Are You An Expert?

Yesterday, I shared some thoughts on what I consider to be some qualifications to be a WordPress developer. The list and the post itself were by no means exhaustive, though I appreciated a lot of the comments and emails I received – there were some really good thoughts that came from the readership.

I think it’s an important to talk about.

But one thing I did want to make clear is that I don’t necessarily think that what I’ve written are the definitive things that one should consider in order to be a WordPress expert. We’ve all got different barometers and what not for what we consider to be experts – sometimes we say that they are just people who know more than we do; other times, we have more strict criteria.

To that end, although I’ve shared some of the things that I believe a WordPress developer should know, I wouldn’t consider myself an expert WordPress developer.

I know where I am, I know where I’ve been, I know where I want to be. And that’s what I use to gauge my personal level of experience.

A Word About Titles

Perhaps this is a cultural thing but I think that we spend a lot of time trying to find the proper titles to apply to ourselves in order to indicate our level of experience.

Titles then aren’t inherently bad, but there’s no real standard.

That is, a software engineer at an Internet-based company is very different from a software engineer who works on the software for medical devices is very different from a software engineer who works on software that powers space equipment.

To be clear, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with contextualizing titles. If you’re an employee of one type of company then I assume that you have a set of qualifications and a set of knowledge that another person with a similar title in a different field.

But, like many industries, the world of WordPress is vast.

There are themes, plugins, extensions, customizations, applications, and who-knows-what-else that is being built on top of it. And if you’re a theme developer, you may or may not be a plugin developer, and vice versa.

So we have no context for titles. This is why, yesterday, I wrote about certain questions and points to consider – they are things that transcend what we do with WordPress.

And For Interviews?

One of the points from yesterday that I did not do a good job covering had to do with a client interviewing you for a position.

Specifically, I said:

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.

And then I gave a few examples of some questions that might be asked.

The thing is, the questions that I shared were are more inline with something that an agency or a corporation may ask. They are not on par with what the client should ask.

If a client is capable of asking and understanding those questions, then the odds that they’re able to build their own solution is pretty high.

So anyway, how do we make sure that our customers know what we’re capable of doing without coming off as if we’re using technical jargon? I wish I had a solid answer for this, but I don’t.

  • Sometimes, I think certain clients can have a technical person helping them with the interview.
  • Having examples of our work and walking them through the challenges at a high-level can demonstrate what we’re capable of doing.
  • Talking through the process of how we tackle projects (or manage projects) and get them done carries weight.
  • Showcase other examples of where we’ve spoken, shared knowledge, or something like that may carry some weight.

As you can see, these are but suggestions. I don’t know if there’s one single answer to this because no two clients are the same. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some things that will carry merit.

As For Expertise

So anyway, about that whole expertise thing. In many things that we do in life – be it play an instrument, play a sport, study a particular field – many of us would ultimately like to become experts. Conversely, some people are also completely happy being a “jack of all trades, master of none.”

I’m not one to say which is more right than the other – when it comes to programming, I prefer to focus on a subset of technologies rather than a breadth of them, but that’s just me.

So as I said at the beginning of this post:

I know where I am, I know where I’ve been, I know where I want to be. And that’s what I use to gauge my personal level of experience.

I don’t know if I’m a WordPress expert because I know where I am and I know people who know so much more than I do (whom I respect, and whom I try to follow, and from whom I try to learn). I also reject the idea when someone says “You’re a WordPress expert” because they don’t have an official gauge to determine something like that.

I know where I’ve been based on the work that I’m doing and that I’ve done. I know what I’ve been able to achieve, I know how to conceptually think about solutions to a given problem, and I also know that there are times where I’m presented with something that I may not know how to actually to solve.

That doesn’t mean I don’t sit down to try, but that’s another post.

Finally, I know where I want to be because I’m not there yet. Like I said a moment ago, I know so many people who are at a place that I am not and I want to be where they are. The thing is, once I’m there, where will I want to be next? Probably further along. I mean, it’s only natural, right?

So anyway, the idea of being a “WordPress expert” is something that I think should be applied very, very specifically to a very certain type of person. It’s not to be confused with a “WordPress developer” and, as I’ve noted, there are even various types of WordPress developers. We need to qualify them, as well.

The ultimate take away or point that I would like to try to make as it relates to yesterday’s post and this post is as follows:

  • Be very careful how you label yourself as a label will give a potential client an impression that may (or may not) be true about your capabilities.
  • Don’t be afraid to admit that you’re not the type of developer that they’re looking for (but feel free to have referrals that you could send along).
  • I think it’s more liberating to be confident in the things that you do know and sharing that with your client than trying to talk your way around what you don’t know.

I’m sure there are points that can be added to what I’ve listed above, but those three seemed to be the ones that came to mind the most when working through my additional thoughts regarding all of the content for the past two days’ worth of content.

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Join the conversation! 9 Comments

  1. Thanks so much for this, Tom.

    As a developer who read the list in the other post with note-taking pen in hand, it is refreshing to see someone who is clearly further along than me but still hesitant with the term “expert.”

    It’s a fun time to be a non-expert.

  2. WordPress is a huge topic and getting larger by the day. So much so that I would venture to suggest that it is getting to the point of being ‘in the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king’ – or should that be ‘is the expert’.

