WordPress Job Titles and Skills – Where Do We Stand?

Since I’ve started my analytical research on the community, including the client’s side earlier this month, I’ve had plenty of examples within the broad community (all people building WordPress websites) for things that are quite alerting.

Problems in Our Ecosystem

NoSQL Expert

Some of the encounters include:

  • Contractors taking on assignments that they are obviously not capable of solving
  • Web design companies asking for their website to be built by an external company
  • WordPress service providers asking me for WordPress work when they found out that they aren’t capable of moving a site
  • People labeling themselves as developers, even though they touch no code whatsoever; well, maybe some CSS on the way
  • Various pieces of advice following Nike’s motto or other relevant comments including: “Sign that, then figure it out – there are plenty of WordPress groups with people who will help you deliver this project”

The last one is incredibly common, and people seem to be welcoming that sort of behavior.

A while back – when forums were the “real thing” – there was a general moderation policy not to help students with their homework assignments as this was a form of cheating. Yet, now we help people with no experience to build entire solutions from scratch – not for themselves. And I’m not talking about giving a quick tip about a few lines of CSS for a specific problem, but helping them pick the right set of plugins, configure them, help them when something doesn’t work, make them look beautiful and answer every additional question they post when the client sends some feedback.

The Skills Discussion

I see that kind of examples everywhere. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Quora, some closed (premium) forums and groups that I’ve joined, local meetups and my own courses, too.

Facebook was the host of an intense discussion on Saturday (which was deleted a bit later due to the volume of nonsense) that started with:

What is a WordPress Developer?
Someone who installs WP, Themes, and configures plugins?
Or someone who codes custom WP solutions?

Most of the thread happened in a specialized group with a majority of community people, but still there were suggestions that a developer is pretty much someone installing plugins. And I find that oddly concerning for two reasons:

  1. It’s completely incorrect and presents the false idea to a client, and
  2. The real experts cannot be found when needed due to the hundreds of thousands of people misrepresenting their skills

Skills List

Chris and Tom both blogged about the difference between the different groups of skills, yet represented in a different manner. Chris also goes on to the topic of the evolution, where new technologies arise that make it much easier to build end solutions. People from different generations have a different perspective on the level of experience and the quality of each product, but it’s a common evolutionary problem as well.

Let’s quickly list some of the popular terms that are applicable while building a WordPress website:

Designer

A designer is usually busy with the creative part of a business – creating a mockup of the site, then building a PSD with the landing page and all of the internal pages as well. They specialize in color theory, usability, fonts and other aspects of the visual representation of a website. Later on, they can help with additional landing pages, promotions or other creative campaigns for a client with heavy focus on the visuals.

Frontend Developer

A frontend developer is responsible for the front tier. They convert a design into a WordPress theme, or create child themes, deal with HTML/CSS and JavaScript in order to create unique, slick and fast frontend interfaces. Since JavaScript is an integral part of the frontend toolkit, they can build galleries, portfolio collections and other components for listing, managing and representing data with JavaScript (examples for dynamic JS-driven components are the Media Library or the Customizer in the WordPress dashboard).

Backend Developer

A backend developer in the WordPress context is someone responsible for the operations part behind the scenes of the technological stack. They build custom plugins, extend existing ones, deal with user management, capabilities, connecting 3rd party APIs, design the database models. They dig into PHP, SQL, and other languages if needed related to storing the data in persistent layers, and presenting the right portion of it depending on the user-driven queries.

Software Engineer

Software Engineering Motivational Poster

Now, that’s a title that is a bit more broad, but the main idea is that an engineer sees the bigger picture and he can deal with the most complicated components. They can specialize in performance tuning or security, denormalize the database if needed, implement the right toolkit for the given scenario.

Think about it this way. A software engineer knows more than a regular developer and is also experienced in other vertical such as: database management, networks, plenty of APIs and libraries. They rely on the concepts of software development that is language agnostic – OOP, design patterns, algorithms, data structures, security, performance – which share common ideas across different languages and platforms. A good engineer can take the next level to a Software Architect, which would result in building the architecture for a large project, vetting the right APIs, and planning for the future development of the system.

Software Consultant

As Wikipedia says, a Consultant is:

A consultant (from Latin: consultare “to discuss”) is a professional who provides professional or expert advice in a particular area such as security (electronic or physical), management, accountancy, law, human resources, marketing (and public relations), finance, engineering, science or any of many other specialized fields.

The overall impact of a consultant is that clients have access to deeper levels of expertise than would be feasible for them to retain in-house, and may purchase only as much service from the outside consultant as desired.

Consultants are fast and efficient in their field, and they can assess a business situation and provide the best possible solution given the use case. They know enough about the ecosystem so that they could propose a plan tailored to the specific customer without affecting the work for any of the internal teams. A WordPress Consultant can work together with the software engineers and plan the right architecture, and advise on the right path – using the proper tools, server setup and more. A Technical WordPress Consultant can conduct code reviews and improve the process with time, working closely with both the technical team, and the management staff.

Still, Skills Are Complicated

While this was a rough definition of the skills related to the WordPress development process, they are not set in stone. Companies look for different talent, assign titles based on the work that needs to be done, and these could vary a lot. You can see a backend developer spending most time writing HTML/CSS or a consultant who helps with the customer management. But it either means that the employee has been hired with the wrong job description, or he/she is inefficient since that’s not their core competency.

However, some skills can merge. You can find a backend WordPress developer who’s extremely handy with HTML5 and CSS3. A designer can learn to convert PSDs into static WordPress themes. A WordPress developer can be on his way to an Engineer, or an Architect. Just as with everyone, none of us is a 100% extrovert or introvert, and nothing around us is completely black or white.

