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WordPress Learning Curve

There is a unique tension in the past few years within WordPress. While the block editor experience has improved the content creation and even website assembly side of this process, it can be said that the learning curve for developing with code for WordPress via plugins or themes has become more complex. This is especially true when planning training materials, and retraining developers who begain without these extra layers of complexity.

Consider how Jeff Chandler initially described the WordPress learning curve 10 years ago:

Last week Chris Wiegman shared a brief thought about the current state of developing with and for WordPress. Many people within the WordPress community responded with their thoughts around this as well. I’d encourage you to scan through some of the feedback Chris received.

He also shared on his own blog a more formed concept about what is changing within the ecosystem. Notice the build tools, linters, unit tests, and more.

JJJ, as many of us know him, has shared many of these same frustrations. Both well-respected developers are working for trusted agencies in the WordPress products and services ecosystem. Chris is focused in headless/decoupled WordPress, notoriously complex. They lament a bit about how complex things have become on the latest edition of WP Mainline with Jeff Chandler.

WordPress teaching experiences

I’ve been in the WordPress community since 2.3, coming in via other open-source projects first. In 2014, I joined the Training Team while attending WordCamp NYC Contributor Day. Also worth noting, I am a certified public school educator with a focus on business education and computer programming.

I’ve taught WordPress in a variety of settings:

  • Trained clients using websites I maintained for them
  • Early self-paced online course & membership site creator with training about WordPress
  • High school career tech/vo-tech school
  • Bootcamp instructor
  • Corporate trainer

Reflecting back on 14 years of use and training, I think about how hard it was to learn to register widgets in the sidebar. There really weren’t good tutorials written or discoverable in a way that made sense to me. I struggled through PHP. It looked vaguely familiar from my college course on simple C programming, but it was still all so challenging. I felt overwhelmed.

What changed? The blog posts and resources I had to help me comprehend. We still didn’t have Youtube yet, but I benefited from listening to WordCamp dev track sessions well over my head, from participating in the Training team, and from just committing to learning it. At times, I still feel some concepts take me a bit longer to grasp.

Just as things were beginning to make sense, more modern approaches, build tools, processes, linters, unit testers, and more became common. It was in these years that I had young children and lacked time to keep learning.

Onboarding WordPress Developers

The amount of technical knowledge to enter the job market has increased. While preparing a curriculum for WordPress entry-level front-end developers within a bootcamp, it became really apparent. For many bootcamp grads, they can learn Command Line, Version Control, HTML, CSS, JS, and React. With those skills, many opportunities within corporate companies exist. Many of my students found work with large banking institutions not using open-source or content management system technologies.

But WordPress development often is more likely to be found in small but mighty companies building websites that handle vast amounts of traffic or with local, small, or niche services. The vast amount of staffing needed for a corporation allows greater degrees of specialization and workflow processes. Within smaller organizations, each person is expected to have a broader base of proficiency.

That entry-level proficiency is a target moving even faster than it had been. It’s always a struggle in technology education to remain current. Granted, in a bootcamp, all those languages are a substantial chunk of the way to WordPress and it is a far easier sell to go the route of learning WordPress and then going headless. Yet, this feels… different. Other.

Bridging the languages, build tools, linters, pre and post-processors, and how WordPress implements all these layers of complexity can be introduced in a generalized way. We’re seeing a real need for this on the hiring side of the equation, as well as ongoing staff training.

The huge difference I see between the non-CMS front-end approach vs with a WordPress focused approach relies heavily upon backwards compatibility. Back compat is also the reason WordPress is such a market leader in website platforms. Preserving the methods of the past while implementing new methods means accounting for more skills.

Developing developers

In most careers, some amount of continuing education is expected. I’ve been considering and exploring these questions:

  • Are staff provided paid time to learn and explore?
  • How are companies continuing to provide training for their staff and mentor them through learning new skills, tools, and workflows?
  • Are developers given projects that are urgent but may be important to learning?

This really applies to developers, designers, support, and every role within the organization. Retaining skilled staff helps the continuity of the products and services offered.

Learn WordPress

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We need a way to address the job pipeline, continue personal learning, and help those who train others. I see as the home for much of the training material, including how to configure Composer, NPM, Webpack, and proficiency with each language.

Pathways on how to use WordPress as well as developing, designing, and supporting WordPress the software and WordPress the project are all important to do as a community.

With that, I’ll ask that you come to the Training Team’s site and voice your ideas, concerns, and even provide feedback on the UX survey.


28 responses to “WordPress Learning Curve”

  1. sitting here… absolutely losing my shit with wordpress-scripts and node… and it feels like an insurmountable barrier to entry.

  2. Likely this feeling of overwhelm is vast enough that pinpointing how to get unblocked is even a challenge. If you recall the first point at which you ran into a specific challenge and noting what that challenge is, it would be AMAZING feedback.

