According to W3Techs, WordPress powers over 37.8% of all websites on the internet.

One factor driving its enormous popularity is that users don’t need coding skills to build a WordPress website. They can easily extend its functionality via plugins, customize its appearance with a theme, create and publish content, add multimedia, configure its settings, and more — all without touching a single line of code.

However, a complete lack of technical knowledge can lead to problems down the road. Some novice users struggle with securing their site, backing up their data, completely customizing their theme, and redesigning their website. These are just a few reasons that users seek out WordPress developers.

Learn how to redesign your website with this free guide.

In short, WordPress developers can take on the more technical challenges of creating and managing a WordPress site that the average user simply doesn’t have the experience or time to tackle themselves.

Because of the large share WordPress has in the CMS market and because of the user base it attracts, WordPress development is a lucrative field that attracts companies as well as independent freelancers. According to a study by Delicious Brains, the majority of WordPress developers make between $45,000 and $150,000 per year from their development work.

To help you gain a foothold in this market, we’re going to provide all the information you need to become a WordPress developer in 2020. We’ll cover:

Let’s get started.

This is a broad definition because WordPress development is such a broad field. Below we’ll look more specifically at the responsibilities and job descriptions of WordPress developers so you can get a better idea of their day-to-day.

What does a WordPress developer do?

A WordPress developer is typically responsible for the back-end or front-end development of WordPress sites (or both). That often includes — but is not limited to — creating custom WordPress themes and plugins. In addition to creating these resources, WordPress developers might be hired to build a sitemap or wireframes for a potential site, migrate an existing site to the WordPress platform, or redesign it to optimize its SEO and conversion rate.

Or, rather than work with clients on their sites, WordPress developers might review and debug the official WordPress codebase to make the software better for all.

This only covers a small portion of the breadth of work that WordPress developers do. To get a better understanding of this role, let’s look at an actual job description for a WordPress developer. The description below is posted on Indeed.com.

WordPress developer job description on Indeed

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For a broader overview of what WordPress developers do, you can check out the services page of WordPress design agencies. For example, here’s the page for WebDevStudios.  

webdevstudios services page

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Considering the versatility of WordPress developers, it can be difficult to know where or how to start gaining the skills and experience necessary to make a career as full-time professional or part-time freelancer in this field.

To help get started and avoid feeling overwhelmed, we’ll walk through the basic steps you can take to become a WordPress developer.

Step 1: Master the fundamentals of coding.

As mentioned above, WordPress is popular for being a content management system that does not require users to code or even know how to code. But, as a developer, knowing the basics of HTML, CSS, Javascript and PHP is essential for troubleshooting, debugging, and extending the functionality of the platform.

For example, you’ll need to know a little bit of PHP to set up WordPress error logs on a client’s site. Same thing if you want to display a list of random posts in the sidebar of a WordPress site. You’ll need some JavaScript if you want external links on a WordPress site to automatically open in a new tab. If you or a client wants a truly unique design for their site, you’ll need to know HTML and CSS to customize a WordPress starter theme.

WordPress starter theme demo

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These are just a few of the coding tasks you might be asked to perform as a developer.

Step 2: Read up on WordPress specifically.

Once you’ve got the basics of coding down, start reading up on WordPress-specific resources to understand what makes this CMS unique. Below are just a few resources that can help you at different stages in your journey to becoming a WordPress developer.

  • WordPress Codex: This is the official online manual written by the developers of WordPress. It covers everything from the basics of creating a site to the most technical aspects of WordPress, like how to add AJAX functionality to your custom plugin.
  • Envato Tuts+: This website has everything from how-to tutorials to courses to ebooks on WordPress and much more. Their WordPress how-to tutorials cover a similarly broad range of topics as the WordPress Codex, but offer pictures and videos for visual learners.
  • WordPress Developer Resources: WordPress has compiled an official list of developer resources including a code reference and handbooks for APIs, plugin and theme development, the block editor, and more. This is another must for developers as they become more advanced.
  • Know the Code: For those who prefer training videos, this e-learning site offers three distinct learning paths: one for plugin developers and two for theme developers. Since you’ll learn how to build a plugin or theme from scratch, this program is for advanced developers.

Know the Code's three learning paths

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Step 3: Choose your focus area.

You basically have three choices when becoming a WordPress developer. You can focus on the core software, plugins, or themes. You might do some work in all three areas, but you’ll want to be an expert in at least one.

Here’s a quick breakdown of these development areas. We’ll discuss plugin and theme development in more detail later on.

These three are the most popular focus areas, but there are others. APIs are becoming increasingly popular and lucrative, for example. When evaluating these different areas, try to pick the one that aligns most with your skills and interests (and desired income).

Step 4: Create a development environment for testing.

