Like any industry, if you’re just starting out in web development, you’ve probably experienced your fair share of fear and insecurity. You may be wondering:
- Do I need to know how to work with every theme?
- PHP… WTF?
- And the really big one: Do I know enough?
Let me tell you a secret: Despite how much I enjoyed coding websites in high school and college, I never saw a future for myself in web development. I thought I didn’t know enough and would never be able to keep up with the constant changes and vast amount of coding languages. I thought I had to know everything to call myself a web developer.
After working for myself for more than 4 years and coding over 100 websites in WordPress, I’m only just starting to own the title of “web developer” — and accept that I will never know it all, and that’s OK.
Here are the qualities that have served me well as a developer:
- A passion and curiosity for code and how it works
- An interest in identifying problems and searching for solutions
- An ability to adapt other solutions to my specific needs
Notice that I didn’t say “an extensive knowledge of all coding languages.” Your job description as a developer is not to have all the answers, but to figure them out along the way. If you’re the kind of person whose mind kicks into high gear when presented with a problem, and Google is your favorite sidekick, then you have what it takes to be a developer.
Of course, you aren’t going to go from making basic tweaks to an existing theme to custom coding a complex site overnight. A good goal is to make sure each project you take on has one, maybe two small elements that you’ve never done before but are reasonably sure you can figure out.
The good news is that no matter where you are in your journey, someone out there needs your help. Every person who owns a WordPress site has a wide range of needs and challenges you can serve that fit your own skill level. Here are just a few ideas:
WordPress development opportunities
Updating, maintaining, and tweaking websites
This is how many developers get their start, myself included! My career as a web developer started with requests I received through my personal blog. One of my very first clients saw what I had done with my own WordPress site, needed some tweaks to hers, and reached out to see if I could do them!
Through the first six months of my business, I accepted nearly every request I got. I learned my way around different WordPress themes, sharpened my CSS skills, and experimented with plugins.
If you enjoy problem-solving and want a lot of variety in your work, tweaking websites is a great opportunity for you. It’s also a great way to dip your toes in WordPress development as it gives you small, specific problems to solve.
Specializing in a framework or theme
Over time, I learned that I personally work best in larger chunks of focused work. That meant that tweaking themes really wasn’t the best fit for me as I was spending too much time looking for the right theme to tweak and learning its code. I needed a higher level of flexibility, but I found the idea of coding a custom theme start to finish to be really daunting. There was still so much I didn’t know!
Enter frameworks. Frameworks are built with customization in mind. They take care of the basic functionality of the website so you can focus on your customizations. If PHP has you totally scratching your head, let a framework take care of that part for you (and you’ll become more familiar with it over time!).
Despite what you may read, there is no “best” framework out there, except for the one that makes you comfortable and works best for your needs. The point is to find what you like and stick with it to reduce the learning curve for each project you work on.
For my first few years working as a developer, I built custom child themes off of ThemeHybrid. The Genesis Framework is also a popular option, so much so that it has basically become its own industry within WordPress.
Custom theme development
Of course, you always have the option of building custom themes for clients, which is what I do now, in partnership with designers who don’t want to code.
Working with frameworks first allowed me to get really comfortable with PHP and all the WordPress functions while sharpening my CSS skills. But eventually, I found myself wanting to change too much of the parent theme to continue using frameworks. It just made sense to start coding themes from scratch adding only the elements the project called for.
However, coding themes from scratch does not mean you have to start with a totally blank document with each project. I personally downloaded Underscores, a starter theme meant for hacking. It has all the bits required by WordPress for functioning theme, with a few extras. I removed everything I didn’t need, tweaked the files to match my coding style, and added elements I use in every project I work on.
These are just a few options based on my personal experience working as a freelance WordPress developer. You can also code themes or plugins for sale, or build websites for a specific type of client. So many people use WordPress and have different wants and needs, making the possibilities truly endless. At the end of the day, if you can give the client the answer they need (or can figure it out for them!), then you know enough to be a WordPress developer!