I’m trying to branch out a bit with the stuff about which I write this year. And given the the rise in discussions on WordPress Certifications, I see an opportunity to do just that.

This isn’t much of a well-researched or academic article. Instead, it’s an op-ed by someone who’s been in the space for over a decade sharing his perspective on the idea of WordPress certifications in 2023.

If you’re not interested in reading the whole thing, I’ll save you some time and simply state: I’m not completely for it, I’m not completely against it. I think it purely depends on the goals of the person and the needs of any given company who is hiring the individual. Above all else, it needs to be collaborative.

If you run a search for “WordPress certifications,” you get quite a few results back. The thing about these programs is that I have no idea how to determine what makes for a good certification.

  • Who has vetted the curriculum (let alone who comes up with it)?
  • Who evaluates the end result of achieving certification?
  • Who determines what is a satisfactory certification in the program?

To that end, I’m opting to use the article posted on the Make WordPress Training site, Exploring WordPress Certifications.

Over the years, there have been a few discussions about creating formalised certifications for WordPress, most notably in 2013 as seen on Torque and WP Tavern. While those discussions are nearly 10 years old, they are still relevant and, now that an open learning platform for WordPress exists, this is a good time to revisit those conversations.

Hugh Lashbrooke

WordPress Certifications in 2023

Not The First Time

First, years ago when I first met Tonya in ~2015, she was talking about exactly this idea and she was coming from it from an engineering perspective. I mention this because the idea of WordPress certifications has been going on for quite some time from a lot of smart people and from different perspectives. Her perspective is the one I remember most.

Secondly, as someone who has worked in WordPress both in being self-employed, for an agency, and for a product company, as well as someone with a background in computer science, the perspective I take on what a certification would entail may be unique (but probably not; I don’t think I’m anymore unique than the next person writing about this).

Certify What?

As previously mentioned, WordPress is big. I know a lot more JavaScript is being written for the application than ever before but that doesn’t change the fact that individuals, teams, and companies are still dealing with a lot more than just the Block Editor. Nor does it mean we’re just dealing with PHP, either.

There’s a lot that goes into building a medium-to-large scale WordPress application:

  • Source control,
  • Procedural or Object-Oriented Programming,
  • Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery,
  • Understanding the problem domain,
  • Discovery,
  • Research an development
  • Prototyping,
  • Properly scoping the project,
  • First-party and third-party APIs
  • API design,
  • Plugins,
  • Themes,
  • Plugin Add-ons,
  • Scaling,
  • Treating WordPress products as a SaaS,
  • And so on.

All of these are just ideas are I’m listing out when shooting from the hip. It isn’t meant to be exhaustive, complete, or to define what a certification should entail. It does, however, include the things that many of us deal with on a daily basis or weekly basis.

As such, I don’t think the idea of having a certification is necessarily the only way by which a candidate should be vetted for his/her skill. That is, the rubric shouldn’t be:

  1. If this person is not WordPress certified,
  2. Then this person is not suited for this position.

It’s more complicated than that. It should be. Software development isn’t simplistic by nature, especially the larger the scale of the team, solution, or what have you.

Imagine the scenario where you’ve undergone certification that’s taught you how to build custom blocks for the Block Editor but hasn’t taught you anything about the database, serialization, validation, etc., all of which is likely going to be needed when building more complex blocks.

What happen when those situation inevitably arise? Are proper code reviews taking place and, if so, by whom? If they aren’t, what happens when something is insecurely stored in the database?

Further, if an organization is looking for those who are certified in WordPress, what are they looking for them to be certified in doing?

  • Is it database administration?
  • Is it scaling?
  • Is it something to do with architecture that existing between severs, caching, multiple data centers, etc.?

Again, this point is not to dissuade from the idea that there shouldn’t be certifications. But I do know the challenge of scoping such a certification for such a massive, popular application as WordPress is not going to be an easy feat.

It’s Not One or the Other, Either

I still think having onboarding sample projects for the type of role the person is seeking is important. It helps to see what they are capable of doing, where they may need help, and where they may be an asset.

But understanding how people use WordPress and how they want to contribute to projects that are based on it is going to be key to setting up a certification program. I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility that a single certification would have multiple levels, nor do I think that becoming certified within WordPress would necessarily trump experience when dealing with the software.

That isn’t the say a certification wouldn’t carry weight. It would assuming it’s structured properly. But those who have solved interested problems in 5, 10, or 15+ years aren’t going to be irrelevant because they aren’t certified. They are still going to be incredibly valuable as they’ve truly stayed in the trenches and grown with the application through all of its ups, downs, and all-arounds.

But if having a series of certifications helps to bring more people into the fold, then go for it. Let’s make WordPress as powerful and popular as it can be. Ultimately, though, I don’t think it should turn into gatekeeping (not that anyone is suggesting that).

In tech, people come from lots of different backgrounds with experiences that can compliment the work they’ll ultimately be doing. As such, a person who’s worked within the React economy will have something to offer that may not necessarily be how WordPress would do it at first but it may add to it.

Similarly, someone with domain-driven design in object-oriented programming can also offer something when building robust, backend solutions that aren’t necessarily “the WordPress way,” but certainly aren’t the wrong way.

Necessary Collaboration

Ultimately, this is a necessary, ongoing discussion. Even if nothing comes from it right now, having this come up every few years isn’t a bad thing. It shows that we’re thinking about the quality of the software and the solutions being built by the people who are building them.

It must be handled with care both by those creating the certifications and those who would look to such certifications when hiring talent.

To that end, perhaps it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have product companies, agencies, freelancers, and the certification team all work together to build this type of certification.

It’s hard to imagine doing so without that type of collaboration.

My Conclusion, One More Time

As I stated at the beginning of the article: I’m not completely for it, I’m not completely against it. I think it purely depends on the goals of the person and the needs of any given company who is hiring the individual.

If this is done, make it a collaborative effort. I fail to see how it could be done properly in any other way.