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What is the difference between good and great web developers

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So, you got your design­ers, SEO experts, and client lined up and you’re ready to kick off your new Word­Press web­site devel­op­ment project. Now, you just need a Word­Press devel­op­er to lay the foun­da­tion of the project and bring every­thing together.

With sites like Upwork and Fiverr, there is no short­age of chan­nels to find web devel­op­ment can­di­dates. In fact, a study by Slash­da­ta esti­mates there are around 18.9 mil­lion active devel­op­ers world­wide (2018). How­ev­er, now the chal­lenge is iden­ti­fy­ing “the sig­nal from the noise” to find the best web devel­op­er for your project.

Find­ing a great devel­op­er is not only about dis­tin­guish­ing the good from the bad, but also about iden­ti­fy­ing the best indi­vid­ual to join your team (if only tem­porar­i­ly). So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at what makes a great web devel­op­er and how you can iden­ti­fy the right can­di­date for you.

Great web developers…

Have an actionable portfolio

In most free­lanc­ing sit­u­a­tions, you’d rely most­ly on a poten­tial candidate’s port­fo­lio rather than a for­mal CV. A port­fo­lio should point to con­crete exam­ples of the freelancer’s pre­vi­ous projects so that you have proof of the skills and tech­nolo­gies they’ve used as well as the qual­i­ty of the end product.

A sol­id port­fo­lio also shows the freelancer’s pride in his/her work as well as their abil­i­ty to fol­low through on projects. When inspect­ing a developer’s com­plet­ed web­site projects, it might seem like you’re doing your due dili­gence by just check­ing out the over­all design, user expe­ri­ence, and func­tion­al­i­ty. How­ev­er, this is just the tip of the ice­berg! Many fac­tors sep­a­rate good devel­op­ers from great ones, such as:

  • Adher­ence to best cod­ing prac­tices and standards
  • Code clean­li­ness and consistency
  • Opti­miza­tion for performance
  • Com­ment­ing and documentation
  • Cod­ing in dis­crete units that can eas­i­ly be test­ed and understood

After all, the design might’ve been the respon­si­bil­i­ty of some­one else, where­as the devel­op­er is sole­ly respon­si­ble for the code he works on. 

“Pro­grams are meant to be read by humans and only inci­den­tal­ly for com­put­ers to exe­cute.” — Don­ald Knuth

Most free­lanc­ing sites (like Upwork, ) pro­vide free­lancer pro­files with some form of a port­fo­lio, client reviews, and track record. Along with LinkedIn, this can be anoth­er valu­able source of infor­ma­tion on your poten­tial hire. LinkedIn can also be a great place to see some of a candidate’s inter­ests and lean­ings to decide if they fit in with your com­pa­ny culture.

“Pro­gram­ming isn’t about what you know; it’s about what you can fig­ure out.” — Chris Pine

While some­one can go on and on about what they know, a port­fo­lio will real­ly show you what they’re capa­ble of.

Has the relevant skills + keeps upgrading their skillset

35% of all web­sites are built on Word­Press, tak­ing a mas­sive 63.6% of the total CMS mar­ket share. That makes know­ing Word­Press and it’s relat­ed tech­nolo­gies a must-have for any web­site devel­op­er today. HTML, JavaScript, CSS, and PHP are strong skills to have work­ing in this ecosystem.

That being said, pro­gram­ming in gen­er­al, and web tech­nolo­gies in par­tic­u­lar, is a dynam­ic and fast-evolv­ing indus­try with new tech­nolo­gies ris­ing and falling all the time. For exam­ple, Word­Press didn’t even exist around 20 years ago but is now dom­i­nat­ing the web as we know it. Even lan­guages like HTML and JS are con­tin­u­ous­ly evolv­ing to keep up with the chang­ing web.

Word­Press has also evolved over time and a great Word­Press devel­op­er can help design­ers unleash the CMS and their own poten­tial to cre­ate inspir­ing and sophis­ti­cat­ed web­sites. Just check out the Word­Press web­site sec­tion on Awwwards where web­sites like moon safari.archi and taventures.vc show just what’s possible.

Have relevant experience (and, enough of it!)

