The Case for WordPress Certification

In the realm of digital and creative agencies that work with WordPress as their primary platform, there are a few major players whose names keep coming up time and time again. Their employees and affiliates show up at every WordCamp (often as speakers and organizers), they have notable core and lead developers on their staff, and whenever major news happens in the WordPress world—such as a high-profile launch of a major website running WordPress—the same few agency names are often behind it.

However, there are hundreds of smaller agencies and individual developers out there who are also using WordPress in their businesses, but not necessarily at the core of their business. Agencies may develop in WordPress where it makes sense for a particular project, but work with other platforms on others.

What ends up happening is that potential clients, looking for a qualified WordPress developer, either go to one of the big “names” almost out of default, or else sign with an agency or individual without a way of being certain whether that individual is truly an expert in WordPress site development.

To this point, often the only “credentials” an agency can offer to assert its expertise is having a WordPress core contributor on staff, or participating in the “Five for the Future” program (in itself, an “unofficial” endeavor which has its own issues, as noted below). Many agencies and individuals can bill themselves as “Wordpress” [sic] experts, but there’s no official way of vetting actual experience in a way that approaches an industry standard.

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Organizations Offering “WordPress Certification”

Something called the “National Website Certification Council” offers a WordPress certification. This is not sanctioned by any organization closely affiliated with WordPress (Automattic, The WordPress Foundation, etc.), yet comes up high in Google searches for “WordPress professional certification”.

ExpertRating—who bill themselves as “Leaders in Online Certification Training & Employee Testing”—offer a WordPress test. Their description of such is somewhat misleading and can be confused into construing that this test follows ISO standards. The test offered is a 40 question multiple choice, and they charge $9.99 to take it.

There are others as well, offered by profit-driven companies that offer these certifications in conjunction with their own training programs.

“The WordPress Foundation”

Unlike other platform foundations and organizations (a few of which I’ll mention below), the WordPress Foundation is not open to membership. Rather, it exists primarily to defend the WordPress trademarks and to promote the goals of the GPL under which it is licensed.

Debate Points

  • Automattic is not officially aligned with the WordPress community. However, it is the de facto authority in the respect that it runs and maintains, the company was founded by the co-founder of WordPress, has built a multi-million U.S. dollar business with WordPress code as its foundation, and many of the employees at Automattic are core contributors, core developers, development leads, and core committers to WordPress and other WordPress-related projects (Jetpack, _s, etc.).
  • As an open source project, there is no “governing body” that oversees development. However, there are recognized core and lead developers, and the annual community summit which serves in the capacity of a steering committee.

How Other CMSes Handle This

Many commercial CMSes offer partnership programs which serve to benefit the platform (partners will tend to sell more implementations of the CMS when there is financial incentive for them to do so) and the partner agencies (the platform will direct potential customers to their preferred partners). Sitecore, Percussion, Adobe Experience Manager, and TeamSite (to name some CMS examples), all offer some sort of certification and/or partnership program.

How Other Open Source Projects Handle This

Open source projects rarely exist in a vacuum. They often have the backing of private companies that take on a “shepherding” role of the project. (In the WordPress community, Automattic is often associated with fulfilling this role, as noted above.) Zend calls itself the “PHP company” for its leadership role in that community. Part of Zend’s business is to offer training and certification in PHP software development.

jQuery has the jQuery Foundation which serves as a means of supporting the project’s various sub-projects, providing funds for documentation, and generally advancing the cause of open source and JavaScript. Foundation membership can be either individual or corporate, and corporate membership can fall into one of four tiers: silver, gold, platinum, and diamond. WordPress is a diamond-level jQuery Foundation member.

Drupal and Joomla!

Drupal and Joomla! are projects of special significance since they are the closest “cousins” to WordPress in that both are PHP/MySQL-based open source CMSes. Drupal has the Drupal Association which offers individual and organizational memberships, much like jQuery does. From the project’s perspective, its “mission is to foster and support the Drupal community by maintaining software and infrastructure…”. However, individuals and organizations that join the association can use that as a marketing tool to show their commitment to the platform to prospective clients. To further that end, membership badges are available for display on members’ collateral, and members are listed in the Drupal Association Annual Report.

Joomla! has a certification project with the stated purposes:

  • Establish a standard
  • Ensure competence and develop a qualified workforce
  • Provide a documented measure of knowledge
  • Offer guidance on choosing a Joomla! service provider.

It’s again important to note that marketing an agency as a Joomla! expert is part of the rationale for this certification. The project itself does not offer certifications directly, but provides a structure for how other organizations can provide recognized certifications of their own to others. This project does not appear to be fully implemented, and it’s unclear from the website how long this project has existed in its current, unfinished, state.

Unofficial Efforts Within the WordPress Community

While there is no official certification process in WordPress, nor a publicly-joinable association, there are some small steps in that direction available through the more closely-aligned WordPress community groups and individuals.

