Crafting Digital Excellence: The Role of a WordPress Developer

  1. Introduction

A WordPress developer is one who can make an appealing website using WordPress. WordPress is a content management system (CMS) coded in PHP and MySQL. WordPress is used on the web by more than 60 million websites. It is free to install, deploy, and upgrade. It also lowers cost in maintenance time. A WordPress developer is any person who can make the functionality of a WordPress website. Although, in general, a developer is more oriented on the back-end with programming skills. This person can extend, add, and further develop the functionality of a WordPress site. Although, there are different levels of a WordPress developer and their skills can greatly vary. In general, a person who calls himself a “WordPress developer” is a mix between a back and front-end developer. Usually, the role of a WordPress developer starts with a client with a problem. The client will express his/her problems with his/her current website. The developer must listen and understand the problems at hand. At this point, it may require critical thinking and strategy to make a plan or solution to solve the problem. This strategy will depend on what the developer is capable of doing and what can be done to accomplish the goal. This process may need many client-developer conversations to ensure that the developer understands the needs of the client.

  1. Understanding the Role of a WordPress Developer

So what is a WordPress developer and how does it differ from a conventional web developer? A WordPress developer is someone who specializes in bespoke WordPress design and development. A traditional web developer will create a website on a platform that provides them with the most flexibility, generally a platform that needs a core understanding of programming languages such as PHP. While a great platform for website development, WordPress is unique in its own right. Introduced in 2003 as an open-source blogging tool, WordPress has evolved into a content management system (CMS) that allows for more than just blogging. This is what leads to confusion between the term WordPress developer and traditional web developers. A WordPress developer is a professional who specializes in the support and development of the WordPress platform. A developer uses the platform to create a website by utilizing WordPress themes, widgets, and plugins. The end product is a website that is entirely powered by WordPress.

  1. Essential Skills for a WordPress Developer

HTML is another crucial skill. WordPress outputs content using HTML, and so it is essential to know how to format this content and create user-friendly web forms. Although you may be able to create static HTML web pages, dynamic web pages using PHP and database data can be a different ball game, so it is wise to brush up on your HTML skills. Many people may also want to use WordPress as a CMS, and so it is essential to be able to evaluate the HTML generated by WordPress and unify this with your CSS. If your website is to contain web forms, then you will need to apply good knowledge of HTML to create these. Often, knowledge of AJAX can help to improve web forms, but this is not essential.

The first and foremost skill that a developer should have is a good working knowledge of PHP. Without this, they are really going to struggle with creating new templates, etc. You do not have to be a PHP guru, but you really need to have a good grounding and understanding of this scripting language. There are plenty of tutorials on the internet if you feel your PHP skills are not quite up to scratch. This book assumes that you are confident with PHP.

  1. WordPress Development Best Practices

Most often when users need to accomplish something, they look for an already created plugin to fit their needs. If a good and easy-to-use plugin can be created to fill a need, it can be quite successful. The code of the plugin should be quite self-explanatory. A good idea is to include comments in the code so that when the author revisits the code at a later date, it still makes sense. This could also be beneficial if the author decides to release the plugin to the public. Finally, a successful plugin should not deviate from the functionality and style of WordPress. A good plugin meshes seamlessly with the interface and acts in a similar method to the functions that are already built into WordPress.

Modifying a piece of software such as WordPress in a way that still allows for upgrades to newer versions of the software proves to be a difficult task. A popular way around this is to make the changes in a way that is not lost when the software is updated. A very typical and simple way to do this is to create a “plugin.” This is a separate file that “plugs in” to your blog, adding new functionality without changing any of the core files. By keeping changes in plugin files and using built-in WordPress functions, users can avoid a lot of headaches when upgrading WordPress.

  1. Customizing Themes and Templates

When a site has a design which is unique, there is a risk when updating a theme. If the theme is updated to a newer version, the code output of the design may change. If the update is not compatible with the old design, the site will break. Customizing a theme using a child theme is the safest way to prevent this situation. When a theme is built, it can be anticipated that people will want to modify it, and it is not efficient for the theme to include design that caters for every possible change. Theme design can be thought of as a series of templates for how the site will display. For example, there will be a template for the front page, the post page, and one to display a single post. When WordPress is used to select a theme, it uses the code from the theme’s various templates to build the site and put the content in its correct place.

Themes usually have a settings page in the WordPress admin where the site owner can adjust things like colors and layout using a GUI. This is an easy way to make changes, but the problem with settings pages is that they are often used to compensate for the limitations of the theme. The page can make many changes to the design by setting lots of options, but this usually results in the code output being messy, and it can actually slow down the site. The settings page also makes it hard to move to a different theme in the future.

