That’s not a knife.

Do you remember this scene from Crocodile Dundee? I couldn’t have been more than 10 when this movie came out, and I don’t remember any other scene from the movie except this one. Mike Dundee and Sue are walking out of a party when they’re approached by a few would-be robbers. One of them pulls out a switchblade. Dundee, not the least bit put off by this, pulls out his own knife and slices the leather jacket of one of the kids, much to the chagrin of the thieves, who promptly run away.

Earlier today, Mario Peshev wrote a very interesting post about how those who AREN’T actually developers shouldn’t call themselves developers. Fair enough, and at the most basic level, I agree with the point of the post. If you’re not able to build it from scratch, you’re not a developer. That’s exactly why I don’t call myself a WordPress developer. And, that’s why I also TELL people WHY I don’t call myself a developer. If you’ve heard me speak at WordCamp or our meetup, you’ve heard this ad nauseum.

This post of Mario’s is one of many addressing the state of WordPress roles, costs, education and salaries. He’s not the only one who has written about those things this year, either. In the WordPress community, this conversation in 2015 is what value pricing was in 2014. And, this conversation is absolutely relevant, considering that WordPress now powers 25% of the internet.

That’s a lot of expectation to manage.

That’s the thing, though. The titles of developer, programmer, designer are FILLED and DEFINED with the expectation of the person hiring them, NOT of the practitioner. To one customer, the “developer” they need and expect is a switchblade. To another, a switchblade wouldn’t work and so they need Dundee’s big-ass knife.

They’re BOTH knives. Both are sharp. Both cut things.

More importantly, the fact that they’re both knives is NOT the switchblade’s problem.

The fact that a switchblade exists in the world does nothing to keep Dundee’s huge blade from doing its job, and it probably didn’t set the price for Mike’s blade, either. Mike’s knife looks like it might have a custom handle on it, so it probably cost a pretty penny and isn’t so easily replaced.

For too long, developers have stared at low-cost WordPress solution providers, claiming they are the root of all of WordPress’s enterprise penetration problems. The fact that some implementers call themselves developers does NOT stop the best WordPress developers from finding and attracting enterprise clients.

WordPress developers are stopping themselves from attracting enterprise clients by not inserting themselves into the enterprise conversation.

Earlier I mentioned I’m not a developer. That’s totally true and so then, I can’t be a core contributor. But, I am a WordPress contributor in that for five years I’ve organized WordCamp Columbus, and helped to bring about the creation of several other camps and meetups in Ohio and Kentucky. Here is what I see, from that unique, non-developer-but-not-WordPress-stupid perspective.

Here in Columbus, we’ve got the largest university in the country . We know enterprise as it relates to .edu.

Outside of New York, San Francisco and Dallas/Houston, we’ve got more Fortune 500 companies than any other city in the country. Healthcare, banks and retail e-commerce top the lists of those companies. We’re no stranger to the ENTERPRISE here in Ohio.

Every year when WordCamp rolls around, I ask for developers to come share what they’re doing in the enterprise space.

But you know what? You don’t come to our camp to talk about the enterprise applications of WordPress. Every year, people from those sectors get in touch with me ( a NON-developer, mind you) asking what we’ll have for them at WordCamp Columbus, and every year I ask for you to come show off what WordPress can do outside of a few custom post types and fancy filters. And every year: nothing. Why? Is it because you’re too busy talking about what other people should be calling themselves and what other people should be charging instead of positioning yourselves as the enterprise experts?

I don’t know. I don’t know why other platforms (Google for God’s sake), roll into Columbus with elaborate marketing campaigns and workshops to woo enterprise clients, while WordPress does nothing. And by WordPress, I mean you: developers, community who make up this thing that is WordPress. I don’t mean ONLY Automattic, or 10up or the other VIP companies. I mean those of you who aspire to do amazing work with WordPress for enterprise clients.

Where and how are you inserting yourself into the existing enterprise conversations for which WordPress could be a solution?

Because I don’t see it. I don’t see it on your blogs. I don’t see it in events you’re attending and talking about. I don’t see it in your case studies. I don’t see it in your Twitter streams or LinkedIn profiles.  I don’t see in even the most basic search engine returns for enterprise WordPress. I don’t see it in who you claim to be. What I do see is a lot of talk about how the switchblades are keeping the big knives from doing their jobs. What I want to see is you showing us WordPress is more than a switchblade; more than blog and more than a CMS in the right hands. 

When WordPress promises to democratize publishing, it doesn’t just make that promise to the one who hits the blue Publish button. It makes that same promise to the one who enables the publisher. They get a shot at democratizing publishing just like you do, whether you like that or not. You don’t get to say to the not-truly-a-developer that they can’t or aren’t democratizing publishing. They truly are, but not in the same way you do. Not for the same people you do. Not at the same price point you will.

