Every now again, someone who’s prolific, popular, and/or who has been involved with WordPress for a significant amount of time decides to share that they are “getting out of the WordPress bubble.”

The WordPress Bubble

Generally speaking, when someone says this, they mean they’re branching out into other technologies, languages, tools, and so on in order to diversify their skill set be it for personal and/or professional reasons.

And I really like that. It’s something that I like to do (though I have to admit that it was easier when life was a little simpler – that’s just me, though) and something that I’m still aiming to do (though I’m still delayed on getting involved with it as much as it pains me to admit it).

But when someone – be it you, me, or anyone else – claims they’re “getting out of the WordPress bubble” or “moving out of the WordPress bubble,” it causes me to look at myself and my own career to determine if I’m doing it right.

Ever had that feeling?

The WordPress Bubble

To be clear, I absolutely love what I get to do for a living. I love the people I get to work with, the things I get to work on, and the nature of problem solving within the context of the WordPress space.

I’ve met incredibly smart people and have had some amazing opportunities that I don’t know would’ve come along otherwise were it not for WordPress.

Furthermore, as someone who has a background in computer science and a keen interest in object-oriented programming (though I’m not a purist) and software engineering, I get to learn, refine, and apply all of these things within a single environments.

Couple that with database work and with front-end work and you have something that can really keep you up-to-date with a variety of technologies that are applicable across a broad spectrum of jobs at least on some level.

But blah, blah, blah, right? We could all wax poetic about what we love about working in this space.

What Is the WordPress Bubble?

I don’t know how other people define it really, but I’ve always seen the WordPress Bubble as the community, blogs, software, discussions, conferences, and anything that composes the WordPress economy as part of the WordPress bubble.

And to say that it doesn’t offer it’s fair share of drama every single month (let alone every single week – at least sometimes) would be an understatement.

Then again, I’ve been involved enough software development communities to know that this is not a unique problem. I think a lot of us can gauge that from just standing on the sidelines, of these communities (but that’s no excuse why we can’t try to be better, is it?).

Why Step Out of the Bubble?

People have their own reasons for stepping out of the WordPress Bubble all of which I think are generally valid reasons.

When people share that they are doing this, I don’t always understand why they are sharing it but that’s just because I like to know what they’re pursuing after the fact for sheer interest, that’s all.

Sometimes, I think the reasons are to branch out and to try something completely new and different – maybe it’s boredom, maybe it’s expanding their education to bring it back to WordPress – other times, I think it’s because some get bored or frustrated with some aspect of WordPress and are looking for the next big adventure.

To each his or her own. For the work that we do over the course of our waking hours, it’s important to make sure that we’re enjoying it as much as we can, right?

But What About Other Industries?

Anyway, with all of that said, this is one of those things that I’ve been thinking about for sometime because it seems to be something that’s unique to our field and/or our generation. And that’s this:

We seem to have a propensity to change aspects of our jobs every two-to-five years.

I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. Maybe it’s neutral. Personally, I find that my own personality lends itself to wanting to remain in a particular field for a long period of time and to try to squeeze as much learning out of it as possible.

Granted, I’m speaking purely based on Western-culture here, but when I look at generations before, there are a lot of people who would get into an industry and go extraordinarily deep into for decades. They’d invest a significant portion of their lives into learning the trade, moving up or around in the company, training up the next group of people behind them, and so on.

On the other hand, there are other industries today where it appears that people in a given industry tend to stick within the confines of that industry, they just work to expand their talent. For example, look at musicians – a guitarist may always play the guitar, but they may expand from one genre to another and to another and then bring all of that back together when working on their songwriting or when playing with their band or in the studio.

What About Our Industry?

In some ways, I see a little of both happening in our industry. Sometimes, I see people sticking with a  single language or suite of tools and technologies for a long time and getting deeply invested in them.

Then I see them work to pass that on to the next generation of programmers, designers, and so on.

