WordPress Expertise: The Case for Distinction Between Developers and Engineers

In the expansive world of website development, WordPress stands out as a universally embraced platform, powering an impressive fraction of the internet. This widespread adoption has fostered a diverse community of professionals, each bringing a unique set of skills and approaches to WordPress site creation. Commonly, these individuals are all referred to under the broad title of “WordPress Developer,” a term that, while inclusive, does not effectively convey the depth and diversity of expertise within the community.

The variance in skill levels and technical approaches—from those who primarily utilize drag-and-drop themes and plugins to others who develop these plugins and themes themselves—is substantial. Yet, the distinction in roles and skills among these professionals is often blurred in the job market and professional discussions, leading to confusion in hiring, project management, and professional development.

This blog post proposes a clearer distinction within the WordPress professional nomenclature, advocating for the use of “WordPress Developer” to designate those who focus on assembling, configuring, and customizing WordPress sites using existing tools, and “WordPress Engineer” for those who engage in more complex software development, including the creation of custom plugins, themes, and contributing to the WordPress core itself. By redefining these terms, we can enhance clarity, improve alignment in professional roles, and ultimately, drive more effective project outcomes and career pathways in the WordPress community.

1: Current WordPress Professional Ecosystem

The WordPress ecosystem is vast and varied, comprising a wide range of professionals whose expertise spans from basic website setup to deep software engineering. Traditionally, most people working with WordPress are labeled simply as “WordPress Developers.” However, this title encompasses a broad spectrum of skills and activities, from configuring simple blogs to developing complex, custom-coded solutions for large-scale websites.

The Spectrum of WordPress Professionals

At one end of this spectrum are those who primarily use no-code solutions. These individuals leverage tools like pre-built themes, drag-and-drop page builders (e.g., Elementor, Beaver Builder), and a variety of plugins to assemble websites without writing much, if any, code. Their primary focus is on customization and configuration, adjusting settings within themes and plugins to achieve the desired look and functionality.

Moving along the spectrum, there are professionals who incorporate some coding into their work. They might customize themes using CSS, tweak plugin functionality with PHP snippets, or create child themes to modify existing designs. While they do engage with code, their work is largely based on modifying pre-existing solutions rather than creating new ones from scratch.

The Role of More Technical Professionals

At the other end of the spectrum are the highly technical professionals. These are the individuals who not only understand WordPress’s core structure but also contribute to it. They develop custom plugins and themes, often starting from scratch, and sometimes even contribute to the WordPress core software. These developers possess a deep understanding of programming languages essential to WordPress, primarily PHP and JavaScript, and use these skills to create complex, scalable, and highly customized solutions.

Implications for the WordPress Community

The lack of distinction between these varied roles can lead to misunderstandings in the community and marketplace. For instance, a job listing for a “WordPress Developer” could attract a wide range of candidates, from those who only have experience with page builders to those who can code full-fledged custom applications. This creates challenges in hiring and can lead to mismatches between project needs and developer skills.

Understanding this spectrum and acknowledging the differences in the roles within it are crucial. Recognizing the diversity of skills and tasks under the umbrella of WordPress development can lead to more effective collaborations, clearer role definitions in projects, and a more structured approach to both learning and professional development within the community.

2: WordPress Developer

The title “WordPress Developer” can be applied broadly, but for clarity and effective role distinction, it should specifically refer to professionals who primarily use existing themes and plugins to construct websites. These developers are adept at utilizing a wide array of tools to create visually appealing and functional websites without necessarily engaging in deep coding.

Core Competencies of a WordPress Developer

A WordPress Developer typically excels in selecting and configuring pre-built themes and plugins to suit the specific needs of a project. They might also use no-code or low-code tools such as page builders to design layouts and manage content visually. Their skill set is heavily oriented towards customization using graphical user interface (GUI) tools and might include some basic coding skills like HTML, CSS, and occasionally PHP for minor tweaks.

Typical Responsibilities

  • Theme Customization: Adjusting and customizing themes using options provided within the theme or through custom CSS.
  • Plugin Configuration: Selecting and configuring plugins to add functionality to a website, such as SEO tools, security features, and contact forms.
  • Content Management: Organizing and managing website content, ensuring that the site’s structure supports user experience and SEO best practices.
  • Visual Design: Often, WordPress Developers have a good eye for design and can create engaging user interfaces that are both functional and aesthetically pleasing.

Project Examples

WordPress Developers are typically involved in projects like building small to medium-sized business websites, blogs, portfolios, and basic e-commerce sites. These projects often require a quick turnaround and rely heavily on the vast array of plugins and themes available to create a site that meets the client’s needs without custom programming.

