Software, Development, and WordPress

Mastering WordPress: How Long Should It Take?

Recently, I received an email from a fellow developer who had finished reading a number of series of articles on WordPress, who had watched a number of WordPress tutorial videos, and was working towards mastering WordPress.

He went on to discuss his current skill set, his aspirations, and the type of projects he eventually wanted to take on as his career progressed.

Not bad, right?

Here, you’ve got a person that knows who he is, knows where he wants to be, and is looking for advice on how to get there.

Unfortunately, there was only so much advice I could give (I’d love to master WordPress, as well!), but the bottom is line I responded with a series of things that i think he – or anyone – can do in order to become a better WordPress developer.

Mastering WordPress

Here’s the thing: I applaud anyone and everyone who wants to work on mastering anything, let alone WordPress. I think it’s admirable, respectable, and something that all people who get to work in a field that they love should do.

Perhaps that sounds a bit idealistic, but I don’t think that’s here or there – people need to be good at what they do.

As much as I wish I could offer more positive advice, there’s only a handful of things that I can offer up.

Jedi Master Yoda

This seems a bit obligatory, doesn’t it?

Strictly speaking, I can only provide suggestions on how to become a better developer based on the experiences that I’ve had.

  • Know – and accept – that it’s going to take years. Yes, some learn faster than others, so it make take some a few more years than others.
  • Read blogs – both technical and non-technical – from people who are significant in the WordPress community. I always offer this up as a way for people to stay updated as to what’s going on with the platform and with the people involved in the economy.
  • Understand that plugins and themes differ significantly. Plugins are for functionality, themes are for presentation.
  • Work on small projects or small pieces of your projects first, then work on to scaling up to larger projects.

Ultimately, I believe that aside from forcing yourself to tackle challenging problems, reading and viewing tutorials will only take you so far.

You can learn a lot from them, sure, but until you’re faced with having to a solve an unforeseen problem, then there’s only so much learning that consuming information will provide you.

I can read four manuals on how to build a disassemble an automobile transmission, but until I’ve actually gotten the grease on my hands, I’ve no idea if I can really tackle the problem.

Anything Else?

As I said earlier in the post:

I can only provide suggestions on how to become a better developer based on the experiences that I’ve had.

And, yes, there’s some overlap in the experiences that we’ve had, but I know that my experiences are not generic – they’re specific to many of the projects I’ve worked on or had to take on.

So to that end, if you had two three things to add to the list above, what would they be? And if you have a moment, please take time to share ’em in the comments. I’d love to have a point of reference for future questions such as this.


  1. Mike

    Spot on analysis on what it takes to become a WP “expert”. Kudo’s to the person who asked you about your opinions on it because it at least sounds like he’s serious about becoming highly skilled with WordPress and has put in the leg work unlike others who want to be an “expert” with WordPress in the same aspect people are “guru’s” with social media.

    For me personally, I started out as a html/css developer and picked up WordPress when I wanted to start blogging way back. From there I wanted to learn how to change the header image of the theme I was using, change colors, etc.

    It’s been a 7+ year learning experience and I’m still learning new things every day. Reading blogs and tutorials has helped but I think tinkering and editing codes has been the best help for me. It’s allowed me to start from something that’s already working and fork it until it’s what I want it to be.

    Never stop learning, because you’ll never know everything there is to know about WordPress – especially since it’s constantly evolving and growing.

  2. Amanda Hawkins

    Great advice! I started theming by customizing a theme I liked the look of, after a couple of years I realized none of the original code was left and I’d learned tons in the process.

    Besides just reading blogs, I’d add that you should take full advantage of the entire WordPress community – if you’re stuck or having a specific issue look it up, 99% of the time someone else has had the same issue and written about it. Take the time to read through the solution and learn from it, instead of just copy/pasting. :)

    Are there any specific blogs that you’d recommend?

    • Tom McFarlin

      Thanks Amanda!

      As far as other blogs are concerned, I highly recommend Carrie Dils’ latest post as it includes a comprehensive list of tons of blogs for those who are writing throughout the WordPress community.

