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Are WordPress Developers Real Developers?

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Press the Issue
Are WordPress Developers Real Developers?
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Are WordPress developers real developers? Your initial response may be… well of course they are. But this isn’t the universal opinion. Rob Howard and Nyasha Green want to get to the bottom of where this assumption comes form, and exactly why it’s false.

Check out the original article here: https://masterwp.com/are-wordpress-developers-real-developers/

This podcast was sponsored by LearnDash. Your expertise makes you money doing what you do. Now let it make you money teaching what you do. Create a course with LearnDash. Visit LearnDash.com.

Press the Issue is a production of MasterWP. It was produced by Allie Nimmons. It was hosted and edited by Monet Davenport and mixed and mastered by Teron Bullock. Please visit masterwp.com/presstheissue to find more episodes. Subscribe to our newsletter for more WordPress news at masterwp.com.

Episode Transcript:

Monet Davenport:
Welcome to Press the Issue, a podcast for Master WP, your source for industry insights for WordPress professionals. Get show notes, transcripts, and more information about the show at masterwp.com/presstheissue. Are WordPress developers real developers? Your initial response may be, “Well, of course they are,” but this isn’t the universal opinion. Rob Howard and Nyasha Green want to get to the bottom of where this assumption comes from and exactly why it’s false.

Rob Howard:
Hi, Nyasha how’s it going?

Nyasha Green:
Hey, Rob, it’s going well.

Rob Howard:
Excellent. Well, today we’re going to talk about an article you wrote a few weeks back about the fact that in the web development industry, WordPress developers are often perceived as quote, “Not real developers.” Can you tell me about how this came up for you and kind of how you were inspired to write about this?

Nyasha Green:
Yes, so this is a conversation that’s actually really recurring that I see on Twitter. A lot of developer outside of the WordPress community, they always take jabs, not always, but they take jabs from time to time on WordPress developers, if we really do truly develop, if we really do truly code, if we are worthy of the money we make, and things like that. It actually was something when I was first getting into tech that came up as well and it did play a part, a small role, in what I thought about WordPress when I was first learning. But luckily for me, I had some really good mentors who had been in the WordPress community for a really long time that were able to kind of clear the air and clear any misconceptions of things that people were spreading. So I thought it was very important to talk about that because I know a lot of people getting into tech don’t have those mentors and they don’t have those people to clear things up for them, so I wanted to write about it and try to help as many people as possible so it can get some fresh blood into the community.

Rob Howard:
Yeah because it sounds like, to some degree, I don’t know if this is the intention necessarily of the people who are saying this stuff, maybe it’s purely just an ego trip for the non-WordPress developers to talk about the WordPress developers in this way.

Nyasha Green:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Rob Howard:
But it sounds like to some degree at least, it has the effect or could have the effect of deterring people from learning PHP or WordPress in favor of some of the other languages or JavaScript frameworks that are out there. Have you actually seen people saying that and kind of reacting in that way?

Nyasha Green:
Yes, I actually have. When I first started, my internship was what got me into WordPress development, and when I was first offered it, I hate to admit this now, but I was a little scared because I had heard so many bad things about WordPress and the only knowledge I had was that’s where we used to blog. I don’t think it’s bad, but if all these developers are telling me it’s bad and they’re developers, will I be a real developer? I was one of the people that actually affected and even now, because I do a lot of mentoring for new people coming into tech, some people I’ll talk to and I’ll tell them I love WordPress and what we all can do with it and what they can do with it. Then they’ll go talk to someone after me and they’ll tell them, “No, you won’t get paid. The community’s too small. It’s not diverse. It’s gate-keep-y,” and that’ll scare people away, especially people coming from other industries that may have been like that, very gatekeep-y and very restrictive. They don’t want to jump into another career like that. It’s definitely having a negative impact on new people coming into the community.

Rob Howard:
Yeah and I think the fact that WordPress is tried and true, right, also, that’s a good way of framing. It’s a tried and true system.

Nyasha Green:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Rob Howard:
The negative way of framing it is saying, “It’s old and boring.”

Nyasha Green:
Yeah.

Rob Howard:
Right? So you could almost spin the exact same information in those two different directions. I think what we see is people who were coming in and saying, “Oh, I want to learn all these new JavaScript frameworks, you weren’t learn Go, I want to do all this other stuff.” I remember this same dynamic when Ruby on Rails first came out in the 2005 to 2010 timeline where people were like, “Well, that’s it for PHP. We’re going to all learn Ruby on Rails.” Fast forward 10, 15 years and I would say PHP continues to have a larger market share than Ruby on Rails in terms of actual websites that exist.

