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Why I chose Codepen Pro over Copilot

Published: 2023-09-18
Updated: 2023-09-18

$10 a month. I’d say the cost of a cup of coffee per day … but more like 1/10th of the cost of Venti Caffe Mocha per day. (And yes, I had to look that up)

The Thought Process

Note: Please see full disclaimer at end of this post regarding content. The TLDR: Everything here is my opinion, I try to be as accurate as possible but I am a human, I make mistakes - please do not use this information as a sole source in making business decisions, or any decisions really. Thanks.

It is nearly impossible to listen to a web dev podcast right now and not hear about “AI”. In the podcasts I listen to those talks inevitable lead to talking about Github’s Copilot product. Github graciously offers a free trial, as of the time of this writing they offer a 30-day free trial, and after hearing both good and bad feedback about the product (mostly good) I decided to give it a go. At the end of the trial, I decided to go a different route.

My environment

Some context regarding my experiences

I work as a full-time developer for a government agency. I have been developing professionally for a little less than a year now, and as a hobby and on the side for about 4 years now. At work I primarily work in PHP, MySQL and SQL as well as dabble in AWS Lambda written using Python. Outside of work I am a big believer in the fundamentals of web development and using HTML, CSS, and JavaScript to accomplish my goals.

I have also recently become a HUGE fan of AstroJS. Not 100% relevant here maybe - but anytime I can talk good about AstroJS I am going to.

Due to nature of the department where I work I am often working on several projects at once and, at times, have to swap out my JavaScript brain for my Python brain and then put on my PHP shorts for a swim. Therefore, the thought of having “my little coding buddy” that lived in my VSCode was appealing to me.

My experience with Copilot

In a nutshell, Copilot is awesome! I could write a comment like:

//Function to evaluate user input that uses Regex
to ensure it matches the correct format

and then wait a few seconds and am presented with this:

    function  isValidSSN(ssn) {
        var pattern = /^d{3}-d{2}-d{4}$/;
        return pattern.test(email);

That’s pretty cool. Especially given how much I dislike writing Regex because admittedly I just don’t know them well enough to enjoy it. (By the way I didn’t use the code above and have no clue if it is correct - just saying). Now I could just as easily gotten this from Stack Overflow, GeeksforGeeks, or a handful of other sites, but this is happening in my little VS Code world and I don’t need to open a browser window to do it. I don’t need to sift through several posts and read a bunch of comments about “better” ways to do it .. which for me can be real time killer. Once I start clicking on links to “learn more” … well let’s just say I can lose half a day that way.

I also really enjoy the feeling that the code suggestion is created for me specifically. All mine to use until I decide to share it with the world.

Then I started to notice that when I stopped to think, or scratch my leg, or take a sip if coffee - that depending on where my cursor was Copilot would take that pause as an indication that it was time to suggest code. So, where I may have typed

    async function getOrdersByDepartment(dep, status) {


and then stopped to scratch my nose Copilot might suggest 15-20 lines of code, based on previous functions in the code base I think, that were totally wrong and not relevant to what I was doing. And that’s okay, I am not perfect so I cannot expect it to be perfect - unless I hit tab or enter in error and inserted the code I did not want it’s no harm done. And if I hit the wrong key, well that is on me. I did, however, find it to be a little disorienting and very distracting. I found myself disabling Copilot when I needed to really think through how to approach something. Which is kind of the opposite of what I wanted from my Little Coding Buddy.

I will say if I was doing something repetitive, such as looping over an array and returning each value how and where I needed it, Copilot was great at suggesting exactly what I needed. It was essentially “autocomplete” for stuff I knew - but was just a pain to type out. What I was expecting was something more akin this scenario:

I am looping over an array and returning line after line of

html += '<td>' + data[i].id + '</td>';

and my little coding buddy would pop up (like Clippy maybe from Office) and say “Hey Jon! You’re doing great work! And have you lost weight?… looking good - but also if you just did a .map function over that array you could produce more performant code in 35 less lines of code. Something like that.

I then started to notice that when Copliot was active I started to feel pressured to not stop typing to avoid the code suggestions from popping up. I was literally racing my coding environment and would even feel my pulse increase a bit… kind of a weird side effect I guess - but there it is.

Overall, I will say when the code suggestions were relevant to what I was doing, they were spot on and I can absolutely say that I was able to code faster overall. I further suspect that if our codebase used React or Vue or any kind of framework versus bespoke functions I would probably have seen a lot more value at that start.

So how did CodePen come into this?

Like most of devAmerica I listen to the Shop Talk Show regularly and I am a fan of both Dave Rupert and Chris Coyier. I have also used CodePen on a free account for several years.

I will acknowledge that CodePen and Copilot are two different products, and it might seem odd to be comparing the two - but the commonality for me is that my budget only allows for one of them to get my money each month.

What factors I weighed

While out for a run one day my mind wandered as it is prone to do during the two hours I am out and about. I starting thinking about Copilot and what I liked and what I didn’t like. Copilot, for me, was good at auto completing lines of code for me - but did not alter the way I wrote code and does not improve what I was writing. Due to the nature of the product, I suppose it was good at giving me code that I or someone else wrote, or a variation thereof that matched more or less what I was doing. And that is okay, let’s be honest, I am not creating anything that hasn’t already been done in some way. I’m not changing the coding landscape here - I am turning letters, numbers, and symbols into text and pictures in a browser. (And having a damn good time doing it) But overall, the value Copilot brought was just me typing less - but producing essentially the same product as before.

When I am stuck on something, or I have an idea in my head that is not fully matured, or I have a concept, but I am not 100% sure where it needs to go - I head straight to CodePen and look for ideas. And yes, I have lost half a day browsing through pens and seeing all the amazing ways other people have solved a similar issue … and probably 20 other cools things as well … I always find the creativity inspiring. And that, at the end of the day, was the deciding factor for me.

While Copilot could give me code, it never sparked any ideas. It could suggest ways to accomplish what I thought I wanted - but on many an occasion, CodePen has taken a spark of an idea and ignited it into a full-fledged feature.

💬 CodePen is where I go to get inspired.

- Me

Oh, one more thing, and this like all of this post is just my opinion, but if I am going to give money to a company and thereby publicly support them.. CodePen is what, 10-15 people? Maybe more, maybe less - I really don’t know and Microsoft has 7,500 + employees? 10,000? I am just saying I think my $10 would go further supporting a smaller developer owned business than a big ‘ol Microsoft. Not that either company is going to succeed or fail from my $10 a month mind you - but I feel better about supporting a small business.