Over the past few years, the number one thing that I hear from many clients goes something like this:

Our previous developer has gone AWOL on us and our project isn’t complete.

What a total bummer, right?

I mean, as far as the client is concerned, they’ve [likely] paid out money to someone in order to build them a site or an application and the person has left. Then, on the flip side, those of us who try to good honest business with integrity get associated with people who do things like that.

So even if a person comes to us wanting to hire us to complete the task at hand, they’re likely a little unsure as to if they can actually trust us to finish what they thought was going to be done the first time.

And though I know the conversation about what qualifies a person as a WordPress developer and doesn’t has been mentioned several times, I want to be clear that this is not meant to re-ignite that conversation or really contribute to it (though it may, in some ways).

Instead, I’m trying to clarify what a developer actually is, the realities that go into building something custom for someone, and what to expect when you get into that field.

I guess the target audience isn’t the typical WordPress developer. Instead, it’s targeting those who are looking to hire people to employ for their WordPress project, but aren’t sure they’re hiring the right talent.

Hiring a WordPress Developer

First, I think it’s important define what I believe to be the type of person a customer is looking for and the type of person that they actually get. And since this is just what think, this may vary from any other person you talk with – hopefully not, but maybe so.

Anyway, so a client has an idea for a project and s/he needs someone to build it. If they’re a good client, they have paperwork, a budget, have done their due diligence, and so on. Then they hop on the web and start looking for a WordPress developer because they’ve heard good things about WordPress and good things about its power in creating web sites.

On top of that, there are a lot of people who appear to be WordPress developers. So the customer hires a WordPress developer, a down payment is made, and all seems good.

At first.

Then the client starts asking the developer to implement some type of functionality that s/he doesn’t know how to do (read: doesn’t know of a plugin that will do it for them). So rather than take ownership of his or her lack of responsibility, s/he just takes the money and runs.

And that’s the short version. But I digress.

After all, once you have some type of a downpayment and you’ve done some level of work, you’re morally above board in terms of keeping what you’ve earned, right?

You Haven’t Hired a Developer

Instead, you’re hired someone who knows how to use WordPress – essentially, you’ve hired someone who knows how to use an application that you don’t. Or perhaps you’ve hired a power user.

Whereas a developer is someone who knows how to take a certain set of tools and create something with it that sits on top of WordPress or extends WordPress, this is a person who knows how to find something that gives your site a certain look and feel (a theme), and how to install certain plugins (to introduce functionality), but they aren’t capable of writing code on their own to bring the project to life.

There are a number of ways to identify an actual developer. Sometimes I’ve heard it put as simple as this:

A developer knows what a constructor is.

Clever, right? It’s not a good measuring stick for the average client because odds are they don’t know what a constructor is (and why should they?).

Instead, you’re looking for someone who knows the right terminology, the proper techniques, and processes for unearthing how a project should look, feel, function, and perform. Then they should be able to go away by themselves or with their team and bring the idea to life.

They should be able to easy to answer questions like:

  • What are some past examples of WordPress projects that you’ve worked on?
  • Do you have a blog, portfolio, articles, or code that’s available to see anywhere else online?
  • Do you have references of work that you’ve done and/or others who can speak to the quality of work that you’ve done?

And if you’re a a bit more technical, a WordPress developer should be able to answer:

  • What is the event-driven design pattern?
  • What’s the difference between actions and filters?
  • Why is it a bad idea to use some of the newer PHP features when working with WordPress-based code?
  • Are plugins written in an object-oriented or a procedural manner?
  • What are five of the available WordPress APIs
  • …and so on

This is far from exhaustive, but it’s a start. And I’m sure many of you would even say that these are softball questions.


As far as finding the right kind of talent or the right kind of person to work with you is concerned, price is always a factor, right? That’s because you have a budget and that’s because you don’t want it wasted on someone.

But There’s Cheap Labor

Sure, where there’s labor, there are results.

But just as with so many other industries, where there is cheap labor, there are usually weak results. No body wants that, but no one wants to shell out several thousand dollars to bring their idea to life either.

But the teenager up the street can do it for $100.

He can do something for $100, but s/he’s not doing development.

There Are True WordPress Developers

But what’s the point of all of this? The bottom line is there are such things are WordPress developers and they are not the kind of people who can install WordPress, a theme, and a plugin then claim they’ve “developed” a project.

These are power users.

WordPress developers are people who should be skilled in thinking analytically, who are able to bring something to life using a variety of tools and code, someone who is able to articulate what you’ve requested that you wanted, someone who is able to provide a process by which they bring your request to life.

There should be a back and forth cycle of revisions and conversations so that when the time comes to launch the actual site, it’s as smooth as possible. You shouldn’t have to hold your breath and hope it holds together because every detail has been scrutinized and it has been tested and even exercised on a staging server.

Features can be added and removing through the use of features of source control, and you should feel completely comfortable and at ease asking the developer if something can be done and having them give you a well-informed, well-reason response as to why something can be done or can’t be done and why it may or may not be out of scope for the given budget.

But right now, we’re not seeing a lot of conversations like that. At least not in WordPress or at least not in my experience.

So if you’re someone who’s looking to have something built on top of WordPress or within WordPress, consider a list of questions and conversation pieces that you’ll have with your developer – interview several people just like you would any other job – and go with the one that best fits the needs.

Otherwise, you’ll end up with something. Just not with what you want.