In other ways, I see this similar to the music industry where we stay within the confines of development, but we work to expand our trade a bit such that we develop new skills or refine existing skills such that we’re able to bring them back to the core of what we’re doing (which may be WordPress or it may be something else).

So when someone says they are moving on from the WordPress bubble or that they are expanding beyond it, don’t necessarily think about it in terms of completely exiting from it – though this may be the case – they could always be working to grow as a developer and then bring that learning back into WordPress to ultimately make it a better product, generate more creative products to extend it, or just to share the knowledge with us via blog posts.

“Should I Leave the WordPress Bubble?”

Back to the original point as to if I see this as something that I should be doing for my own career. That is, should I leave the WordPress bubble?

I hate giving this answer, but I don’t know. In some ways, I think it’s important to branch out and tinker with other technologies. You learn a lot of things that way that can help make you a better developer, project manager, communicator, problem solver, and more. You can get better at expressing your ideas, you learn ways to re-architect code, and so on.

Then, on the other hand, it’s like starting over. And over. And over. And that’s not a daunting feeling. (Is it enough to warrant that we remain comfortable where we are? Probably not.)

In terms of what I want to do for my own career, I think that WordPress will be a part of it for a long, long time. In terms of branching out into other languages or technologies, I think I’ll be doing that but I don’t know if it will ever be in the depth that I am right now – that is, I don’t know if I’ll have wider content for this blog, or speak at other conferences or so on – but I do think that as I tinker with other things, I’ll always bring them back to the core of what I’m doing.

What about you?

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Join the conversation! 22 Comments

  1. Hey Tom, I love this post and think it’s healthy to get out of this bubble, no matter how one does it. Having run a marketing company before immersing myself in WordPress, I more than understand and relate to this.

    I think tinkering with other technology, or even expanding to different facets is needed. But also, I feel that the social and conference aspect of it is something to really think about. We become to comfortable and immersed in the other WP people around us. Not that this is bad, but it’s much better to be more rounded socially and also to explore and meet new people at non-WP conferences.

    I could go on about this even more. In fact, I did a podcast on this very subject last September titled “Why Should You Avoid the Abyss of WordPress?” :D

    thanks for the great post my friend… cheers!

    • Bob – thanks so much for your thoughts on this.

      I pretty much agree in terms of getting out of the bubble. It doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive is the gist of what I was trying to say, you know? You don’t have to leave one environment to explore another.

      At least that’s how I see it and hearing from someone who’s been at this longer than me is always great to hear – love learning from what others have done prior to this and how they’re working on things now alongside WordPress.

      Anyway, like you said, I could also continue to go on about this but I’ve already written enough, I think. Thanks again for the comment :). 

      • Totally agree Tom. And yes, it’s not a question about leaving WordPress, it’s just popping that damn bubble. Again, great post!

        • Well it really might be about leaving one platform for another — for some people that happens. It’s natural, and it’s OK. (What part of freedom makes this so hard to understand in open source communities?) It would just be nice if folks who do move on from one thing to another could talk nicely about their exes more. :-)

  2. I’ve never really given this much thought. I’m a graphic designer by trade, so coding is more of a secondary interest for me.

    However, I love WordPress and I love the versatility and the production value of it. In fact, I learned the majority of what I know with PHP from tinkering with WordPress themes and functions.

    Although these aspects don’t keep me from using something different if the job calls for it. For instance, we built a vacation rental website using Drupal because Drupal allows you to better control the database, while I’ve found that WordPress is better for simpler websites.

    So I guess in my opinion, stepping out of the WordPress bubble sometimes depends on the job.

    • However, I love WordPress and I love the versatility and the production value of it. In fact, I learned the majority of what I know with PHP from tinkering with WordPress themes and functions.

      Yeah – and I think that’s kind of the inverse of what happens when you opt to step out of a bubble.

      You learn skills and approaches in one area that you’re able to bring back to another and that has the potential to make you all the better.

    • However, I love WordPress and I love the versatility and the production value of it. In fact, I learned the majority of what I know with PHP from tinkering with WordPress themes and functions.