There Are Other Jobs Here

Also, this is the list of the most popular job titles working on a WordPress project from the technical side. Keep in mind that there are plenty of other divisions in a company, such as:

  • Support, QA or Customer Relationship for testing the product, dealing with small changes, working with customers and the dev team
  • Team leaders, Project managers and CXOs – the management personnel dealing with operations, the bigger picture, planning and the team management
  • System administrators, Network engineers, DevOps – people digging into the network architecture, server management, scalability on the server side and the toolkit for automation
  • Marketing, Sales, Copywriting – the promotional part of a business dealing with popularizing a product/service, creating content and dealing with the customer acquisition process

The list goes on, but that’s the second-level tier of people working closely with WordPress programmers on a WordPress project.

Different Level of Experience

One of the problems with WordPress and the job titles is that it’s hard to assess the different level of experience. A small design agency could label someone who can create post types a “Technical Guru”, while Automattic could hire as a junior someone with 4 years of industrial experience building extensive plugins and multisite platforms.

This is one of the challenges with the job definitions, especially given the vast majority of freelancers and small agencies with no prior experience in any technical industry. That non-educated title guess or lack of industry/market experience can be misleading for both parties.

Superior and General Titles

Computer Programming 101

The problem with a number of general titles is that they are overused and it is no longer clear what’s the real meaning and level of expertise.

Moreover, they are so general that it’s easy to be fooled into misusing them, seeing how many people just tag themselves in those categories.

WordPress Specialist

How many WordPress Specialists have you seen online, or at conferences? I’ve seen dozens, if not hundreds of them. However, Mike Little, the co-founder of WordPress, is labeling himself as a WordPress Specialist.

Here’s the thing – we all know that Mike Little knows a ton about WordPress, since the platform wouldn’t have been created if it wasn’t for him and Matt Mullenweg. But people with vague understanding of WordPress, or just specializing in installing WordPress plus downloading a theme, are also WordPress Specialists.

WordPress Expert

The same goes for WordPress Expert.

What is an expert anyway? Proficient in installing 10 plugins in 5 minutes? Expert in writing WordPress posts with 500 words per minute? Or someone with 50+ plugins managing a website with 10 million unique visitors a month?

WordPress Consultant

I have been consulting businesses on various technical topics for several years now. And I’ve met a few WordPress Consultants who “advise” people on installing WordPress or help them change the color of their button. It’s an overused term that’s poorly defined and misleading as much as the others.

It’s a similar thing with a WordPress Trainer, too – there are people teaching plugin development, working with Continuous Integration and Unit Testing, and others who coach people on installing WordPress and customizing themes. I do however support the Trainer title since all of the trainers are transparent with their experience and training programs which conveys trust and openness in the industry.

The New Title: Installer/Customizer/Implementer

In reality, WordPress and its famous 5-minute install makes it trivial for almost everyone to setup a WordPress website. Which is great for people starting with WordPress who would like to improve their skills, learn more and get better in what they do.

However, that seems so easy to them that they start offering services. Which is still okay if they help friends and family with small websites to start with, as long as they are open about it – they have to learn somehow, right?

I’ve interviewed over a thousand WordPress “experts” over the past 3-4 years and the majority of them have built a website or two and apply for jobs clearly stating “plugin development experience”, with requirements such as GitHub profiles for reference.

That’s why Tom mentioned the “WordPress Implementer” job title in his post. I think it’s fair to offer “WordPress Implementation” services for small clients and friends/family who need a simple blog or a 5-page business website to start with. Based on a discussion last week, a similar title may be “WordPress Customizer“, or “WordPress Installer” or even a “WordPress Administrator” for various tasks. They all clearly state what’s the type of work that will be done – installing WordPress, a few plugins and a theme, and potentially changing a few bits (options or a line of CSS here and there).

There is also nothing wrong with people eager to learn – and they have to start somewhere. The motivated ones can become WordPress Developers and then move up the ladder, but for the hundreds of thousands of people simply offering installations a better suited term should be used. The other alternative is having a “WordPress Person” title for every single human offering WordPress services. And we know that we are all using the WordPress Core, the large collection of themes and plugins and products by 3rd party authors offering development services, so having a clear outline is essential for their work and ability to afford to contribute back to WordPress in the long run.

60 thoughts on “WordPress Job Titles and Skills – Where Do We Stand?

  1. Who among this group would you give a change of title: http://codepoet.com/asset/interviews/

    I mentioned this in our previous discussion, and I think you may be interested in it… a 2012 detailed market survey (US only, IIRC) of digital marketing agencies, 50
    % of which the survey revealed were using WordPress as their main CMS:
    https://www.newfangled.com/the-results-of-newfangleds-state-of-digital-marketing-for-small-agencies-survey/

    IIRC, most of these survey respondents (digital marketing agencies) are acting as “WordPress developers” in some capacity and hiring people — often as subcontractors — to do this work.

    1. I wouldn’t say that this number were accurate enough (less than 300 people responded, although it’s quite long indeed), and I didn’t find any specific web development details in that survey. I happen to work with digital agencies here who outsource work to me, and with some of them I found out that their development capabilities end with creating custom post types and taxonomies with plugins.

      Anything custom is outsourced to various people, but I am a bit concerned working with agencies 20-30 people strong without web development know-how with the platform used by 70-90 percent of their customers.