Sim­ply put, the expe­ri­ence lev­el of a devel­op­er will be indi­rect­ly pro­por­tion­al to the time a project takes to com­plete. Just like any oth­er pro­fes­sion, the more expe­ri­ence some­one has, the more devel­oped their skills will be. Gen­er­al­ly, a devel­op­er with more senior­i­ty will:

  • Have bet­ter project man­age­ment skills
  • Be able to solve more com­plex problems
  • Have a more mul­ti­dis­ci­pli­nary awareness
  • Be able to give bet­ter upfront advice and direction

How­ev­er, you shouldn’t only focus on the length of time some­one has been a Word­Press devel­op­er. Instead, you need to take a more nuanced look at what exact­ly the can­di­date has expe­ri­ence in. For exam­ple, any of the fol­low­ing might be a core part of your project:

  • Devel­op­ing a cus­tom Word­Press theme or plugin
  • Cus­tom script­ing or styling for advanced func­tion­al­i­ty or design
  • Serv­er-side programming
  • Com­plex data­base man­age­ment, such as non-rela­tion­al databases

Of course, the best can­di­date has the most rel­e­vant expe­ri­ence. How­ev­er, you get what you pay for and a more expe­ri­enced devel­op­er will almost always come at a high­er rate. You will need to bal­ance your require­ments, time con­straints, and bud­getary con­straints to make the best decision.

Understand the importance of SEO,  design, and other disciplines

SEO and design are on the front­lines of attract­ing, cap­tur­ing, and con­vert­ing poten­tial visitors/customers. A great web­site devel­op­er under­stands this and should focus their efforts on help­ing design­ers, SEO experts, mar­keters, and busi­ness par­ties achieve the website’s main goals. After all, a web­site is an invest­ment and an invest­ment is only as good as its return.

To that effect, a devel­op­er needs to be able to come up with mul­ti­ple solu­tions and high­light the pros and cons of each. That will allow deci­sion-mak­ers to take direc­tion and make com­pro­mis­es in an informed way.

For exam­ple, a devel­op­er might take a “ends jus­ti­fy the means” approach by writ­ing dirty or bloat­ed code just to get the job done from a func­tion­al per­spec­tive. How­ev­er, if this starts to impact the user expe­ri­ence it becomes an issue for design­ers and SEO staff. A great devel­op­er needs to be able to fore­see these obsta­cles, com­mu­ni­cate them ear­ly on, and come up with alternatives.

Prefer­ably, you’d want to hire a devel­op­er with some track record of design expe­ri­ence. How much is up to you, but at the very least some kind of design cer­ti­fi­ca­tion (from the Inter­ac­tion Design Foun­da­tion, e.g.) or rel­e­vant experience.

Can work in a team and fit in with your company culture

In most web design projects, a web devel­op­er will like­ly have to liaise with a num­ber of dif­fer­ent peo­ple in dif­fer­ent roles. As such, you need some­one with good com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills and that can func­tion as part of a team where everyone’s work affects every­one else’s and vice versa.

You might also have a cer­tain way of doing things in your team. That could come down to which plat­forms you use to com­mu­ni­cate, whether you fol­low any devel­op­ment method­olo­gies like agile, DevOps, or the good old water­fall method, etc.

You also need to con­sid­er the time­frames you have to work in and the lev­el of avail­abil­i­ty the project requires. If you have a very care­ful­ly laid out plan, you might not want the devel­op­er to devi­ate or impro­vise too much. In oth­er cas­es, when you’re not so clear on the tech­ni­cal require­ments, that might be exact­ly what you need.

Have the relevant soft skills

Soft skills may be hard­er to pin down before you start work­ing with some­one. How­ev­er, they are still an impor­tant part of find­ing a good fit, estab­lish­ing a healthy work­ing rela­tion­ship, and com­pen­sat­ing for any blindspots the can­di­date might have. Some of the top soft skills com­mon­ly asso­ci­at­ed with devel­op­ers are:

  • Cre­ativ­i­ty
  • Time man­age­ment
  • Com­mu­ni­ca­tion
  • Atten­tion to detail
  • Pas­sion
  • Focus
  • Self-direc­tion

In short, a devel­op­er needs to be able to quick­ly come up with inno­v­a­tive solu­tions on the fly. As most projects have dead­lines, they also need to be orga­nized, detailed, and have good man­age­ment to ensure they not only deliv­er on time but that they also deliv­er accu­rate­ly. Last­ly, pas­sion, focus, and self-direc­tion are good indi­ca­tions that you won’t need to con­stant­ly have to moti­vate or look over the developer’s shoul­der to get things done.

You might be able to iden­ti­fy some of these by look­ing at their pro­file, port­fo­lio, and dur­ing the inter­view stage. How­ev­er, they are def­i­nite­ly traits to look out for as you’re work­ing with some­one, so that you can decide whether it’s some­one you would like to work with in the future.

Conclusion

This guide will pro­vide you with a reli­able blue­print to help you iden­ti­fy the best Word­Press devel­op­er for your project. How­ev­er, each sit­u­a­tion should be treat­ed on a case by case basis. No one knows your and your client’s require­ments bet­ter than you, and you should always allow some flex­i­bil­i­ty to find the best fit for your par­tic­u­lar cir­cum­stance. If you’ve struck gold with your Word­Press devel­op­er, keep in touch and lever­age your work­ing rela­tion­ship for future success.

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