      Yeah – and I think that’s kind of the inverse of what happens when you opt to step out of a bubble.

      You learn skills and approaches in one area that you’re able to bring back to another and that has the potential to make you all the better.

  3. I cant speak to the WP bubble, I am new to it though it tastes a whole lot like the J! bubble and absolutely nothing like the Communique bubble (now owned by Adobe).

    PHP different, lots of people starting to explore .NET / Mono from the PHP world and I do mean LOTS.

    I’d be very surprised if by this time next year if Stack Exchange does another poll that C# isnt atop it and GO! is getting a TON of activity as well.

    If your looking career wise, winnin’ the bread than thats a VERY precarious arena we are approaching. Really.

    I am in WP because we need a CMS in support of another application and its a whole lot simpler to mix PHP into the fray of .net than Java.

    IF there were something in .NET that would suit the rich content need I’d went that way. Some really great .NET CMS’s but I dont want need code extensions.

    When running your own show as you do Tom in software engineering IMHO ask yourself, where is the future in as far as the engineering technology is going?

    No crystal ball unfortunately available. But, you can see writing on the walls. That writing is towards do anything / anywhere and server / smart client applications. The bigger question is when. As that occurs there will be GREAT ENORMOUS, HUGE opportunities both for entrepreneurs and corporations, eventually swallowed up by corporations many years down the trail.

    Will PHP be there? I say no but its not going away instant like.

    But more so than that… Need ask oneself how does what I am doing now keep me, as a person, agile enough to adjust should I need to. Thats not easy. I’ve done it. In fact, its hard. I sat down with pen and paper. Here is where I am at now, what my skill assets are, what I’ve been doing.

    Here is what the future is pointing towards (separate papers). I am here, it is there.

    Literally chronicling on paper today and as best as can be garnered what the future appears to be in respect to what I do, coding.

    Try then establish some sort of future timeline of that future you wrote. The landscape that is tomorrow, perhaps 10 years down the pike lets say.

    Now more paper, examine the data try refine it, especially the future stuff, even bounce it off friends, the wife or me if you like, where does what I am doing now place me in that future?

    Is running my own operation the best fit to that future? If so, how, why etc. All written. DONT use the PC until you have at least lions share written on paper (PC will help organize it after) or does it orphan me? If it may well orphan me, then I might need go into the job market. How does my current work of “n” or “nn” years seat me in seeking that employment?

    Your building in essence background data, future best estimate background data and your past/current direction data so you can establish what amounts to a decision tree.

    Once done, get it into digital format on the computer. Again, have friends, family and preferably others whom can be objective look at all of it. They may have more data for you. Things might sit out glaring to them you do not see.

    Its hard to chart future direction. But your a thinker which is great. Alot of folks are on the day to day. You care so much for your family that you think ahead of the curve. Many people say they do, and do. But they are reactive more so than pro-active. You are pro-active, thats admirable. Very in fact.

    Once you have your data and decision tree then you know what comes next right?

    You go someplace nice, serene and quiet. You take your radio with some soft nice no words background music. Then you pray to God, Jesus & The Holy Spirit expressing your love of life, family, God & Jesus. Thanking them for your blessings. You ask for their guidance.

    Then each night before you hit the hay, you go into your quite space, your office perhaps. Do the same.

    Your answers will come and until they do, keep praying, keep asking, keep examining your data.

  4. Hi Tom

    As others have alluded to there are bubbles of all sorts out there. Many (many) years ago I was in the military and that certainly has it’s own kind of bubble.

    I think that the danger is that it can sometimes seem that the bubble you are in at the moment is the only bubble and you start to frame your world references in relation to it and it’s values. Then rather than being creative you are constrained.

    For me it is not about popping bubbles completely it’s more about popping into other bubbles to get a different view. Then you can bring those viewpoints back and hopefully expand the WordPress bubble…

    • For me it is not about popping bubbles completely it’s more about popping into other bubbles to get a different view. Then you can bring those viewpoints back and hopefully expand the WordPress bubble…

      This is a good point – definitely agree with you here.