      Still, that’s not quite relevant to the job title thing. I would still refer to the 1 million service providers offering WordPress development and the way they label themselves, and the comparison with Mike Little I mentioned above (putting them on the very same level if that was true in the first place).

  2. I like “Site Builder” title for the last one. It captures the function of getting site up and running, without implying too much about custom development/engineering side.

    1. Thanks Rarst, it does fit well indeed. I usually associate “build” with lego and just putting pieces together, although “building custom plugins” or “building solutions” are also other variants that imply more custom development in practice.

    2. 100% agree with Rarst on “Site Builder.” That is a much more concise than “Installer/Customizer/Implementer” and more descriptive then “Implementor.” Site Builder is the term we have been using to describe others who do not code in order to differentiate our capabilities for several years now.

      1. The problem with “Site Builder” is that while it does accurately describe what’s being done, it’s also used (along with “Page Builder”) to describe drag and drop layout builders. Could lead to much confusion. Same issue with “Customizer”.

        I have heard people use “WordPress Consultant” to describe this role, which has lead me to remove consultant from my description. I don’t think that’s the right term either.

        If you look at the services they provide, I’d have to say it’s mostly configuration services (as opposed to development / design / server management services, etc). But “WordPress Configurator” isn’t gonna work!

        I guess “WordPress Implementor” is the best I’ve heard so far. 🙁

          1. Yeah, I think it is the most accurate term for them, but I don’t think anyone will start calling themselves that or that it will ever gain enough traction for it to become common usage…

          2. No, it won’t catch on because it’s not a term that communicates, and also because there is no such person who is primarily just “configuring” WordPress as a profitable business.

            Even if (thanks to enterprising developers) it becomes possible one day for almost anyone to effectively create decent multi-purpose, application-based websites without touching or understanding a line of code, their main work is going to be content and/or design related in the service of some marketing or other business objective. Those skills and objectives have nothing intrinsically to do with software at all, so they are invisible to people who only think in terms of the software as the whole product or service.

            Chris Coyier did a pretty good job of avoiding that myopia here when he took on the topic of titles: http://css-tricks.com/job-titles-in-the-web-industry/

            You’re right about “web producer” — this has been used for a decade or so in journalism and mass communications to describe “generalists” who can mark up, lay out, and publish content for the web in cooperation with editors, designers, data specialists, and developers. There’s likely to be a PM responsibility within a workflow system of some complexity. It might also include content writing/editing/authoring including a/v media production.

    1. That sounds like Data Entry, VA work or general WordPress Administration work to me. If I get this the right way, there is nothing technical here and it doesn’t require any knowledge in WordPress other than knowing how to log in, head to posts/pages and publish a content entry (which is pretty much the same for every single blogging or publishing platform out there).

      1. I’d go for “Content Entry,” or “Content Author” if the person actually composes the content.

        “Data Entry” is a term that derived from decades past where people entered “data” (usually numerical data) for data processing. And WordPress is not about data, it is about content.

        1. Still very programmer-centric thinking. Those people call themselves writers, copy writers, editors, content specialists, marketing specialists, etc. They may also deal with content strategy which gets into content models and architectural concerns that direct development of functional code.

          What do you call “sitebuilders” who do code in HTML/CSS, JavaScript and PHP? Are designers not developers? HTML/CSS don’t count as code? (Rhetorical questions; this has all gone around many times before.)

          1. When I was in government, we changed the name of this role several times. First they were ‘writers’ (when they were doing the writing themselves), then ‘content editors’ (as the role shifted to editing content written by outsourcers), then ‘web content producers’ (covering both and a little bit of HTML as well). I can tell you most of them thought of themselves as ‘writers’! 🙂

          2. The idea of changing job titles makes sense whenever your job description shifts as well. Seems fair to me to “upgrade” the title when you move from writer to a writer with some HTML skills – it’s a bit different. I had a client a few years back who was posting news through phpMyAdmin since that’s what their previous service provider taught them to use for CMS.

  3. This is remarkably good, Mario. Bravo.

    WordPress has evolved slightly differently than traditional software platforms. Perhaps partly because of its open source nature. This is a good thing, because it offers individuals like myself an opportunity to take part. On the other hand, the “democratization” often results in misunderstood standards (or the lack of, in some places).

    I have (and still do) see this kind of issues on the marketplace, and I agree with your argument in this post.

    It may be the case that new WordPress enthusiasts have come from another programming background like C# or VB.NET, or maybe they have been trained as project managers. That’s fair, but it does not qualify them to be called “WordPress developers”; although they might be “C# developers”.

    Part of the problem is the low barrier to entry, which is unique to WordPress. What this has led to is that anyone who can navigate the WordPress admin area, immediately sets themselves up as an expert.

    Many such folk don’t know what the codex is, or how to reference it when they have a question. Instead they depend on Google search results, or other crowd-sourced answer platforms.

    The result is a WordPress solution that does not meet best practice.

    That is not to say that Google is not a good resource, because it is. My point is that at least for beginners, WordPress best practices can mostly be found in the codex (and in other well written books).

    This problem leaves website owner’s feeling as if WordPress is inadequate; whereas it is the “developer” who is inadequate. Because they have called themselves something they are not.

    In other ecosystems (e.g. the Microsoft Certified range), there are several disciplines available, each with their grading; starting from Support to Administrator to Engineer to Architect.

    Exactly as you’ve described it.

    I think standardization of roles will eventually happen in WordPress, where people’s skill levels are tested and duly recognized. That will probably help to reduce the current mayhem being caused by WordPress “wannabe experts”.

