatives to things like that you you do get better and better.
And at a certain point, probably, I don't know, like, five years into my like, full time web development career. I realized like, okay, now I feel I feel very comfortable. I was sitting in like a client meeting, and I feel very comfortable with the asks that they have of me knowing that I don't know how to do it right now, but I bet I could figure it out. And that was like a big relief to me because I remember thinking like okay, now I'm finally at a point where I'm able to tackle these problems, and I'm not really scared of not being able to actually complete it. And you will never close that gap 100% I think the better the more the better developer you become, the more you realize you don't know. But it's it's you get old enough and experienced enough knowing that you How do I put this, you get old enough and experienced enough knowing that you'll be able to tackle any anything that come your way or be able to reach out to someone who will be able to help you with it.
Tonight, I think it's also probably really reassuring for folks listening that Wes Bos asks for help so.
All day, my Twitter but the one of the hugest benefits ever of having a large Twitter following is you can literally ask anything and there's always going to be like three subject matter experts within 10 minutes, chiming in and helping you out and just being a okay with not knowing something, because there's always someone way smarter than you out there that is willing to help you out.
Yeah, for sure. I think that's a really great way to wrap things up. Thank you so much Wes for coming on. And where can people find you online?
I'm @wesbos on everything. I spend most of my time on Twitter, doing tech stuff on Instagram, @wesbos doing food and family stuff, and just all kinds of random stuff if you're interested in more of the personal side of things. And it's westbos.com/courses if you want to take a look at my free and paid courses.
Awesome. Thanks again for coming on.
Thanks for having me. It's fun.
I hope you enjoyed my conversation with Wes. If you missed any of that, or would like a recap, the Show Notes for this episode can be found that learntocodewith.me/podcast if you're listening this episode in the future, just click the Search icon in the upper navigation and type in his name, which is W-E-S, and the last name is B-O-S. And if you enjoyed this episode, make sure you subscribe on whichever podcast player you're tuning in on. That way you won't miss new episodes. All right, thanks so much for tuning in, and I'll see you next time.
This episode was transcribed with the help of an AI transcription tool. Please forgive any typos.
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Wes Bos 41:42
Laurence Bradford 42:07
Wes Bos 42:13
Laurence Bradford 42:38
Wes Bos 42:39
Laurence Bradford 42:47
- If you can do something unique while you’re in school, like Wes with his freelancing, you’ll be able to hit the ground running when you graduate.
- While building and selling courses might look as easy as throwing on a screen recorder, it takes months and months of work and you need to be truly passionate about it.
- Rather than creating things you think will sell well, start building things that will help people’s pain points and solve their problems.
- See a coding language or other tech skill gaining traction and becoming more popular? Consider pivoting to learn it—it might blow up and you’ll be ahead of the game.
Links and mentions from the episode:
- Wes on Twitter
- Wes on Instagram
- ps20.itgo.com (one of Wes’ first websites he ever built!)
Where to listen to the podcast
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Special thanks to this episode’s sponsors
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Flatiron School: If you want to break into software engineering, Flatiron School’s comprehensive Online Software Engineering Immersive will give you the skills and support you need to launch your career. Start learning for free with their coding bootcamp prep course at flatironschool.com/learntocodewithme.