There are a lot of ways to learn WordPress. Many excellent developers are self-taught, others have gone through full university programs, and many take online training to advance their skills. There are sessions at WordCamps, videos on WordPress.tv, lessons available on WordPress.org, and the support forums can be a place to learn too. There are dozens of online learning sites with WordPress content in addition to general programming topics. And I can’t ignore everyone’s favorite teacher – Google.
I’ve been devoted to learning WordPress for over two years. Most days I feel like I still know nothing, but occasionally I feel like I actually know what I’m talking about. Try as I have, I felt that I didn’t know enough to take on a lot of WordPress jobs.
Enter a tweet that I saw late on a Friday night in early March that quickly escalated into an application / interview / crowdfunding campaign that has me away from home for three months to attend the inaugural Interface Web School PHP, MySQL, and WordPress course sponsored by Flywheel. I’ve just completed week 4 of the 11-week course and I’m loving it.
If you’re reading this blog, you probably already know that Flywheel is a managed WordPress web hosting company located in Omaha, Nebraska. They’ve been doing awesome work and currently have 22 employees and are growing rapidly.
With an eye toward developing (and hiring) people, they offered to sponsor the course. They are providing both the instructor and the classroom space (aka the office lunch room) for the course.
Interface Web School
I’d actually never heard of Interface Web School before. It too, is located in Omaha and has the following mission:
“Interface provides practical training to meet the demands of job seekers and employers in today’s job market. We offer students an immersive learning program lead by industry experts and a professional network that connects students and businesses throughout the Midwest.”
This course seems to fit that mission perfectly. “Practical.” “Meeting demands of job seekers and employers.” “Immersive learning program.” “Lead by industry experts.” “A professional network.” All of those ring true.
The PHP, MySQL, and WordPress course is like none I’d seen before, which is why I jumped at the chance to take it. After all my experiences, I had several criteria that I thought were important for a good WordPress course: full-stack, WordPress-specific, project-based, synchronous, instructor-led, and with cohorts.
For me, the perfect course should be full-stack and include both front-end and back-end — taking the learning from beginning to end in the creation of a WordPress site and encompassing everything that would be involved.
It would also be WordPress-specific. There are many, many courses out there that will teach general programming skills and that’s all good. But my interest is in WordPress, and finding something that focused on it exclusively was elusive.
Another criteria that I thought was important was for the class to be project-based. So many offerings are simply “watch this video” then “do this exercise” followed by “good luck in the real world.” That’s a huge leap. By working on a project, alongside classmates and under the guidance of an instructor, making that huge step towards internalizing the material would be less daunting and frustrating.
I also think that one of the missing elements in much of the available learning is instructor-led synchronous learning with cohorts. That means showing up for class at a specific time and having a teacher and classmates – whether you’re all in the same location or not. Nearly all WordPress learning is geared for at-your-own-pace, at-your-own-time convenience. That’s great in a lot of situations, but I do think that it loses the ability to have a shared experience with peers that you can learn from. That shared experience can’t be duplicated by randomly asking questions in an online forum. I think it is possible for this type of course to work in an online environment, but this course is in-person at Flywheel HQ. I am enjoying the opportunity to explore Omaha. I’d never been here before and it’s actually really cool – who knew?!
Instructor and Classmates
The instructor for the course is Josh Lawler, who heads up the support team at Flywheel. I believe it is his first time teaching, and certainly his first time teaching this course. He’s doing an excellent job. It’s pretty easy for instructors to go way over people’s heads or, at the other extreme, not give enough information. Time management, discussion management, and making sure everyone’s coming along is a hard balance to strike, and I’m really impressed by the selection of content and the skill with which it’s being delivered.
I think it’s really great that we are learning from someone in the industry. Having taken some higher-ed level courses in the past, I can tell you that this course is just as rigorous and is much more in tune with current industry practices.
Another great feature of the course is the diverse group of students that are my classmates. We have all different types of ages, genders, colors, skill levels, and interests. Some have little to no exposure to WordPress and programming, some have been designers, and some know other programming languages. While such a wide mix can be difficult for the instructor, I think it makes for a better experience in the end. It’s going to be really interesting working as teams on the projects. That will be something new for me as I’ve really only worked alone before.
Personally, I’m very excited for the PHP/MySQL material that we’ll be getting into in week 5. As a front-end developer, the material we’ve covered so far has been a bit of a review. I’m really pleased with what I’ve learned from it though. As I expected, having a grand plan for learning and a sustained pace has helped solidify some concepts that had been eluding me. And the tips/tricks! Sometimes it’s just the little things that can make a big difference.
We are just about to get started on class projects for nonprofits. First, the nonprofits will visit and tell us a bit about what they do. Then we’ll learn about their website needs/wants and current website deficiencies. We’ll then choose our teams/projects and jump into providing a website that will suit their needs.
I think it’s really important that we have actual projects, with actual customers, with actual needs, requiring actual communication, and meeting actual deadlines. That’s as “real world” as you can get in a training course and I’m thrilled we’re going to get that opportunity. Plus it’s a great piece for everyone’s portfolio moving forward.
In addition to the class itself, there are also other opportunities that are available to us during (and after) the course. So far there have been two open houses – one for Interface, one for Flywheel – and a presentation on how to look for tech jobs and work with recruiters. There’s also a mixer event with potential employers scheduled, plus a few more events that will happen before we are through.
It’s still only week 4 of 11, so there’s much more to come. There will be further updates as the course and the students progress. So far, this course is exactly as advertised, exactly as expected, and exactly as I’d hoped. We’ve got a solid foundation at this point and are about to dig in deep. I can’t wait to see what the next seven weeks will bring.