Nyasha Green:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Rob Howard:
There’s this feeling of always wanting to work on the new shiny object. I think that plagues developers in a lot of different ways, but it sounds like it also is muddying the waters for these entry level developers who are coming in and they have to make that decision of, “What am I going to learn and what am I going to promote as my expertise?” They’re being discouraged from making PHP and WordPress their expertise.

Nyasha Green:
I definitely agree with you. Just taking from one of the advisors we had when I was learning code, it’s similar to what he said at the time about cyber security. He was like, “Cyber security is the sexy part of tech right now. Everybody wants to jump into it and they want to learn it because that’s what everyone is buzzing about.” I feel like that’s the same thing with these JavaScript frameworks. People hear them and they’re like, “Ooh, that seems hip. That seems new.”

Nyasha Green:
Then you come and you say, “Well, what about WordPress? What about PHP?” like, “Oh no, that’s old, that’s boring, that’s not hip.”

Nyasha Green:
It’s like, “What do you mean? We’re using it. It’s worked for a long time.” Yeah, it may be older, but like you said, it’s tried and true. Let’s look at this, let’s do this, let’s boost this up. We don’t have to all learn JavaScript. Well, all the frameworks.

Rob Howard:
Yeah. There’s learning JavaScript and then there is chasing every fad in JavaScript.

Nyasha Green:
Yes.

Rob Howard:
I think people tend too, oh, I know a lot of people who do the latter and they believe honestly that it is actually going to improve their career to go learn that fifth or sixth JavaScript framework in the last five years. When I look at this as both a business owner and a developer, I’m like, “Why would I want to spend …” It’s not that it’s not fun to learn so if you’re doing it for the fun of learning, that’s one thing.

Nyasha Green:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Rob Howard:
But if you’re chasing the trends, then what ends up happening is nine out of 10 out of those trends are going to not exist five or 10 years from now. That’s one of the reasons that from a business standpoint, I’ve actually chosen to stick with WordPress and PHP because as we said a couple times, it is that tried and true system and it is extremely powerful and does a really solid job for the job that it’s built to do.

Nyasha Green:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Rob Howard:
It’s not trendy, but it is something where … I guess the way I would look at it is if I’m building a career, I want to learn the core infrastructure and then I can layer on the interesting, trendy, exciting stuff but if you don’t know how to run a site without React or without Next.js or whatever the new trend is five years from now, five years ago it was Angular and that’s gone gone by the wayside.

Rob Howard:
I think WordPress teaches a lot of these core things that … I see people coming out of boot camps and they’re learning only front end JavaScript or only React and they don’t understand some of the basics of the internet, in my opinion.

Nyasha Green:
I agree.

Rob Howard:
I feel like that’s been a bit of a distraction and, that, as you said, is affecting the ability of people to recruit into WordPress, the ability of people to be enthusiastic about joining the WordPress community, and it has a lot of weird knock on effects around the whole community.

Nyasha Green:
I completely agree.

Rob Howard:
What do you think the community, the WordPress community, could do, if anything, to improve this perception among people who don’t know WordPress already, that it is sort of a lower end or less advanced development system? Because I don’t personally think that is factually true, but it’s clearly a perception. Let’s talk about maybe ways that we or others might be able to improve on that perception.

Nyasha Green:
I think there are two main things we can do. The first one is, and I’ve had lots of conversations about this with many people, we’ve had this conversation before, more people in the community need to invest in WordPress education. Courtney Robertson who does a really great job at WordPress, learned at WordPress.org and on her own as a teacher, she is just doing so much by herself to try to get more people and more fresh minds and more new developers into the community but she’s just one of a couple people. We need an overall community push because right now, coming into WordPress and becoming a WordPress developer, it’s almost impossible if you don’t have any WordPress experience, but how do you get that experience if we don’t have anybody who is willing to take the time to give it to people? For me, I got lucky because two of my mentors, Shambi Broome and Kenna Elliot, they were WordPress developers and had been in it a long time and they were local to where I live and they love the community and they love what they do. They decided to take their time, their free time out, to help me learn it. It’s great and I’m very thankful to them for it, but we just don’t have enough people doing things like that. We need to invest more in the education.

Nyasha Green:
The second thing is we need to be more receptive to new ideas. That’s one thing I’ve been seeing that we get a lot of pushback on, especially with Master WP. Any articles that may go against what the status quo likes, it’s met with lots and lots and lots of pushback. I understand disagreeing with people, but it seems like if we like something and they don’t, it’s a lot of pushback. If we hate something or no, I won’t say hate, we dislike something and they don’t, it’s a lot of pushback. It’s like we have to be on 100% the same page and that’s just not realistic, it’s not feasible, and it’s not something we can do to grow the community. We’ll still be in those echo chambers and we won’t have a growing community. It doesn’t matter how many updates we roll out. Those are the two main things.

