I was part of an interesting conversation on Clubhouse the other day. Someone who was just getting started as a web developer had seen what WordPress can do and rightfully asked the question…
Will WordPress replace web developers?
No, WordPress won’t replace web developers. WordPress makes it easier, faster, and cheaper to create and edit websites. But there will always be a need for developers to build the WordPress core, as well as the themes and plugins that allow website owners to customize its design and extend its features.
Like its counterparts Drupal and Joomla, WordPress is an open-source Content Management System (CMS). It eliminates the need for repetitive development when building websites. Instead of starting from scratch, developers can build on top of WordPress and use it as the technical backbone for powering dynamic websites.
The question you and I should be asking is, will WordPress ever eliminate 100% of the need for web development?
I highly doubt it.
First and foremost, WordPress is a CMS.
And a CMS is a generic tool that cuts the time and cost needed to build the basics. But, more often than not, it also creates the necessity for custom development for unmet use cases.
And most web publishers, fast-growing startups, Fortune 500 companies, consulting firms, and development agencies that use WordPress have very specific and often unmet use cases for enabling (which is also why they tend to have pretty big in-house WordPress DevOps teams).
Second, even if WordPress powered 100% of the websites on the Internet (which it never will), developers would still be in high demand.
Of course, they’d need to know and use WordPress just as well as they know how to write in PHP or make SQL queries. But, to keep the Internet working, that knowledge would be more critical than ever.
In reality, WordPress powers 35% of the websites on the Internet and growing. According to WorldWideWebSize, 5.45 billion pages were indexed on the web as of February 2021. This means WordPress powers approximately 1.9 billion of the pages on the Internet.
Keep in mind that this number is inflated. There are countless abandoned websites on the Internet today—and many of them most probably use WordPress as their CMS.
Even if you knew the exact number of abandoned websites and had subtracted it from the figure of 1.9 billion, you’d still end up with a pretty big user base of individuals and organizations in need of WordPress-related products and services.
Third, WordPress is evolving constantly.
WordPress started out in 2003 as a blog platform with a visual editor to compete with Typepad (and, for fellow dinosaurs who remember, PHP Nuke and Nucleus CMS, which were very popular at the time).
Today, blogs are just one of the tens of use cases for a WordPress-powered website. Many of the biggest media companies in the world use it for their news sites and blogs. Companies power their brands’ websites with it. It’s also used for selling products, services, and courses.
With the introduction of the WordPress REST APIs, WordPress is quickly turning into a favorite for software architects and web developers tasked to create Headless CMS implementations.
All in all, there’s a bright foreseeable future for anyone who chooses to tie their technical career to WordPress.
Your Career Options as a WordPress Developer
If you are a PHP developer and you’re wondering what kind of a future you have ahead of you if you choose to specialize in WordPress, here are some of the most common career options for someone like you.
As a WordPress developer, you will have a wide array of career options to choose from. Apart from freelancing, you can become an employee of a company that builds themes or plugins, join an online publisher, or work for a fast-growing startup or Fortune 500 company.
You can work as a freelance WordPress developer and build websites one or multiple projects at a time. At first, you’ll probably need to look for work on websites like Upwork, Freelancer, and PeoplePerHour. With time, you’ll start getting referrals from your happy customers and your network will turn into a continuous source of potential customers for your services.
You can join a WordPress development agency and become one of the developers on their team. You’ll get job security and other people will do the marketing, sales, negotiation, and project management for you. And you’ll get to do plenty of WordPress development for diverse use cases and many customers.
You can work for a company that makes WordPress themes and plugins. The marketplace for WordPress themes and plugins has been booming in the last few years and, as more and more individuals and organizations power their websites with it, the trend is here to stay. There’s a growing need to developers who can build intuitive and functional tools for the WordPress users of today and tomorrow.
Think of Elegant Themes, the company behind the Divi theme and Divi website builder plugin, or MemberPress, developers of the most popular WordPress membership plugin for course creators and community builders.
You can join a media company, like a news organization, magazine, or blog, and become part of the DevOps team that builds and runs their high-traffic WordPress websites. Your focus will be on extending and scaling WordPress, building subscriber paywalls, and collecting the data necessary to understand what content website readers like.
You can become part of a fast-growing startup or a Fortune 500 company that uses WordPress as the CMS for its portfolio of multi-brand, multi-product, multi-language websites. Spinning up the sites and landing pages for big campaigns, enabling e-commerce, and integrating to the rest of the advertising (AdTech) and marketing technology (MarTech) stacks will be on top of your backlog.
For example, technology consulting Capgemini migrated its 38 websites to WordPress in 2019. And Facebook uses WordPress to power Facebook Research. Other companies known to use it as a CMS for their employee- and customer-facing websites include Microsoft, Spotify, and Slack.
Three other (and often underappreciated types of companies) to work for if you are a WordPress developer include:
- WordPress multi-site tools like ManageWP
- WordPress development tools like GenerateWP
- Managed WordPress hosting services like WP Engine
- Advertising technology (AdTech) platforms like Ezoic
You can become an employee of Automattic Inc., the organization behind WordPress, WordPress.com, WP VIP, and the Jetpack suite. Automattic’s mission is to make the web a better place. They have a famously good work culture for developers and have a diverse set of products and services, which means that, if you love WordPress, you will never ever get bored.
Automattic also owns WordPress the subscription-based backup and security service VaultPress, anti-spam WordPress service Akismet, longform story curation site Longreads, and Markdown-based note-taking app Simplenote.
Last but not least, if you’re willing to put in the hours and can take on a higher level of risk, you could create a WordPress product or service of your own and start a business with it.
Your WordPress Development Career Path
Most WordPress developers start out as Junior Developers in an agency or company right out of college. A smaller portion start out as DevOps Engineers, IT Operations Engineers, or Support Reps, then transition to a Junior Developer.
Two to three years in, a Junior Developer becomes a Mid-Level Developer. At this stage, the experience you’ve built and skills you’ve acquired will depend on your field of work. A Mid-Level Developer working for a small agency will have a different background and skillset compared to one who works for a big publisher.
Over time, a Senior Developer can choose to become a Tech Lead, architecting high-level solutions using WordPress and overseeing the “-ilities” of WordPress implementations, or grow into an Engineering Lead role that’s closer to people management.
In the long run, Tech Leads or Engineering Leads with aspirations to become C-suites can grow into the Chief Technology Officer or Chief Information Officer role.
WordPress vs. Web Development
Web development is the skill in building websites and web apps as a whole. WordPress is simply one of the tools that you can use to build those sites and web apps, called a Content Management System (CMS).
Web development is also an umbrella term for all things related to the architecting, development, testing, deployment, and release of software for use on the web, whether frontend or backend.
Is WordPress Good for Web Development?
WordPress is as good for web development as we, web developers, make it out to be. There will always be those who are for and those who are against it.
It’s “good” to the extent that it gives you a backbone to build on. That backbone lets you solve higher-value problems by not having to start everything from scratch.
WordPress is also built by an active community of developers and, for decades, has been proven to deliver value in all kinds of use cases from early-stage startups’ websites to big-time media outlets.
It’s “bad” to the extent that it narrows your implementation down to a core platform with a specific set of capabilities, whose tech stack, solution architecture, and evolution over time will influence the end result.
As any other CMS and, lately, visual website builder, WordPress will take away some of the need for custom web development from scratch. It will also create lots of opportunities and work for WordPress developers.