There is no doubt that WordPress is a force to be reckoned with in the world of internet technology. With almost 23% of the world’s websites being run on the open source content management system at the time that this article is published, the reach of WordPress is truly indisputable. Yet, in my personal experience, there is one area of the internet where WordPress’ dominance has been nowhere near as significant. And a direct “competitor” to WordPress has been filling the apparent void in this space for quite some time.
The area I am referring to is enterprise level web development and the “competitor” I speak of is another open source content management system called Drupal. Anybody who has worked in web development for a significant amount of time is likely well aware of both WordPress and Drupal and has probably encountered both out in the wild at one time or another. Both systems are built in a similar fashion with the same premise, both run on PHP and MySQL, and they both offer a relatively easy way to manage website content. WordPress is only slightly different than Drupal when you compare the two fundamentally.
WordPress vs. Drupal?
So why does WordPress seem to struggle gaining market share at the enterprise level? And what implications do these circumstances have for WordPress and the people that use it? I admit that this difference could simply be perceived based on my own personal experience. Or maybe I am noticing something that others haven’t really noticed before. So much of this analysis is speculative at the moment, but I still feel it is worth sharing my perspective on the matter.
The realm of enterprise level websites is an area where WordPress seem to be lagging far behind Drupal in terms of perceived viability and utilization. Simply put, WordPress’ growth in this sector has been moderate, at best, when compared to Drupal. I have encountered so many instances of Drupal being used in enterprise level industries, in government entities, educational institutions, in the defense industry, the medical field, in science and research organizations. The list could go on. Granted, you do see some instances of WordPress in the same sectors, but for some reason the penetration into these markets is much more limited with WordPress.
I feel that this represents a significant challenge for the entire WordPress ecosystem; from the developer, to the business, to the client, and even to the end user. Why? Because this ultimately limits the growth of WordPress on many levels. It does that by limiting the professional growth of WordPress developers. This in turn limits the development of more WordPress community contributors. The community supporting WordPress growth and development is what has made it the dominate force that it is today. That said, you can only go so far in your career as a corporate WordPress developer given the current conditions. Let me demonstrate this concept with the following example.
From Entry Level to Senior
You take an entry level developer that has groomed their skills early on in their career by primarily specializing in the WordPress system. Once that WordPress specialist reaches a certainly level of experience and maturity as a developer they tend to hit a wall in terms of career growth. It can be difficult to find many high level WordPress developer positions in many cities. The end result is a rate of compensation for experienced WordPress developers that is not as high as it really should be.
There are many possible causes for this. Some point to competition in the marketplace by WordPress amateurs willing to work for dirt cheap rates and other outside factors (mainly cheap overseas labor). Others say it’s because there is a perception that WordPress development is easier than development done in other systems due to the availability of the large WordPress community to use as a resource. I have no doubt that an experienced WordPress developer can deliver enterprise level solutions using the WordPress system and that it is in no way easy to do so. But the fact is the perceived value of a WordPress developer seems to have become stagnant, along with the accepted rate of compensation for WordPress development.
Eventually you arrive at a point where a WordPress developer will no longer be able to earn what their years of experience and skills are worth if they continue to focus their efforts solely on WordPress development. It is at this point where WordPress becomes a much less viable option as a tool for career advancement. I feel that this is, at least in part, due to the under-utilization of WordPress at the enterprise level. There simply is no significant demand for developers that specialize in WordPress at the enterprise level. That’s a problem since it is at the enterprise level where the higher rates of compensation and opportunities for career advancement exist for experienced developers. So while WordPress can be invaluable for teaching and grooming developers early on in their career, it can also be an inhibitive factor later on in their career.
Where do you go next?
Ultimately developers are forced to venture outside of the WordPress ecosystem to further their career. This is really a good thing for the individual as this forces us as professionals to branch out and learn other systems and technologies. On a personal level, diversifying your skill set is always beneficial. But where does this leave the WordPress community? When you have developers who are very familiar with the WordPress system that inevitably abandon that system because they aren’t getting anywhere in their career with it, the WordPress community ends up losing a valuable commodity. It is losing experienced community members. It also loses any potential contributions from having that experienced web developer as an active community contributor.
There are a variety of factors that have contributed to these circumstances. With WordPress being the dominant global force that it is, the bad press that it sometimes receives tends to echo much louder than it does for other comparable systems. And it is for the same reason that WordPress is a particularly enticing target for malicious and intrusive internet activities. Then couple these troubling factors with another strangely still common misconception that WordPress is nothing more than a blogging platform. Then WordPress gives the high level, corporate stakeholders and major decision makers the perception of WordPress being an insecure blogging system with frequent and widespread security vulnerabilities. This more than enough to eliminate it as a viable option for many enterprise level web systems.
Say it ain’t so!
This fundamental lack of understanding of WordPress outside of the WordPress community is the real source of the career growth problem of WordPress developers. These misconceptions are just some of the impediments to WordPress’ growth at the enterprise level. The truth is every piece of software had more humble beginnings early on in its existence. WordPress is no different. And there are always going to be security vulnerabilities in any system. The key is effectively developing the system to its maximum potential and having the right approach to protect sensitive systems once they are in place. WordPress, Drupal and any other content management system are capable of achieving that end. So how can these misconceptions be corrected and who is going lead the charge in that endeavor?
Any web developer that has used WordPress for a significant period of time will readily promote its use in almost any instance having with complete confidence that it can get the job done, because WordPress really is that flexible. You don’t even have to ask WordPress developers to educate anyone that will listen about the system. They already do that willingly. But that really isn’t enough alone.
I feel that the responsibility of educating enterprise level clientele about the viability and applicability of WordPress should be shared between the developers that use the system and some WordPress affiliated organization(s). This could be achieved in any number of ways, but fundamentally speaking, WordPress leadership must attempt to coordinate and lead these efforts to correct the common misconceptions that exist about WordPress and educate the stakeholders at the enterprise level about how effective WordPress can be if properly implemented.
I am afraid that if this is not done, WordPress will continue to lose ground at the enterprise level. This would not bode well for it’s long term future in the corporate world or for the career success of developers that specialize in WordPress. I have hope that the powers that be within WordPress are well aware of this issue and will do something soon enough to address the shortcomings that have caused this problem. WordPress has come a long way from the simple blog system that started it all. And it is still capable of going so much further. But without the support of enterprise level clientele, it is for now, a somewhat limited platform for many experienced web developers.