Rob Howard:
Yeah and to some degree that inertia that you just described of, everybody in the world has a status quo bias. That is just a natural human thing, however if that is something that outsiders perceive as noticeable or extreme in the WordPress community, that almost reinforces the perception of WordPress being old and busted rather than tried and true. It’s like, “Well, if it’s hard to get into this community, the people who are already there have a very strong status quo bias, and then you look at React or View and perhaps the opposite is true in those communities,” that’s going to push people towards these other frameworks or platforms for reasons not related to code. That’s something that, as you said, is really a big picture community change as opposed to something specifically related to like, “Are we going to build Gutenberg with React or view or J Query?”

Nyasha Green:
I agree.

Monet Davenport:
Thank you for listening up to this point. Press the Issue by Master WP is sponsored by LearnDash. Your expertise makes you money doing what you do, now let it make you money teaching what you do. To create a course with LearnDash, visit learndash.com. Now back to the podcast.

Rob Howard:
The other thing you mentioned that we probably could do five or six podcast episodes about this, but you mentioned that there is a perception, and probably reality, that WordPress developers are just not paid as much as developers in other frameworks. That’s something that I think obviously you can’t wave a magic wand and change that, but I think companies in the WordPress space could change that over time. I don’t think that there is really any justification for saying that being a really good PHP and WordPress developer is less difficult than being a really good React or View or Next.js or whatever else developer. I’ve learned probably 20 or 30 programming languages in my life and I think they’re all basically the same after a certain point in terms of their level of challenge and skill required.

Rob Howard:
That’s something that companies can think about too is, “Are we inherently undervaluing our community and our software by undervaluing our employees?” Or saying, “Well, this is just PHP and just HTML.” All these languages are basically the same thing when it really comes down to it. They’re all basically offshoots of C from 20 or 30 years ago, so there’s not that much of a learning curve or skill difference, but if we’re seeing a 20 or 30% developer salary difference, then of course that’s going to be a signal to people who are coming into the industry.

Nyasha Green:
Oh yeah.

Rob Howard:
I know we try to peg our prices to engineers in tech in general or peg our salaries, I should say. I don’t really research the salaries of developers at other WordPress companies. I actually research well, what’s the typical Denver technology salary? What’s the typical Bay Area technology salary? And that’s kind of where we peg our numbers to but it sounds like there is also a WordPress developer salary tier that perhaps is lower, and in my opinion, probably is lower for reasons that are not totally defensible in terms of the person’s skill.

Nyasha Green:
Yeah. I agree. I look around a little bit just at pay salary differences and on average it does seem like WordPress developers make a little less. I think one of the funniest tweets I’ve seen about it but that also made me think was someone said, “I just really love to see WordPress developers leaving WordPress because they’re finally going to get paid what they’re worth.”

Nyasha Green:
I was like, “What?” and that’s what prompted me to go look into it. I was like … Of course I want to defend WordPress so I was like, “Should I add him and say, ‘What do you need? Send me some links.'” But I was like, “Let me do my own research.” I was like, “Hmm, he’s not exactly wrong.”

Nyasha Green:
Again, that’s one of the things we don’t want people to say, “Well, why should I join that community? I won’t get paid enough on top of the other things we’ve listed like gatekeeping and a echo chamber and just a refusal to look at new ideas. Why would I go do that to myself and then not make as much money as I should?” These are all things we really, really, really need to work on as a community.

Rob Howard:
Absolutely. If we’re going to compete, I hesitate to use phrases like compete for the best talent because I think that is kind of a Silicon Valley mindset that is not totally healthy from a business owner standpoint, but to some degree you do have to make job offers that people accept.

Nyasha Green:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Rob Howard:
This is something that we do as a company and I think I would encourage other WordPress business owners to do is there’s actually a significant gap between the actual value of a good custom WordPress developer, let’s say a 80th percentile developer or something like that. There are probably a lot of those people who are at other companies that are not getting paid what they’re worth and there’s an opportunity there to say, “If you’re going out and building a new company and you want to pay people more, then there’s a significant opportunity to do that without getting to the point where you’re quote unquote ‘overpaying’ them compared to what the market would bear.”

Nyasha Green:
Yes.

Rob Howard:
Anytime you see that kind of discrepancy as a business owner, and obviously I’m subtly encouraging people to pay people more when they have the power to do so by saying this but any time you see that discrepancy, it’s an opportunity as a business owner. This person is valued at X, their actual value to a company is Y, I can pay them somewhere between X and Y, and it’s a win-win for everybody. That kind of thing is probably an opportunity for a company that wants to go there and do that sort of thing. But I think from a more communal standpoint, everybody should be getting paid what their worth period.

