First published on the DreamHost blog.
By Megan Hendrickson
If you’re DreamHost fan, you probably know that we freaking love open source.
And WordPress — the behemoth that powers 28 percent of the internet — is the ultimate open-source project. That means it’s developed and maintained by a dedicated community of contributors — awesome people like you and me — rather than a for-profit company.
Even better? Becoming one of those stalwart WordPress contributors and shaping the future of the platform is easier than you might imagine. Plus, there are many excellent avenues for contributing. Along with the obvious coding and development roles, you can get involved in design, translation, community outreach, and much more.
So let’s first talk about what contributing to WordPress actually means (no, you’re not going to be pressing words, Amelia Bedelia) and why you should do it. Then I’ll walk you through the step-by-step process of finding your niche and making the right connections.
Why You Should Consider Contributing to WordPress
WordPress’ community is what made it the flexible, powerful platform it is today.
WordPress.org is a totally free and open-source platform. This means that instead of being run by a large company, WordPress is developed and maintained by a dedicated community of users.
“Wait, rewind! What about WordPress.com?”
Great question! WordPress.org offers free software that anybody can use to create a self-hosted website. WordPress.com uses the same platform but is run by a for-profit company. If you really want to get into the nitty gritty about WordPress, both the .com and .org sites, check out our WordPress Differences Beginner’s Guide.
In this post, we’re just talking about WordPress.org — the open-source, free-to-use software.
Okay, back to it.
WordPress relies on this community of users to keep it updated, add new features and functionality, provide testing and support, and much more.
Of course, you don’t need to know anything about the larger world of WordPress to use the platform for your own websites — you can literally set up a WordPress website in just a few minutes.
However, it may be worth your while to get involved in the platform’s development, and here’s why:
- You get the chance to give back to the community that’s provided you with an invaluable resource.
- Working as a contributor helps you learn more about WordPress, as well as other areas related to web development.
- It’s a perfect way to exercise your existing skills or develop new abilities.
- You’ll gain valuable experience you can add to your resume or use to attract clients.
- Immersing yourself in the WordPress community enables you to make connections and build professional and personal relationships with other contributors.
Altogether, these reasons build a compelling case for giving the role of WordPress contributor a try. What’s more, you have the flexibility to put as much or as little time into the endeavor as you’d like, and there are plenty of different ways to get involved.
How to Get Started as a WordPress Contributor
Just like walking into a real-life party, you’ve got to find the right place for you in the WordPress crowd — whether it’s on the development dance floor or in the community outreach corner. Regardless of your particular niche and skill set, you can follow these three steps to get off on the right foot as a WordPress contributor.
Step 1: Research WordPress and Its Community
Structured courses found on sites like WP Apprentice are a perfect way to learn about WordPress.
Whether you’re a relative noob or you’ve been using WordPress for years, learning more about the platform and its community is a smart first step. For one, you’ll need more in-depth knowledge about WordPress as a contributor than you ever did as a user. Plus, spending some time immersed in WordPress can help you figure out where you’ll fit into the picture.
Start out by reading up on the history and development of WordPress. This will provide you with a solid grounding in the platform’s mission and goals and will give you some idea of how far it’s come over time. WordPress has followed a long road from its beginning as simple blogging software to its current iteration as a multifaceted Content Management System (CMS), and there have been plenty of twists and turns along the way.
Once you have a better sense of how the platform came to be and the ways it’s changed since its inception, you can begin to learn more about its present-day form, focusing on whatever areas catch your interest. This step can take as much or as little time as you’d like, depending on how much you already know.
There are plenty of ways to learn about WordPress, but some excellent places to start include:
- Structured Online Courses — You can find a ton of options out there, from free half-hour tutorials to longer, more pricey options.
- Dedicated YouTube Channels — There’s lots of free, quality information available on YouTube, mainly through channels such as WPBeginner and WPCrafter.
- News Sources — Of course, you’ll want to keep your eye on the official WordPress.org news page. However, there are also other sites devoted to the latest WordPress happenings, such as WP Tavern and Post Status.
- Forums — The web is packed with forums devoted to WordPress in general and to specific themes, plugins, and more. You can find them on WordPress.org itself, on developer websites, and through Google searches.
- Blogs — There are blogs for WordPress beginners, experts, developers, and just about every niche you can think of. Reading posts on sites like Torque and our own blog is a simple, free way to learn much of what you’ll need to know.
Throughout the course of your research, take note of your favorite resources. You’ll want to keep visiting them over time, to stay up to date and continue your WordPress education. When you feel like you have a solid understanding of WordPress and know what aspects interest you most, it’s probably time to move on to the next step.
Step 2: Decide on a Field of Contribution
Make WordPress is home to many teams of contributors and volunteers.
If you’re imagining that all WordPress contributors are developers or programmers, it’s time to stop with the stereotypes.
Many people make this assumption! Of course, a lot of people in the WordPress community are developers and programmers. However, there are a lot more options available when it comes to getting involved with the platform.
A project as big and complex as WordPress needs many kinds of people to keep it running. This is fortunate because it means you’re likely to find an area of contribution that’s perfectly suited to your personal skill set and goals. Whether you’re interested in design, writing, or working with people, you can easily find a role to match your desires (or more than one).
The research stage should have given you a few ideas for where you might fit into the WordPress community. There are a lot of options available.
Core Development and Beta Testing
This is the area that probably comes to mind first when you think about WordPress contributors. Plenty of coders are required to work on the project — they’re responsible for adding new features, improving existing functionality, creating updates and patches, beta testing, and fixing bugs and other issues. Some developers stick to one or two areas of expertise, while others try their hand at just about everything.
