23% of the internet? That can’t be right. That’s gotta be millions of websites. How come I have never heard of it then? She must be lying. Nothing can be that important and slip me by completely. This WordPress thingy must be more like a hobby. That can’t be a real job.
For those who have no idea what WordPress is, being a WordPress developer must sound like a made-up job. Web designer, yes. They can sort of understand that. After all, websites have to come from somewhere, right? But WordPress developer, on the other hand, most people have never heard of it. However, as many who frequent this website can attest, it is indeed a very legitimate way of earning a living.
The emergence and growth of WordPress has offered opportunities for thousands. The number of people make a living tinkering with WordPress sites is growing as steadily as the platform’s usage on the web. But what does it take to be a WordPress developer? What competencies do you have to possess to make a living working with one of the biggest content management platforms on the internet?
Whether you just discovered WordPress and want to join the ranks of those who built a career around it, or if you already are a developer looking to grow as a professional, here’s a list of skills no WordPress developer should do without.
1. Technical Competence
No matter what you are doing in life, no matter which job you make a living off, you will have to “own your art.” A photographer needs to know image composition, a writer needs to be able to throw together captivating headlines (“Attention WordPress developers: Are your clients trying to kill you?”), and a chef has to be able to make more than mac ‘n’ cheese from the box.
As a developer, owning your art comes down to picking your favorite acronym: HTML, CSS, PHP, JS, maybe some MySQL. Which language you emphasize depends on what you are doing, however, your technical skills build the foundation of everything you do. They are the price of admission. Make sure you know your stuff and that you continuously hone your skills.
2. A Learning/Growth Mindset
Stagnation is not an option for developers. By definition, the area we are operating in is one of frequent and continuous change. Just like the versions of WordPress are steadily moving forward, so does the environment in which the platform exists. It is our job to keep up with it. For example:
- Design – What does modern web design look like? Are blinking website elements still as cool as they were during the heyday of Myspace? Is responsive design really necessary?
- Technology – The adoption of CSS3 and HTML5 makes things possible that weren’t a few years ago, which is awesome! At the same time, however, the lack of universal support has to be taken into account during development.
- Security – The wide adoption of WordPress for building websites also means that more and more people target those site with malicious intent (scoundrels!). An awareness of security concerns is therefore crucial.
One requirement of being a WordPress developer is to be an eternal student. We need to be both aware of the status quo, as well as future developments. Add to that an eagerness to learn and the ability to teach yourself new skills, and you are looking at a bright future.
3. Focus and Self-Motivation
While working with WordPress as a professional requires you to continuously push your abilities, it is also important to know that you will never know everything. From plugins to themes, from front-end design to eCommerce — WordPress offers a wide range of fields, which require different kinds of specialized knowledge.
It’s definitely a good idea to possess skills in many different areas, and to be able to figure out whatever is needed for any given project, but most people are probably well-advised to go narrow in their skills, services, the industry they work in, and the clients they work with. Of course, the ability to focus is also important in everyday work life, to eliminate distractions and in order to get work done. Chronic procrastinators will have a hard time finishing their work and juggling the many aspects that make up being a WordPress developer.
In addition, the open source nature of WordPress has opened the door for many freelancers and entrepreneurs. It’s probably safe to say that a large number of those working with the platform do not necessarily work the typical nine-to-five. Without a boss to hold them accountable, it is up to every person themselves to stay on top of their game and self-administer kicks in the butt when necessary.
4. Solid Planning Skills
WordPress attracts a lot of people who are artistic in nature. The realm of the creative worker is the chaos that comes with the making of something from nothing. However, while passion and enthusiasm is to be admired (and is definitely a prerequisite), when trying to elevate your craft from hobby to occupation, a lack of planning can become a serious problem.
Working with customers and getting your work done on time requires serious planning skills. Besides setting and outlining goals — both big and small — this includes breaking down tasks into their components, setting priorities as well as creating and adhering to deadlines.
5. Basic Marketing
For a lot of creatives, marketing has negative connotations. It is often shunned as the area of sneaky snake oil salesmen who try to trick people into paying for things they don’t want. However, marketing is just the ability to present yourself and your services to those who need them and who are thankful for the offer.
