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Is It Time to Put the Days of the Wild West Behind Us?

There’s no doubt that WordPress as a platform, and the community around it, is maturing.

This year we witnessed its 10th birthday. One of the amazing things about it was to see all of the photos of people celebrating at meetups and other gatherings from all corners of the globe. For me, it really did bring to the fore the fact that we are part of a global community.

30,000 people completed the annual survey. WordPress powers nearly 20% of the web. You’ve seen these statistics already from this year’s State of the World. My point? It’s big!

And it’s only getting bigger. I believe it’s time for WordPress—as a platform and community—to start doing things that reflect its status in the digital world.

Get Certified!

It’s time for us to start a debate about certification. Then we can start taking the steps toward doing something about it. Take a look around at some of the other tools and platforms that many of us use:

• Google Analytics
• Google Adwords
• Salesforce
• Microsoft Office

All of these platforms offer certification. And here’s what I think is the important part: the certification is administered by the company that’s behind the product.

Sure, I could start up a business around certifying a WordPress developer or an end user…but many in the community would not take that seriously. “Who’s this guy?” “Where is Australia anyway?”

I believe that the way to make WordPress certification legitimate in the eyes of the community is for it to be done by Automattic, or at least an organization set up by Automattic specifically to do the job.

Why Do I Think This is So Important?

I am one of the founders of a WordPress agency in Sydney. I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve sat through this phone call:

Caller: “I really need your help, I’ve had a developer start to build my site and it just all gone wrong.”

Me: “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. Who was it that’s been working on it?”

Caller: “A friend of my sister. He’s said he could do it and it would only cost $500 so it sounded like a good deal.”

I know I’m not unique. Matt Medeiros from Matt Report talks about this all the time. One of his points is that service providers should represent themselves correctly… “Don’t say you’re a designer if that’s not the case.”

Think about it like this: If you go to get your car serviced, you don’t give it to some guy who likes to play around with cars. You go to a mechanic’s workshop because you know that he’s qualified at what the sign says on the door.

So why should we, WordPress professionals, be any different?

It’s Not Just About Developers

While certifying a developer is the obvious place to start, I don’t think it’s the only focus.

In the list of services above, the last one, Microsoft Office, is there for a reason. Anyone can put on their résumé that they are a Microsoft Office guru but it looks so much better if you demonstrate that you’re a certified user of the tools.

Until I was doing a bit of research for this post I had no idea that it was even available. If I was interviewing candidates for a job and MS Office was a tool that I wanted the user to be skilled at, the fact that they’re certified would make a big difference. What’s more, it would demonstrate to me that they are motivated to go out and get that certification to develop their own skills.

I am often looking for WordPress skilled people (not just developers) and would be very happy to be able to sort people by the fact that they have or have not completed some sort of  recognized WordPress certification.

So What Do You Think?

I’d love to see this topic gets some focus. Then, as a community, we can do something about it. So why not start the debate right here!

• What are your thoughts on certification?
• Would you do it?
• Do you agree that something done by Automattic would be the right thing?

Please let us know what you think about these questions in the comments section below!

petershillingYou can find Peter Shilling on Twitter @PShilling.
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  • beardedavenger

    Here’s the issue I could end up seeing play out with “certification.” I spent a decade as a vet tech. After the first 4-5 years I was a pretty legit tech who was teaching other newbie techs. We’d have some hot shots come in from “vet college” with “certificates” and when the time came for them to do their job, they choked.

    A certificate won’t mean much if you don’t have real world experience.

    I think if anything, we should use a new term for this like “approved” or “trusted” partner.

    • Jeffro

      If we go the route of approved or Trusted partner, isn’t Automattic sort of already doing that already with their VIP partnership program?

      • beardedavenger

        good point. i almost wonder if a community curated version would hold more merit in that case.

        • Jeffro

          I think it’s also worth noting that WordPress is finding its way into academic college courses such as this one by Lorelle VanFossen at Clark College in Vancouver, Washington http://lorelle.wordpress.com/2011/12/05/wordpress-credit-course-at-clark-college-in-vancouver-washington/ However, WordPress is not a stand alone course that you receive a degree in at any college. It’s usually part of a larger course or as an elective class.

          I wonder about liability. Would Automattic as a company be willing to stand behind individuals that take the course? Also, what if people took the course, graduated, received a certificate and then continued to perform bad practices. It wouldn’t make Automattic look good.

          • http://thedma.com.au/ Peter Shilling

            Jeffro, I don’t think liability would be a big issue….

            If you have a law degree the university that gave it to you is not responsible if you make a mistake in your career.

            I would think the same situations applies here?

            All the organisation is stating is that person or company X met these standards…

  • Alvaro Gois Santos

    I tottally disagree on this idea. Sorry, I’m in favour of certification, since it may give an extra credit to processes and know-how. But I don’t understand why should Automattic be the certifier. WordPress is not Automattic, Automattic is not WordPress. Asking Automattic to certify WordPress professionals is the same as asking Automattic to take WordPress as their own. It’s hard enough as it is to explain to people that WordPress is a community not a company. You probably know a lot of people who calls WordPress “The WordPress”, as if it was a company like Adobe or Microsoft. The only certification that could be reliable and benign to WordPress itself would have to be given by the WordPress Community, a community of piers. Probably more than one. Probably a reunion of respected members of the community, known by their mastery of WordPress development, hardcore stuff, solid and established teams or companys, backgrounds and history.

