What all junior WordPress developers should know

Anyone calling themselves a junior WordPress developer should know HTML and CSS, some basic PHP, and how WordPress works. That’s a given, and people who apply to our Junior vacancies already know these things.

In addition to the basics above, there are more things they need to know to successfully apply these skills to do custom WordPress theme development.

WordPress Fundamentals

HTML, CSS, PHP and some JavaScript knowledge are a must to be able to start building custom themes from design files. Understanding the WordPress technical environment and how everything comes together is also a requisite to be able to claim junior developer status. This post is not going to go into all the details and there are plenty of articles available out there but some of the most important subjects include:

  • WordPress terminology (pages, posts, post-types)
  • WP template hierarchy
  • The Loop
  • WP functions
  • WordPress Admin navigation

For readers looking for some great resources covering the fundamentals of WordPress one of the best to reference is the Codex directly on WordPress.org. Also specific to custom theme development is the Theme Handbook.

WordPress Frameworks, Plugins, Libraries & Page Builders

Technically, if a developer has a good understanding of WP Fundamentals they can build a theme entirely from scratch. And it is recommended that all developers try that for at least one simple site in order to get a complete understanding of how WordPress works. After that, it is time to start learning all the wonderful options available out in the community to enhance the core functionality of WordPress.

  • Frameworks are the base that WordPress themes are built on and range from very light to feature-packed (some would even say “bloated”). We use a popular framework called Foundation for most projects, but there are many more that can help a Junior developer get a great start on building a custom WordPress theme. Just stay away from “bloated” ones until the basics are mastered.
  • Plugins extend the functionality of WordPress and let a developer take it far beyond the original intention of just a blog CMS. Each agency will have its own set of core plugins it typically uses site to site, but the common plugins we teach and expect our junior developers to master are:
    • Advanced Custom Fields to set an intuitive WordPress experience for both the end-user and content manager of the site.
    • Custom Post Type UI for an easier to use interface for registering and managing custom post types.
    • Gravity Forms for all contact forms.
    • Yoast for search engine optimization.
  • Builders have become popular over the years and some are very feature-rich. If a junior developer is going to be working with a builder it is important to review all documentation and take the time to practice before using it on actual production sites. Some of the most common builders our juniors are required to learn are Visual ComposerElementor, and Beaver Builder.
  • Code Libraries, especially JavaScript libraries, can be very useful for junior web developers to achieve animations and other effects on websites. JavaScript is a much more advanced topic so it is important that a junior developer is aware of the possibilities but not spend too much time during this initial education period diving into JavaScript details.

It is amazing, and at times overwhelming, how many options there are out there to extend the core functionality of WordPress. That is why it is very important that junior WordPress developers start simple and slowly build up a toolbox of trusted options over time. Only when they fully understand them, start to put them to use.

Understanding web designs

In this article, we focus on custom WordPress development from design files, like Adobe XD, Photoshop or Sketch files.

An experienced developer will most often understand the web designer’s intention just by looking at the design files. For junior developers, however, there are several things they need to learn to read the web designs correctly. For example:

  • Finding typography settings – Font family, font-size, line-height, paragraph spacing, bullet-list design, etc. all need to be set up correctly.
  • Understanding heading hierarchy – Text isn’t only about styles, it’s also important to set headings to H1, H2, etc.
  • Measuring the padding between elements.
  • Proper exporting of assets from design programs to be used in the build.
  • Identifying and working with layers to be able to distinguish images versus image effects that will need to be replicated with code.

The ideal scenario is to have the designer explain all design elements to the junior developer for the first few websites, but that is not always possible. This is why it is important that the developer write down any questions or clarifications regarding the design and have them addressed by the designer or a more experienced developer before approaching the project planning stage.

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