WordPress Careers Masterclass: Making it Work (Planning and Learning)

So, what’s your career plan? Do you have one? Maybe you don’t? If you don’t, let’s do something about it.

Welcome to the final post in this series on how to build a successful career with WordPress. Hopefully, the earlier articles in this series have helped you to identify your career priorities and learn how to approach specific career paths.

But before you launch yourself into searching for a job, setting yourself up as a freelancer, or launching your agency or your fabulous WordPress product, you should do some planning. This will help ensure success both now and on an ongoing basis.

In this final part of the series, I’m going to help you with that. You’ll revisit the career plan you started working on in part one of the series and you’ll also consider how you’re going to develop your skills not just now but in the future too. If you’re not constantly learning, then your career won’t develop.

So today you’re going to work on developing a career plan and identifying what you need to do, change or learn in order to make it work.

Let’s get started!

Missed a tutorial in our WordPress Careers Masterclass series? You can catch up on all six posts here:

Careers course part 1
You’re going to work on the career plan you started in Part One of this series.

Your Career Plan: Working Out Your Goals

In the first part of this series, you identified your high-level goals. I asked you to imagine that there were no obstacles to you achieving your wildest dreams, and then to identify what those dreams say about you and your more realistic ambitions.

In the interim parts of the series we looked at some of the most common career paths with WordPress:

  • Selling your code as a theme and/or plugin developer
  • Selling your time as an employee or freelancer
  • Selling your services to clients
  • Selling a product, either via e-commerce or by offering a WordPress powered app or SaaS system.

Now that you know more about those career options and the ways to make a success of them, you’ll have a good idea of what your goals are and what you need to do to achieve them. You might even have altered or completely changed your goals!

So now you have the beginnings of your plan, along with a good (and possibly revised) idea of your ambitions. Let’s do some more work on that plan.

Amending Your Career Plan

Let’s start with the notes you made in the first part of this series, where you identified your goals, your experience, your skills and your knowledge. The next step is to match these up to the career you want.

Look at your goals and dreams again and consider what you’ve learned about the career options available to you. Think about:

  • Which careers fit with your personality style
  • Which fit with your preferences and what you enjoy doing
  • Which you can pursue in the location where you want to (or you have to) work
  • Which fit with your existing skills and experience

The last of these is probably the least important in the long run, despite being the one that most people tend to focus on. Your skills and experience are important, yes, but they are things you can add to. You can learn new skills and you can find ways to gain new experiences. It’s much harder to change what you love doing or your personality style and how that dictates the kind of work that makes you comfortable. How important location is will depend on your flexibility and that of any potential employer or clients.


Location may or may not be important to you.
Location may or may not be important to you.

Now you should have a list of one or two career paths you’re interested in pursuing. You may have more and that’s fine.The next steps in this process will help you identify which path to follow.

The next steps in this process will help you identify which path to follow.

Comparing Your Goals and Your Resources

Now you’re going to compare the career you want and what it requires with the resources you already have.

Take another sheet of paper and create three columns. At the top of the left-hand column write down the career you want to pursue. Don’t worry about what you call this, just give it a brief name that means something to you, like “PHP Developer job” or “Online book store.”

Now at the top of the second column write “Me” and at the top of the third write “Gaps.”

In the first column, write down all the resources you’ll need to pursue the career you’ve identified. This should include:

  • Qualifications
  • Skills
  • Experience
  • Contacts
  • Location
  • Office space
  • People (maybe a business partner or a team if you’re launching a business)
  • Finances

…and anything else you can think of. Some of the things I’ve listed above won’t be relevant to you. For example, you’ll only need office space if you’re starting a business or going freelance. Lots of freelancers work from their local coffee shop or a corner of their living room but you’ll be more productive with a dedicated office.

If you’ve identified more than one potential career to pursue, create more than one of these plans for yourself.

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Identifying the Gaps

Now you need to compare what you need with what you have. Move to the second column and list all the resources you have. Where they match up to resources you need for your chosen career, write them next to each other. Be realistic and think broadly – there may be skills you’ve gained in a non-professional context (volunteering, for example) that will be valuable.

Now you need to identify those gaps. Compare the two lists and in the third column, write all the resources you need for your career that you haven’t added to the second column. These are resources that you need but you don’t have yet.

Take a look at that list. If it’s massive, you may need to rein in your ambitions, or at least adopt a phased approach, maybe aiming for something more realistic in the short term while focusing on your long term goal too and always working towards this.

A great example of this is the Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield. In 1969 when he saw Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin land on the moon he was a boy of nine. Like millions of kids all over the world, he said to himself “I want to do that.”