  • justintadlock

    What are your thoughts on certification?

    I love the wild west we have. I would’ve never landed my first job as a developer if I had to be certified first. I would’ve taken a completely different career path.

    Certification only proves that you passed some course or set of courses. It says nothing about whether you can perform a job. OJT is more valuable to me than a certificate in the case of Web design/dev.

    Would you do it?

    Probably not. I’m certified by my work and experience in the field. I don’t need anyone else to tell me that.

    Do you agree that something done by Automattic would be the right thing?

    If you want to be in some sort of partnership with Automattic, sure. For the WordPress community, no.

  • http://341design.com.au Chris Howard

    Certainly opened the debate, Peter!

    Your scenario is always going to happen tho. Certification won’t do anything to stop it. These are clients looking for the cheapest deal and who don’t understand the value of a website. Until they get burnt, “professional” means nothing to them.

    And by its very nature, certification will mean the developer is more expensive to hire. You caller is going to be scared off by that. “I don’t need some guru who’s going to charge the earth, I’ve only got $500.”

    Where does certification fit in then?

    Certification is something looked for by either employers or corporate tenders.

    The majority of employers in the WP industry tend to be agencies such as yours, who certainly don’t need certification as a means to prove the validity of a potential hire.

    And the corporate tender will probably go to the agency not the one man shop anyways.

    I’m not overly a fan of skills certification. Any Joe Blow can get it.

    Design and development is like art. And an artist uses a portfolio to prove their cred.

    Some potential clients probably like to read “All our WP experts have WP certification” but that’s all it is, just words to paint a pretty picture.

    However, all that said, I like the nucleus of the idea.

    Certification, trusted partners, authorised, approved, QA etc are just corporate buzzwords that can isolate smaller players.

    What can we come up with that would enable that extra level of cred, without sounding or being corporatised and that won’t isolate the genuine little guy trying to get in the door?

    We come from a land of things like GPL and OSS, which are about community. Is there anything out there that already has their spirit? Would some sort of peer review system work (without being rortable)?

    What’s more, if it is a community thing, it can become a place of learning and teaching as well. With “experts” passing on knowledge.

    I’m a developer/designer, and I know, no better than average – if that. I’d love to have somewhere like that to go to learn, and that also gave my work a tick of approval (once deserved!).

    And maybe individual plugins and themes could be certified – again by peer review.

    If it already exists, please tell me where!!

    • Paul Barthmaier

      I’m against any certification that isn’t community-driven. The Microsoft and Salesforce certifications are largely about money and control, which are at odds with innovation. The beauty of WordPress is the flexibility and ease of entry. Certification can function as a shortcut to someone’s due diligence, but at what cost?

  • http://www.rhyswynne.co.uk/ Rhys

    I come from an SEO background. There is a fair amount of certification (especially Google Adwords/Analytics) in our field, and generally speaking they are quite straightforward. I’ve never taken the exams, and it hasn’t affected me SEO Consultancy work in the slightest.

    In fact, many industry insiders think that it’s detrimental to the SEO Community. As it’s the sort of awards snake oil salesmen use to fake expertise.

    It’s like driving. You only start learning when you passed your test.

  • callmeisaac

    I think it would be great idea to certify blogs about WordPress. Where’s your piece of paper, Torque? Mr Commissar wants to know. Otherwise it’s a one way train to Siberia for the whole staff.

  • http://www.phasecreative.com.au/ Cath Beaton

    It’s an interesting call Pete, but I’m not sure it would be a best fit for everyone. It would certainly podium the developers, but what about us inbetweeners? I say this as you know me, and you know my skill set and you also know that I’m clearly conscious of my own limitations, but am solutions and aesthetic focused so will call in the big guns when and if necessary. Those of us who function as a consultant, who manage our own clients and offer them a service may have to justify our existence as an expert where previously how skill set would be validated by the work we provide.

    Not trying to discredit this debate, just thinking that as someone who would surely not get certified, would I have to work harder to prove to my clients that I’m worthy of their business?

    Food for thought.


    • http://thedma.com.au/ Peter Shilling

      Hi Cath!

      Sure the discussion going on here is all about developers; when I was thinking about this it certainly was not all about developers.

      I specificaly included MS Office as an example, end users of WordPress, clients of yours and mine could benefit from some kind of basic skills accreditation too.

      When you launch a site and a client wants to learn about WordPress wouldn’t it be good to be able to send them to a WordPress community backed style accreditation?

      • http://www.phasecreative.com.au/ Cath Beaton

        Interesting concept Peter, I’d happily jump in line to become a WordPress certified user trainer! I’ll keep and eye on this thread to see what else washes up. Congrats on the Torque post btw.

  • http://hacktext.com/ AramZS

    Certification is mostly BS, including those listed. Beyond that the big difference with WP is that it is an open system. If you’re good at it your work should be on display with open source code. People can judge your quality based on that.