There is a unique tension in the past few years within WordPress. While the block editor experience has improved the content creation and even website assembly side of this process, it can be said that the learning curve for developing with code for WordPress via plugins or themes has become more complex. This is especially true when planning training materials, and retraining developers who begain without these extra layers of complexity.
Consider how Jeff Chandler initially described the WordPress learning curve 10 years ago:
Last week Chris Wiegman shared a brief thought about the current state of developing with and for WordPress. Many people within the WordPress community responded with their thoughts around this as well. I’d encourage you to scan through some of the feedback Chris received.
He also shared on his own blog a more formed concept about what is changing within the ecosystem. Notice the build tools, linters, unit tests, and more.
JJJ, as many of us know him, has shared many of these same frustrations. Both well-respected developers are working for trusted agencies in the WordPress products and services ecosystem. Chris is focused in headless/decoupled WordPress, notoriously complex. They lament a bit about how complex things have become on the latest edition of WP Mainline with Jeff Chandler.
WordPress teaching experiences
I’ve been in the WordPress community since 2.3, coming in via other open-source projects first. In 2014, I joined the Training Team while attending WordCamp NYC Contributor Day. Also worth noting, I am a certified public school educator with a focus on business education and computer programming.
I’ve taught WordPress in a variety of settings:
- Trained clients using websites I maintained for them
- Early self-paced online course & membership site creator with training about WordPress
- High school career tech/vo-tech school
- Bootcamp instructor
- Corporate trainer
Reflecting back on 14 years of use and training, I think about how hard it was to learn to register widgets in the sidebar. There really weren’t good tutorials written or discoverable in a way that made sense to me. I struggled through PHP. It looked vaguely familiar from my college course on simple C programming, but it was still all so challenging. I felt overwhelmed.
What changed? The blog posts and resources I had to help me comprehend. We still didn’t have Youtube yet, but I benefited from listening to WordCamp dev track sessions well over my head, from participating in the Training team, and from just committing to learning it. At times, I still feel some concepts take me a bit longer to grasp.
Just as things were beginning to make sense, more modern approaches, build tools, processes, linters, unit testers, and more became common. It was in these years that I had young children and lacked time to keep learning.
Onboarding WordPress Developers
The amount of technical knowledge to enter the job market has increased. While preparing a curriculum for WordPress entry-level front-end developers within a bootcamp, it became really apparent. For many bootcamp grads, they can learn Command Line, Version Control, HTML, CSS, JS, and React. With those skills, many opportunities within corporate companies exist. Many of my students found work with large banking institutions not using open-source or content management system technologies.
But WordPress development often is more likely to be found in small but mighty companies building websites that handle vast amounts of traffic or with local, small, or niche services. The vast amount of staffing needed for a corporation allows greater degrees of specialization and workflow processes. Within smaller organizations, each person is expected to have a broader base of proficiency.
That entry-level proficiency is a target moving even faster than it had been. It’s always a struggle in technology education to remain current. Granted, in a bootcamp, all those languages are a substantial chunk of the way to WordPress and it is a far easier sell to go the route of learning WordPress and then going headless. Yet, this feels… different. Other.
Bridging the languages, build tools, linters, pre and post-processors, and how WordPress implements all these layers of complexity can be introduced in a generalized way. We’re seeing a real need for this on the hiring side of the equation, as well as ongoing staff training.
The huge difference I see between the non-CMS front-end approach vs with a WordPress focused approach relies heavily upon backwards compatibility. Back compat is also the reason WordPress is such a market leader in website platforms. Preserving the methods of the past while implementing new methods means accounting for more skills.
In most careers, some amount of continuing education is expected. I’ve been considering and exploring these questions:
- Are staff provided paid time to learn and explore?
- How are companies continuing to provide training for their staff and mentor them through learning new skills, tools, and workflows?
- Are developers given projects that are urgent but may be important to learning?
This really applies to developers, designers, support, and every role within the organization. Retaining skilled staff helps the continuity of the products and services offered.
We need a way to address the job pipeline, continue personal learning, and help those who train others. I see Learn.WordPress.org as the home for much of the training material, including how to configure Composer, NPM, Webpack, and proficiency with each language.
Pathways on how to use WordPress as well as developing, designing, and supporting WordPress the software and WordPress the project are all important to do as a community.
With that, I’ll ask that you come to the Training Team’s site and voice your ideas, concerns, and even provide feedback on the UX survey.