On WordPress Talent Shortage

Last week Andy Adams posted a great post – The WordPress Talent Shortage Might Be a Pricing Problem. I hadn’t met Andy before, noticed the post through Brian and Jeffro, but I read it three times and I do agree with a lots of his thoughts and conclusions.

I’d like to propose that the shortage of developers might actually be a pricing problem. Specifically, WordPress salaries and rates are not high enough to draw talent.

What is the level of our experts?

WordPress Development Experts

If we ignore the Job Title discussion or the issues with the community experts for a bit, the developer community in WordPress suffers a lot.

Developers are brave

General concepts such as unit testing were known for about a decade in other communities, and we started paying any attention over the last year or two in WordPress. WordPress.org is still on SVN (attempts on moving part of the process GitHub are made, and merging pull requests as well) and everything is moving slowly. I still see some UNIX groups and tools using CVS as version control, but that doesn’t make them anything other than dinosaurs.

However, the smaller ones that don’t have resources have the excuse for not moving data, but the platform running 23% of the Web is a different story.

There are only a few people with any practical development experience or any understanding of other developed industries – Java, .NET, Ruby or Python communities. There is so much more going on there that we look like some kids playing in the sandbox while the adults run corporations. And by a few people I actually mean a few thousand people more or less, probably 10-20K tops, but that’s about 1% of the people offering WordPress services as I pointed out in my last posts.

WordPress Development Rates

Some of the latest studies revealed by Matt noted about $50/hr on average for WordPress development freelancing and such. As Andy says:

I’ve never heard of a professional Ruby on Rails developer with rates under $100/hour.

In contrast, when I hear of a WordPress developer over $100/hour, it’s notable.

 

I don’t live in the States and that’s even valid here. WordPress development rates are way, way under $100/h and Rails guys are usually over $100/h.

Dilber Engineer Difference

A few people tend to disagree under Andy’s post, but let’s not forget that we are in the 1% of the community that are more vocal, read those type of posts and usually live a different life, so to speak. That doesn’t really represent the community AT ALL and has nothing to do with the actual average rates of any sort.

WordPress In The Long Run

If more and more people start offering WordPress services without any prior experience, things are not going to get much better. I’m all for allowing people to build their own small websites without having to pay, or just being able to learn how to blog, but not offering services without any experience. That’s simply wrong.

People think that I’m over-exaggerating. I actually meet people on a daily basis who were in finances, PR, any random business and decided to start offering WordPress websites to their clients. I saw one today. I met another one yesterday at the coffee shop. I heard a convo the day before, too. It’s happening on a daily basis.

Given the pricing issues in our community, that doesn’t help either.

I also know (personally) a bunch of core contributors or lots of plugin developers who left the project as they were either frustrated with the community standards (in terms of technical understanding or supporting open source projects), or got bored by the lack of any challenging or exciting improvements in the code or devops ecosystem, or just decided to stop playing games and take care of their families by using some platform with a better established business ecosystem.

And it pains me to say that I know several great developers who don’t do WordPress for a living since they can’t find a decent job that pays enough, and work in the bank industry or other places, being unable to help our community.

But there’s nothing we can do except working together on educating the people around us and be vocal about the quality of plugins and themes in our ecosystem. We get frustrated when people are joking with us during technical conferences, but there’s a reason for that. If we keep on supporting the poorly coded products and people offering services without any technical background, we shouldn’t be surprised by the outcome in two or three years from now.

And don’t be surprised if experienced developers start brainstorming (or already do) as Andy does:

The market rates for quality programmers are very high right now. I regularly see salaried remote positions for Rails and/or front-end developers with salaries over $100,000 and excellent benefits.

I’m not the best of developers, but I’m qualified to possibly land one of those jobs.

I’m faced with a tough call: do I abandon WordPress because the market is pulling me elsewhere?

23 thoughts on “On WordPress Talent Shortage

  1. Couldn’t agree more. I have spent about 9 years in WordPress community, but this so called experts culture and Page Builders are making things worse for us.

    BTW I guess you meant offereing services when you wrote ” but not offering services without any experience. That’s simply wrong.”

    1. Paul, thanks for commenting here. While I do agree with you, the question is more whether you want to be the top player in a ghetto or a good citizen of a respectable neighborhood. I would enjoy a healthy community with people working together and being happy with the results of their work, and I don’t feel comfortable when experienced people are not appreciated or struggle while spending time on giving back to the community.

      Open Source is a two-way street, and it’s unfair if we only expect one part of the deal.

  2. Thanks for sharing your tips and idea. I have 5 years of experience.Even I guess, many things are getting worst. For Eg: selling themes on Themeforest and other market place taking much time for selling, Elance, everywhere etc.

  3. Great conclusion. The big question is: How, to change community? More standards? Official courses, and certificates? It might sound strange to outsider, but “even” religious groups have a standardized trainings.

    Maybe the official video tutorials? Simple way to educate *customers* what they should require from WordPress developer.
    Maybe the certificates would help *clients*, to distinguish real developer from happen-to-make-WP-sites-person?
    Maybe publishing annual report “WP Standards for Web Dev”?

    Instead of forcing developers to educate, it could be more effective to educate customers.