    Out of interest, I am not any of those things: expert, developer, engineer, or even Themer. Those are valid titles that one gets, based on experience and expertise; not simply from building sites using a Themeforest template, and some plugins.

    I enjoy using WordPress, and I’m learning as much about it as I can.

    At the moment, your site is an incredibly useful resource for me.

    Thanks for all you do!

    1. Hey CJ, thanks for the nice words and the detailed comment – both are highly appreciated. 🙂

      I don’t think that the main problem is with developers from other platforms moving to WordPress. The general issue I see is the lack of any technical or business skills whatsoever. Being unable to understand what you do, what is required to do in your job, what are your day-to-day duties, are you a junior, or a senior etc is fascinating. C# developers, for example, have spent some time in the corporate world and know the separation of responsibilities and everything related to it (as the certification programs dictate too). Also, they know what programming is all about and can change the technology stack if need be.

      As for the Codex, I honestly don’t believe that a beginner can learn with the Codex. It’s a great reference for specific things – topics, function references etc., but it’s like reading a book on law and calling yourself a lawyer. There is a path you need to take in some ordered manner – start with this, then go to step 2 etc. That’s why the Handbooks were created. I use php.net every now and then, but it’s impossible to start learning with it as it’s like MSDN – a dictionary or a list with resources, but not a guide itself.

      I don’t see any need for standardization to happen per se – it’s already there, and it’s been there even since web development became a thing. As Morten mentioned on Twitter, “frontend developer” has it’s own meaning in every other platform out there. Frontend developer or Senior Software Developer or whatever are the same thing in Drupal, Laravel, Rails, ASP.NET, JSF – the only thing that differs is the framework itself. I don’t see any reason to make that difficult with WordPress, other than the complete lack of education or overselling business skills (equal to cheating customers and wasting employer’s interviewing time).

      1. Thanks, Mario for the clarification. Much appreciated.

        I agree that a good programmer can change technology stacks as needed. You also have a point about the Codex being like a dictionary, and maybe not suitable for people just starting out with WordPress. The Handbook actually provides a more streamlined approach to understanding the basics.

        I also agree that education is perhaps what’s needed most.

        Although I rather think it would be difficult to convince anyone who is overselling their business skills to re-educate. Some, maybe, but not all. Add to that the fact that some marketplace environments (not the marketplaces themselves) encourage that kind of overselling.

        In your opinion, how do you think this re-education can take place? What would it look like?

        Thanks again for the post.

        1. I’ll reply with my latest comment under the post in the AWP group since it’s quite relevant (direct quote here).

          While education in terms of college/university has a few major problems, it’s not obsolete and it actually teaches you valuable lessons. If you are serious about your business, well – start investing in your skills and knowledge.

          There are different things you need to learn, related to freelancing, or project management, marketing – there are tons of materials online and sites focused on that. Nobody has learned freelancing in their university, but luckily people share their experience and you can learn from it.

          And certainly WordPress. Depending on your passion you can go to Lynda or Udemy, get the Tuts+ courses, read a few books, spend more time in the Codex, review their Handbooks as well.

          When I started learning C++, I borrowed a C++ book by a friend and spent a few weeks at home with a compiler. I had no Internet back then, a dumb IDE and no way to spend all my time in forums asking questions. Some trivial tasks took me 20 hours to figure out (the equivalent of a 1min question here) but I learned how to think, analyze and figure out a problem through trial and error.

          Last, but not least – community. Join the local meetup, go to the nearest WordCamp, attend more events in your field. Talk to people, discuss their skills, and see what’s happening in the industry. Watch WordPress.tv or WordSesh for some industry talks. There are so many resources nowadays that there is no valid excuse for one not to learn. Learning – for self-taught IT people and business folks – is an ongoing process. I read at least a couple work-related books a month (whether it’s IT, content marketing, project management or so) and listen to podcasts, watch some videos and hang out with people.

  4. Hi Mario,

    We’ve run into exactly the same issue as we have tried to differentiate ourselves, and love that you wrote this post. But I would challenge some of the terms you used.

    You mention “Frontend Developer” and “Backend Developer.” In our opinion the term “Developer” has been so watered down in the WordPress world that its clarify is similar to the clarity of the term “Framework”; neither mean the same with respect to WordPress as the do in other areas of software. Thus “WordPress developer” is as obscure as “WordPress Expert”; what do those both mean, anyway?

    So I would strongly shy away from using the term “Developer” related to WordPress. We have settled on the term “Coder” to make the distinction. We’ve even created a meetup using that name and thus far is seems that we’ve only attractive people who actually code:

    http://www.meetup.com/atlanta-wordpress-coders-guild/

    So I would substitute “Coder” for “Developer” here:

    – WordPress Frontend Coder
    – WordPress Backend Coder

    Also, “Frontend Coder” does not necessarily imply Javascript, so I would carve that out as separate distinction to mean AJAX, jQuery and maybe Backbone:

    – WordPress Javascript Coder

    I would also call out a WordPress DevOp specifically because their skillset is not generally contained within any of the others.

    Further I have an issue with the term “Software Engineer,” possibly because I underwent much pain at university to be granted an Engineering degree yet many self-taught people refer to themselves as software “engineers.” But maybe that’s just my cross to bear. That said, I would simply call them “WordPress Architects” (much to the chagrin of degreed architects, I’m sure.) FWIW that is how I describe my role.

    Beyond that, I would probably also specifically define a “WordPress Themer” and a “WordPress Plugin Coder” as the expertise and experience required to develop themes and plugins, respectively, FOR DISTRIBUTION. There is expertise required there that is different from what is needed to simply create one themes and some plugin for use on a single website.

