Speaker spotlight: Jhey Tompkins on boosting your skills with creative coding

How did you get into creative coding?

Well, to answer this I should probably mention what got me into web development. I started as a middleware engineer working with Java. During that first role I was introduced to the DOM by a colleague who was debugging an issue in the browser console. It blew my mind, and I was fascinated by how much could be done on the web platform and in a browser. It's incredible how accessible it is. No build steps or clunky IDEs.

I started by playing in my spare time a few years later after doing some mini-projects building tools for myself with questionable styling. But then I started exploring CSS, etc. For example, making spinners in my lunch breaks. The issue was that I wanted to learn all the things but didn't have ideas for all the different technologies. And that was when I started to flip the switch and instead of thinking about the "how?" or "why?", I made my only limit my imagination.

How do you stay motivated to keep learning?

My list of ideas is constantly growing and evolving. It's the thought of solving new challenges and bringing those ideas to life. The discussions those creations can fuel or perspectives they might bring to the table. Pushing things is what makes the web platform evolve. One thing I've learned to deal with is being okay that it would likely take 10 life times to build all the things I want to.

What currently excites you the most about the web platform?

Oof – so much on this front. Seeing browsers work together on having consistent support for things is exciting in itself. I'm currently working on things contained within the Open UI initiative such as stylable <select> via <selectmenu> which is exciting. Seeing the perspectives of the community and knowing those ideas will spark ideas is fascinating to me.

A more personal choice would be anything under the Houdini umbrella. I personally have a soft spot for @property which I used in my pure CSS stopwatch:


But what excites me is this feeling that there is a slight movement beginning where we see more and more people excited to use the web platform directly for things and lean less on a plethora of packages, etc. This is getting noticed by a few people.

We are spoilt for choice developing on the web. And sometimes that choice can lead to paralysis by choice. Frameworks, libraries, etc are amazing as in some cases they give us a potential insight into the future. They can also give us insight as to what the community is interested in or wants to see. I've yet to dig into it, but I love seeing projects like Remix where the philosophy is to lean into web standards and use the amazing things the browser offers. I could talk about this for hours!

What can we expect to take away from your talk, and could you give us a little sneak preview?

There are a lot of takeaways! Incredibly, this is only my second conference and my second time speaking at one. I did a lot of research when I was preparing for my first talk. There are a few things that have stuck with me. Keep it like a conversation and try to "entertain", inspire", and "educate". If you can nail that, you're onto a good thing hopefully.

It's important to note that I don't do technical deep dives but I will go through code. Enough code to pique your interest and make you think "how did that work?". I like to drop little snippets in here and there with the idea that you'll go off and start creating and exploring and learning to really love the web platform. We're all in it together, it's our web platform and everyone has a voice and that's what we want to hear!

As for specifics on my talk, I'll go into what we can do with creative coding, the "why?", and then "how?". I like to break my talks up into three demos for CSS, UI, and DevTools (the team I'm a part of at Google) all showing things we can do with the web platform with the hope to inspire and fuel innovation for the web. Creative coding is personal and I owe a lot to it. But this isn't a personal story of how creative coding got me to Google, for example. It's purposely about trying to fuel your creative side.

As for a sneak preview, think of a favourite childhood toy. What is it? How could you build it with code? The question is will I have built it in time for the talk? I guess we'll see if you're there! I hope you will be.

Out of the many CodePen demos that you have created, which one's your favourite and why?

This is incredibly tough. I've made over 1200 CodePen demos and to let you in on a little secret, I forget about half of them. That is until someone reminds me of one and I'm like "I've built something like that!".

I've got to say, the "Impossible Checkbox" is up there as it's one people enjoy:


But it's not my favourite by any means which often surprises people. I really enjoy some of the technically challenging ones. The Infinite scrolling demo with GreenSock that I wrote about for CSS-Tricks was a demo that stuck out to me as it took a lot of time but I gained so much from that experience:

The demos I created for "All Day Hey!" are up there too. And I'm not just saying that because I want you to come to my talk. But they are/were a lot of fun to make!

At Pixel Pioneers Bristol, Jhey Tompkins will demonstrate how to supercharge your developer skills with creative coding. The conference will also cover new CSS features, accessibility and performance, best practices in JavaScript development, adding and measuring delight in your designs, and more. Get your ticket today!