    • For me it is not about popping bubbles completely it’s more about popping into other bubbles to get a different view. Then you can bring those viewpoints back and hopefully expand the WordPress bubble…

      This is a good point – definitely agree with you here.

  5. Though I still love WordPress (and I’m not nearly as far along with it as you), I have also considered expanding my skill set to make myself more “marketable.”

    Seems like Ruby on Rails is a big deal these days and many job listings have that listed high on their priorities list. Also, I can write passable JavaScript, but I’d like to get into some more depth with it and its various libraries. I’m also interested in Python, and iOS and Android development. But, where do you make time for learning all these things? That’s the tricky question.

    I suppose we all just have to prioritize what we want to learn and set about it one step at a time (perhaps tackle one new skill per year, if that). But I definitely agree that we need to be continually learning and pushing ourselves. Because if we aren’t challenging ourselves, we aren’t growing. (And, like Hollywood actors, we probably don’t want to be completely “type cast” into only ONE particular space either.)

    • But, where do you make time for learning all these things? That’s the tricky question.

      Exactly. I think that’s the perpetual challenge we all have. Couple that with the usual adult responsibilities and a family and you’ve got more things to do than time available for it :).

      That said, I tend to agree that it’s basically picking one new thing and then going after it for, say, a year or so and then trying to do the same. Ultimately, I think that it should be something that’s done out of sheer interest versus obligation – if it’s the latter, you end up dreading having to do it.

  6. Hmm, well, the software landscape is so fractured these days you have to specialise or risk spreading yourself too thin.

    But learning other development environments can be a good form of therapy. It also gives you a new perspective. It also shows you that WordPress can be overkill or is not always the best solution.

    • > the software landscape is so fractured these days you have to specialise or risk spreading yourself too thin.

      Yep – and the less you know about a variety of topics, the less likely you are to be able to perform well for a task or a job that requires deep knowledge in an area. This is why I tend to favor going deep rather than wide when learning a variety of technologies.

      OTOH, like you mention, learning new things can be a break from what we do on a day-to-day basis. The challenge, in my opinion, comes when you have other interests – like, say, music – and a family, and kids, and so on that are also part of your day-to-day.

      Ultimately, I want to get the work I need to do during the working hours and then be able to provide for and to spend time with my family in the time that I have available. Sure, I’d love to consume more information and learn as much programming as possible, but it’s just not as high on my list of priorities as it once was.

  7. Interesting post, and one I think I read a little differently from some of the other commenters. Maybe I’m wrong, but maybe there are a variety of perspectives (no bad thing).

    I’ve become more and more immersed in the WordPress bubble over the years and in recent months I’m finding that from a community point of view (rather than from a development or user point of view) it’s getting to be less of a pleasant experience. When you’re on the periphery you don’t see some of what goes on, but the more involved you get the more likely you are to see people getting treated quite badly at times and pushed out because of rivalries etc. I’m not sure whether it’s the community changing or just my experience of it but it feels less open than it did.

    However I keep reminding myself that the vast, vast majority of WordPress users are just people trying to get WordPress to do a job for them, and I can contribute to that with my writing. Those people have no axe to grind and are a joy to work with. The people I write with and for are also great to work with, I think partly because of that focus on helping others to learn and opening WordPress up to a wider audience. I’m holding on to that thought for the time being!

  8. I left the WP bubble about 7 months ago, I’m very challenge oriented and I felt like I had a good run and it was time to move on. I dove in deep for the last 6+ years spending lots of time helping users on IRC, wpgear, wpsecure, WPSE and even moderating /r/wordpress. I also learned a lot about the inner depths of WP core during that period which did keep me going because we all know what a challenge that is :) In 2014 I was involved with building over 40 WP based sites so a burn out was probably also a factor.

    Honestly it feels like a breath of fresh air, new challenges, new people, new things to do and learn. I think its healthy to do this every few years, when something you really liked doing becomes less interesting, it’s time to move on.

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