5 Tips for Becoming a Better WordPress Developer

There are a lot of tutorials, videos and screencasts, training courses and books that can teach you WordPress, and WordPress is well known for it’s large community, so perhaps the most important part in your journey is to be part of that community. Today we’ll talk about some tips that will make you a better WordPress developer. We’ll talk about the core team and Trac, standard WordPress themes, coding standards and best practices, the WordPress Codex and some tips on contributing to WordPress.

But before talking in depth about those things, here’s a WordPress tip you should keep in mind first — talk about it, blog about, tweet about it and read about it. WPCandy recently published their huge list of WordPress resources to follow, take that to your Google Reader and stay up to date with what’s happening in the WordPress Community and most importantly, be part of it :) The rest of the tips are a little less important.

Follow the WordPress Core

As frightening as it may sound, you should stay tuned with what’s happening in the WordPress Core. You have to get familiar with the WordPress core files structure and the core files themselves. You have to be able to find a function which is not documented in the Codex (which we’ll get to next) because there’s a good chance it’s documented in the core code. And if you know the WordPress structure you’ll be able to find that function fast, sometimes without even knowing what it’s called, seriously ;)

By following the WordPress Core Trac you will know what the core team is up to, what changes are coming up in the next version of WordPress and other useful thinks like deprecated functions, new methods of working with meta boxes in WordPress and much more. Basically, you’ll be able to see where WordPress is going so you can adjust your projects accordingly. Here are some related resources:

Dig into the Standard WordPress Themes

I’m talking about the Twenty-* series, you really have to know those inside out. Twenty Ten and Twenty Eleven are the best WordPress themes out there, tested for security, coding standards, usability, flexibility and functionality for several iterations before making it as default themes. You’ll be surprised how much you can learn from these two, and the ones coming in the future too!

Grab the latest copies of both themes, browse their source code. Look at how the code and files are organized, look at how actions and filters are used, how static files such as CSS and images are linked. Learn how the themes create their own actions and filters for maximum flexibility, this is a technique you’ll have to master if you want to create great themes that can be used as parent themes.

Create a couple of child themes based on Twenty Eleven and you’ll be surprised how a standard theme like that can easily be turned into a totally different looking website, maintaining the markup, structure, functionality and flexibility and remaining responsive. Also note how standard themes provide CSS styling for all the standard widgets available in WordPress, including the calendar. A lot of themes (including premium) seem to forget about standard widgets and other minor things like blockquotes, tables, form elements, definition lists, etc.

Here are some useful resources related to the Twenty-* series:

Follow Coding Standards and Best Practices

Whether you’re a theme or plugin developer, you should keep your code very well organized, clean and commented. There’s a set of standards and guidelines to how the WordPress core, themes and plugins are written and as for themes, there’s a review process that you have to pass before getting listed on WordPress.org if your aim is to get there.

Then again, the best way to learn is to see what others are doing, read their code and try to understand it. Of course you may have your own style, maybe you like the object-oriented approach or maybe you’re more comfortable with procedural programming. Maybe you’ll have all your plugin functionality in one file, or maybe you’ll split it across three. It’s up to you, really, just make sure your code is easy to understand and easy to find yourself around it, and the best way to test is to send it to somebody.

Here are some links you will definitely find useful:

Work with the WordPress Codex

The WordPress Codex is the first place you should look when dealing with something in WordPress, then you Google and still end up in the Codex, besides the search on the WordPress.org website is powered by Google anyway. But simply using it as a reference is not enough.

The real power behind the WordPress Codex reveals itself after you log in. You’ll see that you can edit and create Codex entries, just like editing a page on Wikipedia (yes, the WordPress Codex is built on MediaWiki). You can follow certain entries, i.e. add them to your watchlist. With a little magic in your Codex Preferences section you can get WordPress to e-mail you about new deprecated functions for example, or when something changes in the Shortcode API, it’s like changeset notifications and pretty cool and useful!

Here are some resources about the WordPress Codex worth taking a look at:

Contribute to WordPress

If you’re serious about WordPress then you should seriously consider contributing to WordPress, i.e. giving back. There are many ways to contribute, you don’t necessarily have to write code and patches. You can translate WordPress, themes and plugins, you can help the UI team build a better user experience, you can create themes and plugins, you can test patches, you can test new WordPress releases and much more!

Here’s a great video from WordCamp San Francisco this year called “Getting Involved: Contribution and Courtesy” by Aaron Campbell and Andy Stratton:

http://wordpress.tv/2011/09/08/aaron-campbell-and-andy-stratton-getting-involved-contribution-and-courtesy/

Here are some useful resources:

And that’s about it for our tips today. Let us know what other tips you would suggest to WordPress developers to stay on top of things and get better at what they’re doing. Share your thoughts using the comment form below and watch our feed for more WordPress goodies!