(I don’t have any great ending. That’s all).





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  1. Hi Angie,

    First, thanks for all you do with WordCamp Columbus. I grew up there, and although I haven’t been back in a long time, I’m glad to see there’s a huge WordPress presence there.

    Second, I think this is a great post, and you bring up some interesting things to think about. So I’d like to tell you why I’m somewhat worked-up about the titles thing both as a developer and as someone who works in accessibility and has worked in WordPress for a long time.

    For me, this isn’t about enterprise so much as about people being honest about their skill sets when selling services. I don’t think everyone who works in WordPress has to be a developer, and I don’t think developer is the only quality service that can e offered. Sometimes a great implementer is what someone really needs. But that same implementer shouldn’t be billing themselves as a developer just so they can command higher fees. And it’s actually not usually higher fees they’re commanding. They’re lowering the price. As a result, and I’ll use accessible websites as an example here, people think they can get an accessible website built on WordPress for really cheap, and so that’s why they choose WordPress. I spend more time fielding inquiries for accessible insert type of website and we want it on WordPress and, when I quote a price, almost universally, I get something like, but WordPress is free, I should just be able to use some free plugins, and I then spend a chunk of my time educating someone on why you can’t just use a wordPress plugin that’s free to build an accessible website. On the accessibility site, we have people who know absolutely zero about WordPress building websites with WordPress that may be accessible, but are coded in opposition to WordPress coding standards, or just theming standards, or whatever, and so there’s kind of a rock and a hard place bit to this for me. Add to that the glut of marketers calling themselves WordPress experts and no one who truly is expert, or at least very experienced with WordPress, can’t use any of these titles, or if they do, they then have to contend with the pricing issues and everything I just outlined. I don’t think anybody who’s involved in this discussion is saying that there’s not room for all kinds in this space. What we are saying is that the lack of any kind of definition has created a problem where we’re all educating clients a lot more than we should have to, and in my case, having to justify why that theme or plugin customization the client wants for accessibility is going to cost a lot more than the $80 they may have spent on the original theme. Or why a custom accessible theme is probably going to cost more because there are like three of us who (a) know WordPress and (b) know accessibility.

    So for those of us who are developers, I think a lot of this discussion results from frustration. In my case, I blog when I can, mostly writing tutorials and showing people how to do stuff with WordPress. But you’re right, we do need to blog more.

    OK, I’ve written a long-enough book in your comments section, and I hope the rant doesn’t cause too much trouble. 😛 I hope you have a good rest of the day.


  2. Angie, thanks for the great post (and the link to my initial discussion).

    When I’m sharing with business owners what we do with my team, they’re all fascinated by what could be done with WordPress. We have a few clients with billions of annual revenue, some gigs with airline/automotive companies, cosmetics titans and large media outlets, event management and training coordination international centers.

    But the aforementioned issue with “WordPress developers” prohibits large businesses from reaching out to talented PHP/JS developers specializing in WordPress. It’s hard to find them among the noise of non-developers claiming themselves to be experts. Some folks get back (or switch) to other platforms where they feel valuable and appreciated (instead of insulted or ignored).

    I’ll mention a quote from a VIP client in one of the WPcomVIP case studies:

    One of the things that makes WordPress powerful is that it is open source and has many plugins, but when you have a project with this much riding on it, and you need a professional product that performs, you want to be cautious. Fairly early on, we knew that we wanted to go with VIP. We wanted that level of support, having people understand how to make WordPress a secure and high performance environment – there was real value there.

    They reached out to Automattic and were referred to 10up – one of the few recognized VIP partners, and there are less than a dozen companies listed there. And there are thousands of other agencies (and probably 100s of thousands of freelancers) capable of delivering high-end products with background in other programming languages and enterprise-grade projects who are lost in the sea of “experts”.

    If those agencies/consultants were given the chance to showcase their skills and be listed somewhere as authorities, enterprises wouldn’t avoid WordPress and it would be easier to land large gigs with complex functionality that would certainly reveal WordPress as a reliable platform. Until then, the future will tell.

  3. Maybe there should be a new marketing category for WP “developers”. Google is known as a “search engine”because that is how Google first marketed it. They didn’t market it as “look it up here”. They knew what they had and how to market it successfully. I can only relate to things that I know in my experience. Why do clients or companies go to a CPA firm instead of H&R Block or even do their own taxes? Because clients know of the expertise and qualifications of that “category”. Why does someone go to a “dealer” to purchase a vehicle? Because people know that there is a large selection and the expertise there, Any type of business is only as professional, qualified and valued as it promotes itself. Just like Google did. Maybe WP “developers” can opt to describe their profession as something that is different that “website or W/P developers” when they are so much more than that.

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