The look and feel of a WordPress site is determined by the design of the theme. There are lots of themes available for site owners to use. Essentially, the design of the theme is its structure, how it displays the content, and the design is made up of code. The code, particularly the PHP, HTML, and CSS, is its bones. How the colors and fonts are styled is its skin. One may have a theme with a modern design, the next may have one with a traditional design. Each will attract a different audience, and each will require different customization.

  1. Plugin Development and Integration

APIs are sets of functions that allow the utilization of the features by other applications. WordPress has so many API sets for various system features and options. The plugins also offer a wide variety of filters and actions. They provide support in creating the best plugins by adding very specific features to the API. The very nature of an action is a change in state, and a filter is a validation or modification of any information. By utilizing an API with filters or actions, developers can create a custom solution in an elegant, maintainable, and upgrade-safe manner. It takes quite a bit of discipline, but the result is well-structured code that other developers can learn from.

The plugin development and its integration with WordPress is the last but the most productive phase. It follows the standard pattern of development in which the understanding of requirements leads to the creation of different use cases and based on those use cases coding is being done. Same is the case with plugin development, the only difference is that the output is a .php file instead of a complete application. These plugins can be simple or complex based on the requirements. A simple plugin can be just a single .php file, which shows some message at the admin panel. Despite the simplicity, writing a plugin is challenging because it cannot rely on other software the way that PHP programs can. Every plugin consists of one or more functions triggered by specific events.

  1. Ensuring Website Security and Performance

jQuery is currently very popular amongst web developers due to its flexibility in creating powerful web scripts but is also known to sometimes cause plugin compatibility issues if the jQuery version is too advanced for the WordPress version used. jQuery has many functions, and when a new WP version is released, it will take some time for WordPress to catch up with the latest jQuery. If a theme or plugin uses the latest jQuery and is activated on a new WP version, sometimes it can cause jQuery to revert to the old version, thus causing some jQuery functionality to fail. Using the jQuery noConflict() function can solve this issue by reverting the jQuery to its original version, but it can be quite a hassle.

Another way to ensure website compatibility is by minimizing the use of external CSS and JavaScript code. We can insert CSS code into the theme’s CSS file and JavaScript code into the theme’s or plugin’s JS file. If it is a very long code and will clutter the theme or plugin file, consider using the PHP function file_get_contents() to get an external CSS or JavaScript file’s content and echo it into the theme or plugin file.

A WordPress developer is required to fulfill these security and performance requirements. Although the new WordPress version is automatically updated (unless it was configured not to), there is a company that doesn’t want or can’t afford to use the latest WordPress version for particular reasons. Hence, a WordPress developer should make sure that the theme and plugin developed should work on as many versions of WordPress as possible. This is very important because once the theme or plugin is activated, it can potentially ‘break’ a WordPress installation if the theme or plugin is not compatible with the WP version used. Making sure that the theme or plugin works on many versions of WordPress involves testing against each WP version, and it can be very time-consuming. So, most of the time, when a company requests theme or plugin development, they will have to specifically mention the maximum version of WP they want to use.

  1. Optimizing SEO for WordPress Websites

Creating websites is not only an art, but it is also a science. While you might have created a beautiful website, this does not mean that it will run effectively on the internet. In this section, we will look at ways to make your WordPress website more search engine friendly. Since search engine traffic is key to the life of most websites, it is important to optimize your site to increase the probability of obtaining this traffic. There is no need to go out and hire a search engine specialist or spend a bunch of money. You can do it yourself and I’ll take you through how. In the upcoming articles within this section, we will show you how to do things such as use web standards, create friendly URLs, optimize site performance, and much more. All these techniques are easy to do and will greatly benefit your site in the long run. Now let’s start with the first on-page elements of your site and optimize the use of title tags.

  1. Collaborating with Designers and Content Creators

The worst-case scenario is taking on a design, completing the work, and then having it knocked back because the developer has not followed the designer’s thought process. Any changes made during development should be documented so that they can be passed back onto the design. This makes for a design-to-development process that gets easier with time and a final product that both the developer and designer can be proud of.

It is all too often that a WordPress developer’s work is judged against their ability to implement a design exactly as it is laid out by a designer. This can be frustrating as there are good reasons why a developer might change certain things within a design to make it more functional. For this reason, it is vital that the developer and the designer have a dialogue to discuss the potential changes. This will make it easier to understand what is possible and will open up new ideas for both parties.