Matt Mullenweg has advocated a “Five for the Future” program, where in companies who derive a substantial portion of their earnings from WordPress should dedicate 5% of their resources to working on core projects. Unfortunately, most organizations don’t have the resources to dedicate 5% of their workforce full-time to WordPress, or any other single open source project. For RP3 Agency, for example, 5% would equate to about one and a half people, and really the only candidates for this would come from our Creative Technology team, so you’re looking at using nearly a third of our six-person CT department at something other than billable work and internal projects. It’s a commitment we simply can’t afford. Ben Metcalf posted a rebuttal that spells out this argument further.

While not offering “certification” per se, the WordPress Developers Club bills itself as an organization that “actively teaches, advocates, and promotes excellence in WordPress Software Development.” (Emphasis theirs.) Code Poet offers a quiz which, when completed, posts the scores of those who’ve taken it.


Without an “officially sanctioned” means of establishing WordPress developer credentials, a void exists. Into this void are other operations offering their “WordPress certification” programs, but with no watchdog controlling the quality, there is no way to assess whether developers and agencies that achieve these certifications are truly knowledgeable about building sites with WordPress.

I feel that a certification process, subject to scrutiny and standards, would benefit those that seek these credentials for their professional goals, as well as the overall WordPress community by further supporting the developers who continue to drive the platform’s adoption around the world.

General Assembly

Recently, I got some intriguing direct messages from Nick, a friend of mine from the D.C. Sass meetup. He told me that one of General Assembly’s WordPress instructors hadn’t worked out, and wanted to know if I’d be interested in teaching a class about once a month or so. It sounded intriguing, so I followed up with GA.

What quickly unfolded was a tremendous opportunity. Starting in April, I’ll be teaching WordPress for developers classes and bootcamps. The first will be a two-hour evening class on April 23, and will focus on creating child themes for WordPress. I think this would be a good introduction for front-end developers to get a taste of the WordPress development world.

Then in June, I’ll follow this up with a two-day weekend bootcamp on building custom WordPress themes and plugins using all the development best practices we’ve established at RP3 Agency. This will be an intensive dive into the WordPress world, and we’ll get into topics like using a starter theme (_s, of course), building with Vagrant, Sass, Gulp.js, etc.

The plan for now is to teach each of these courses (the evening course and the bootcamp) about once a quarter, #ParentingLife permitting. Of course, there’s a drawback in all of this. In preparing for these upcoming courses, I’ll likely have to take a break on speaking at WordCamps for the time being. There’s just not the time to prepare for a new WordCamp talk, while simultaneously preparing for these classes and managing my other projects and commitments.

RP3 Agency has been a long-time partner with General Assembly, and while this opportunity didn’t come directly from that relationship, I still see it as a great next step to work together to help produce more great developers in the Washington, D.C. community. I’m excited to be a part of this.

Washington Area Women’s Foundation

I’m super-excited to share the latest launch by RP3 Agency: The Washington Area Women’s Foundation website.

This website launch is the culmination of nearly a year of close collaboration with the client, extensively reimagining their outdated website and delivering a clean, modern and responsive new site.

Additionally, the new site is built on WordPress, leveraging the platform’s strengths as a full-featured content management system. My goal as the technical lead of the project was to deliver a site that not only was more pleasing and easy to use for visitors, but easier and more intuitive to manage for our clients.

In coming days and weeks I’ll be sharing more about the structure of the site: how we created a flexible content entry system yet maintained simplicity in the entry fields; our use of technologies such as Backbone.js to improve site performance, and how we architected the front end with Sass, Breakpoint and Susy grids.

My sincerest thanks to everyone on the team who made this site possible:

  • Jared Arrington
  • Suriporn Bridge
  • Bryan Cox
  • Mark Lovett
  • Kat Piscatelli
  • Allison Rinaldi
  • Kurt Roberts
  • Julie Smith
  • Deanna Steers
  • Lauren Turner

Way to go, team!

Picturefill.js + WordPress

Matt Marquis, chair of the Responsive Images Community Group, asked on Twitter:

Anyone know whether picture/Picturefill support is officially in the works for WordPress? Could swear I saw something about that once.

There’s no official, native support for the <picture> element (or its polyfill) in WordPress, and the Picturefill.js script is not included in the WordPress distribution (like jQuery is), but you can use both the <picture> element along with Picturefill.js in your WordPress theme today, if you’re not afraid of a little custom theming. We’ll follow the instructions for using Picturefill.js by Scott Jehl for our actual <picture> element markup.

Continue reading Picturefill.js + WordPress

Is Building a Non-Blog Website with WordPress a Hack?

Did I mention that I listen to a lot of podcasts? Of course I did. So last week I was listening to the latest episode of Happy Monday, a web design podcast hosted by Sarah Parmenter and Josh Long and featuring guest Colin Devroe. During the course of it, Sarah expressed her belief that using WordPress for anything other than a blog was “a hack.”

Continue reading Is Building a Non-Blog Website with WordPress a Hack?