The average WordPress developer is not exactly starved for work. Whether you’re a freelancer or working for a firm, the sheer number of WordPress sites out there means there are more than enough opportunities to go around.
This is good news for bank balances everywhere, but it does raise one particular issue for WordPress pros worldwide: how to keep your development skills honed while cranking out day-to-day work.
The world of WordPress moves quickly and it’s all too easy to lose touch with the latest developments while you’re taking care of routine jobs for companies and clients. Your skills can grow rusty if you’re not staying up to date.
In this article, we’ll tackle this problem head on and give you six solid ways to make sure you’re keeping your WordPress development skills honed. Let’s kick things off with a look at why it’s so crucial to stay on top of things.
Why Staying up to Speed Matters
Even the best of us can occasionally drop off the pace. As a platform, WordPress progresses at such a rapid clip that no one person can be expected to be completely up to speed at all times. Add in wider developments across related web technologies and it’s clear that everyone can do with a refresher every now and again.
This is especially true if you’re employed as a full-time developer for a firm. Most companies are inherently conservative and prone to sticking with tried and tested techniques that are sure to work. Your daily workload won’t generally include too much experimentation with bleeding-edge tools.
You may well have already slipped into this particular comfort zone, or be feeling slightly overwhelmed at the plethora of new options that emerge seemingly every couple of months. Staying up to speed in terms of news is a job in itself, and that’s before you even sit down to look at actually getting to grips with the latest techniques.
Taking the time to do this is critical though. If you find yourself falling behind, you risk taking on a lot of unnecessary extra work by using out-dated solutions. Your clients will also suffer if you’re drifting behind the curve. We’ve probably all seen examples of designers and developers still struggling with basics like version control, responsive techniques and retina-ready designs, years after they should have been standard parts of their workflow and delivery to clients.
Making the time to stay current can be tricky when you’re in the middle of the daily grind but it’s a key part of having a successful long-term career. Let’s start stepping through our six ways of staying on top of technology!
1. Take Advantage of Online Training Courses
The last few years have seen a revolution in terms of online training options and WordPress (along with web technologies in general) has been particularly well catered for. Sites such as Treehouse and Lynda provide comprehensive training modules you can take advantage of for less than a dollar a day.
Having technical subjects presented in a systematic way by leading industry experts is an enormous timesaver when you’re trying to cover ground quickly and the tools made available on sites like Linda mean you can also manage learning at your own pace.
If you’re not in the position to pay for training, don’t let that stop you from learning. There’s a huge amount of completely free, high-quality training material out there online if you do a little searching.
Sites such as PHP the Right Way will keep you up to speed on the latest best practices, and YouTube channels like LearnCode contain hours of excellent material to help you stay current across all aspects of modern development.
2. Attend Developer Conferences (Or View Them Online)
Another great way of keeping your WordPress skills honed is to attend a developer conference. Tech conferences have exploded in popularity in recent years and most major cities will play host to at least a few high-profile conferences each year.
Events like this are valuable opportunities to hear from leaders in your field and mingle with fellow developers. A little networking never hurts and it’s a great way of staying in touch with your peers in terms of latest trends and technologies.
Start local by searching for a WordCamp or WordPress-related conferences in your area. Most conferences will also usually post talks online after the fact so geographical location and budget should be no barrier to taking advantage of this option.
WordPress.tv is full to bursting with great talks from events worldwide and there are hundreds of hours of superb material there for you to review.
Alongside obvious candidates like WordCamps, other notable WordPress conferences include LoopConf, Generate and PressNomics. You shouldn’t limit yourself to WordPress-only events either, development is an inherently open field so consider conferences outside the confines of WordPress and PHP.
The potentially high costs of attending a conference will be a concern for many, but they really are fabulous learning experiences both personally and professionally so give it serious thought – especially if you can potentially convince an employer to fund it. Even if attendance is beyond your means, browsing conference talks for free online is always a possibility and goes a long way towards keeping your skill set current.
Speaking of staying current, let’s move on to our next tip!
3. Stay Current with WordPress News
Alongside using training courses and attending conferences, it’s important to stay up to speed with WordPress on a daily basis. Be sure to regularly read about the latest development news and events so you never miss the boat on important updates and changes.
There is a thriving community of WordPress blogs and news sites online to keep you informed. Not only do they do the hard work of tracking new plugin announcements and WordPress updates for you, they also usually offer helpful tutorials and guides to enhance your overall knowledge.
Our own blog is a great starting point and the official WordPress.org news page is also highly recommended. Add in a regular look at Torque, WP Tavern and the WPMU Dev blog and you’ll be more than covered for news.
Most of these sites also offer newsletters which are often worth signing up for to get an even more condensed version of what’s going on. The Elegant Themes newsletter is, naturally, a must-subscribe option, and the weekly wpMail is also a great resource.
4. Push for New Innovations at Work
Eventually, you’ll find staying current on WordPress and wider technologies becomes second nature. Putting that knowledge to work can be tricky, though. Whether you’re a freelancer or working in a firm, you need to push for new innovations at work.
In the context of regular work, this might mean presenting the case for using modern best practices to your employer or other team members. Maybe it involves taking some extra time to research the implications of the WP REST-API, for example. Or revisiting how you manage version control and deployment on WordPress projects with your colleagues. Having the discipline to do this as a freelancer can be hard but it’s definitely worth the effort over time.
5. Use Your Site as a Guinea Pig
Following on from our previous point, it’s not always easy to introduce innovation on client sites but sites that are under your direct control are another story altogether. Start thinking of your own site as a playground for testing out new tools, updates, or coding techniques that you want to explore.
If your changes are drastic, or you’re unsure of how they’ll impact your site, then a local server is the way to go. Having a nicely dialed-in local development environment is a key step in keeping your skills honed.
A local setup gives you the opportunity to experiment in a risk-free environment without having to worry about unexpected occurrences. If you haven’t explored this option yet, WordPress.org has solid information on getting started with local servers – more advanced options also naturally exist.
6. Use Social Media to Your Advantage
Social media isn’t just cat videos and baby pictures, it’s also a potentially enormous learning opportunity and a wonderful way of staying in touch with what the sharpest minds in the industry are thinking. Following leaders in your field gives you an inside look on how they approach projects and solve problems.
World-class WordPress developers, designers, and plugin creators are all easily found on social media, and many of them are refreshingly generous with their time on particular platforms. Some obvious accounts to start off with are WordPress, Matt Mullenweg, WordPressTV, Mark Jaquith and Helen Hou-Sandí.
Add in figures like Chris Lema, Siobhan McKeown, Yoast and Brian Krogsgard, and you’ll soon have a constant stream of valuable WordPress info washing over you. Of course, we also recommend keeping a close eye on the Elegant Themes Twitter and Facebook pages while you’re at it.
Aside from following others, social media will also enable you to to easily collaborate with colleagues. Sites like Twitter enable you to bounce ideas off of developer friends, pool recommendations for plugins, and track trends. Over time, you’ll also naturally find yourself starting to develop an audience of your own.
With the speed of change in WordPress increasing, and huge looming technical changes to the platform such as the WP REST API just around the corner, you need to stay on top of things now more than ever.
Keeping sharp is the key to a long and prosperous career as a WordPress developer. Put our six tips into practice and your skills will never rust. Let’s recap the areas we covered:
- Take advantage of online training courses.
- Attend developer conferences.
- Stay current with WordPress news.
- Push for new innovations at work.
- Use your site as a guinea pig.
- Use social media to your advantage.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic. What are some of the ways you keep your development skills sharp? How do you stay current with WordPress innovations? Let us know in the comments, along with any questions or tips you want to share.
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