  3. I am a beginning learner as well with a lot of this. For some, it comes really naturally, while others struggle and struggle to get started. Often, I’m the latter. May I never forget the beginner’s mindset.

  4. well one of my first issues was trying to deviate from where wp-scripts says you must store your files. and where the new file is outputted to. today i am fighting it taking 83 seconds to compile 31 lines.. and npm run start not detecting any changes in watched files.

  5. and all of that is before i even get into trying to decipher react to “extend” the new HierarchicalTermSelector component in a way that doesn’t require me to copy the entire hierarchical-term-selector.js file into my plugin.

  6. Beginner’s mindset is valuable for sure. I struggled to learn add_filter() back in the day. And I struggled to learn handball when I started. but this feels like an insurmountable barrier. like i can’t even get to the part where you maybe learn React/Gutenberg.

  7. In recent weeks, there has been a considerable amount of discussion around the barriers to entry for new and existing WordPress developers. Chris Wiegman kicked things off with the following Tweet.

    The deeper I get with modern WP dev the more I understand why newer devs don’t like to work on it. This is not the same project as it was in the past. The learning curve is now extremely high regardless of past experience.— Chris Wiegman (@ChrisWiegman) July 27, 2021

    Wiegman appeared on the WP Mainline podcast and expanded on this topic, explaining his position and sharing his personal experiences. Many people who participated in the discussion on Twitter shared a similar sentiment, with a few highlighting that perhaps the ability to tinker is actually lower.

    Respectfully, I think this misses the fact the barrier to tinker is lowered in some regards with things like patterns and block themes. A user can discover how parts of WordPress work by playing with the query block, and then sharing a composition in the patterns directory.— Matías Ventura (@matias_ventura) July 28, 2021

    This particular point was addressed again by Tammy Lister where she describes how creating themes is easier and many contributions can now be made without writing a line of code.

    I used the term theme creation because I honestly think we should start using that over theme developer. There are now levels of creation open that aren’t just making a theme:– Create using patterns and design tools.– Create using patterns and global styling.Create using patterns, templates and global styling.– Create using a theme you create.That’s a lot of options and even more, combinations are possible, and only one I listed of those requires you potentially open a code editor. Even then, you might only do that to copy and paste in what you create within the site editor. Themes are now open again and that couldn’t be more exciting for someone like me that felt it was closing, losing the creativity that once drew me to the form.Tammie Lister

    Courtney Robinson, who is a co-rep for the WordPress training team, also shared her thoughts on the matter.

    It’s always a struggle in technology education to remain current. Granted, in a bootcamp, all those languages are a substantial chunk of the way to WordPress and it is a far easier sell to go the route of learning WordPress and then going headless. Yet, this feels… different. Other.Bridging the languages, build tools, linters, pre and post-processors, and how WordPress implements all these layers of complexity can be introduced in a generalized way. We’re seeing a real need for this on the hiring side of the equation, as well as ongoing staff training.Courtney Robinson

    Whether WordPress is difficult to contribute to or develop for in the age of Gutenberg is relative to a person’s knowledge, experience, and perspective. But it’s clear that many long-time developers are struggling and in fact, when some see a list of pre-requisites needed to contribute, they don’t even bother.

    Been thinking a lot about a post from @ChrisWiegman lately and if I really want to get back into coding for #WordPress’m a casual coder (although some of the job leads I get sent are VERY interesting), I can’t be bothered with all that added burden— Chris Garrett (@chrisgarrett) August 4, 2021

    The burden being having to know or at least be familiar with a host of technologies. There’s a reason why boilerplates such as Create Guten Block exist. And while this developer toolkit makes setup easier, you still have to know what you’re doing with the various technologies such as Node, NPM, React, etc. in order to create a block or contribute to a core block.
    Emphasis Needed for the Learn WordPress Project
    If WordPress is indeed difficult to develop for and contribute to, there is one project that could really use more exposure, and that is Learn WordPress. Learn WordPress was officially launched in December of 2020 and contains a number of resources for budding developers including, quizzes, workshops, lesson plans, and quizzes. It’s a means of taking the knowledge of the new Codex, Developer Resources, and other bits of information and transforming them into training materials.
    The WordPress Training Team needs your help in determining what learners and potential learners need in terms of content and learning experiences. Interested parties can take a survey which will remain open until August 13th. Once enough participants have taken the survey, focus groups will be created to cover some things in greater detail.
    This particular project could do wonders for easing the burden for new and existing developers getting to grips with WordPress. It doesn’t nor can it take away the burden of learning so many complex technologies and keeping up with them, but it can help.
    WordPress releases are still being contributed to by hundreds of volunteers but if the software is to benefit from fresh blood and perspectives or even encourage them, then lowering the barriers to entry wherever possible should become some sort of a priority. If you’re interested in helping to create an awesome resource for developers and users to educate others about WordPress, check out how you can contribute to the Learn WordPress project.

