Become a WordPress Ninja in 1400 Days

WordPress ninja

First, let me manage some expectations

Did you attend a WordCamp thinking that you'd know WordPress by the end of the weekend because a friend told you it was the place to go? They lied to you. Did you buy that book on WordPress themes in 24 hours because the author convinced you that you'd be a child theming expert in a day? They lied to you. Did you find a site online that suggested a 14 video course would turn you into a WordPress ninja? It lied to you.

No shortcuts to becoming a WordPress Ninja

I know it's exciting to think you could become a WordPress ninja is no time flat. But if I've told you once, I've told you twice, there are no shortcuts!

Let's think about this in a clear way:

  • If you wanted to have sell your house, would you want a Realtor with 2 weeks experience?
  • If you wanted tax help, would you want it from a guy who started 24 hours ago?

Not likely. Right?

So if you want to become someone who can move thru the night without anyone seeing you – you know, a ninja – why would you hope to learn that quickly? And can you really assume someone will hire you – as a ninja – with such little experience?

That's what I thought.

It takes time to become a hardcore WordPress developer.

I know really amazing programmers who look back on the code they wrote two years ago and get a bit embarrassed.

1400 Days to Ninja status

So, let's say you wanted to become a real WordPress ninja but still planned to take 2 weeks of vacation a year, how might you do it?

Now before you post all your comments telling me how wrong I am, let me be super clear. This is my opinion. Just mine. I'm not suggesting it's yours. I also am not looking to fight you on this. If you have a plan that takes only 1 year – you're awesome!

Year One

Before you get started, let me make a book recommendation – Professional WordPress: Design & Development. Start by playing with (the self-hosted version) on a great host. I like WP Engine, but that's just me. And once you start with the self-hosted version, get used to the various components of a site – WordPress, themes and plugins. But in year one, because I think it's easier than plugins, start checking out theme frameworks and learn to write child themes. Focus on things like metaboxes, actions and filters, and theme templates.

Year Two

I know the inclination is to do everything in one year, but I don't recommend it. You just need time. Doing something once won't get you ninja status. Doing it 10 times gets you close. Doing it 100 times and I'm started to trust your experience. Plus, at 100 times, you'll start to see the things that are common and the outliers.

But year two is the year of the plugin. Start by writing a few little, single-function ones. Start reading the codex like it's your Bible. And then go and read everything that Pippin writes. He, and many others I know, get better every year – so aspire to be like them. Improve. All the time. Oh and check out this site because it may show you what NOT to do.

Year Three

You've been on the sidelines too long. By now you're comfortable with the codex, themes and plugins. It's time to start getting into the community in a deeper way. I'm assuming by now you've written some posts, maybe even spoken at a WordCamp, and are ready to look into contributing to core. It may take a while to find the right spot, but don't give up. It's worth it. And it's a great way to get to know some of the serious players in the community.

While you're at it, go ahead and create an extension for an existing plugin (like EDD or WooCommerce). Or write a plugin for a theme framework, like StudioPress' Genesis.

Year Four

For me, and it's just me, WordPress ninja status comes from experience – which you've been building – and exposure – which comes from working on large or complex projects. So find a group or team working on great stuff and find ways to collaborate. Consider it the final step of your apprenticeship.

Either way, you may get there in less than 1400 days. I'm ok with that. I'm not saying you have to take 4 years. But I am saying you should have a strategy for developing your skills. And I'm saying you should have reasonable expectations. 1400 days may feel long, but they'll go by fast and you'll thank me later.