    In addition, I think “WordPress Administrator” is a distinct role too. There are people who maintain sites for clients, updating and configuring plugins, doing backups, etc. but that do not necessarily build sites.

    Finally, I would want to create some further skills criteria for each title, for example, but not limited to:

    – Content Author
    – Administrator
    – Site Builder
    – Designer
    – Frontend Coder
    – SASS?
    – Javascript Coder
    – Backbone too?
    – Backend Coder
    – MySQL too?
    – DevOps
    – Gulp?
    – Grunt?
    – Vagrant?
    – Architect
    – Themer
    – Plugin Coder

    Obviously these are more “roles” than they are titles, and people can have multiple roles if (hopefully) they have the skills to perform those roles.

    What would be nice if somehow we as a community could come together and make role names official so that we could start getting everyone in the ecosystem using the same terms. Not sure how to make that happen though.

    1. Hey Mike, thanks for the great overview here.

      That’s an interesting concept. I agree with your point and separation, but I don’t have the same emotional connection to some of the terms (or I do have with yours).

      For instance, I’m not a fan of the “Coder” example. I’ve read numerous articles and reviews over the years for the jump from coder, to programmer, and then developer -> engineer. My first association with “coder” is “code monkey”. Also, it implies (again, imo) that it’s pretty much data entry type of job, say – we have one class and need to duplicate it 20 times, so go ahead and code the same following the very same pattern.

      It may as well be arbitrary, but I avoid Coder a lot myself since it carries an insulting meaning for me. It’s true that most companies stay away from Developer since it’s misused – Automattic has wranglers, Ran.ge works with rangers, Human Made and 10up have Engineers. But it doesn’t seem to be problematic for every other platform/framework/language out there to have developers who do the thing that coders do here, too, no?

      I do agree on the JavaScript developer separation – I personally use Frontend for building HTML/CSS with minor JS (like DOM manipulation and animations) and JavaScript for building real components.

      I see your point about Engineer and the misused title in a university (my university didn’t “give away” engineering degree either) so I get that. My simplest definition of Engineer is a developer with the amount of theoretical knowledge (algorithms, data structures, computer architectures etc) that would help him to bring this knowledge to the wide world, and be careful for the side effects.

      I like the idea of Themer, and I agree with the idea of Plugin Coder, just disagree on the “Coder” itself. Let’s meet in the middle and find a suitable replacement that is not Developer, nor a Coder. I’d suggest an Engineer, Programmer or something else related with code.

      I and Jimmy from Sweden discussed a certification program and brainstormed for several hours on the different skills each one has, and how you take the next certification level. It also included Grunt, Git, Vagrant and stuff like that and had divisions for Frontend, Backend, DevOps and such, so there’s a solid foundation for that, but an authority has to take the lead here. I was also invited to do Drupal training 5 years ago, they had a clear course scope, they updated their training materials all the time, had tracks and such, which is much more professional.

  5. Great post and something I feel strongly about as well, it’s easy to throw out labels.

    I think overall it’s all about getting specific. As you mentioned with trainers, which is what I label myself. But since it’s impossible to clarify in a title, you need to do that in explaining your services. It seems as if I am always tweaking that part because clients will always find those gray areas… So many neglect that part of it and that’s where trouble lies… Cheers and thanks for the great post.

    1. Thanks Bob – as you may guess, I kept you and Mike Little in mind as the most visible (online) trainers around me, other than myself. I don’t mind the Training title itself, as all of the course requests that I receive for various technologies come with some table of contents, and we can discuss whether it’s my area, or not.

      For example, I’m a Java certified programmer. But you can build so many things in Java – regular crawlers/spider bots, desktop applications in AWT, SWT, Swing, web applications with one of the 30 popular frameworks, Android or BlackBerry mobile applications, embedded software – the list goes on. So it’s quite common, even if you are a Java Web Application Trainer, to get a request for a platform, technology or angle that you haven’t profiled in before.

      That said, training usually comes with some scope and specific requirements. Development however, I would easily look for frontend or backend developers for any technology here expecting the same set of skills, just knowing the underlying framework as a difference.

  6. I choose to use “UI/UX Designer and Front-end Developer at WordPress” not a title but more of an explanation to what I can do. I think generic titles like WordPress Implementor are not enough to explain one’s knowledge and skillset. What’s your take on that?

    1. Your title makes sense in terms of incorporating 2 skills in one profession. I don’t like the “at WordPress” part though as it seems like you work for WordPress, some sort of company, or the foundation itself. Other than that it’s fine, even though it’s a bit long for a business card or so 🙂

          1. What Remkus said. The other title implies that you work full-time for WordPress, some imaginary company/organization that pays people to build WordPress or something. 🙂

  7. Great post. You only have to spend a minute or two on the WordPress Experts group to see this is a problem, however it’s not unique to WordPress.

    Every day we come across people who claim to be business experts and advise start ups etc when they have never had a profitable business of their own, for example.

    But this post is a little too biased towards the technical. In the end what we are talking about is building websites that humans will interract with, and every website should have a purpose and a goal. The software is a tool to achieve that.

    As a small agency our use of WP best fits the implementor description and we work with developers if we need custom coding but that doesn’t mean we don’t know WordPress. We also contribute to WP by running a meetup and taking part in WordCamps and contributor days.

    Yet in our local area there’s no end of people who throw a site together for a few hundred quid with no idea of what they are doing and no previous experience in producing websites. Some people will always go for the cheapest and they get burned. Then there are the marketing agencies who build a site but tell clients not to update core and plugins because they know it will break their badly coded theme.