Importance in the Ecosystem

Developers play a crucial role in the WordPress community. They make the platform accessible to a wide audience, including small business owners, bloggers, and non-tech entrepreneurs who need functional websites without a significant investment in custom software development. Their ability to integrate and customize components quickly makes them invaluable, especially in projects where cost and speed are significant factors.

3: WordPress Engineer

While the term “WordPress Developer” is often used interchangeably to describe anyone who works with WordPress, the designation “WordPress Engineer” is better suited for those who delve into more complex and technical aspects of web development. These professionals engage in the architecture and coding of new tools, enhancements, and functionalities that require deep technical knowledge and programming expertise.

Core Competencies of a WordPress Engineer

A WordPress Engineer typically has advanced knowledge of programming languages such as PHP, JavaScript, HTML, and CSS. They are not only proficient in coding but also understand software engineering principles, including algorithm design, data structures, software design patterns, and debugging. Their work often involves:

  • Developing custom plugins from scratch tailored to specific functional requirements.
  • Crafting unique themes that require bespoke functionality beyond aesthetic customization.
  • Optimizing WordPress performance and security at a code and server level.
  • Integrating WordPress with other systems and technologies through APIs.

Typical Responsibilities

  • Custom Plugin Development: Creating unique plugins that add specialized functionality to WordPress sites, which cannot be achieved with existing plugins.
  • Theme Engineering: Building themes that are not only visually distinct but also have specific behaviors and features required by complex projects.
  • Performance Optimization: Ensuring that WordPress sites load quickly and efficiently, even under high traffic or with large amounts of data.
  • Security Enhancements: Implementing advanced security measures to protect sites from vulnerabilities.

Project Examples

WordPress Engineers often tackle projects that involve building large-scale enterprise websites, complex e-commerce platforms, or web applications that require custom functionality. These projects are typically more demanding and require robust, scalable solutions that go beyond the capabilities of standard plugins and themes.

Importance in the Ecosystem

The role of a WordPress Engineer is crucial for pushing the boundaries of what WordPress can do. By developing custom solutions and enhancing the core capabilities of WordPress, Engineers help expand the platform’s use to more significant, more complex, and more critical projects. Their work not only serves individual clients but also contributes to the growth and evolution of WordPress itself, often leading to innovations that benefit the entire community.

4: Benefits of Categorization

Differentiating between “WordPress Developer” and “WordPress Engineer” provides multiple advantages that can significantly enhance the WordPress ecosystem. This categorization not only clarifies the roles within the community but also streamlines processes for hiring, project management, and professional development. Here are some key benefits of making such a distinction:

Improved Hiring Processes

By clearly defining these roles, employers and clients can better match project requirements with the appropriate professional skills. This clarity helps prevent mismatches where a project might demand deep technical skills but attracts candidates whose strengths are more aligned with configuration and design using existing tools. Accurate role definitions ensure that job descriptions are precise, attracting the right talent and setting clear expectations from the outset.

Enhanced Project Alignment

With a clear understanding of the capabilities of a WordPress Developer versus a WordPress Engineer, project leads can more effectively allocate resources. For instance, projects that require high levels of customization and technical integration would benefit from the expertise of a WordPress Engineer. In contrast, projects focused on content layout and site assembly using pre-existing themes and plugins are ideal for a WordPress Developer. This differentiation allows for better planning and resource allocation, leading to more successful project outcomes.

Professional Development and Career Pathways

Clear role definitions allow individuals to better understand their current skill sets and how they align with industry needs. This awareness can guide professionals in pursuing further education and training. For instance, a WordPress Developer interested in transitioning into more complex development work can identify the specific skills and knowledge areas, such as advanced PHP and JavaScript, necessary to become a WordPress Engineer. This structured approach to career development benefits not only the individuals but also the organizations they work with by fostering a more skilled and versatile workforce.

Fostering Innovation and Specialization

Specialization driven by clear role categorization can lead to higher levels of innovation within each domain. WordPress Engineers, focusing on complex problem solving and new feature development, can push the boundaries of what WordPress can do, leading to new plugins, themes, or core improvements that enhance the platform. Meanwhile, WordPress Developers can specialize in user experience, accessibility, and design, making the web more usable and enjoyable for all users.

Community and Ecosystem Growth

When roles are well-defined and people understand where they fit within the ecosystem, it leads to a healthier, more vibrant community. Professionals can better collaborate, recognizing when to bring in a Developer or an Engineer based on the task at hand. This collaboration not only improves project outcomes but also fosters a sense of community and mutual respect among differing skill sets.

5: Case Studies and Examples

To illustrate the benefits of distinguishing between “WordPress Developer” and “WordPress Engineer,” let’s explore a few case studies and hypothetical scenarios. These examples show how having clear roles can lead to better project alignment, outcomes, and innovations within the WordPress community.