Chris was different: he really meant it. But he was a citizen of a country without a space program and thought it unlikely that he’d reach his goal. In his autobiography, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, he describes how he didn’t let that deter him. Everything he did from that point on, in school, college and professionally, was in light of what he needed to learn or experience in order to maximize his chances of becoming an astronaut. All of those things were rewarding for him in themselves, and he didn’t let himself give up any other more realistic, goals.

If you’ve followed the space program in recent years you’ll know that Chris achieved his goals. Despite being Canadian, he was taken on by NASA and has been in space three times. But along the way he has made the most of every opportunity that’s presented itself and has an incredibly positive attitude to life.

“Every decision you make, from what you eat to what you do with your time tonight, turns you into who you are tomorrow, and the day after that.” – Chris Hadfield, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth

Be like Chris. Identify interim steps towards achieving your goal which will help you get there but that you’ll find rewarding in themselves. That way you maximize your chances of realizing your dreams but you’ll still be satisfied if you don’t.

Bridging the Gaps

Assuming your list of gaps is realistic, now you need to identify how you’re going to fill those gaps. What are you going to do to learn the skills you don’t have yet? How will you make contact with the people you need to know in order to succeed? Will you need to move location, or get experience via intern work or by building up a portfolio?

Take another piece of paper and write down your list of gaps in priority order. The top priority ones will be the ones without which you give more chance of getting the career you want: you should fill those first. Work your way down the list and note the things you’re going to do to bridge those gaps, and when you’re going to do them. And then do it!

The kinds of activities you’ll need to undertake to fill the gaps will vary depending on where you are now and the nature of the career you want to pursue. They might include:

  • Learning a new programming language, either via personal study or by taking a series.
  • Learning about business, through a series or by finding a mentor with business experience.
  • Improving your team working skills by finding opportunities to work in a team. A great way to do this is by getting involved in your local WordPress community.
  • Making contact with potential clients or employers. WordPress meetups and WordCamps are a great place to do this but there are also more formal methods such as jobs listing sites.
  • Changing location. This is a big step to take if you don’t have a guaranteed outcome from it but if you don’t have any ties where you are now, it could help. As well as exposing you to more opportunities it could also help you save money which will help you manage your finances if you’re going freelance, for example.
  • Learning about the market you want to sell to, by networking with potential clients and talking to people you know who operate in that market.
  • Finding a business partner or collaborator. If you don’t already have someone in mind you’ll need to get out there and find someone suitable. James Farmer met his former business partner via online forums, while lots of partnerships are formed through contact via the WordPress community.
WPMU DEV Academy
The WPMU DEV Academy will help you learn the skills you need for your WordPress career

Keep coming back to your plan as you work through it, checking your progress and making tweaks as you go along or if things change. Be flexible but determined!

Never Stop Learning

You’ve now got a plan detailing what you’re going to do to make yourself ready to launch your desired career and get that job, business or opportunity you dream of. It may take a while but by following a structured plan you’ll increase your chances.

And once you’ve got there? Well, don’t rest on your laurels just yet. Ours is an industry that’s never standing still, and you need to be growing and developing just to keep up.

Carry on learning once you’re in your new job, you’ve jacked your job in to go freelance, or you’ve launched your business. Learn from your mistakes and failures, and identify what they say about you and what you need to learn. Learn from the people you come into contact with, be they colleagues, clients, customers or other WordPress users. And keep adapting your goals in line with the changing industry and your own changing circumstances.

Here are some resources that will help you develop your skills and learn what you need to boost your career. Good luck!

Rachel McCollin
I hope this series has helped you discover what you want for your career in WordPress! What field do you see yourself working in? Do you have advice for your fellow WordPressers? Let us know in the comments below.

4 Responses

  • The Exporter

    Hi Rachel

    interesting write up summary. It actually opens up lots of more questions!

    “Changing location. This is a big step to take if you don’t have a guaranteed outcome from it but if you don’t have any ties where you are now, it could help. As well as exposing you to more opportunities it could also help you save money which will help you manage your finances if you’re going freelance, for example.”

    – What locations do you have in mind? Moving the table to another place in your room, changing the room, moving into a dedicated office or another house, moving to another town, get into the wilderness, moving to another country (which would open up multiple other questions, visa, work-permis, taxes, ownerships, …), digital nomad (where are they allowed to work legally without prior optaining a work-permit? i.e. they could not legally work from Thailand without having a valid Thai work permit, how to get a work permit? well find a company which can employ you or build your own company, you would need only 2 MIO THB to employ one foreigner, beside having 4 Thai people employed and you would own only a max of 49 % of a 51% Thai owned company, you would need 2 further shareholders, you could apply for BOI to get benefits and exemptions and more with a good project which would help to train Thai people (recommended)), In most other countries it is pretty similar.