  8. .toolbelt-social-share{clear:both;font-size:1rem;display:grid;gap:calc(var(–toolbelt-spacing)/ 4);grid-template-columns:repeat(auto-fit,minmax(11rem,1fr));margin-bottom:calc(var(–toolbelt-spacing) * 2);margin-top:calc(var(–toolbelt-spacing) * 2)}.toolbelt-social-share .toolbelt_share-api{display:none}.toolbelt-social-share a{padding:calc(var(–toolbelt-spacing)/ 4) var(–toolbelt-spacing);color:var(–toolbelt-color-light);align-items:center;display:flex;text-decoration:none}.toolbelt-social-share a:hover{color:var(–toolbelt-color-light)}.toolbelt-social-share a:hover span{text-decoration:underline}.toolbelt-social-share-api-enabled .toolbelt-social-share .toolbelt_share-api{display:inline}.toolbelt-social-share-api-enabled .toolbelt-social-share a{display:none}.toolbelt-social-share svg{-webkit-margin-end:calc(var(–toolbelt-spacing)/ 2);margin-inline-end:calc(var(–toolbelt-spacing)/ 2);height:1.5rem;width:1.5rem;vertical-align:middle}.toolbelt-social-share svg *{stroke:none;fill:currentColor}@media (min-width:500px){.toolbelt-social-share .toolbelt_whatsapp{display:none}}Howdy, my friend!

    Greeting from Germany, where we follow a mask mandate again for buildings, shops, and restaurants. The weather is switching rapidly between cold and rain to clear sky’s and heat within hours. We learned quite a bit about power line networking while setting up our home office for two at my parent’s home.

    After the break last week, we have plenty of information, discussions, and creative updates for you. Due to vacation time, we didn’t see a big changelog, though. It’s all good. We all can use a breather and catch up on the finer points of Gutenberg development.

    Let’s dive in, Yours, Birgit

    Gutenberg 11.2

    Gutenberg 11.2 was released. You can read up about it on the release post, as mentioned above, there were many small but powerful changes to blocks, site editor. Sarah Gooding has the skinny for you on the WordPress Tavern.

    Grzegorz Ziolkowski and I recorded the Gutenberg changelog episode #49 yesterday.

    New Episode #49 is now available! ️Birgit Pauli-Haack and Grzegorz Ziolkowski discuss Gutenberg plugin release 11.2, drag and drop, flex layout, core data shortcuts and modern WordPress development.

    Subscribe to the Gutenberg Changelog podcast Spotify | Google | iTunes | PocketCasts | Stitcher |️ Pod Bean | CastBox | Podchaser | RSS Feed

    Modern WordPress Development is Hard!

    My friend, Chris Wiegman, started an interesting, multi-faceted discussion on a changing WordPress ecosystem for developers on Twitter. Others chimed in, like Matias Ventura, Alain Schlesser, Victor Ramirez, Rich Tabor, Mark Wilkinson, Jessica Lyschik and many more.

    Chris Wiegman followed up with a blog post: The Changing WordPress Ecosystem. Marcus Kazmierczak wrote Modern WordPress Development in addition to Chris’ post.Courtney Robinson chimed in from the training aspect, describing the WordPress Learning Curve and the need for ongoing learning. Since the tweet and the blog post, Chris Wiegman wrote another blog post “Learn React Fast”, raving about the ReactJS for Beginners Course by Wes Bos.

    Stack Overflow published their annual survey results. Here are some numbers.

    This year, React.js (40.1%) surpassed jQuery (34.4%) as the most commonly used web framework.JavaScript completes its ninth year in a row as the most commonly used programming language.Technology: 22.54% of Professional Developers work in PHP, 68.62% work in JavaScript. It’s quite reassuring that WordPress is not stuck where it was 10 years ago (v 3.2w3tech 13.1%). The web has evolved exponentially since then, and so has WordPress and the surrounding community.

    I am eagerly awaiting to read through all the various branches of the twitter thread where more developers shared their experiences and their lessons learned. The discussion is, of course, ongoing. It seems to be coming in waves.

    “Keeping up with Gutenberg – Index 2021” A chronological list of the WordPress Make Blog posts from various teams involved in Gutenberg development: Design, Theme Review Team, Core Editor, Core JS, Core CSS, Test and Meta team from Jan. 2021 on. Updated by yours truly. The index 2020 is here
    Content Creation and #nocode WordPress

    Gutenberg has opened the eco-system to many possibilities that haven’t been there before, at least not without in-depth knowledge in software programming

    Preparing for a talk at a non-WordPress conference, Chris Lema published parts of his slidedeck in Using WordPress Without Writing Any Code. Lema also inspired me to look at Uncanny’s Automator for WordPress plugin.

