WordPress Developer Salary: Manage That Content!

In the previous post, I shared a few thoughts on the challenges of setting a WordPress developer salary. When I began writing out my opinion, I ended up writing a lot more than I had intended, so in order to keep posts at a shorter length (thus saving all of us time :) and sounding less monotonous, I’ve broken everything up into a handful of posts that I’m basically running as a series.

Yesterday, I laid it all out in that I shared three reasons as to why I think WordPress developer salaries are lower than that of the average software developer. There were some really good, thoughtful comments on the post, too.

And the whole point of doing that was to lay out a high-level view of my opinions before looking at the topic in more detail.

As much as I want to talk about more technical matters of WordPress, I think it’s worth noting that one reason that a WordPress developer salary is hard to set is that many still see WordPress as a content management system, if not just another blogging platform.

WordPress Developer Salary: Just Content Management

As I mentioned in the previous post, I think that the challenge with trying to nail down what a WordPress developer salary should be has a lot to do with understanding what WordPress is, what it’s capable of, and what a person is capable of doing with it.

Sure, there are other things to consider – which I’ll mention later – but understanding what the core application actually does and is capable of doing plays a major role.

But that’s where part – and arguably the biggest part – of the problem is.

I believe most people still see WordPress as a blogging platform (and that’s fine!). Even those of us who build other things for it and with it still use it for exactly that, right? I mean, isn’t this a case in point? We even use WordPress to blog about WordPress and/or our WordPress-based companies.

How meta of us.

WordPress Developer Salary: It's All Content
Meta Joker is Meta

But seriously, we all know that it’s matured into what’s typically better known as a content management system. And that’s fantastic. WordPress has grown up on us in a lot of ways (and continues to do so).

For those who have built more sophisticated systems with it, it’s obvious. For others, it looks like a blogging platform that offers more options than the usual CMS, doesn’t it?

Wait, though – what’s content management, anyway? What constitutes “content” and how far do we actually go when “managing” it? Ask 50 different people about content management – those technically inclined, and those not – and see what kind of answers you get.

But It Is More Than That

On top of that, those of us who are familiar with the WordPress APIs and what can be done with WordPress know that it’s far more than a CMS. It can be used as a foundation on which to build web applications.

To that end, one of the biggest problems that plagues WordPress developers (and designers, I’d venture to say) is not so much what can and can’t be done with it, but it’s how it’s perceived by the industry.

For many:

  • The idea of building an application with an application sounds weird (and not like something professional developers would do),
  • It’s not something that you use to build enterprise and/or scalable applications,
  • There are what are believed to be far more advanced (and expensive!) languages and tools to build the solutions that need to be built.

Whether or not any of the above are true is irrelevant for the point of this discussion. That could be a post all on its own, though I don’t currently plan to chat about that.

I think it simply goes back to a problem of perception and understanding of the core application. Part of this has to do with how WordPress is marketed, part of it has to do with the fact that it has a primary purpose as a way to publish content, and part of it has to do with the fact that it’s not targeting the developer niche like programming languages, libraries, and frameworks do simply by their nature of being. To be fair, though, WordPress is meant to be marketed towards programmers.

With that said, I don’t think the problem is one-sided.

So, What About These Developer-Types?

If someone was to look at WordPress as a viable option as a platform (not a framework) for building software, and then attempt to grab someone from the pool of applicants, there are a number of things that professional software developers are assumed to know with a degree of certainty – some comes from education, some comes from experience.

But if a WordPress developer is someone who is technically proficient with using an application, then we’re looking at an entirely different type of person. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but I don’t think those types of people should be labeled as developers, nor do I think that those looking to hire someone with a background in software development should skip out on evaluating the technical experience of a candidate.

And that’s the other side of the problem: The people who are labeling themselves as WordPress developers and are then being hired by those who know WordPress can be used as a more than a content management system end up finding themselves faced with problems that are more typically related to a software development role – not a content management role.

Perhaps there have been times where the opposite has happened: Someone applied for a development position that utilizes WordPress  and ended up finding that it was actually a role that was more content management than writing code.

