How Learning Programming Will Take your WordPress Site to the Next Level

Published Nov 09, 2016Last updated Aug 24, 2017
How Learning Programming Will Take your WordPress Site to the Next Level

Photo by Damian Zaleski via Unsplash

If you know "enough to be dangerous" when it comes to WordPress but you're looking to learn more, this article is for you!

Because of its ease of use, WordPress is used by technical and non-technical people alike. There are two common terms for those who can install WordPress and do some basic editing like setting up a theme and installing plugins: Implementors or Power Users.

A WordPress Developer, on the other hand, knows how to write themes and plugins and has a solid understanding of The Loop and hooks (actions & filters).

It's important to determine if you actually want to be a developer or if you'd rather stay a power user. Just because you are not a developer, doesn't mean you cannot sell WordPress sites. There are great template builders out there for those who don't want to write code. A couple of common ones are Beaver Builder and Divi.

Learn WordPress Development: Making the Switch From Power User to Developer

Background Knowledge

There aren't any hard-and-fast requirements to learn about WordPress development, but a solid foundation in the following skills will help:

  • HTML/CSS Understanding
  • JavaScript or jQuery
  • PHP

You really only need to be able to code a site in HTML & CSS. Experience with JavaScript, jQuery, or PHP isn't necessary, but will definitely help. Knowing a little bit of JavaScript or jQuery can afford you more flexibility in your projects and knowing a little bit of PHP will help you understand core files.

If you aren't familiar with HTML & CSS, there are great resources out there like, CodeSchool, Codecademy, and Treehouse (Paid).

Where to Get Started

Install WordPress on localhost for Testing

One of the fundamental pieces of knowledge to have is how to install WordPress on localhost for testing. Testing locally allows you to work more quickly (you don't need to wait for FTP), work in a safer manner, and troubleshoot/plan more effectively.

The basic steps to set up WordPress on localhost are:

  1. Install WAMP (PC) or MAMP (Mac)
  2. Manually Install WordPress

If you haven't done a manual WordPress installation before, don't be intimidated by the process. There is a great page in the WordPress Codex that details the entire installation process.

Please Note: I highly recommend using the WordPress Codex as much as possible to find answers to your questions. It is the official resource on WordPress and very rarely has outdated information.

Child Themes

A great way to start learning about themes is to start with Child Themes. Child Themes allow you to take an existing theme and make changes to it, without actually affecting the code within the "parent" theme. The advantages are that you can still receive updates to the parent theme and there's less work for you to do to get up and running. That makes Child Themes the ideal way to start learning about custom themes.

Learn How to Create a Child Theme

The Loop

The WordPress Loop is what powers the blog and search functionalities. Understanding how to alter The Loop or run two queries on one page can be incredibly helpful when working on more complicated themes/projects.

Here is a simplified version of The Loop. (Normally, you would have HTML elements within The Loop.)

if (have_posts()):
  while (have_posts()):

Beginner's Reference on The Loop

Building on Your Knowledge

Once you feel you have a handle on the above information, some other topics you can research are:

Where to Go Next

The best way to get better at development is by practicing. Here are some great projects to practice your skills on:

Resources & Networking

Educational Resources

One of the best things you can do to help yourself when learning a new technology/language is to build a support group. As developers, we sometimes isolate ourselves to stay focused, but that can lead to burnout.


The WordPress community is a very close-knit network of enthusiastic contributors and volunteers. There are a ton of local Meetups for WordPress as well as WordCamps, which are laid-back conferences for bloggers, developers, designers, and business owners that use WordPress. I urge anyone reading this to find a way to get involved in the community.

Finding a Mentor

Another way to ensure you are on the right track to achieve your career goals is to hire a mentor. Mentoring relationships are especially beneficial if you are working on a certain project or if you are looking for continued help in learning something new. Codementor has a great platform for finding mentors and making sure the mentor will be able to help you before committing to working with them. You can set up repeating schedules, share files, screen share, and rate your mentors.

If you're looking for help on any of the topics covered in this article, please feel free to send me a message on Codementor.

Check out my blog for more development tips!

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