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 WordPress.com, 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 Drupal.org 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.

Conclusion

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.

11 thoughts on “The Case for WordPress Certification

  1. I think the conversation of “certification” starts with defining what it means.

    It is not a piece of paper or a certificate awarded upon completion a course or curriculum. Rather, it is an achievement bestowed only upon those who can successfully prove their expertise and mastery as a software professional. Being a master means you are at the top of your field and able to solve customers’ problems at the highest levels of proficiency through web technologies and software systems.

    Those who wish to hire a certified software developer or engineer want guarantees that this person truly possesses these attributes and can perform at the expected level. It has to be credible and verifiable.

    So how do we do this?

    The process must accurately and thoroughly assess and validate each person who seeks to successfully obtain it. Those who apply for consideration must come to it with the proven and verifiable criteria. Then only those approved may proceed through an exhaustive process. It must measure the applicant’s technical proficiency, mastery of code skills, problem solving skills, and his/her ability to take a given set of problems and properly plan, build, and test a software solution.

    At WPDC, we advocate a Certification Board comprised of the best and brightest Master Software Professionals who are masters in WordPress and the software world outside of WordPress. We are advocating a stringent validation process as described above coupled with annual or bi-annual re-certification process.

    When you earn this certification, we want it to signify that “you are a technical master and highly proficient at solving problems through software.”

  2. I have been marketing myself and Douglas Web Designs as a WordPress Development business, but since I joined WPDC, I have learned that being able to customize themes, make plugins and setup dozens of custom WordPress sites does not qualify me as WordPress certified by any stretch of the imagination.

    Although I have created custom websites with custom backends, plugins and user interface, I still have a lot to learn about the fundamentals of software engineering.

    I am a student ‘apprentice’ in the WPDC and I have noticed that the other members and students of WPDC have made a discovery. There is a whole lot more to being a WordPress developer than what we all know. WPDC intends to make us not only WordPress developers light years beyond the 5 Minute Install but software engineers preparing us and introducing workflow, engineering principles and applying industry standards to code.

    Ultimately, I will be contributing to the WordPress ecosystem with well thought out, clean and refactored code.

    Watch WPDC – I believe that in there lies the future of WordPress Certification.

  3. I think there’s a difference between a WordPress developer and a software engineer. If you’re building backends with code and not just some extra plugins you installed from the repo or purchased, that makes you a developer on some level.

    To the point of WPDC’s certification efforts, I think they are laudable, but I also think accessibility needs to have a spot in there somewhere. Part of the reason there are so many inaccessible websites is because there’s no clear path to accessibility education, and I don’t mean the kind where you tell all the developers how bad they are because they didn’t include accessibility as a constraint at the beginning of the project.

    In order to include accessibility in any kind of certification, markup wil have to be covered extensively. This should probably be happening anyway, regardless of accessibility concerns. If I had a dollar for every developer or software engineer I’ve had to work with who didn’t learn markup first, and started with something like PHP or JavaScript or Java, I’d never have to work another day in my life.

    1. Amanda,

      This is so true. example: I recently acquired a customer that sells soft helmets and gear to the disabled. I asked them what the developer had done in terms of accessibility. Their body language showed that the term had never entered their ears. Consequently, accessibility was nowhere to be found. -good point

      1. Paul,

        That is typical. I’ve seen all kinds of blindness organizations fail when it comes to accessibility, and it’s usually because they don’t want to pay someone to help with it, so they find someone who will do it for free, and, well, yeah, it usually suffers.

  4. Loved it. I work pretty much in WordPress and have seen people talk about WP certification and I always wondered what that meant and who does it since I didn’t see Automattic do it. However, I do see how some people can view a certification and feel like at least the person they are dealing with has some kind of understanding of what they are doing. In the days of so many fly-by-night development companies I think certain people feel better if they see the words “certified”……even if it doesn’t really mean anything.

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