How to Cope with WordPress Coding Overwhelm

How to Cope with WordPress Coding Overwhelm

Web development is not easy work. New themes. New plugins. New responsive design techniques. New platforms. New JavaScript frameworks and libraries. And so on. No matter how experienced you are, web development work can be downright frustrating and overwhelming at times—especially when you’re starting out or simply trying to nail down a new technique.

Here’s the thing though: there’s nothing wrong with failing a few times before something new starts to set in. In the wise words of J.K. Rowling:

“Failure is so important. We speak about success all the time. It is the ability to resist failure or use failure that often leads to greater success. I’ve met people who don’t want to try for fear of failing.”

Rather than try to take the “easy” route and load up your website with too many plugins that replace the need for coding, take a moment to trust your instincts as a web developer. Fight that coding overwhelm, take it step by step, breathe, and turn to trusted WordPress coding resources when it doubt.

Tips and Resources to Help You Beat That WordPress Coding Overwhelm

Let’s start by acknowledging that WordPress coding can be overwhelming. The content management system itself is highly intuitive and there are more than enough third-party plugins and other integrations to help you accomplish nearly any task. But sometimes it’s better to rely on your coding skills.

With each new tool you plug into WordPress comes a bevy of potential problems you may end up having to deal with down the road:

  • Restrictions on creativity if you never learn how to code for the solution, design element, or effect.
  • Incompatibility with a theme or other plugins.
  • Sluggish website performance due to bulky or poorly coded plugins.
  • Bugs that require immediate patches.
  • Security breaches from poorly-coded or non-maintained plugins.

Sure, coding your WordPress website is going to take more time and energy to learn, practice, and eventually clean up mistakes from when you’re first starting out. But that’s what will help you grow and succeed as a WordPress developer in the long run. More importantly is the fact your clients will be grateful to work with a developer who is highly skilled in creating powerful and high-performing websites all through the use of clean coding techniques (they may not know that’s the reason their website is awesome, but you will).

So if you’re willing to invest some extra time and effort in improving your WordPress coding skills, the best thing to do is start off slow and turn to trusted resources. The following tips will guide you through the logical course of your WordPress coding education.

#1. Document Your Process

This is a step I recommend to any and all web developers—from the novice to the fully grown web development agency. If you plan on running a successful business and offering high quality services, you need to have a well-developed and predictable process to follow. By documenting that process, you can streamline and scale your business, and consequently dedicate all that time saved towards developing and enhancing your coding skills.

#2. Familiarize Yourself with WordPress’s Coding Standards

This cannot be said enough: WordPress is a great platform to work on. And, as far as content management systems go, WordPress really does take great care to provide developers and even non-tech-savvy users with clear guidance on how to use the system.

One of the most helpful resources WordPress has compiled is their coding standards handbook. While this may not be the most helpful tool for the business owner trying to build their own website, it’s an especially powerful tool in the hands of a developer. This should be the first place you start if you want to get a solid foothold on how to code a WordPress website effectively and efficiently.

WordPress has guides for the four main coding standards you’ll want to master:

#3. Crack the Code with Tutorials

Some people learn best by taking something that’s whole and walking backwards as they repair whatever’s gone wrong (or to simply figure out how it works). Others learn best when they have the opportunity to test out a new process or dig around inside the guts of coding, with guided instructions along the way. And still others prefer to sit back and watch a video or read a tutorial.

However you prefer to learn to code, there are a multitude of online courses, tutorials, and self-paced playgrounds to give your skills a boost. Find one that fits your learning style best, and get started.

  • Dash

    For those of you who want real-world examples of coding skills you can use in WordPress development projects, Dash is a good one to try out. It’s free to sign up and the storyboard tutorials are really fun to follow along with.

  • W3Schools

    W3Schools is one of the simpler WordPress coding resources, but it’s really comprehensive in terms of the breadth of topics it covers. Each coding language is broken out by section and, within each of those sections, is a page dedicated to the various elements that can be created with that code. Each page then discusses the element, the various forms it takes, short tutorials you can try on your own, as well as some best practices for coding.

    Whether you’re a beginner or an advanced WordPress developer, this is an excellent resource to have beside you while working to code a website.

  • Codecademy

    Interested in taking a course on the fundamentals of website coding, but don’t want to pay the high fees typically associated with these online courses? Codecademy has a great selection you can take for free. They cover the very basics—like the 10-hour Learn HTML & CSS course they recommend right off the bat. In addition, they offer more advanced courses like the ones for JavaScript frameworks like AngularJS or libraries like jQuery.

  • The Academy from WPMU DEV

    WPMU DEV ticked this off its bucket list last year when it launched The Academy.