Nyasha Green:
Yes.

Rob Howard:
And if that’s not happening in the WordPress community, that is probably a mixture of perception and just inertia and the status quo. That’s something that I think companies and business owners who are making those salary decisions could change over time and it would probably be beneficial for … It would obviously be beneficial for people who are getting paid more as employees, but also for business owners because they are going to make everything they’re doing up here more valuable to outsiders.

Nyasha Green:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Rob Howard:
I think when it really comes down to it, what people are saying is WordPress developers are not a real developer and thus they’re less valuable and thus they’re getting paid less and there’s all these spinoffs from there.

Nyasha Green:
Yes. Just multiple things working against us and we’re helping it.

Rob Howard:
Yeah, and by not actively fighting against that perception, as you said, we’re reinforcing it. We’re helping that perception grow, we’re allowing that perception to grow.

Nyasha Green:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Rob Howard:
You obviously went through this process yourself. Several years back, you decided on a path that included WordPress. What was it for you, and you talked a bit about your mentors, but I’d love for you to go more into detail about what was it that made WordPress click for you and made you say, “This is something that I would rather focus on than the other 10 or 20 options that are out there”?

Nyasha Green:
Honestly, it was a few things. My first WordPress was my first intro to technology, that’s what I worked on first is developing and maintaining websites through WordPress for my mentor Shambi. At first I was like … Honestly it made things easier. When you learn, you learn, I can’t say the hard way, but you learn the basics so you can know how to use content management systems like WordPress. Just taking what I knew and jumping into WordPress, it was a breath of fresh air, it made things so much easier on me and it made me feel like I actually knew what I was doing versus coding everything from scratch, just for bonus points and trying to learn all the JavaScript frameworks there. We have languages that we use in WordPress that have been around a little while, so there’s lots of help, not only on just the internet, even if somebody is not a WordPress developer it’s a good chance they had to learn PHP at one point or because like you said earlier, PHP is so similar to JavaScript and other languages it was just so easy to get more help, to get more resources and to learn.

Nyasha Green:
But I did have to dig for those and I’m not in a tech city so just having people beside me to do was a little harder, but just getting into it, learning, knowing where the resources were, it just made things so much easier and it made my work that I was doing, it made me so much more proud of what I was doing work-wise with websites. That’s what made me jump into WordPress.

Rob Howard:
Awesome. Yeah. I think to recap, one of the things that you called out was we really need more and better education. This is something that we’re working on internally here at Master VP, that Courtney’s working on at learn.wordpress.org with a bunch of other contributors. I think this is an area where it’s clearly underserved or underutilized right now. There’s opportunity to improve life for existing WordPress developers, but also this gets new people into the community. It’s not like, “Oh, just go read the codex and you’ll figure it out.” That is not really feasible for a lot of people, especially when they’re alternatives to go do a bootcamp where they learn everything about another JavaScript framework in a much more accessible way.

Rob Howard:
More education, a more careful understanding of the perception around salary, and people getting into the industry, and a lot of that comes from companies who are making those decisions I think.

Rob Howard:
I think the third thing that you touched on was really about making these mentorship connections was the biggest thing for you. That’s something where more events, more online meetups, and more opportunities to get people into the industry is going to make a big difference and that common thread of we almost have to build a better marketing campaign than React and our other sort of major competitors.

Nyasha Green:
Yeah.

Rob Howard:
Obviously WordPress is incorporating React to some degree, but if we think about each software package has to make a pitch to a developer that it’s worth it to learn this tool. I think right now we are getting outcompeted, WordPress is getting outcompeted on that, in that way, and that’s a lot where this perception that we’re not real developers is coming from and also we’re losing people because they’re not even making an attempt to learn WordPress because of that outside perception, if that makes sense.

Nyasha Green:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Rob Howard:
Those are all pretty big things, but I think that they’re are things that individual community members, as well as companies could start working on and a year or two from now, we could actually make a lot of progress in all those things.

Nyasha Green:
Yes, I agree, and I’m very excited.

Rob Howard:
Excellent, me too. Well, it was great talking to you and we will be back soon for more Press the Issue Podcast.

Monet Davenport:
Thank you for listening to this episode. Press the Issue is a production of Master WP. It was produced by Allie Nimmons, hosted and mixed by Monet Davenport, and mastered by Teron Bullock. Please visit masterwp.com/presstheissue to find more episodes. Subscribe to our newsletter for more WordPress news at masterwp.com.