Case Study 1: A Small Business Website

Scenario: A local bakery needs a website to showcase its menu, location, and hours of operation. The project requires a user-friendly design, straightforward content management, and basic e-commerce functionality for online ordering.

Role Allocation:

  • WordPress Developer: Selected for this project, the developer focuses on choosing a visually appealing theme that supports e-commerce, configuring necessary plugins for SEO and security, and setting up an intuitive layout that allows the bakery staff to easily update content and products.
  • Outcome: The project is completed efficiently, within budget, and meets all the client’s needs without requiring complex custom coding.

Case Study 2: Custom E-Commerce Platform

Scenario: A high-end fashion retailer requires a unique online store with advanced features like custom filters, exclusive membership perks, and integration with their existing inventory management system.

Role Allocation:

  • WordPress Engineer: Given the technical demands, an engineer is tasked with the project. They develop custom plugins to handle specific functionalities and integrate third-party APIs to sync with the inventory system. The theme is also custom-developed to ensure brand alignment and unique customer experience.
  • Outcome: The engineer’s deep technical expertise ensures that the platform is robust, scalable, and perfectly tailored to the client’s sophisticated needs.

Hypothetical Scenario: Multi-Site Educational Platform

Scenario: A university wants to create a multi-site platform where each department can manage its own content under the umbrella of the main university site. This platform needs a unified look but distinct functionalities for different departments.

Role Allocation:

  • WordPress Developer: Handles the initial setup using a multi-site compatible theme, ensuring all sites adhere to the university’s branding guidelines and are easy for non-technical staff to manage.
  • WordPress Engineer: Develops custom plugins for specific departmental needs and creates a network-wide admin system that integrates with the university’s student information system.
  • Outcome: The combined efforts of both the Developer and the Engineer provide a seamless experience across all department sites while catering to individual needs effectively.

Implications for WordPress Professionals

These examples demonstrate how correctly categorizing roles can lead to more efficient project execution and satisfaction among clients. For WordPress professionals, understanding these scenarios helps in better positioning themselves in the market, whether as Developers or Engineers, and in communicating their specific competencies more effectively.


The distinctions between “WordPress Developer” and “WordPress Engineer” are not merely semantic but represent a fundamental understanding of roles within the WordPress community that can lead to more efficient project outcomes, clearer career pathways, and a more vibrant professional ecosystem. By categorizing WordPress professionals more precisely, we can align skills and project requirements more effectively, enhance the clarity of job roles, and foster a deeper specialization that benefits both individual professionals and the broader community.

This proposal encourages the adoption of these distinct titles to recognize and respect the diverse skill sets within the WordPress community, from those who configure and customize using existing tools to those who develop these tools and innovate at a code level. The adoption of such terminology can lead to better structured professional growth, improve hiring practices, and ultimately, drive innovation within the platform.

As we continue to push the boundaries of what WordPress can do and expand its use across more complex and varied projects, it becomes increasingly important to embrace a system that accurately reflects the expertise and contributions of all community members. We invite the WordPress community to reflect on these distinctions, consider their implications, and adopt a more nuanced approach to professional titles. Doing so will not only enhance the perception of WordPress as a platform but also empower its users to more clearly define and achieve their professional aspirations.

This wraps up my argument for distinguishing between WordPress Developer and WordPress Engineer, emphasizing the practical benefits and broader implications for the community. It calls on the community to consider and implement these changes, aiming to elevate the professionalism and efficiency of WordPress projects worldwide.

A practical call to action

I invite everyone within the WordPress community—from beginners to seasoned professionals—to join the conversation about these proposed distinctions between WordPress Developer and WordPress Engineer. Share your thoughts, experiences, and insights:

  • For WordPress Professionals: Reflect on your own experiences and consider how these roles align with your skills and career aspirations. How can clearer role definitions help you in your professional growth and project management?
  • For Employers and Clients: When posting job listings or seeking professionals for your projects, think about how specifying the role as either Developer or Engineer could help you find the right match for your needs.
  • For Educators and Trainers: Incorporate these distinctions into your curricula and training programs to better prepare students and trainees for the demands of the marketplace.
  • Join the Discussion: Engage on social media, forums, and at WordPress meetups and WordCamps. Share your views on how these distinctions could benefit the community and what challenges might arise.
  • Feedback and Innovation: Provide feedback on how these distinctions work in practice and suggest improvements. Your insights are invaluable in refining these definitions and making them more applicable across diverse contexts.

Let’s work together to refine these roles for the benefit of all, making WordPress an even more powerful tool for building the web.