    If you’re a member of WPMU DEV, this is a free resource you should absolutely take advantage of. If not, then you should consider signing up so you can gain access to upcoming courses taught, guided, and certified by WordPress experts. Unlike many of the resources you’ll find online, these are not self-guided. The WordPress experts at the WPMU DEV Academy conduct live, interactive discussions, making sure you get the most out of your coding education. Courses include:

    • WordPress Development for Beginners
    • WordPress Development for Intermediate Users
    • Advanced WordPress Development
    • JavaScript for WordPress Developers

    Interested in The Academy from WPMU DEV?

  • The Code Player

    These short tutorials focus on teaching developers how to use HTML5, CSS3, and JavaScript by way of “live” walk-throughs. Click on any of the masonry tiles on this website. You’ll notice the screen split in half. On the right, you’ll see an animation or design element as it would appear on a website. On the left, there are two options that enable you to better understand the underlying code: you can either view the code itself or play a walkthrough to watch as a developer built the code from scratch.

    Interested in The Code Player?

  • Mozilla Developer Network

    This is one of the more thorough developers’ guides available. It covers the basic coding languages, JavaScript coding, APIs, graphics, and more. It also has a variety of debugging and page inspection tools if you prefer the learning method by which you reverse-engineer code. If you’re looking for a single resource that contains everything you’ll need when learning to code (or trying to expand upon your skills), this resource has got it all.

    Interested in Mozilla Developer Network?

 

Keep in mind that these courses and tutorials aren’t just about providing you with specific codes to solve a particular problem. The more of these you can watch, study, reverse-engineer, and play around with, the more you’ll understand the fundamentals of HTML, CSS, PHP, and JavaScript.

#4. Subscribe to Developer Blogs

All of the resources mentioned above will give you the hands-on experience you need to become a better coder. But your education should not stop there. Make sure you’re subscribed to leading developer blogs, so you can read about the latest changes happening with coding standards and so you also can stay attuned to general news, tips, and tricks on the WordPress CMS. Here are some of my favorites:

  • WP Beginner

    If you’ve worked in WordPress for a while, you’ve no doubt already run into WPBeginner. This site writes their blog posts like mini tutorials—covering pretty much any issue, hiccup, or best practice you could ever possibly want to know about working (and coding) in WordPress.

  • CSS-Tricks

    Once you’ve mastered HTML, CSS needs to be your next coding language to tackle. Subscribe to this blog and you’ll be surprised at how many little tricks you pick up on a regular basis.

  • A List Apart

    This website covers a wide array of web design and development topics. However, this particular part of their blog is dedicated solely to talking about all matters related to code—especially the parts of it that scare developers the most.

#5. Reach Out to the WordPress Community

If you’re ever in doubt about something you’ve done or are thinking about doing, talk to the WordPress community. Developers, designers, educators, and other experts that specialize in WordPress tend to be extremely dedicated to the CMS’s mission in making the platform more intuitive and in helping developers get the most out of it.

You can rely on the words, tutorials, and guides from the resources above, but be sure to also keep your favorite WordPress community bookmarked. These are some of the more popular and well-supported ones:

  • WordPress Support Forum
    You may be surprised to see how many people have already asked the same questions you have. So check with the WordPress Support Forum first to see if it’s already been answered.
  • WordPress Development on StackExchange
    StackExchange is another one of those question-and answer forums. If you can’t find the answer to your coding question in the Support Forum, look here.
  • CodeBuddies
    If you’re interested in more than just a Q-and-A exchange and want to develop collaborative relationships with other WordPress coders, check out this Slack-based community.
  • CodeNewbie
    This worldwide community of developers works together through a variety of platforms. It all started with Twitter chats, but has since expanded to podcasts, in-person meetups in major cities around the U.S., live forums, and blogs.

#6. Practice New Skills on Your Own Website

One of the more nerve-wracking parts about learning a new skill is that first time you have to put it into practice. Unfortunately, the only way to gain those skills that help you create consistent and high-quality websites is by applying what you know to an actual website.

Depending on what you’re trying to accomplish, this may be too risky (or it may just make you too nervous) to test out on a client’s website. So why not use your own? All you need to do is create a sub-domain away from your live site and then practice a new coding technique there before applying it to a client’s website. This’ll help you become more confident in testing out new skills without the pressure of messing up someone else’s web property.

Wrapping Up

Think of WordPress coding like your firstborn. You’re excited about it, but you’re unsure of what to do with it. How do you make it stop crying? What does that burp mean? Shouldn’t they be crawling by now?

It’s incredibly frustrating not understanding everything about WordPress coding right away. You wonder if you’re doing something wrong, why it’s not easier, and how come you can’t just turn to a plugin instead. But that’s the very nature of this business. Even as you develop the skills needed to create high-quality code, web coding standards will regularly change and you’ll have to continue to adopt and adapt to them.

If you want to be a good developer (and make more money), you’ve got to be willing to put in the time and effort to improve your skills and write cleaner coding. The key to this is to continually find ways to learn new and better ways to code. These resources are a good place to start.

Brenda Barron
Over to you: What resources did you turn to when you first began to code in WordPress?