Are WordPress developers “real” developers?

When it comes to software development, WordPress developers get a bad rap.

Many won’t consider WordPress developers “real” developers – and there’s no wonder with “developer” being so overused in the WordPress ecosystem – resulting in no separation between those that can install plugins and themes and those that produce them.

But what does it mean to be a “real” developer and when does it apply to WordPress developers?

What is a developer?

In the software world, a developer is someone that can design, write, test and debug software.

A real developer will add value to a solution beyond installing and configuring – they can design and create solutions using code.

For websites, this can be in two parts –

  1. front-end developer – using code such as CSS, JavaScript, HTML that is ran on the client (browser) side
  2. back-end developer – using code such as PHP and MySQL that is ran on the server side

Some developers may focus on one part or both – but ultimately they use code.

A developer will understand (and hopefully use) coding standards, best practice and secure code.

What about those that don’t use code?

The WordPress ecosystem is broad – and just because someone doesn’t use code to work with WordPress doesn’t mean their work has any less value, but someone that does not code is not a “developer”.

Instead there are other terms that can more accurately describe their role such as:

Web designer

A web designer focuses on the look and feel of a website.

They will use their expertise in design principles, colour theory, usability to create the design of the website.

They may provide a PSD and/or specification of a design – and may work with a developer who will use code to create a WordPress theme.

WordPress implementer

A WordPress implementer will take the requirements for a website and use existing “off the shelf” software to create a website.

They assemble the website like pieces of a puzzle, may use some basic coding but ultimately rely on software created by developers.

Why does this matter?

When everyone calls themselves a developer it leaves a confusing sea of people with vastly different skills and little hope for clients to find the right person for the job.

It agitates the ecosystem – if clients end up with someone that isn’t capable of doing the work it makes the WordPress community and product look bad.

So how do tell the difference?

Without any official  WordPress certification you need to rely on a portfolio of past and present work – for example websites, themes and plugins.

If they have work in the WordPress plugin and theme directories? Check the review and support threads – how do they respond?

If you can, make contact with previous clients and ask them about their experience – both in the implementation and ongoing support.

And finally, when working with clients be clear with what will deliver and do.