    This post brought me here:
    https://www.facebook.com/groups/wpzen/permalink/789422121136919/

  4. The problem with saying how much someone should be making is that it is wrong.

    1) You can price yourself anywhere you want but if no one is paying you then you overpriced yourself
    2) Too many devs have such an inflated ego that think they are worth hundreds of dollars an hour when they are not
    3) Wage levels/standard of living is different depending in the country you are in. wages in india are completely different than in let’s say Canada (I am from Canada).
    4) A newbie (we were all newbies at some point) will do things close to free just to get a portfolio. THERE IS ALWAYS A NEWBIE OR TWO AROUND.
    5) Many developers over-price themselves

    1. Hi Miroslav, thanks for commenting. I beg to differ to some extent since I sincerely believe that the pricing component is set by numerous factors, including the existing opportunities on the market and the value that is provided for a client. I wrote more about value propositions and value-based pricing at http://www.wpelevation.com/2015/02/grow-your-business

      If the IT industry is one of the highest paying industries worldwide nowadays, it’s normal to have agencies and freelancers charging more. If I am a freelancer, I would probably be able to work remotely for a decent salary even if I’m from India, Pakistan or The Philippines. It’s not the same for people working on-site where competition only matters in your area with the same terms and costs for everyone.

      Also, agencies have to pay much more for experts, which means that they charge more as well. It’s a closed cycle and as long as there are so many agencies and freelancers out there who can charge these rates, this is not going to change anytime soon.

      There is high demand for programming experts in Europe and America and companies offer high salaries and compelling benefits for new recruits. But it’s true that there are lots of developers who overcharge or misrepresent their skills and experience in order to oversell themselves, which is much more critical when their solution isn’t really valuable.

    2. You are worth what you can get paid. Devs with “inflated egos” should charge as much as they can and still be as busy as they want to be. I’ve lost some jobs lately by being both over-priced and under-priced, so there’s really no right or wrong, just whatever the market will bear.

      Now, if you are a newbie developer and want to get paid hundreds of dollars an hour you may not be offering a great value to potential clients and that is a problem.

      1. True that – there are markets that pay quite a lot for everything, and vice versa. In order to get paid a lot, you certainly need to know a lot and be valuable, but you can still be far from the right customer base. Also, being cheap doesn’t mean that the quality is low, but the common sense usually dictates that if you’re a rockstar, you should have raised your prices long ago to free up some time and earn more as a total number.

  5. The barrier to entry for WordPress is pretty low … almost anyone can easily become involved in the community and start providing “services” to end-users and I think that’s where the problem begins.

    The shortage of developers may not just be in the allure of other markets offering more, it is also in the fact you do not need to be an expert to earn revenues from a WordPress-centric business, of course it helps but there is no real requirement.

    Without the impetus to improve and expand (and for all intent and purpose the market place is becoming so large that competition is minimal) there is no driving need to grow one’s knowledge and skill set to become better. This being the case, trends would move towards there being a great many WordPress service providers but not towards a great many top-notch qualified and knowledgeable WordPress developers.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think it has always been a great thing for people to easily become involved with WordPress and to earn a living with it as well, I just think the low barrier to entry is also a double-edged sword when it comes to improving the talent pool to draw from.

    1. Thanks for commenting Cais, I do agree with you completely.

      As long as it’s easy to build something working, the incentive to be better isn’t there. It is if you’re working with larger clients and corporations who know how important security, performance or stability is, but the majority of the clients aren’t there.

      It’s interesting since a lot of agencies that I know of sell development services on top of WordPress and never mention WordPress itself before they start. It’s because of the negative perception of WordPress in the global community. I’d rather not have that conversation with a client again (happened a few times) but there are various factors that lead to WordPress people struggling to do decent work because of the negative perception, the global plugin/theme market and other aspects.

      1. I’d just like to fire off a comment relating to mentioning WordPress here, because I find this to only be a problem if the client has been talking to someone who doesn’t understand WordPress to begin with.

        Personally, we include it in our offer that we will be building their site on WordPress if that is what we’ll be doing, and clients are usually quite happy with this. I find this to be because we can provide good arguments for -why- WordPress is a god choice. I know WordPress, I like to think I’m pretty good with it as well (even though I am still discovering new things all the time and loving it for that), and that gives me an edge over the agencies who are just selling off a theme from a premium themes vendor that they’ve learnt to customize this or that way.

        Of course, this doesn’t help when clients come to us with a request for a WordPress site because they’ve discovered it on their own, along with “that amazing theme” (I won’t mention names, but I despise this theme like the plague, it is the bane of my existence) and they get offended if you try to charge them more than the $10/yr for hosting that some shared host had, and $45 for the site it self (because hey, that’s what themes cost!).

        I think the pricing problem heavily relates to the prices these theme shops mass sell themes (and plugins) for, pushing prices all over.

        Clients who want quality, they know what they want, they come in to the meeting expecting it to cost money, and it is easy to feel the client (so to speak) from the first e-mail interaction, to see what kind of client you are dealing with.

        I agree wholeheartedly with your previous assessment on freelancer fees though, sure cost of living in, for example, India, is way lower than in Norway, but that doesn’t mean that their experience on a global scale is worth less, they should then know to price their experience based on what others on their level can charge no matter where they live.

        This turned a bit ranty 🙂

        1. I don’t consider that to be ranty Marius, thanks for the great overview.

          Completely agree on the pricing misconceptions – as a matter of fact I find that to be the biggest problem with WordPress. It’s a great entry point, that’s cool – for students and starting bloggers with 50 visitors per month.

          But as soon as a site gets a little more traffic, spam bots and script kiddies start hacking what not to that site. That’s inevitable. And then WordPress is the one to blame, instead of the process itself.

          All of my great customers over the past 3 years have been involved with other development platforms (one way or the other) prior to working with us, which is why they understood the pricing and appreciated the amount of work. Everyone else comes with budgets 10, 20, 50 times less than what we would quote, simply because they compare it with “But I can install theme X and have 90% of it for $45”, just like you said above.

          This is wrong and comparing that is just like comparing a paper box that a kid is playing with dreaming of its “home” to a real house.

          But that happens all the time with people who have no realistic idea of the technical infrastructure of a living project or how business works in general.

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