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Tech 101: What is WordPress?

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If you’ve spent any time researching the skills it takes to transition into the tech industry, you’ve heard about web development and web developers. Web development is the process of creating websites and publishing them online, and developers are the people who get paid to do the job.

There’s a good chance you’ve also heard about WordPress and WordPress developers, and maybe you’ve found yourself wondering: is there a difference?

The answer is: yes and no. That’s why today we’re diving into the nuances of what WordPress is (and what it isn’t) to explain exactly how it’s used—and why it’s useful.

What is WordPress?

When it comes to building websites, there are two direct ways to get the job done:

  • Building from scratch
  • Building in a content management system (like WordPress)

Some web developers build a site from the ground up with coding languages like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. This approach involves creating individual web pages that are saved as .html files and uploaded to a web server where they combine to form a website. As you might have guessed, this method requires a lot of heavy-lifting, hand coding, and technical finesse.

The second approach to web development involves building sites using a content management system, or CMS. A CMS is a software application that lets users create, publish, and manage digital content online), which brings us to WordPress.

WordPress (the version that’s free to download and install on your computer from WordPress.org—not to be confused with the blogging platform available from WordPress.com) is a CMS, but—more specifically—it’s the industry standard CMS. In fact 59.3 percent of people use it compared to competitors like Drupal (3.7%) and Squarespace (2.5%) according to web technology survey site W3Techs. If you’re using a CMS platform to build a website, there’s a very good chance you’ll be using WordPress—which also means if you want to teach yourself how to use a platform, this is the most strategic option.

When you build a site with WordPress (versus building with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript), WordPress’ user interface lets you preview and visualize your content as you’ll see it online, rather than in raw HTML (e.g. all those <div> and <img> tags).

Further, that content can be edited in WordPress and updated in real time with the push of a button (as opposed to the HTML/CSS/JavaScript approach, where pages need to be individually edited and manually re-uploaded to a server whenever a change is made).

Why Use WordPress?

It ultimately depends on what you’re trying to accomplish, what your site needs to be able to do, and who you’re building it for. In certain cases, though, working in WordPress had advantages over building from scratch.

1. It Lets You Skip the Learning Curve

Hand-coding a site with languages like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript will always give coders the most control. When hand-coding, you’re building your site from the ground up, meaning the only limits are your level of coding skill and your imagination. That said, the learning curve for hand-coding can be steep at first—you can’t just flip open your laptop and whip up a basic site unless you’ve already spent time learning coding skills.

When it comes to WordPress, you’ll experience more limitations on what you can build, but the WordPress user interface is extremely forgiving in terms of experience level. WordPress’ limitations come by way of the fact that WordPress operates on themes (stylesheets that control a WordPress site’s fonts, header/footer/sidebar positioning, line spacing, margins, etc.) and templates (pre-designed layouts specific to individual pages on a WordPress site).

And it’s important to note that you can use HTML, CSS, and a language called PHP (see below) to customize your WordPress experience and build your own themes and templates, you’ll just need to follow WordPress conventions (versus the open-ended world of hand-coding).

2. You Can Start Building Right Away

You can also build a WordPress site without any coding knowledge, relying solely on WordPress’ robust library of pre-made themes and templates.This is where WordPress’ accessibility outweighs its limitations. If you’re brand new to web development, WordPress can be an ideal place to start, since you can hit the ground running and introduce more custom options to your work as your skill level increases.

3. It’s Easier to Pass Ownership to Clients

There’s one other benefit to WordPress’ flexible learning curve: WordPress sites can be designed so that the client you’re building them for can add and update content on their own. Once a WordPress site is built, doing routine edits and updates is a matter of clicking menu buttons and dragging and dropping files.

4. WordPress Plugins Give You All the Options

Another key component of the WordPress platform is WordPress’ plugin library. Plugins are software applications (some free to use and some that require a fee) that introduce specific functions to WordPress websites—things like improving a site’s load times, blocking spam comments, or monitoring your site’s traffic and usage data. You can search for plugins directly from a WordPress site’s administrator page and install them with a click of a button.

And if you can’t find that perfect plugin for, or you simply want to create one that’s unique to your specifications, you can do that, too. PHP is the coding language used to build WordPress plugins, so if you decide to spend time learning PHP, you’ll have the skills to customize your WordPress sites even further.

So, Should You Learn to Use WordPress?

The big takeaway? Regardless of your tech skill level, WordPress is a powerful and flexible platform for creating websites and learning as you go. You can start working with WordPress even if you’re coming in from square one, and—as your skills develop—you can start building more custom sites and unlocking a wider base of clients to build those sites for.

If you want to learn more about how WordPress works, you can start with free tutorials directly from the WordPress site. And—when you’re ready to dig even deeper—you can take paid, instructor-led courses from online schools like Skillcrush.

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