    Building websites – especially websites that get the client more business or help them sell their product – takes a whole lot more than just software skills.

    The end product – a website – is a whole lot more than just a collection of software, whether third party or custom.

    1. Thanks Patrick, I like where this is going, although I’ve posted here and here on the overall community contribution part and on WP Elevation about the value propositions – plus a few more different perspectives.

      Seems like you are a community agency, if you run a meetup and take part in WordCamps, then you’re interacting with the community and keep yourself up to date. That’s good.

      The post is focused towards the technical since non-technical people misrepresents themselves. That’s it. That will never happen in a framework or another platform. Creating a site doesn’t make you a developer. Playing Sims doesn’t make you a God. Building Lego blocks doesn’t make you an Architect. Those job titles have their definition in too many fields and we simply misuse them 🙂

      And yes, I do agree that a website takes more than software skills. But the very same thing applies with Java sites, ASP.NET MVC websites and so forth, where developers program/develop/engineer/code the solutions and then other folks deal with marketing, branding, advertising, product planning and everything else.

      So let’s not misrepresent the type of work that the majority of the agencies/freelancers do with programming. If you can write plugins/tools/libraries/frameworks and build themes from scratch, good – you’re a developer of some sort. Otherwise you’re something else and using the wrong title is deceiving. I can label myself a Lawyer but I have neither degree, nor any practical expertise here so I would be a fraud in this case.

      The business consulting case is a valid point and I regularly think about it. The difference is that you can easily see that the guy who offers business consulting hasn’t consulted anyone. The guru Internet Marketer has 30 followers somewhere and 50 email subscribers, no comments, mentions etc on their site. Their niche is easy to get in, but the proof is public and it’s incredibly easy to validate by a non-professional. WordPress “developers” build solutions that are not easy to validate from the outside, especially from a non-technical person, which is the reason we focus on that.

  8. Thank you, Mario. Great topic, with few easy answers in my opinion. As a freelancer with a broad skill set, I’ve struggled with this question for years.

    I’d like to throw out the idea that context is really important here. What do you call yourself…to whom?

    For example, I’ve come to label myself generally as a “WordPress Professional” because 1) I want to be associated with WP now that I work exclusively with it, 2) I don’t want to be mistaken as an amateur or weekend build-a-website-for-your-mom person, 3) it’s still relatively vague (because I find most titles too reductive). Then, on my website, I further describe myself as a web developer, one who teams up with designers to build custom websites. This makes sense to my clients. “Oh, she’s technical, and she doesn’t work alone.”

    If I were talking to peers, however, I wouldn’t call myself a developer, I’d say I do front-end work. But if I say “front-end” to a client, they’ll go, “wut?” They don’t need to know that.

    If I were looking for a job, as in, to be hired by a company, I doubt I would use a title at all. I would probably just list my skills as they pertain to the job I’m postulating for.

    In forums, if I’m asking about a topic that I’m still pretty n00by at — javascript for example — I introduce myself as a n00b and wouldn’t someone be so kind as to give a girl a break. No, of course, you never know if the people you are helping in forums are giving back somehow. Maybe they are just leeches, sucking off the knowledge and hard work of others. But there is nothing in the GPL that requires “free” to be a two-way street.

    So if the question is about how we represent ourselves, or how we possibly misrepresent ourselves, I think context is really important, and that the answer isn’t necessarily a static one.

    I’d also point out that people misrepresent themselves all the time, in various aspects of life and different domains (a few ex-boyfriends come to mind). As professionals, whether we’re hiring, offering support, or maybe even competing with someone less qualified than ourselves, it is always our responsibility to be the professional, to project and communicate standards of quality and to educate both our peers and our clients.

    I agree that names are important, but they are not enough. They do not stand alone.

    best,
    -jennyb

    1. Hey Jenny, love the productive discussion and the various points of views. Helps adding more and more context to the picture.

      I agree that marketing yourself to clients and discussing your level of experience within a given field are different things. I also don’t use “WordPress Architect” with customers, but community-wise I list it almost everywhere since that’s what I do most of the time. My point is that you know that you’re, say, a Frontend developer and that’s your niche.

      If you want to position yourself as a WordPress Professional and this works for you, that’s great. I try to stay away from generalized titles due to my experience over the years. You say that you don’t want to be mistaken as an amateur or a weekend website builder, but I’ve seen tens of thousands professionals, experts and specialists who fall exactly in that category.

      What I’m saying is that, by using a general title, you risk being labeled with the other tens of thousands of VAs and implementers selling themselves as professionals. With time, clients get burned by such people and these titles become notorious, poisoned with negative meaning due to misrepresentations.

      And while it may work in your situation, take it from the client’s perspective or an employer’s perspective. How to find the right talent among the thousands of Expert applications? When you mix it up with the price convos and outsourcing, you can’t meet with 30 contractors and interview them yourself, and ensure they are a good fit. Taking these factors into account as well adds a different flavor to the mix. 🙂

      1. Looks to me like Jenny knows her network is her greatest asset. Titles don’t mean a thing when you have happy customers who show and tell others what you did for them. This is usually about trust, communication, and local or person-to-person networks more than anything else.

      2. That’s part of what I’m saying too – I think clients for the most part don’t really know the difference regardless of what I call myself. Many are taken advantage of (http://www.theguardian.com/culture/2013/jul/26/carla-bruni-sarkozy-foundation-website). Many don’t want to pay for professional help. There are so many different cases out there, so many levels of understanding, a name alone doesn’t solve the problem.

