Within the space of 5 hours yesterday, two people posted similar questions on the Advanced WordPress Facebook group asking, for help understanding WordPress:

Where can I find the best instruction to learn to create templates and plugins for WordPress? I know that WordPress Codex is the basis. Perhaps some known quick best courses or ebooks that teach simple and easy? I know the basics of HTML only.

Hi, newbie here. I know you probably get this a lot but I couldn’t find a good course/book for WordPress advanced development by myself. Any indications on this are welcome. I’m not a totally beginner developer, I created this plugin for my client using the woo commerce api and stuff but sometimes I miss a clearer picture on the inner works of wp, sometimes basic things because I never formally studied it. Thanks in advance.

Someone asked me a similar question last May at WordCamp North Canton, after I’d given a presentation on the Settings API and the transition to WordPress’s (relatively) new Customizer. “Where do you go to learn that kind of stuff?” she asked.

There are a few good courses for various aspects of WordPress development. I highly recommend WP Sessions, but there are plenty of others.

[Update 3/21/16: I now highly recommend Know the Code. More about my own experience on that here.]

For plugins, Pippin is tops. For a whole variety of WordPress development related tutorials, you can’t do better than follow along with Tom McFarlin. For themes, there are some excellent tutorials on ThemeShaper. And you can find plenty of help on Tuts+. Just to name a few.

For any WordPress development, the Codex is your Bible, and (because WordPress is open source) you can always go to kneel before the source code itself.

But the truth is, there isn’t a definitive beginning WordPress developer’s textbook. There are plenty of variations on WordPress for Dummies covering things for users. But nothing of the same ilk for developers. The closest thing I can recommend is Professional WordPress by Brad Williams.

One tongue-in-cheek response to the question on Facebook went:

Here’s the course you can do. (1) Buy a candle. (2) Burn it at both ends.

Most of us WordPress developers learned it this way. Piecemeal. One project, one problem, one challenge at a time. Many of us come from computer science or information technology backgrounds. But many of us grew into it by necessity of using the platform in other fields in ways that didn’t have ready-made solutions.

Because of this, you’ll find WordPress “developers” at every point along the spectrum. You might find any of the following calling themselves WordPress developers:

  • “I can make changes to a theme and they actually look right most of the time!”
  • “I wrote a plugin to create a custom post type.”
  • “I just developed a new theme from scratch.”
  • “I developed an app that uses the REST API.”
  • “I wrote a large chunk of the code for the REST API.”

Admittedly, this makes it hard for end users wanting help with a WordPress website. You never know which kind of “developer” you’re dealing with. There’s a somewhat heated debate within the WordPress community about what exactly WordPress Developer does mean or should mean, whether there should be a set of standards around the title, and if so who gets to say what the standards are. It’s not going to get resolved any time soon. I’ve been at each place on the spectrum above (except the last one — I didn’t write the REST API) at one time or another.

But you have to start somewhere, and there’s no shame in being a beginner. Just keep in mind that all of us learn as we go. The longer you stick with it, the better you’ll get. Tackle one project, one problem, one challenge at a time, and eventually you’ll get there.

Photo credit: Eric Norris