    • Mike

      That list has a few I haven’t heard of. It’s also missing a few I’d personally recommend.

      Torque took over for WP Daily as a great resource for people wanting to keep up with the WordPress community. Also, I’d recommend Justin Tadlock‘s website. He’s constantly publishing great info/tips/code and is really pushing WordPress.

      • Amanda Hawkins

        Awesome, thanks! Definitely going to go through Carrie’s list –

        I’ve been following all the new WordPress news sites, just always seems to have 3-4 posts all in a row pointing to the same article! Although, today mixed it up and that’s how I ended up here.

        Justin is great, I’ve learned tons from him over the years.

        • Tom McFarlin

          Ah, awesome. Love Post Status – thanks for leaving a comment, as well :).

      • Tom McFarlin

        Yep – both of those are solid resources.

        Thanks for linking them up!

  3. Tom Harrigan

    I get a lot of value out of reading through questions/answers on WordPress Stack Exchange. Often times these are answered by those far more knowledgable than I am and by those directly involved with whatever aspect of core, a plugin, etc. is being asked about, which allows me to benefit off of their experiences.

    • Tom McFarlin


      The Stack Exchange is a great place. There are times when I’d like to fold some of the information from the Stack Exchange into the Codex, but – you know – it’s the whole “there are so many hours in a day” thing.

  4. Zach Russell

    Great post. The only thing i’d like to add is how I don’t view WordPress as a single entity, rather a cumulation of multiple different “languages” coming together. I think for someone to truly master WordPress they need to master PHP & MySQL, as well as have expert knowledge on HTML/CSS/JS and some more specific technologies/practices (REST APIs, MVC, etc..). That’s just my .02 though :)

    • Tom McFarlin

      It definitely is a number of languages coming together into one application, but I think that’s true of most applications these days.

      As far as web apps go, Rails is a combination of Ruby which is written in C (or C++, I forget because I’ve been out of the habit). It also uses HTML, CoffeeScript (being a superset of JavaScript), and more.

      Then as far as desktop applications go, they’re a mix of, say, C\C++, .NET or Objective-C to make their features happen.

      But still, your point remains: If you want to master WordPress end-to-end, then you’re looking at PHP, MySQL, HTML\5, CSS\3, JavaScript, and so on. It depends on how far you really want to take it :).

  5. Melanie Sumner

    Master? Yes. It will take years! But proficient enough to be full of awesome? If you have a natural proclivity for these sorts of things and do this every day? It’s a few months, tops.

    • Tom McFarlin

      I think this is a fair statement.

      It’s just that I think there’s a stark contrast between “master” and “proficient” or “highly-skilled” and we often equivocate them, which we shouldn’t do, you know?

    • eddie

      Thats the info i was after.I am a locksmith/glazier with a good understanding of the web.I am going to take off -4-6 weeks to learn wordpress to make my own websites.Hopefully in Bali ….lol.
      I want to produce 1-2 page websites for locksmiths/glaziers using domain names to get me up the rankings fast.Is this enough time?Nothing fancy.Also any ideas on learning seo fast.
      It would be great to post my progress so we really have a good idea on the answer.

      • Tom

        Hey Eddie – taking 4 – 6 weeks off to learn WordPress, build a site, and populate it with content may be enough time, and it may not be enough time. There’s a lot of factors that go into learning, deploying, and managing something like that.

        Personally, I think it’s doable, but it’ll take a lot of work and focus to really get to where you want it to be.

        As far as SEO is concerned, I’m not the best resource for you.

    • eddie

      Thats what i am talking about!!

  6. Peter Knight (@peterrknight)

    I’ve found the whole process of getting better quite humbling, considering how many years I’ve already got under my belt. Thing is, to me WordPress development entails so much more than WordPress itself, it’s learning so many different things from php, css to javascript. Web dev in general is such a deep topic, it’s hard to master all of it.

    I do find that in the early goings my main driver for learning was simply a desire to create certain things using WordPress. Now I’m a couple years in, I’m a bit more interested in achieving more mastery over certain things as a goal in itself. It’s still tied to being able to create even cooler things, but there’s a difference. Good example: I’ve taken to (re)learning Javascript from the ground up, going through books and other resources to get a better and deeper grasp of the language. It’s made a huge difference already.

