Hey y'all! Welcome Miriam Suzanne . Miriam will be doing more writing around here soon, so we figured an interview would be a good way for you to get to know her first. She's been working with the web for longer than I have, has created some pretty huge open source projects, and has a unique perspective on about everything. Let's get to the chat!
Chris: How old school are you? Were you designing websites in tables for Netscape Navigator -3 and stuff? Or did you get into the web later?
Miriam: I built my first sites in the early 2000’s — so we were past Navigator 3 at that point. It was the height of the Netscape/IE browser wars, when sites all said “best viewed in” one or the other. CSS was just gaining real traction. I was taught to use tables in Dreamweaver, but I didn’t get excited about the web until I saw Eric Meyer’s CSS Edge site , and started coding by hand. I got my first job using tables on an insurance company website. I tried to rewrite their site in CSS, but they didn’t want it. I started freelancing right after that, and never used tables again.
I was slightly behind you I think. I don’t think I ever built a production site with tables, thankfully.
Kids these days.
Speaking of Eric Meyer, I think I first met you when you were also going by Eric Meyer. We met at a conference, through your involvement with Sass and being the creator of Susy and such. I seem to remember you saying that both of you had to re-direct people to each other when the contacted the wrong one. But now you’ve changed your name! Was that just a part of a larger identity change?
Well, if you remember, it happened in two stages. I changed my last name in 2013 to break up that confusion.
I had a sense at the time that I should be changing more than that — but I wasn’t ready to deal with it.
I finally changed my first name and started to transition last year.
It would have been easier to do both at once, but… Can we call it an iterative process?
A while loop
(Chris crawls under the table for making a joke so dumb it doesn't even qualify as a dad joke.)
The final straw for breaking the Eric Meyer confusion involved a series of conferences. You got mixed up in that.
CSS Dev Conf gave you my hotel room after Eric Meyer had to cancel, and you took over as keynote.
Oh snort. I do remember that. Hopefully you didn’t have to sleep in the ghost tunnels.
(We were at The Stanley Hotel, which is known for being haunted and has freaky tunnels and ghost tours and stuff.)
They actually gave me a huge three-bedroom condo on the hill, 3 minutes away. I ended up hosting all the after-parties.
But earlier that year, I had a talk rejected at a digital-arts conference because the bio I sent them didn’t match the bio on Eric’s website.
Going backwards a little... your web career started with some insurance websites, then into freelance. And kinda staying in freelance? I know you and your siblings started OddBird almost a decade later.
It started building websites for my theater company. That’s why I learned web design in the first place. The insurance company mostly had me doing print design. They were so far behind the digital curve.
At one point my good-ol-boy boss called me into his office, probably because I was the youngest on staff, and said “We need a podcast. What’s a podcast?"
That was pretty much the atmosphere of the place.
I told him a podcast is like a radio show, but you have to go looking for it. So the first thing you need is content that people really want. “Oh, I don’t think we have that."
I took my first client when someone emailed asking if I knew any college students who could build a cheap website. I teamed up with a Drupal-building friend, and we built a few sites together. I quit my insurance job half way into our second client, and hoped for the best. That was 2006-2007. Carl and I started working together in 2008, and Jonny joined in 2009. That’s when we came up with the name, and decided to make a company out of it.
It’s still going today, right? What do/can people hire you to do?
Yeah, we have a team of seven now, and act like a legit company.
We’re mostly hired to build custom Django web-applications for mid-to-large companies. We’ll build their MVP, get them off the ground, and then hand it over to an internal team.
We do the full range of branding, content, architecture, design, code, and testing — integrated pretty tightly, because we have a small team.
Mozilla gave us our first big break in 2010, building their test-management system. I hear they are finally retiring that project next month.
There are plenty of agencies out there that do great work for clients. There are less that decide to build, open source, and maintain large software projects like y’all have. Were projects like Susy built for client needs? Or itch-scratchy? What’s the story there?
Susy didn’t come out of one particular client, but it did come out of our client work.
We wanted a consistent set of tools that we could take from one client to the next, without forcing every client into the same design patterns and layout techniques.
I was really inspired by the work Natalie Downe and Clearleft were doing, and modeled my approach on her CSS Systems talk .
It's all about designing open, flexible systems instead of locking yourself into a particular library of CSS classes — a response to the existing grid frameworks back then. And a philosophy that matched my thinking perfectly.
But the math was repetitive and complex, until we found Chris Eppstein’s hour-long video introduction to Sass and Compass.
Susy was the first thing I built in Sass, and the whole reason we wanted Sass in the first place.
After I built a draft, Carl put it on GitHub. I didn’t know anything about open-source development at the time. He was the driver behind all of that. But I had to learn quickly.