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Is WordPress really dreaded?

You’ve heard the story…

You’ve likely heard the story of the student who works so hard on a research paper. They spend all sorts of time studying and creating an outline. They invest in tons of drafts and proofreading to make their report perfect.

Then they turn it in and await the grade.

The results come back with a note

“Great paper. Well-researched. Excellent sources. Wrong Topic. F

Sometimes that’s how I feel about some of the debates that I hear and read related to WordPress. Which is why you’ll hear me say this more than once:

Make sure the debate you win is a debate worth having.

Did you see the Stack Overflow 2016 Developer Survey?

The other day a lot of folks on twitter started talking about this survey and particularly one of the sections on technology.

If you look at the “DREADED” section, WordPress is at 74%.

So, of course, we all start talking about why people hate WordPress. And what are all the things that are wrong with WordPress.

And in all those debates, we miss several things that I’d like to highlight as far more important dyanamics that I see from that survey.

Observation: Dreaded doesn’t mean dreaded.

I get it. I write a lot and I know how much of what I write is missed or skipped. So using strong titles makes sense. But did you see the actual definition of the “dreaded” tab?

It simply highlights technology that people are using that they don’t mark as wanting to use in the future.

That’s not dread. That’s just a lack of interest. And that’s a big difference.

But before we get too into what that means, don’t skip past the next notion.

Observation: 49% of the 50,000+ developers use SQL / SQL Server.

We’re sitting here talking about why people hate WordPress when what it really highlighted was that some people who used it weren’t all that interested in using it again in the future.

Look at the first section of the Technology area and see if people are using WordPress a lot. Nope. It’s not in the list.

So we’re not talking about respondents who use WordPress consistently. We’re talking about people who are often asked to work doing something else and every now and then have to touch WordPress.

Know what they do regularly? Work with SQL. See that? It’s 2nd on the list.

And then go back to the “dreaded” tab and look at how 60% of them don’t want to do it any longer.

That’s closer to dread, right?

They have to use it all the time and they don’t want to use it again. Know what really sucks? If you look at the previous years of this survey, it looks like they’re going to have to use SQL / SQL Server again next year.

Imagine you’re a developer (and remember what kind of developers took this survey) who works on lots of SQL-based work. And you’re asked to make a change to a WordPress site.

Are you going to learn “the WordPress way” or know where to find quality documentation or helpful resources?

So yeah, I get why, on a survey, what you’re excited about learning next year is Angular or Javascript instead of WordPress.

Is WordPress really dreaded?

I don’t think so.

I think, among developers  who aren’t WordPress developers, it’s just another user-oriented technology. It’s not as interesting, to a developer, like the never-ending list of new front-end technologies or dependency management approaches.

Those are things that interest developers because they solve problems they’re dealing with. This is going to be an overly generalized statement, but the software developers I know – both young and old – get excited about two types of technology:

  1. technology that helps them do hard things in an easier way

  2. technology that doesn’t restrict what they want to do or how they want to do it

Before you comment, let me be clear. I think many individual developers get interested in a variety of technologies. But when we’re talking about a large group of people as a single entity, I find that it always comes back to these two dynamics.

And the challenge with WordPress is the same as the challenge with Microsoft Word. It’s seen as an end-user technology that could be used to develop some interesting things, but it’s not at the top of any list of interesting technology. It’s constraining in how developers have to work with it to create an application with it.

I know for some people, comparing WordPress to Microsoft Word is horrible. I’m sorry for the comparison, but in this particular case, as it relates to what people find interesting, I think it’s apt.

So what should we  focus on? What debate should we really have?

So if the debate of why developers dread WordPress is the wrong one, what’s the right one?

First, if we could figure out a way to help those poor SQL developers who hate their life, we totally should. 🙂

But more seriously, what do we know about software that lasts a long time and becomes pervasive?

We know that it carries baggage. That’s just a reality. That’s not a WordPress thing. It’s a “you lasted longer than all the rest and are everywhere, but you’re showing signs of your age” challenge.

To meet that challenge, we need to continue to drive things forward, to focus on iterating and improving. But you can’t improve without context.

This is where people like Nacin succeed. Because he read everything on trac before he posted his first message. He was a student long before being a leader.

This is the hard work Justin can tell you about – because the original WP eCommerce was written long before anyone was thinking about WordPress doing eCommerce. Over the last several years he’s been refactoring the code and digging into which parts of core can now replace the old code in that plugin.

We need more people who dig into the code. Who dig into the history of decisions made. Who dig into the consequences that simple decisions might make. A lot more readers. A lot less talkers and debaters on Twitter.


And that also means, while we’re debating how to encourage this behavior, we ought to debate what roadblocks there may be for people who want to become a student of the code. Let’s debate that. And then work on it.

Already we have developer docs that we didn’t have a few years ago. Already we handbooks we didn’t have a few years ago. This is fantastic improvement that we should celebrate. But how do we get more?

How do we keep driving this forward?

When we have more than a few people who are versed in the codebase and can think at an abstract level, we can debate the complex steps we’ll need to take for evolution (over revolution). The recent work on Term Meta Data was a multi-step process with a host of dependencies. We will likely have many more challenges like this if we’re going to continue to improve WordPress (and maybe shift how it does things along the way).

Here’s what we don’t need

We don’t need to get defensive. Can WordPress do everything that every new framework can do? Not necessarily and not as easily. That’s ok. We don’t need to defend it. There are many things it can do. More than you likely know. Enjoy that for now. And help it do more soon.

We don’t ever need to get nasty. I know it’s easy to get into a shouting contest with an idiot. But in so doing, we become another idiot in the yelling match. The more professional we are, the better life is – for us. That said, I’m glad Norcross is around, who knows how to tell someone off without looking like an idiot. If you have Norcross-level skill, ignore this.

We don’t need to eat our young. Instead of getting into a debate among our own, and highlighting how little someone new to the game knows, engage them in a way that doesn’t shame them. Help them learn. Even when they’re wrong, their interest is worth cultivating.

WordPress isn’t dreaded. But it may never again be sexy.

We’re just going to have to get over it.

New technology will appear each and every year. And that means it will call out to developers consistently. And WordPress may never be in the cool kid spot again (or maybe it will, who knows).

But so what? Being on the pervasive list is more useful and more powerful.

Let’s embrace that. And the folks who are looking forward to using WordPress next year…

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