Since I’ve started my analytical research on the community, including the client’s side earlier this month, I’ve had plenty of examples within the broad community (all people building WordPress websites) for things that are quite alerting.
Problems in Our Ecosystem
Some of the encounters include:
- Contractors taking on assignments that they are obviously not capable of solving
- Web design companies asking for their website to be built by an external company
- WordPress service providers asking me for WordPress work when they found out that they aren’t capable of moving a site
- People labeling themselves as developers, even though they touch no code whatsoever; well, maybe some CSS on the way
- Various pieces of advice following Nike’s motto or other relevant comments including: “Sign that, then figure it out – there are plenty of WordPress groups with people who will help you deliver this project”
The last one is incredibly common, and people seem to be welcoming that sort of behavior.
A while back – when forums were the “real thing” – there was a general moderation policy not to help students with their homework assignments as this was a form of cheating. Yet, now we help people with no experience to build entire solutions from scratch – not for themselves. And I’m not talking about giving a quick tip about a few lines of CSS for a specific problem, but helping them pick the right set of plugins, configure them, help them when something doesn’t work, make them look beautiful and answer every additional question they post when the client sends some feedback.
The Skills Discussion
I see that kind of examples everywhere. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Quora, some closed (premium) forums and groups that I’ve joined, local meetups and my own courses, too.
Facebook was the host of an intense discussion on Saturday (which was deleted a bit later due to the volume of nonsense) that started with:
What is a WordPress Developer?
Someone who installs WP, Themes, and configures plugins?
Or someone who codes custom WP solutions?
Most of the thread happened in a specialized group with a majority of community people, but still there were suggestions that a developer is pretty much someone installing plugins. And I find that oddly concerning for two reasons:
- It’s completely incorrect and presents the false idea to a client, and
- The real experts cannot be found when needed due to the hundreds of thousands of people misrepresenting their skills
Chris and Tom both blogged about the difference between the different groups of skills, yet represented in a different manner. Chris also goes on to the topic of the evolution, where new technologies arise that make it much easier to build end solutions. People from different generations have a different perspective on the level of experience and the quality of each product, but it’s a common evolutionary problem as well.
Let’s quickly list some of the popular terms that are applicable while building a WordPress website:
A designer is usually busy with the creative part of a business – creating a mockup of the site, then building a PSD with the landing page and all of the internal pages as well. They specialize in color theory, usability, fonts and other aspects of the visual representation of a website. Later on, they can help with additional landing pages, promotions or other creative campaigns for a client with heavy focus on the visuals.
A backend developer in the WordPress context is someone responsible for the operations part behind the scenes of the technological stack. They build custom plugins, extend existing ones, deal with user management, capabilities, connecting 3rd party APIs, design the database models. They dig into PHP, SQL, and other languages if needed related to storing the data in persistent layers, and presenting the right portion of it depending on the user-driven queries.
Now, that’s a title that is a bit more broad, but the main idea is that an engineer sees the bigger picture and he can deal with the most complicated components. They can specialize in performance tuning or security, denormalize the database if needed, implement the right toolkit for the given scenario.
Think about it this way. A software engineer knows more than a regular developer and is also experienced in other vertical such as: database management, networks, plenty of APIs and libraries. They rely on the concepts of software development that is language agnostic – OOP, design patterns, algorithms, data structures, security, performance – which share common ideas across different languages and platforms. A good engineer can take the next level to a Software Architect, which would result in building the architecture for a large project, vetting the right APIs, and planning for the future development of the system.
As Wikipedia says, a Consultant is:
A consultant (from Latin: consultare “to discuss”) is a professional who provides professional or expert advice in a particular area such as security (electronic or physical), management, accountancy, law, human resources, marketing (and public relations), finance, engineering, science or any of many other specialized fields.
The overall impact of a consultant is that clients have access to deeper levels of expertise than would be feasible for them to retain in-house, and may purchase only as much service from the outside consultant as desired.
Consultants are fast and efficient in their field, and they can assess a business situation and provide the best possible solution given the use case. They know enough about the ecosystem so that they could propose a plan tailored to the specific customer without affecting the work for any of the internal teams. A WordPress Consultant can work together with the software engineers and plan the right architecture, and advise on the right path – using the proper tools, server setup and more. A Technical WordPress Consultant can conduct code reviews and improve the process with time, working closely with both the technical team, and the management staff.
Still, Skills Are Complicated
While this was a rough definition of the skills related to the WordPress development process, they are not set in stone. Companies look for different talent, assign titles based on the work that needs to be done, and these could vary a lot. You can see a backend developer spending most time writing HTML/CSS or a consultant who helps with the customer management. But it either means that the employee has been hired with the wrong job description, or he/she is inefficient since that’s not their core competency.