The eventual creation of a website requires a solid collaboration between the WordPress developer and either a designer, design team, or content creator. This could mean working closely with one person or a small group. This section will explore collaboration, whether it is simply communicating with a designer or receiving content from a client.

  1. Troubleshooting and Debugging Techniques

Not all themes and plugins that you can use with WordPress are perfect. Many contain bugs, and while these will often go unnoticed, some can have serious effects on the functionality of your website. If you have created your own theme or plugin, they are likely to contain bugs too. It is important that you know what to do when this happens. Before taking action, backup the files that you are working on – this means that if you make the problem worse, you can easily revert to a version that works. When trying to solve any problems, the WordPress codex is an invaluable resource. It contains all the core documentation for WordPress functions, is easy to search and navigate, and the chances are you will be able to find information on any functions you are using. If you have encountered a bug, the chances are somebody else has too, and using a search engine on a forum may turn up a solution. If not, you could be the one blazing the trail for others! It is important to isolate the cause of the problem, and not jump at random changes in the hope that one will work. This can make things much more confusing, and may mean that you are unable to identify the cause of the problem. It is recommended that you try and set up a local copy of your website on your computer, this way you can carry out tests and changes without any risk to your live site. The Codex has an in-depth article outlining multiple ways to do this. When trying to identify the cause of a problem, echo and var_dump are your best friends. If you have an idea of where an error is occurring, placing echos at various points in the code can help to track it down. var_dump is useful for printing the contents of an array to the screen, revealing information such as the keys and values of the array. This can be especially useful when wading through the sea of information contained within the $wpdb object.

  1. Keeping Up with WordPress Updates and Trends

The best way to approach this is by subscribing to the official development blog and any other news source for WordPress and developers built on the WordPress platform. A good example of this is to subscribe to RSS feeds like WPBeginner. What you want here is to keep an eye on the news regarding WordPress and any major developments regarding the platform’s future.

New technologies will continue being developed and the way people use the internet changes. WordPress too needs to embrace these changes as tools to build with. This means that a good WordPress developer must also keep ahead of the curve by always improving their knowledge of new versions of WordPress. As WordPress releases new versions, this brings about new features and APIs that will change the way that you use the platform and improve the ways you can implement these into client websites. Saying this, you should also solidify whether or not these new features are stable enough for usage. Just like in the real world, it’s the medical industry who has to check if a new product is safe for human usage before it’s applied to the general public.

  1. Testing and Quality Assurance in WordPress Development

Quality Assurance is part of the all software development process. It refers to making sure that the other activities are also involved in all aspects, in the right way. This means that QA is not the only work of testers, but also involves other project teams and processes to produce quality software. For the developer, QA is the best way to find the most efficient and effective way to produce quality code and ensure that there are no defects and the code already fulfills the user requirements. This allows the developer to ensure the estimation of time to make the code and focus on ensuring the code quality and requirements. QA is highly correlated with testing because one of the methods to assure that all the processes followed in software development are the right way is to find out the results and compare them with the plan that has already been defined, and QA is the activity that needs to be done.

Testing is fundamentally a method to assure the build quality in code, whereas a tester is a solution to assure the quality. The testers would not like to stop testing at any time till the end of the project because the more defects they find, the more foolishness they have done. A tester must show the developer where the location of the defects is. He or she can make an illustration of the condition in the program which causes the defects, so it can be easily found by the developer to take corrective actions. A tester must also give the ‘proof’ of defects by providing repeatable test cases. This is because sometimes the defects found may be caused by unsystematic test actions by the tester.

  1. Deploying and Managing WordPress Websites

Assuming that no data will be lost during the development process, we will need to create a plan for deploying the updated website to the live server. To do this, we will store the differences made to the development CMS in a file or files. This process is known as versioning and it depends on the use of a version control software, programs which are used to track and store changes to files. An example of version control software is Subversion, a PHP application which is often available from hosting providers. If you have SSH access to your server, then it is possible to install it yourself. Due to the recent increase in popularity of Git, a new type of version control software, and the fact that plugins like Jigoshop and Gravity Forms are urging people to start using it, it may soon take the place of Subversion. When storing versioned files, it is wise to make a development subdomain and have it as an exact copy of the live site. If you don’t use a subdomain, then at the very least expect to spend a great deal of time reconfiguring plugins and widgets.