        And I’m wrong to insinuate that adding the word “professional” to my title does any good – it doesn’t. It just makes me happy 🙂 I still have to filter requests and explain what I do and what I don’t do.

        And like Dan mentions, networks do do the bulk of the work. Clients come to me by referral. In fact, I don’t know many people any more who don’t use referral systems when looking for people to hire or get a job done (or find a nice restaurant or get a hair cut).

        WordPress is a meritocracy. We each work to build our own reputations. This also helps filter out people who are dishonest, overselling, or just still on the low end of the learning curve.

        But yes, we all do have to start somewhere 🙂 and if we’re doing so in earnest, I believe we all have a place, equivalent to our skill set and regardless of what we call ourselves. And if we aim high, good on us 🙂 Coming down on someone for calling themselves a developer just because they’re not very skilled yet isn’t encouraging. I think—I hope anyway—that the main point is encouraging everyone serious about WordPress to push toward “professional WordPress” (as Chris Lema has said), holding high standards, and continuing to learn and improve.

        Final note. I am friends with at least a half dozen freelance web devs in France as well as people in several agencies. I have never, to my knowledge, competed with one of them for a job. I believe there are as many jobs out there as there are profiles and skill levels. Maybe more 🙂

        best,
        -jennyb

        ps: above link site referenced was done with WP 😛

        1. Thanks Jenny, always happy to see other perspectives. As I say pretty much everywhere, it’s interesting when people share their own stories and start generalizing 🙂 We all do it, myself included.

          For the record, out of every 100 inquiries I get, ~96 of them are for complete websites under, say $700. If I spend a few days full-time, I can extract the last 500 or so requests via emails, forms etc and prove that. One of the main reasons is that 70-80% of these are local clients, but the rest are from the rest of Europe, Australia and the US.

          I haven’t seen anyone in Western Europe or the US with similar stats – happy to correct myself if need be. 🙂

          The pricing and “enough work” aside, something that I said for WP Tavern last year and I still see that everywhere:

          The types of WordPress experts that I see out there are either freelancers and small studios with up to 3-4 people, or agencies like Human Made, 10up, WebDevStudios (and Automattic, of course). On one hand, there are the small $500 customization gigs or $3K eCommerce projects. On the other end we have the WordPress.com VIP type of clients and requests that are at least 50 times more expensive than the others.

          I personally compare with other factors, other field (technical industry), other geoeconomical factors and so forth, but if you think about the number of WordPress agencies in our community with more than 10 people, it’s an interesting number. Especially for a platform of that scale which runs 23% of the Internet.

          That said, even ignoring 96 out of every 100 emails/calls/messages and wasting a few days a month, I can easily fill in my backlog with consulting work myself. But we’re 5 people full-time now and 7 half-time people (roughly) and scaling after a few people is impossible with small websites. And then the reality is different.

          We still have 70-80% of our work from contacts and referrals, and a large part the income comes from consulting, and also me doing non-WordPress work. We spend a few thousand a month on PR and sales lately, and there are no contacts that can refer large business since we work on a very few projects that are large enough for a team, we spend months building them and the word of mouth works in a different way here (at least from our experience).

          Happy to get some feedback on that as well, just sharing a different perspective. 😉

  9. The discussion is not easy and I think a central goal for all people, there work for clients with WordPress, is not possible.
    I speak very often with our clients in the first step of contact. The priority part on my side is to create a solution for the goal of the client. Oft at first a wish, not a defined goal. A workshop is helpful and i sort the wishes to an goal and the requirements. After this goal we will create a solution.

    This is the point, that I often say on my person – I’m, WordPress solution architect.
    The order and the words have a lot of space to interpretation. But in the conversation with the client can I often clear the view and she understand, what I do.

  10. My CV is real and truthful – I guess I fall in the backend developer category… But nobody ever asked for my credentials anyway. They see my previous work and expect miracles.

  11. Excellent points, all. I’ve been playing the name and title game with WordPress since the beginning. Not just WordPress but blogging, social media, and their related titles. You could apply this same conversation to those areas of our industry as well. We’re still in the diaper stage of web publishing and coding. Expect names to shift and change as they do in any industry, so thanks for being a part of the conversation to help ground these titles.

    I’ve been now teaching WordPress at the college level for several years, a project that was two years in the development to create exclusive WordPress-only courses as part of the web dev and web design degree programs. We went round and round with names for the jobs we were creating. The one that stuck longest was Web Practitioner.

    While I’m not a fan of the title, it does add a tone of certification and degree to the title. It also matches other degrees and licensees such as nurse practitioner. legal practitioner, mental health practitioner, justice practitioner, etc. While mostly constrained to the medical and legal fields, the definition is a “person who regularly doe an activity that requires skill or practice.” This means that the person is not a newbie calling themselves an expert, and that they practice and continue to learn as part of their certification program. That part I liked. The web is always changing and evolving, and we need to move with it.

    Having been a WordPress trainer and educator for most of the life of WordPress, I’ve watched the lines blur between web dev and web design roles. Today, painting a house does not make you a home builder. To truly make WordPress sing, you have to have developer skills, you have to know code, you have to understand the intricacies of conditionals and queries to develop a site, and that takes more than some paint.

    While this might get me in trouble in academia, I see the degree paths for web dev and design merging.