However, some skills can merge. You can find a backend WordPress developer who’s extremely handy with HTML5 and CSS3. A designer can learn to convert PSDs into static WordPress themes. A WordPress developer can be on his way to an Engineer, or an Architect. Just as with everyone, none of us is a 100% extrovert or introvert, and nothing around us is completely black or white.
There Are Other Jobs Here
Also, this is the list of the most popular job titles working on a WordPress project from the technical side. Keep in mind that there are plenty of other divisions in a company, such as:
- Support, QA or Customer Relationship for testing the product, dealing with small changes, working with customers and the dev team
- Team leaders, Project managers and CXOs – the management personnel dealing with operations, the bigger picture, planning and the team management
- System administrators, Network engineers, DevOps – people digging into the network architecture, server management, scalability on the server side and the toolkit for automation
- Marketing, Sales, Copywriting – the promotional part of a business dealing with popularizing a product/service, creating content and dealing with the customer acquisition process
The list goes on, but that’s the second-level tier of people working closely with WordPress programmers on a WordPress project.
Different Level of Experience
One of the problems with WordPress and the job titles is that it’s hard to assess the different level of experience. A small design agency could label someone who can create post types a “Technical Guru”, while Automattic could hire as a junior someone with 4 years of industrial experience building extensive plugins and multisite platforms.
This is one of the challenges with the job definitions, especially given the vast majority of freelancers and small agencies with no prior experience in any technical industry. That non-educated title guess or lack of industry/market experience can be misleading for both parties.
Superior and General Titles
The problem with a number of general titles is that they are overused and it is no longer clear what’s the real meaning and level of expertise.
Moreover, they are so general that it’s easy to be fooled into misusing them, seeing how many people just tag themselves in those categories.
How many WordPress Specialists have you seen online, or at conferences? I’ve seen dozens, if not hundreds of them. However, Mike Little, the co-founder of WordPress, is labeling himself as a WordPress Specialist.
Here’s the thing – we all know that Mike Little knows a ton about WordPress, since the platform wouldn’t have been created if it wasn’t for him and Matt Mullenweg. But people with vague understanding of WordPress, or just specializing in installing WordPress plus downloading a theme, are also WordPress Specialists.
The same goes for WordPress Expert.
What is an expert anyway? Proficient in installing 10 plugins in 5 minutes? Expert in writing WordPress posts with 500 words per minute? Or someone with 50+ plugins managing a website with 10 million unique visitors a month?
I have been consulting businesses on various technical topics for several years now. And I’ve met a few WordPress Consultants who “advise” people on installing WordPress or help them change the color of their button. It’s an overused term that’s poorly defined and misleading as much as the others.
It’s a similar thing with a WordPress Trainer, too – there are people teaching plugin development, working with Continuous Integration and Unit Testing, and others who coach people on installing WordPress and customizing themes. I do however support the Trainer title since all of the trainers are transparent with their experience and training programs which conveys trust and openness in the industry.
The New Title: Installer/Customizer/Implementer
In reality, WordPress and its famous 5-minute install makes it trivial for almost everyone to setup a WordPress website. Which is great for people starting with WordPress who would like to improve their skills, learn more and get better in what they do.
However, that seems so easy to them that they start offering services. Which is still okay if they help friends and family with small websites to start with, as long as they are open about it – they have to learn somehow, right?
I’ve interviewed over a thousand WordPress “experts” over the past 3-4 years and the majority of them have built a website or two and apply for jobs clearly stating “plugin development experience”, with requirements such as GitHub profiles for reference.
That’s why Tom mentioned the “WordPress Implementer” job title in his post. I think it’s fair to offer “WordPress Implementation” services for small clients and friends/family who need a simple blog or a 5-page business website to start with. Based on a discussion last week, a similar title may be “WordPress Customizer“, or “WordPress Installer” or even a “WordPress Administrator” for various tasks. They all clearly state what’s the type of work that will be done – installing WordPress, a few plugins and a theme, and potentially changing a few bits (options or a line of CSS here and there).
There is also nothing wrong with people eager to learn – and they have to start somewhere. The motivated ones can become WordPress Developers and then move up the ladder, but for the hundreds of thousands of people simply offering installations a better suited term should be used. The other alternative is having a “WordPress Person” title for every single human offering WordPress services. And we know that we are all using the WordPress Core, the large collection of themes and plugins and products by 3rd party authors offering development services, so having a clear outline is essential for their work and ability to afford to contribute back to WordPress in the long run.