    Tammy Lister wrote a tutorial on Creating a page to display content from across multiple sites. She gives you a tour of the RSS Block, how to add it and combine it with other blocks. Lister also shows you how to style it via theme.json and how to build a page template in the new site editor. In conclusion, she wrote: “Creating a collection of content on a page previously took a lot more to do. You would either have had to know development or used a plugin. Now, you can use a block that core provides, and it has styling out of the box ready to go. “

    B.J. Keeton of Elegant Themes wrote a tutorial on How to Use the WordPress Event Block by Automattic. There are plenty of occasions, when you don’t need a big event’s management plugin to announce and market your events on your website. More often than none, event registration and attendee management is better handled by other SaaS products. With the event block, you can highlight your event and guide the future audience to the right place for more information, registration, and payment.

    In his latest video, Nick Diego, walks us through how to manage the visibility of block content using the Block Visibility WordPress plugin, while making live edits to the plugin’s website.

    Chris Wiegman wrote a comparison theme review: Blocksy vs GeneratePress. The article is helpful not only because of those two themes. It’s a good blueprint, on a decision-making process for selecting a theme for your site. Wiegman describes clearly the problem to be solved and why he took the approach he took.

    Block-based Theme Development

    Jeff Ong posted Configuring Theme Design with theme.json on News section. A deep dive into the new method to configure themes and support features of the block editor.

    The state of Full-Site Editing was the topic of last month’s Hallway Hangout with Anne McCarthy and theme developers around the globe. McCarthy provides a summary of the topic and the recording is available on YouTube

    Brian Gardner, former StudioPress, now building block-based themes at Frost. Take a look at the just released Starter Sites.

    Channing Ritter of the design team published additional details on block-based Widgets in WordPress 5.8 and Beyond. In this post, Ritter highlighted a few cool things that are now possible with widgets, and she took a look at where things may be heading next.

    Theme creation is now easier, found Tammie Lister in her post, while Justin Tadlock points out the obvious in his article: (…) we are not there yet.

    Joe Casabona has joined Carolina Nymark and Fränk Klein in offering an online course on Full-Site Editing: Master Full-Site Editing. Casabona offers a 50% discount for now.

    Eric Karkovack asked, Will Full Site Editing Help WordPress Themes Finally Reach Their Potential?”. He wrote: “Instead of offering completely rendered designs, a theme might include an array of options for the header, footer, navigation, and content area. From there, a website owner can choose the options that best fit their needs and fill in the blanks with content.

    Carolina Nymark updated her Block Markup VSCode extension. It includes autocomplete snippets that helps you add blocks to your templates faster. For the latest update, Nymark included the change from Query Loop to Post template and added the Search Block and Query Pagination.

    Need a plugin .zip from Gutenberg’s main (trunk) branch?Gutenberg Times provides daily build for testing and review. Have you been using it? Hit reply and let me know.

    Building Blocks for Gutenberg

    Alex Standiford chimes in with “Blocks Have Changed How We Approach Building Themes – Here’s How.

    Rich Tabor helps you Manage WordPress publishing tasks with the Todo List Block. After creating the Markdown Comment plugin, he also created a To-Do list block for content creators.

    I list it under the Block Building headline because Tabor has been an early adopter of Gutenberg with CoBlocks which GoDaddy bought even before the Block Editor was merged into WordPress Core in 2018. Studying his code and approach will make you a better block builder.

    Tabor has been busy writing tutorials for building and extending blocks on his blog

    How to add and remove Gutenberg block styles with JavaScriptThe Ultimate Guide to WordPress Block Templates in GutenbergHow to Build & Publish Gutenberg Block Plugins to the Block DirectoryA Primer on Gutenberg Block Plugins for the WordPress Block DirectoryDon’t want to miss the next Weekend Edition?

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  9. WordPress Learning Curve in 2021 →There’s been some worthwhile discussion of the WordPress learning curve lately. My “main link” here is the article from Courtney Robertson. Though I’d also point to the one of the topic from Justin Tadlock at WP Tavern. I thought Courtney’s summary rang true:

    While the block editor experience has improved the content creation and even website assembly side of this process, it can be said that the learning curve for developing with code for WordPress via plugins or themes has become more complex. This is especially true when planning training materials, and retraining developers who began without these extra layers of complexity.

    I feel like the amount of JavaScript, not to mention the need to be kind of good at both React/JS & PHP has changed the dynamics of WordPress deveopment from when I started learning around 2007. And though I’m not sure much could be done to avoid it, I don’t envy those starting out today. But I do think its possible. Mostly it just requires two things: more people sharing what they’re learning, and being patient while you’re learning.