When it comes to deploying and managing a WordPress website, the first thing you must understand is that a website is commonly a work in progress. Unlike traditional HTML websites, Content Management Systems (CMS) should be set up on a test server before being taken live. WordPress websites often require additional server configuration. Many people want to get straight to using the website after their initial install. Unfortunately, doing this can lead to problems down the road, such as losing data or having to reconfigure the entire website (especially true for those who are using WordPress for the first time). In order to avoid a big headache down the road, a WordPress CMS should be set up on a test server with the same server configurations as the one on the live site. This can be done using the mirroring and clustering techniques. If you do not have time to cluster the server and set up a testing environment, then turn on the maintenance mode plugin.

  1. Client Communication and Project Management

Realizing the potential benefits and sometimes necessity of effective client communication, some developers opt to take courses in fields such as project management or in business and marketing. A developer who can understand the client’s business strategy and can adjust their technical work to align with that strategy is one who is truly a valuable asset to the client. Through establishing a strong line of communication, being available, and being reliable, a developer can truly lead a project rather than simply complete tasks.

On the other hand, a developer who is able to fully understand and realize client needs is one who makes the client comfortable and confident in their abilities and often develops long-term work relationships. Clients are more likely to feel comfortable if they can understand everything that is taking place in a project. So it is important that a developer takes the time to educate the client when needed. This can range from explaining technical terms to teaching a client how to self-manage their CMS.

Drawing from the vast and varied experiences of our developers, it is clear that effective client communication and project management are key factors in determining the excellence of a digital project. It is often the case that a developer is technically proficient and creative, but lacks in interpersonal skills either in being unable to articulate thoughts and ideas to the client on the same level as their peers, or in misunderstanding the client’s vision and requirements. This disconnect often leads to frustration on both sides and in the worst case scenario, a project failure.

  1. Continuous Learning and Professional Growth

It is essential that you keep up with these people, subscribe to their blogs/RSS feeds, and chime in from time to time. Discover the names of people who are contributing interesting information and plugin/theme ideas and make a point to rub virtual elbows with them. The learning doesn’t end with other people however. The Codex is a comprehensive resource that is continually updated and will teach any level of developer new tricks. Also, don’t underestimate the power of studying another person’s plugin or theme. You can widen your breadth of WordPress coding knowledge by dissecting/reverse-engineering quality code and figuring out how and why it works.

When walking into work, you seek out the smart, open-minded people and you listen to them. The WordPress community is rife with smart people who are continually engaging one another and the world in active dialogues. They frequently do this over at the WP-Hackers mailing list, but you can also find them hanging out in various IRC chat rooms or at regional WordPress meet ups. Beware though, the IRC channel is often like trying to take a drink from a fire hose.

The philosophical aspect of continuous learning serves as a bridge that steers you toward the next technological bend in the road, highlighting the immense need to change and adapt to new information. This aspect must become ingrained in the developer’s psyche and personal development plan. For example, it should be as natural and assumed as planning time to eat or sleep and should happen all day, every day in some form.

  1. Conclusion

In this essay, I have provided a roadmap to this end, explaining how they may understand what decisions would be best for the functionality of a website by considering the status of the software and the server in comparison to the requirements of the web page.

The developer should seek to implement solutions and designs which are effective, and while it is certainly a truism that function can follow form, a truly skilled developer will master a balance between the two, allowing for the implementation of elegant solutions at every level of function.

Though some developers may be quite content to create in the manner with which they are already accustomed and thus take little heed of considerations which would require potentially breaking prior works in order to implement something better, it is my opinion that true mastery of the WordPress platform demands a forward-thinking approach and a clear understanding of the restrictions and features of the system and server alike.

The goal and end result of a craftsman’s work is always something of quality, and for the developer, this is no less the case. A man of the trade always desires the best tools for the job, and knowledge of the trade too is something which is constantly improved upon.

Like all craftsmen, the WordPress developer has a range of tools at his disposal, both software and skills, which he uses to create his works. This essay has been a guide for the modern WordPress developer, outlining the digital tools and mastering strategies needed to become a true craftsman in his trade. The journey it outlines may be long, but it is a journey of love and dedication toward the mastery of a skill.

A WordPress developer can be seen as a craftsman for the digital age. He takes the easy and the plain and creates something functional and elegant from it. He tinkers and refines the raw materials until he has something beautiful, something which others can admire and use.

Craftsmen are revered in our society; they create lasting works which others can enjoy and admire for years to come. Not everyone can truly appreciate a craftsman’s work because the skill and dedication to a craft is a rare thing in today’s instant, throwaway society. But for those that can understand, a craftsman’s work is a thing of beauty.

WordPress, the world’s foremost open-source content management system, is the darling of the internet. It is free, easy to use, simple to install, and can be used to create anything from a blog to a complete website. All this makes it perhaps the most widely used system for building websites.

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