You’re in over your head in WordPress: Part 2

You’re in over your head in WordPress: Part 2

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Everyone working in WordPress hits problems they don’t know how to solve: it’s an innate part of solving interesting problems with ever-growing technologies.

If you’re a designer with limited technical knowledge, however, these collisions with your technical limits may happen with scary frequency, and threaten to derail your projects.

In our earlier piece, we covered what not to do when you’re in over your head in WordPress: panic, or resort to hacks. Instead, what you need is clarity from someone who understands your problem. In this article, we walk you through your many options for finding that clarity.

Build Long-Term Partnerships

As a developer, some of my happiest and most productive working relationships have been with designers. I give them design work, they give me development puzzles, and we both get much better results for ourselves and our clients—and can take on bigger and more lucrative projects that require skills we don’t have in-house.

So the first and best way to solve your technical problems in WordPress is to have steady access to someone whose technical expertise you trust. Don’t build client sites without a developer contact, or you’re working without a safety net.

Photo credit to Cory M. Grenier. Photo credit to Cory M. Grenier.

There are lots of ways to meet good developers. The best way is probably to attend WordCamps and WordPress Meetups, and reach out to people in person. Most freelance developers are looking for steady sources of client work, and many are looking for reliable design help; they’ll be happy to talk to you.

Whom to Partner With

Before you partner with anyone too deeply, make sure that he or she is actually competent. A good developer has some of the following properties:

  • Bright, lucid, and logical. Detail-oriented, and interested in the specifics of your problem. Insists on doing things right, and struggles against expedient and ugly hacks.
  • Experienced and knowledgeable. For a WordPress developer, this means extensive knowledge of HTML/CSS, JS, PHP, as well as the WordPress software and development practices themselves.
  • Most importantly, things just start making sense (and, ideally, working) around him or her. He or she can readily suggest solutions to a given problem, and can explain and defend those solutions clearly (even if not in their full level of technical detail). In general, things that were shadowy and opaque become clear.

Obviously, building relationships at meetups and WordCamps is a long-term solution to what is, in your case, probably a short-term problem. But once you’ve made a good relationship, you’ll be much less likely to have this problem (without a ready solution) in the future.

Photo credit to Sebastiaan ter Burg. Photo credit to Sebastiaan ter Burg.

One-Off Partnerships

If you’ve got an emergency now, you may want to simply start searching online for a WordPress developer who seems to know his or her stuff. I’d start with the best and most committed WordPress freelancers (search the comments section of WP Tavern or Post Status) and work outward until you find someone who takes emergency client work. There are also services like AirPair that act as middlemen, structuring these relationships for you.

The Kindness of Strangers

…Okay, you’re not sure if you can afford a good developer. Maybe the project is too small, or maybe it’s for a personal need and you simply don’t have the money. What now?

You’ll be happy to learn that most developers will happily look at a problem and point you in a direction for free, if you approach them in a friendly, humble fashion—particularly in an in-person event like a meetup or WordCamp. Don’t expect more than a few minutes of help, but those few minutes can really be eye-opening; and you might be able to get a good estimate from the developer that transitions into him or her doing the work for you for a price you can afford.

Support Tickets with Related Software

Sometimes you can prevail on support techs to help you diagnose related problems that they didn’t directly cause. For example, if your client’s site is taking twenty seconds to load and you have no idea why, give the site’s hosting techs a call. They get these calls all the time, and they can often tell you something rather specific—like, “there’s a redirect loop that has to time out before the page will load,” or, “you’re loading 30MB of images on the homepage”—that will clarify the situation significantly.


Similarly, you can file design-related tickets with the support team of a site’s premium theme, and you may get some general help or guidance.

This method probably won’t get you all the way to a solution, and abusing it seems like poor form in general; but support techs are paid to know what they’re talking about and help people who don’t, so talking to them can be a good way to narrow your problem down.

Take a Step Back

A lot of the time, when you can’t find an answer to a technical question, it’s because the question has no answer: It’s posed based on faulty or incomplete knowledge.

Let’s take an example. Try Googling “Best driving route from Denver to Honolulu,” and you’ll probably get back an odd assortment of non-answers and cryptic references to cargo ferry schedules. If you don’t know anything about global travel, this is where you get stuck—because your question, as you posed it, literally has no answer.

So don’t pose your question so specifically. Instead, take a step back and ask what, fundamentally, you’re trying to do. It’s probably something like:

  1. Get from Denver to Honolulu in less than three days
  2. Spend less than $1,000 getting there
  3. Have a car to use in Honolulu

Now that’s something you can actually Google, with queries like “cheapest travel routes denver honolulu” and “honolulu car services.” You’re on track.

That sort of foundational knowledge is exactly what we often lack in technology. Take a step back, and your learning process may improve significantly. This is your best bet for finding clarity about your problem online.

Read the Codex


Photo credit to Chris Devers. Photo credit to Chris Devers.

Relatedly, you may find that your problem answers itself as you take on general WordPress knowledge.

For example, your “all my WordPress changes are gone,” Google search might be inconclusive; but learning about child themes and the dangers of editing parent themes directly might give you your answer (or at least a clear description of your problem).

So if you’ve got time, bone up on foundational WordPress knowledge that seems related to your problem, and then take another look. Even if that doesn’t fix your problem, you learned about WordPress, and that’s never a bad thing.

Good Luck!

Everyone gets stuck in WordPress from time to time—if everyone knew everything, there wouldn’t be WordPress developers in the first place. Hopefully you’ve now got some ideas for getting to clarity with your problem. And if you think you’ve got a problem we can help with, be in touch; we’re developers, too.

Comments ( 2 )

  1. Justin

    May 7, 2015

    Good follow up article to part 1. Consider using another article to flesh out what types of partnerships work between developers and designers? Do you need to have a partner or should you look to hire them on a project by project basis? How does this shift from "doing it myself" to "hiring/partnering with someone" work in terms of the rate you bill clients? Are there any other things to look out for when you go from doing it solo to getting help?

    • Ava

      May 12, 2015

      Addressing these questions should make a good article.

  2. Michelle

    May 14, 2015

    A few developer friends of mine have started a site called Code Cavalry
    They offer online coding help on as a tip based or fixed price service. I met these guys at a WordPress Meetup, they are great and constantly recruiting new experts to aide in helping.

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