    – Save money? How – avoiding taxes, double tax treaties, living in a cheaper country (are they really cheaper?), working for a company “somewhere” in the internet – virtually, not being registered anywhere?

    “Making contact with potential clients or employers. WordPress meetups and WordCamps are a great place to do this but there are also more formal methods such as jobs listing sites.”

    – What are those job websites? How are they called, url? what experiences do people have with them? Upworks, Freelancer, … works or not? How to identify good jobs, a good job offer, and how to get that job? How to identify bad jobs?
    – “formal methods such as” – how is a jobs listings site a formal method? what other formal methods would you name?

    Doing business in the internet isn’t often as easy as many people think it is! Being legally entitled to work is one of the major problems of it, depending on where you are located. Many other factors play major roles in getting the necessary legal requirements done, Often they have absolut nothing to do with your job or what you have studied or learned, but even that would be sometimes quite important – i.e. to have at least a “Bachelor” degrees from an university (not the WordPress Academies etc).

    It would be nice to hear from others how they actually achieved how they are working or what problems they had, have or they have to cope with (i.e. working illegal)? What are good places to work as a digital nomad? Are they still anywhere registered or not? How did they make it work? For how long until new regulations changed situations again? … Never stop learning, never stop being ready to move on!

    Kind regards


    • WordPress Enthusiast

      Hello Andi,

      You’ve raised some excellent questions here. Given that I’m based in the Eastern United States, I’m afraid I cannot answer some of those questions, but I can relate my own experience.

      Prior to working for WPMU DEV, I was a freelancer and contract worker for other development firms. I’ve been working home-based since about 2002.

      How I found work: At first, I got involved in open source software projects. I became a theme developer and forum contributor on various CMS forums. After creating a few decent themes and releasing them for free, I developed a reputation and people started approaching me on my website and in the forums to start doing jobs for them. This is partly because I had a link back to my site in the footer of every theme I released. This, of course, before freelance sites and services like our Jobs & Pros board were really a big hit. But, this worked for me and I developed a positive reputation and had a fair amount of work.

      After a while, I became well enough known that I started being courted by firms. At first, I worked for a regional firm that catered to SMBs. The jobs were small, but the pay was reasonably consistent. All the while I stayed active in open source and continued to build a reputation. Eventually, a large, international firm courted me and I went there. I was with that firm for quite some time before they switched their business model.

      I then went back to working for a regional firm while still working as a freelancer in a market outside of the firm’s so there was no conflict of interest. Eventually, I saw an opportunity to apply here at WPMU DEV and went through the hiring process here. I haven’t looked back since.

      Taxes: Now, all the while I was working as a freelancer and contractor, I was responsible for my own taxes. At one time I had a LLC registered and handled things that way. Other times, I worked as a sole proprietor. In either case I took my tax needs to a qualified professional and had them handle them for me. I can look at code all day, but don’t put tax documents in front of me. ;-)

      Now that I’m with WPMU DEV, all that is handled for me. I clock in, do my job and get a paycheck at the end of the period. I don’t have to fuss with all that other stuff. But it took well over a decade of experience as a freelancer and contractor to build up the skills and experience needed to land a job like this.

      Education: Ironically, my degree is in Network Administration. I was a specialist in building x86 based networks. I’d build servers, workstations and configure Cisco routers and switches. I did this off and on for several years while I worked at Web Dev as a side gig. This provided me the living wages I needed until I developed enough skill to be able to be marketable in Web Dev. But as far as my Web Dev skills go, I was self taught.

      Unfortunately, when I got started, there weren’t great programs like there are with WPMU DEV and what programming classes I could find at my college were all focused on languages like Java. Very little was available to me for this industry. People now have an unprecedented opportunity to get as much education as they could ever desire. What we offer here is a very good start for anyone looking to make a career with WordPress.

      This may not answer your specific questions, but it does illustrate how someone can go from being a self-taught (coding in notepad.exe) designer to making a career in the industry. It takes work. There’s no get rich quick in this industry. But if you put in the work, it’s a very rewarding industry.

      My biggest piece of advice for anyone wanting to start a career with WordPress… Never stop learning! If you let a day pass without learning something about your industry, you’ve wasted your day!

      Best regards,

      James Morris

  • Design Lord, Child of Thor

    That was agreat serie of artcile,
    I like your mindset !
    Indeed, being a WordPress developer can require as much determination as being an astronaut. Not easy every day :P
    Definitely, never stop learning and practicing are key, and it is not just about the technical skills, but client management/communication, market status, competitors offer etc…

    Thanks for your tips !

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