You have your own WordPress site, and you’re no newbie: You can edit theme stylesheets, install plugins of your choice, and have a basic understanding of the core code running behind the scenes. You have a feel for both the power and versatility WordPress offers to build unique websites with radically different looks and functionalities.
So, you might ask yourself: Is it possible to have a career in WordPress development?
The short answer is yes. The longer answer is yes, but there’s a lot more you’ll need to learn. If you’re willing to put in the sustained effort over time, though, any of these four WordPress developer careers below could be yours.
WordPress Development Careers
Experienced WordPress developers have a running joke about the 7 types of developers:
The punchline is the first five groups from newbie to tinkerer aren’t really WordPress developers at all as opposed to, at best, dedicated hobbyists.
Becoming a WordPress professional or architect requires a significant amount of time and energy doing the homework that sets experts apart from everyone else. You’ll have to learn PHP and MySQL and Ajax, read the Core Contributor handbook and develop your own patches, master debugging, and become an active member of the worldwide WordPress community.
1. Theme Developer
A WordPress theme consists of the files working in tandem to create a website’s graphic interface. That is, how it looks as the colors, fonts, text layout, widgets, and more create a unified style. There are three different types of projects theme developers typically work on: building a secondary theme to integrate within a primary one, basing a new standalone theme on another one, or creating a new theme completely from scratch.
Being a theme developer can be especially attractive if you have a background in graphic or visual design because you will work on what end users see as opposed to working strictly behind the scenes. In addition, if you enjoy working with clients, this career path allows you to help them achieve both aesthetic and functional goals for their websites.
2. Plugin Developer
One commandment all WordPress developers must heed is this: Never edit the WordPress core code. That’s because every time a new WordPress version is released, it automatically overwrites existing core code on all earlier versions, so any changes you’ve made will be lost.
Therefore, functionality is extended and new features are added in WordPress by using plugins, standalone pieces of software which operate on top of the core code. Plugins can perform simple tasks like displaying the number of visitors to your site or more complex actions such as a robust help ticket system for site users.
3. Ecommerce Developer
WordPress was originally developed as a blogging platform, but its use quickly expanded to all types of websites. Ecommerce sites – direct sales of products and services to site visitors – using WordPress have grown dramatically in the last ten years. While theme developers work with a site’s appearance and basic functionality and plugin developers extend functionality and add features, the ecommerce developer is a combination of the two.
The ecommerce developer must build visually appealing online stores selling physical and digital products, implement robust security measures, understand search engine optimization (SEO) factors unique to ecommerce, and much more. If you’re interested in how a site looks as well as how it works in all areas, the ecommerce developer’s “big picture” approach could be a good choice.
4. API Developer
At its simplest, an Application Programming Interface (API) is code which allows other developers to write their own software. In that sense, an API developer isn’t so much concerned with end users, but the API will have great impact on end-user experience via the developers who utilize it. For example, a plugin API isn’t a plugin unto itself to use on a site as opposed to software which helps other developers create plugins.
The API developer has reached the top of the WordPress developer hierarchy and has skills far beyond the newbie or casual programmer. To reach this point, you’ll have the skill sets of the other three types of developers and be well-versed in both granular-level coding and abstract, high-level principles of site and server architecture.
WordPress Developer Resources
A great thing about learning WordPress development is the freely available online resources. The first place to start is the official WordPress Codex, a wiki repository covering all aspects of coding for beginners and experts alike. Another must-read is the WordPress blog with the latest information on topics ranging from plugin management to mobile app development and more.
Knowing WordPress Multisite is a key skill for developers. To learn more, check out this post about Multisite setup and plugin installation.