Setting up a development environment is essential for any type of developer. It not only speeds up the development process, but also typically results in a better product.

You can set up a local or remote environment, where you’ll store all your WordPress plugin and theme files along with the WordPress core files. This will enable you to test and view changes in a browser instantly. While it will look the same as when you’re visiting any other site on the internet, the files will actually be called in from your computer, not your site’s hosting server.

This way, you can collaborate with a team of other developers and debug any issues before releasing your security patch, custom theme, or custom plugin to the masses.

You can set up an environment manually, or automate the process with a development tool like Local by Flywheel

Local development tool by Flywheel demo

Step 5: Become an active member of the WordPress community.

When comparing WordPress vs. Joomla, Drupal, and other content management systems, WordPress has the largest global community dedicated to improving the platform. You can reach out to these millions of members through support forums and Slack channels and even meet them in person at WordCamp conferences and other community events all over the world.

Actively participating in this community can help you troubleshoot issues with the software or a specific site, stay updated on announcements and product releases, and network.

Step 6: Build a portfolio.

When looking for any job, you want to provide as much evidence of your skills and competencies as possible. This is true of virtually any career, but especially a career in WordPress development.

A great way “to show, not tell” is a portfolio. A portfolio showcasing your development work can improve your chances of being hired as a full-time employee at a company or as a freelancer.

Here’s an example of a freelance developer’s portfolio. One strength is that it shows he’s worked on wide range of WordPress projects, including a custom WordPress photography theme, an ecommerce store, and a review website.

freelance WordPress developer's portfolio

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Step 7: Create your technical resume.

Like a portfolio, a technical resume is an important part of any job application for a WordPress developer role. If you’re a freelancer, a technical resume can also be repurposed to provide necessary information on a site like Upwork or for an About page on your own personal website.

A technical resume is made up of a few key sections, including key skills, professional experience, education, and projects. If you have sparse or no information to put under your professional experience because you’re just getting started, that’s okay. Just make sure to beef up other sections with clear illustrations of your skills and personal projects. Here’s an example.

Technical resume of web developer example

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WordPress Theme Development

WordPress themes are not part of the WordPress core. In fact, they are collections of template files that modify the way a site is displayed without modifying the core WordPress software.

This is ideal because when a new version of the WordPress software is released and the site is updated, the appearance of the site won’t be affected drastically. If the presentation styles and template files were not separated from the core files in this way, every time you updated the core software, all your customization work would be lost.

Because they allow users to completely customize their site without touching a single line of code, WordPress themes are incredibly popular. Some are free, while others are premium and range from $60 to $200.

Theme developers can either create a custom theme for themselves, individual clients, or the public. If the latter, developers may either submit it to the WordPress directory for free or sell the theme on a marketplace like Theme Forest.

Theme developers not only have different production goals, they also have different means to accomplishing those goals. Some developers will simply pick an existing theme, install it, and customize it with the built-in settings and features for their clients’ or own personal sites. Others will start with a theme like Underscores and completely customize it with code so that it looks and does exactly what the client or they want. And others will start from scratch.

underscores theme demo

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No matter why you choose to build your own theme, theme development is an opportunity to develop and flex your HTML, CSS, and JavaScript skills.

WordPress Plugin Development

WordPress plugins are pieces of software that “plug into” your site and extend its functionality. Like themes, plugins do not modify the WordPress core, which is ideal. If you were to edit core WordPress files to add functionality to your site, the code would be lost when updating your software. That’s because WordPress overwrites core files with each update.

WordPress plugins are therefore ideal for adding features to a WordPress website. The plugin ecosystem is incredibly robust, with over 55,000 free plugins offered in the official WordPress directory alone. That’s not to mention the thousands of premium plugins available on third-party sites.

Depending on their purpose, these plugins can make small tweaks or massive changes to your site. For example, using a plugin, you could add a WhatsApp share button to your posts and pages or you could create a fully multilingual site. There are plugins to scan your site for broken links, run A/B tests, enhance your contact forms, make beautiful sliders, back up your site, collect emails, and much more.

With so many plugins available, you might think that more plugin developers coming in would simply oversaturate the market. But that’s not true. There are still plenty of gaps in the market that you can fill by providing WordPress users with a new or better plugin to meet their needs.

For example, in May 2019, the impleCode team released the eCommerce Product Catalog plugin. Designed to make it easier to display and manage products on a WordPress website, this plugin has been installed over 10,000 times since its release. Here’s a demo of a product catalog you can build with this plugin.

ecommerce product catalog plugin demo

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Starting a New Career Path

Becoming a WordPress developer can be a lucrative — and fun! — career choice. While it will require you to invest time and resources into education and experimentation, WordPress development can offer the income and flexibility you need.

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Originally published Jul 20, 2020 7:00:00 AM, updated July 20 2020

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