    I also see a greater need for web illustration and design that is beyond WordPress and website building. I see these people becoming the experts in the customer journey, the impact of visual design elements in marketing, influence, and the blend of content and designs. I also see a huge market for workers specializing in content design, development, and marketing encompassing all content on the web from technical documents to social media and marketing, all with WordPress as a foundation and platform.

    I often see the website building industry as a left over or migration from traditional print media, the world of newsletters, posters, and marketing material, rather than the architecture of the web. We need to move beyond that to creating platforms for our content and interactivity, a whole house.

    I also know, and teach, this about WordPress. It’s like a potato chip. You can’t eat just one. The moment someone learns that you know WordPress, they want you to teach them, help them, or offer advice on a WordPress issue. It spreads. No matter what anyone says, and I’m sure that everyone reading and participating in this discussion has experienced it, if you know WordPress, you will be teaching WordPress. No matter where this discussion goes, this truth must be respected. We are all educators, training the future users.

    WordPress is built on a tripod of code, content, and design. To truly craft a WordPress site, you must have a strong mix of all three. Lean in one direction or another, and your job title shifts. How we title those shifts is part of our industry evolution.

    1. Lorelle, thanks for commenting here. As a trainer myself, I can see how this is a common problem for us.

      I used to teach other technical languages and platforms that were pretty much related to job titles. This course gets you to a junior X developer, that is an intermediate database developer or QA, etc. WordPress people tag themselves with all sorts of titles, regardless of their actual skills. That’s why I don’t think that code and design will merge, and I see them as completely separate professions – just as with every other programming language out there.

      Practitioner makes sense when you connect it to the legal or medical terms for instance, so that’s a good suggestion too. Also, the fact that there are lots of other relevant jobs that heavily rely on WordPress nowadays is a factor that we should appreciate just as much. The question is – how many professions can immediately apply their knowledge with zero learning curve moving to another platform? A marketer will, and a content creator too in my opinion, while designer or developer will have to learn a ton in order to be as effective elsewhere.

      1. Good points. My research has shown that once you learn one platform well, and I mean really well, you can transition easily to other platforms. Sure, there is a learning curve, but if you have the fundamental basics well understood, PHP, JavaScript, HTML, etc., the rest is just presentation of the material per the platform specifics. The nuances, that takes time and experience, so a specialist might be needed.

        The reason I see dev and design merging in academia, specifically the college level, and the visual arts of the web morphing and expanding along with content development is that good design, REALLY good design requires code, tapping into the conditionals.

        At the college level, we are turning out workers, employable individuals ready to join the workforce. Practitioners, if you will, should be able to handle all of the basic design and development and grasp manipulation of the code to create a website based upon strong frameworks and basic design elements.

        The specialized degree program for web dev we’ve created at Clark College does that. Turns out the builders of websites with a mix of design, content, and code in a good balance with writing for the web courses, web design, WordPress, PHP, JavaScript, Servers, etc., creating an ideal worker to enter at a variety of levels and industries reliant upon web publishing and basic technologies.

        Unless you are a freelancer or startup, companies wish to mold their employees to their needs. Being soundly skilled in the fundamentals of code, content, and design, you are ready for everything because we’ve taught you to “roll your own,” as one teacher described it. That’s another missing ingredient in the secret sauce of these titles. LOL! We want to hire people who can figure this stuff out, too, and not just do what they are told, though that would be nice, too.

        Excellent discussion. Thanks so much!

        1. Thanks for your input as well, it’s highly appreciated.

          I can see how some of this may be true in some aspects. While one has to generalize in order to prove a point (and that’s somewhat normal), it’s good to cover both sides of the story for the sake of the discussion, and find out what could be done in the process.

          It’s true that once you know a given platform, the transition to a number of other platforms is easy. There are two gotchas here though:

          1) If you are a PHP web developer, building mobile applications for Android or iOS will be completely new to you. A given technology covers a specific abstract layer or a process, but it’s often not universal, not to mention that each language has its own specifics.

          2) That exact similarity is tricky. Some of the most common issues with web projects lately are related to JavaScript, since it’s everywhere and people think that they could simply write JavaScript. Why? Well, because they know how to build a web project, and JavaScript follows some common paradigms syntax-wise as it’s a C-based programming language. But since it’s completely different – lots of functional programming paradigms, prototype-based inheritance and lots of scope changes, people write the wrong code as they don’t spend enough time learning it as a separate language just as it is one.

          On the employment path, it’s true that employers try to bend your skills as they see fit. But I’ve often seen wrongfully posted job descriptions looking for a WordPress expert who’s proficient in PHP and database development, has an eye for design and can slice websites, and also knows performance, and SEO and what not. While this is not completely impossible, one has to spend 20 years in a technology in order to master all of these, and this is an incredibly rare talent that costs a ton, and most people able to do this are either high-level consultants, or team leaders in large corps. Looking for that rare gem for a small firm without being able to pay the right numbers is wrong. These are about 4 different professions and your normal estimate should be based on paying 4 salaries each month.

          Also, it’s quite common for design geniuses to not understand too much code since they’re way too creative, and code gurus being too strict and organized to think creatively. Over the past 10 years I have seen only a few people who are really good at both – and by really good I mean that I don’t see a reason to sacrifice design or code quality just because I want 2-in-1 solution 🙂

          Btw since this is not really the point of the topic (job titles) and is getting out of hand, the same happened with the WP Tavern discussion based on this post – http://wptavern.com/why-wordpress-job-titles-dont-mean-much-anymore – we’re looking at the other platforms there such as Java and .NET and more tech-oriented approach, but it’s a good example or another perspective to take a look at. Also, Rick is explaining the ins and outs of a business process at the same time.

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