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From a confused idiot who only knows how to install plugins

I was once called that. It wasn’t fair and it wasn’t true but I have come a long way since that happened.

I started using WordPress nearly 11 years ago. I was writing for OpenFile, a digital news publication and they insisted everyone have a blog. I created one on WordPress.com.

That blog has never been any sort of niche blog but it introduced me to WordPress.

In 2019 I took a course with Skillcrush called the WordPress Developer Blueprint, where I learned how to code WordPress themes from scratch with PHP and Advanced Custom Fields. Not long after, the WordPress Gutenberg block editor project started to take off.

So everything I learned at Skillcrush is still relevant but now WordPress themes are built differently. A WordPress course on Udemy I started in 2020 has had so many changes I have no idea which code to use to finish the PHP version of the course. I’m going to find my own solution but it’s nuts. I’ve taken a mini-workshop in Full Site Editing and I’m working on Frank Klein’s full site editing course.

What I hate and love about learning to develop with WordPress

What I hate

Because I’m older than people expect I get a lot of do you even know how to do…. questions from the folks I call Developer s with a capital D(in some instances, the D could stand for something else). People are surprised to discover I know what a command line is and I’m familiar with React JS and NPM, that I know what JSON is, that I know how to write PHP hooks, that I know anything at all. I am tired of trying to prove myself all the time. I would like to enjoy learning. I call myself a developer because I can build a theme from scratch and I know how to build a plugin and I have built block editor blocks.

I am not a WordPress developer if your definition is someone who solves functionality and who builds plugins from scratch. I can troubleshoot plugins and solve problems but I am not at the build functionality from scratch level of the developer/engineer folks I’ve met. I am not a PHP developer. I use PHP and I can debug it. I am still learning.

Other developers don’t view WordPress development as real front end development.

I have built sites in HTML and CSS and thinking of my basic experiences with React JS, WordPress is in some ways harder than building in pure React JS and building anything in HTML and CSS. What makes it harder are all the things you have to know about. The environment can have issues. You have to know how to keep a WordPress site safe and secure, you have to be familiar with databases and caching. You have to know how to do things in both PHP and JavaScript and being familiar with the REST-API helps too. Knowing basic SEO is important. I have worked on sites built in WordPress by developers who don’t know WordPress and I have cleaned up their mistakes. Knowing how to do things properly in WordPress is worth something but for whatever reason, it’s devalued.

The nonprofit clients I’ve worked with have staff who are non-technical so my goal is to build sites they can easily maintain. On the surface, it looks like I don’t know how to code because I’ve built sites with GeneratePress Premium and Elementor or used the Kadence Pro Theme and Blocks. People don’t always notice the custom CSS or the child themes or anything else I’ve done to make a site custom or improve its functionality. I’ve seen ACF criticized by people who believe you should only use native, core WordPress blocks in themes. I understand that WordPress is open source. But when you have a client on a tight budget or no budget you will probably deliver a souped-up IKEA bookcase rather than a bespoke custom-built by a carpenter bookcase. It makes no sense to give people websites they and their volunteers will have trouble maintaining, sites where you have to call a developer whenever you have a problem. Even when I have made things as easy as possible, WordPress can be technical.

I find the WordPress community is friendly to beginners but once you reach the intermediate level you get the feeling that you’re on your own. It’s too bad new people are viewed as a threat by some. It’s not like people are fighting to work for low income clients so I don’t understand the hostility I’ve encountered from some folks. I’ve met a lot of amazing people in the WordPress community but on the developer side, I find people are friendlier in other developer communities. Of course in other developer communities, there are hot-shot developers who started coding as teenagers in their parents’ basements but when I was learning React I found people were more encouraging. I haven’t always had that experience with WordPress.

WordPress documentation can be terrible and it’s hard to keep up or even know what is going on. Over a year ago I followed recommendations to declare colours in functions.php. Those colours don’t work now that everything is declared in JSON. It’s exciting but annoying when things keep changing all the time.

What I love about WordPress

It’s an open source project with a worldwide community behind it

Check out a WordPress group or attend a WordCamp conference and you’ll see that the community has all sorts of people in it, young and old from all walks of life. There are corporate types, startups and big digital agencies but also mom-and-pop shops, people from small towns. You can travel the world attending WordPress conferences.

There are so many interesting people. Many are self-learners, self-taught, creative, DIY folks.

I have met kind, cool and intelligent people thanks to WordPress. I belong to a number of Facebook groups, Meetup groups and follow people on Twitter. There are so many helpful people. I feel thankful to have made their acquaintance.

There are so many possibilities.

WordPress is evolving. It’s not the blog platform people perceive it to be