It is about knowing who your customers are, what they want and how to communicate with them in a way that they understand and appreciate. If you are working with clients and especially if you are planning to sell plugins and/or themes, basic knowledge in this area is an asset that is definitely worth cultivating.
A good developer with great marketing skills will almost always do better than a great developer with good marketing skills. But don’t worry, marketing is a skill which can be honed just like programming knowledge. To learn more, check out last week’s article on marketing advice for developers.
6. Customer Service
And since we are already talking about effective communication: Offering exceptional customer service is just as crucial a skill as marketing. It can truly make or break your success as a developer. We’ve all been in the situation where we’re stuck with a project on a deadline because some plugin was throwing an issue and there was no answer from its developer, so we were left scouring forums for hours to find a solution.
Anyone who has had this experience will make sure to stay away from that particular product the next time. Offering a way for people to contact you, communicating clearly with customers, presenting your ideas, asking the right questions, providing solutions to their problems, and having a good refund policy all feed into a great customer experience. If your clients feel like they’re in good hands, they will most likely come back.
Plus, word spreads fast on the internet, and potential buyers can be quickly turned off by a few bad reviews or rants.
Side note: Customer service does not mean being nice to everyone all the time and smiling and nodding to every request, however unreasonable it may be. Sometimes the best service you can give to someone is to turn them away.
7. Testing and Receiving Feedback
Legend has it that Steve Jobs, albeit he didn’t believe in customer research, was in the habit of asking a lot of people for their opinions during product development. Allegedly, he went so far as to show prototypes of devices to his neighbors and ask them what they thought of it. This provided him with much-needed feedback and insight. Whether that legend is true or not, thoroughly testing everything you ship is an important skill for any WordPress developer.
If you’re going to write code, you must be prepared to make sure it works across different browsers and operating systems. It’s easy to concentrate on you own personal setup and ignore the rest, but that doesn’t make it right. The same is true if you’re developing themes and plugins. Ask others for feedback to avoid succumbing to development “tunnel vision.”
At the same time be prepared to deal with negative feedback you receive. It is easy to let your ego get in the way but it is seldom helpful.
This is a tough one for many, especially solopreneurs (myself included). As creatives, we often want to control the entire process and many of us subscribe to the belief “if you want something done right, you gotta do it yourself.” However, as a developer, you are more than a code monkey and designer. You need to act as your customer service rep and executive assistant, keep track of expenses and billing, function as a one-man marketing department, and wear a lot of different hats over the course of a single day.
There will come a point in time when operating this way is no longer scalable and you become the bottle neck that keeps your business from growing. That’s when delegation becomes necessary.
You are better off spending your time on the things you do best, rather than on matters that could be taken care of by someone else quicker and without any extra hassle for you.
Arriving at this point should be viewed as a win, as it means you are moving forward. However, effectively leading a team, outsourcing tasks, working with an assistant, and any other type of delegation, is a skill that needs to be learned first.
9. Knowing When to Move On
A project that is not working out is a little bit like a relationship that has gone sour beyond reconciliation. You still know why you got into it, and you still have an idea in your mind of what could have been, but at some point you have to admit to yourself that it’s not meant to be and move on.
For every person that remains in an unhappy relationship, there is a developer who continues to put his valuable time into a dead project. Knowing when to move on, and when to put your resources into something more promising, is a crucial skill for developers to learn.
10. Loving What You Do
I’m a firm believer in doing what makes you happy. Very few people excel in things they hate. Enthusiasm and vision are great driving forces of creative endeavors. While the world can’t always be puppies and rainbows, and at times even the most fun job can feel like drudgery, it is important to retain an awareness of why you are doing what you are doing.
Whether you love the creative process, enjoy working with clients, or just want to give back to the WordPress community — know what you are in the game for. If you can’t stand writing another line of code, or if you dread every working day and curse Matt Mullenweg forever attempting to write a convenient blogging platform, it is either time to reexamine your reasons to be in WordPress development or find some other occupation (see also 9).
What do you consider essential skills for WordPress developers? Do you agree or disagree with the list above? Any additions? Let us know in the comments!