    Certainly I would be sceptical of anyone who said that they are a complete WordPress expert. For myself I am pretty handy at plugin development and mapping needs to a set of custom post types, databases having been my background but I learn new things every day. On the other hand I am awful at css and graphics which are an integral and critical part of a site.

    On that basis I will never be a complete WP Expert but I think that is fine as the I can work towards being a plugin specialist who works with front end specialists…

    • WordPress is a huge topic and getting larger by the day. So much so that I would venture to suggest that it is getting to the point of being ‘in the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king’ – or should that be ‘is the expert’.

      You’re right – it’s big and getting bigger and with that is going to come unending debates and never ending conversations.

      I think that your analogy is interesting. Not sure if I fully agree – I normally think over these things a bit before coming to a conclusion :).

      If nothing else, I think we’re definitely going to see people who are experts at some things rather than others. 

      Certainly I would be sceptical of anyone who said that they are a complete WordPress expert.

      +1

      For myself I am pretty handy at plugin development and mapping needs to a set of custom post types, databases having been my background but I learn new things every day. On the other hand I am awful at css and graphics which are an integral and critical part of a site.

      Yep – then it comes down to tracking what parts of development are your area of expertise, you know?

      Is it middleware? Back-end? Front-end? etc.

      On that basis I will never be a complete WP Expert but I think that is fine as the I can work towards being a plugin specialist who works with front end specialists…

      Maybe you will. Maybe a bunch of us will. I don’t know. I don’t know where the line is, but I know we all have potential to be better.

      Geez, it sounds like I’ve written some type of marketing hype or something — but seriously, I do think it’d be possible.

  3. It’s interesting to hear you talk about not being an expert or that you want to be like people who you see as better than you. I look up to you and want to be like you so it makes me think of just how much farther I have to go ;)

    The reality though is that we’re never actually going to reach an end point. Development, like life, is a journey not a destination. We’re always going to continue to grow and learn because technology is always moving forward.

    I think the talk about WordPress Expert is a hard one to pin down, at least in terms of getting jobs from clients. I have seen thousands of job postings with “WordPress expert needed” or “Need WordPress Rockstar!”

    Most of the clients don’t understand or care what they’re called, they want someone who can do it all. They mostly don’t even care how you do it they just want it done so they use the words expert, guru or rockstar.

    On the flip side I’ve seen jobs that require a specific set of skills. Genesis developer who specializes in these specific plugins. They still use the words WordPress Expert when asking for a developer.

    My point is that even in our community, no matter what we label ourselves, clients are going to label us a specific way. We just have to do a better job of educating them. I’ve lost a lot of potential jobs because I told the client I can’t build a custom plugin. That’s not their fault, that’s my shortcoming. This is also why I’m working on adding more tools to my toolbox.

    Thanks again for the post. I love these conversations you bring up :)

    • It’s interesting to hear you talk about not being an expert or that you want to be like people who you see as better than you.

      I think we all have some of this. No matter where we are, there are always people who are a little further along than us and can provide some really great things from which we can learn.

      The reality though is that we’re never actually going to reach an end point. Development, like life, is a journey not a destination. We’re always going to continue to grow and learn because technology is always moving forward.

      Agreed.

      I think the talk about WordPress Expert is a hard one to pin down, at least in terms of getting jobs from clients. I have seen thousands of job postings with “WordPress expert needed” or “Need WordPress Rockstar!”

      I don’t talk about it much but I’m not a big fan of the ‘rockstar’ or the ‘ninja’ or whatever vernacular the recruiters have adopted over the past 5 – 10 years.

      Professionally, I don’t want to be known as that. I’d rather be a developer, architect, or engineer of sorts. This isn’t to take the fun out of it, but we can have fun in other ways in what we do.

      In what other industry do you look for, say, an Life Insurance Superhuman?

      Thanks again for the post. I love these conversations you bring up :)

      And thanks for your comments. I dig responding :). 

      • Insurance Superhuman statement is quite funny. I’ve used the parallel of developer and car mechanic quite a bit. Mainly with the way clients treat developers sometimes. I want to ask them if they would take their car to a mechanic and say / do the same types of things. When compared (in some cases) it sounds ridiculous.

  4. The very nature of WordPress’s development cycle and it’s inherent flexibility makes it hard for someone to claim to be an expert…there’s always new features to learn about or ones that are intended to replace older methods.

    There are also a myriad of ways in which you can use WordPress when developing a site/app. So even with 9 years experience of working with WordPress, in both a professional and personal setting, I would never claim to be an expert. I still consider myself a hobbyist.

    There are a lot of WordPress developers that I look up to and want to emulate but the average client doesn’t know who they are and what/how to look for in a WordPress developer as your previous post has shown.

    • there’s always new features to learn about or ones that are intended to replace older methods.

      This is true, but I’ve seen this happen with other languages (like .NET and Rails), as well.

      It’s just one of those things we have to constantly keep up with and make sure we’re making our code as backwards compatible as possible.

      So even with 9 years experience of working with WordPress, in both a professional and personal setting, I would never claim to be an expert. I still consider myself a hobbyist.

      I can totally get not calling yourself an expert. I’m with you.

      But a hobbyist? If it’s not your full time job, then sure, but if you’re making a living off of it, I’d say it’s a little more than that :). 

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