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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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What is the difference between good and great web developers