Ultimately, I think that the problem can be partially attributed to how those who are doing the hiring view WordPress and the applicant pool, and those people in the applicant pool are labeling themselves.

Regardless, that’s getting into the core issue of the next post.

6 Replies to “WordPress Developer Salary: Manage That Content!”

  1. “I think it simply goes back to a problem of perception and understanding of the core application. Part of this has to do with how WordPress is marketed, part of it has to do with the fact that it has a primary purpose as a way to publish content, and part of it has to do with the fact that it’s not targeting the developer niche like programming languages, libraries, and frameworks do simply by their nature of being. To be fair, though, WordPress is meant to be marketed towards programmers.”

    That does sum up the nature of “the problem”. I suspect most WordPress developers (that is, actual code writers, those who can confidently manipulate the API) find that competition from amateurs who can stumble through a basic installation and apply some themes or plugins loses them much work and pulls prices down. Those same amateurs couldn’t take on a full CMS/framework like Processwire or Laravel but WP makes it possible.

    WordPress is a halfway-house where a little knowledge can achieve a lot. That’s not necessarily a good market for dedicated developers to be in, but developers find themselves there because that’s where the money is. WordPress is hugely popular by very virtue of the fact that it is so easy to install and customise, and developers can exploit that ready market.

    So it’s a catch-22. With WordPress, you take the good with the bad.

    1. Those same amateurs couldn’t take on a full CMS/framework like Processwire or Laravel but WP makes it possible.

      This is well said,

      WordPress is a halfway-house where a little knowledge can achieve a lot. That’s not necessarily a good market for dedicated developers to be in, but developers find themselves there because that’s where the money is.

      It’s funny you mentioned that because it’s where some people see where the money is. Others are having a hard time finding it. Funny how that’s working out.

      WordPress is hugely popular by very virtue of the fact that it is so easy to install and customise, and developers can exploit that ready market.

      Indeed. But depending on the complexity of the solution that you need developed will greatly dictate how competent your developer is. It won’t take long if you end up leaning in the direction of a more advanced set of problems.

  2. I think “WordPress Developer” is too broad of a term. There is a differentiation in skill sets, and therefore should be in salaries, between a “WordPress Theme Developer”, a “WordPress Plugin Developer”, and a “WordPress Implementer”, though I’m sure most people building WordPress sites have a combination of skills from all three.

    The theme developer’s salary should fall more in alignment with a “web designer”, while the plugin developer should fall more in alignment with a “php developer”.

    I do consider the plugin developer closer to the true definition of a “developer”, such as a .NET or Rails developer, in that they’re working mostly in php code.

    Just my 2 cents.

  3. Your categorisations fall in line with my experience and for the most part I think that the problem lies in that when folks see WordPress Developer they understand that as WordPress Implementor. Where I am there is a company that is exceedingly successful with over 100 staff based on WordPress implementation. It does however pay bottom rates for PHP devs and I know that the turnover is huge. They are churning out sites at competitive rates and cannot afford to have high salaries. They can do this because of the volume of free/cheap plugins but they will not be producing complex bespoke functionality.

    I also agree that a true developer is similar to a .NET or Rails developer and that is where I think we get into the bespoke functionality area and by this I mean a combination of theme developers and plugin developers. In this arena we have a completely different set of needs to be fulfilled very often with integration to existing corporate systems and certainly with rigid security testing. This is the area that I think WordPress will move into over the next few years and as the market matures I think it will be easier for both employer and employee to get a good handle on exactly what type/level of skills are required.

    Even if I am right finding good people will remain difficult. I know from personal experience how hard it is.

    1. Where I am there is a company that is exceedingly successful with over 100 staff based on WordPress implementation. It does however pay bottom rates for PHP devs and I know that the turnover is huge.

      That’s always a bummer to hear because I think people should be well-compensated for their time, their skill, and their quality of work. And if PHP is a persons language of choice and in which they feel happy in working with, then so be it.

      In this arena we have a completely different set of needs to be fulfilled very often with integration to existing corporate systems and certainly with rigid security testing.

      Exactly.

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