    Having said that, I’m not sure a goal of becoming a master of WordPress or web dev/design in general works well unless you are driven by creating things. At least, I don’t think it would have worked for me.

    • Tom McFarlin

      I’ve found the whole process of getting better quite humbling, considering how many years I’ve already got under my belt.

      I totally understand that feeling – I think that’s why we shouldn’t underestimate how complicated or how much time it takes to master something, you know?

      Thing is, to me WordPress development entails so much more than WordPress itself, it’s learning so many different things from php, css to javascript. Web dev in general is such a deep topic, it’s hard to master all of it.

      Agreed, but I think this is true of any framework or foundation used for web development. I remember in the 90’s when building desktop apps for, say, Windows was a lot more of working with the Win32 API and knowing how to hook up controls to events, wire in libraries, etc.

      Now, there’s about three-to-five different languages we’ve gotta know in order to build a web application :).

      Having said that, I’m not sure a goal of becoming a master of WordPress or web dev/design in general works well unless you are driven by creating things.

      Yep. That’s a good point. It’s an industry that’s hard to be in if you’re not going to go all in, or you’re not going to be passionate about it, you know?

  7. eddie

    Firstly anyone out there that can help me with an update of my website,please contact me.It needs some images and some better maps etc.Apparently its a dynamic site that some people have no clue about the coding.Obviously happy to pay for this.
    Thanks Tom for your reply and i happy that within 2-3 months of 6-8 hours a day i will be producing 1-2 page websites that ,with the right domain ,will be hitting the top rankings.
    Its great so much info is out there and i cant wait to get started.

    God Bless.

  8. Atul Narang

    Thanks a lot Tom for helping me and people like me understand what it takes to master WordPress. I understand that it is going to take years to master WordPress and still there would be something new out there because WordPress is ever evolving and hopefully it will remain so. So, being really proficient is what I would like you to throw some light on. I know that it varies from person to person, how much does he already know, how quickly he grasps anything, how much time he gives, how much he loves what he is doing, is he financially unrestrained to put more time on learning and the other factors, but still throw some light on it.

    I would like to tell you about where I am currently, I am comfortable with HTML/CSS and Photoshop, know the basics of JS, PHP and MySQL, I kinda have light rapport with them, just hello/hi kinda , you know what I mean.

    OK, Here are the different levels of skills one has as per my knowledge,

    Level 1. Able to install WordPress, set up a self hosted website, knows how to use FTP, find out and install the right theme, choose the right set of plugins without unnecessary bloating, make a website live and working.

    Level 2. Able to use the editor, do some fixing of codes, able to find the solutions OTI and do some quick fixes as per the instructions, knows the basic anatomy of WordPress, and understands how templates work together.

    Level 3. Able to create child themes and do some tweaking as per the requirements, knows some Photoshop and have design skills to create quality layouts, create a normal theme that works fine, but is certainly not a premium theme with any great features.

    Level 4. Able to create nice premium themes, good plugins with perfect coding and following the codex standards, create some widgets and fix the problems himself faster without having to search for the solutions OTI.

    Level 5. Able to understand the core of WordPress and submit patches, debugging, write tutorials, contribute to the codex as a developer.

    I am currently at around Level 3 I guess and what my goal is to become a premium themes author and get able to write plugins for myself when I need and also publish plugins for everybody.
    I know that right now, first thing that I must do is create a deep bond with loops, so that I can create them in my sleep too. Dig really deep into PHP and spend a lot of time being extremely good at that. I have got no problem spending 12 hours a day on WordPress and I like it.

    This is all what I have on my mind, now please give your views and help me understand more, how much time is it going to take to reach Level 4 and then Level 5 or something else that’s worth doing on WordPress currently. I hope you would like to add some more levels to the list or add some points to the levels as my knowledge is certainly not that vast.

    Thanks a lot for a great post and thanks to the commentators for sharing their views on the topic.

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