If you’re at all interested in coding and development, you should get involved. What’s more, you don’t need to be an expert or have a lot of experience. WordPress is a beginner-friendly project and has some simple ways to get you started even if you’re a relative novice. You can get your feet wet with the WordPress Beta Tester plugin, then work your way up. Plus, experienced developers are always around to help you out and answer questions.
The best place to start if you’re interested in core development and beta testing is by reading through the Core Contributor Handbook. This resource will tell you just about everything you need to know about the project’s organization, workflows, best practices, and more. Then, you can get started with some tasks earmarked for beginning contributors, such as handling basic bugs and testing patches.
Design and User Interface
WordPress’ user interface is the result of years of work by designers and developers.
If you’re more of a designer than a developer, you may be interested in helping to improve the platform’s design and user interface (UI). These are key elements that impact the experience of every person who uses the platform. A solid UI streamlines the workflow for experienced users and makes their lives a little easier. And it definitely plays a major role in whether or not newcomers stick around.
WordPress’ design and UI are constantly evolving as developers and users find better ways to organize information and handle common tasks. Just as with core development, the team behind this niche is open to anyone who wants to help out. Some design experience will certainly enable you to get up and running more quickly, but you don’t need to be an expert.
There are a number of ways to start contributing to WordPress’ UI and design. You can deal with design-related tickets, work on mockups, or help out with whatever the team’s current primary focuses happen to be. Before jumping into any of these projects, check out the Design Handbook and then follow the recommended first steps for getting involved.
Plugin and Theme Development
This area of contribution is a little different from the rest. Creating themes and plugins isn’t exactly part of the main WordPress project even though it’s a crucial aspect of the platform’s development. The wide availability of free and low-cost themes and plugins is a big part of what makes WordPress so popular, and what keeps it relevant year after year. Adding to that collection helps expand the CMSs capabilities, so this is a vital function.
You’ll need some experience with coding and development if you want to jump straight into building plugins and themes. If you are a complete beginner, though, you’ll simply need to spend some time beefing up your skills. Put in the effort to learn about how themes and plugins work, then start out by creating something small and simple. Let other people test the results and use their feedback to improve.
For plugin and theme development, you may want to start with a dedicated course. There are free options as well as premium tutorials from services like Udemy. You’ll also find relevant information about building themes and creating plugins in the WordPress Codex. If you run into any trouble along the way, have questions, or want to find a team to collaborate with, check out the official WordPress.org forums. Chances are, you’ll find lots of developers there who are willing to help you out.
The WordPress Codex is a handy resource that needs to be kept up-to-date at all times.
Perhaps, like myself, you’re more of a writer than a developer — where do the word people fit in the WordPress community? On the documentation team. Boom.
WordPress is a complex CMS with a lot of moving parts — plenty of resources are required to teach people the ropes and keep everything straight. That means writers and editors are needed to add new content and make sure existing materials are up to date.
WordPress contributors who work on documentation are responsible for a number of projects. They add articles to the Codex and makes changes to it when necessary. In addition, they work on the contributor handbooks, the WordPress developer website, and inline documentation for the platform itself. All of these resources are invaluable for new WordPress users and veterans alike, so they need to be accurate and current.
If you have some writing, editing, proofreading, or fact-checking experience under your belt, this is a perfect way to contribute to the platform. Check out the Make WordPress page for the documentation team — you’ll find helpful links to connect with fellow contributors.
Plugin and Theme Review
Plugins and themes go through a review process before they’re listed in the official WordPress directories.
If you’re interested in working with themes and plugins, but don’t want to get involved in development, there’s another avenue to consider — reviewing them. After all, not just any theme or plugin is allowed into the official WordPress directories. Each submission must go through a vetting process to ensure it meets basic requirements and is safe for people to use on their sites.
There are two separate teams involved in the review process, one for themes and one for plugins. Both check all new submissions against basic guidelines. If you join one of these teams, you’ll be given a specific procedure to follow, although it will still help to have some solid knowledge about how themes and plugins work.
You can check out the Theme Review Team and Plugin Review Team handbooks on the Make WordPress website, and follow the instructions within for getting involved. The plugin team isn’t always accepting new members, but if it’s currently closed you can bookmark the page and keep an eye on it for future developments.
Translation and Accessibility
One of the best things about an online community is that it can easily transcend barriers such as location, nationality, and ability. Just about anyone can contribute to WordPress and make their voice heard, no matter who they are or where they’re from. Similarly, people from all countries and walks of life use WordPress to create and run their websites.
This means the platform needs to be as flexible and accessible as possible, to meet the needs of various types of users. Two teams in particular help to achieve this goal: the translation and accessibility groups. The translation team, also referred to as the ‘polyglots’, works on adding more languages to WordPress. The accessibility team is focused on making the platform as useful as possible for everyone — regardless of hardware, software, or any sensory or physical impairment.
These two fields have similar goals but benefit from somewhat different skill sets. If you’re interested in joining the polyglot team, you’ll, of course, want knowledge of at least one other language, along with solid writing and editing skills. As for the accessibility team, it’s largely made up of developers and coders and will most likely start you off by helping with accessibility-related testing and support tickets.
WordCamps are excellent events for WordPress newbies and experts alike.
Not everyone is happy to stay behind a computer screen all day. Some people are more interested in getting out and making professional and personal connections. If this sounds like you, it might be worth checking out the WordPress community outreach team.
As we’ve already talked about, the WordPress community is large, diverse, and spread out geographically. It takes a lot of work to keep everyone on the same page and working towards the same goals. Plus, as WordPress grows, its community does too — and contributors need to make connections with new members and get them excited about the platform.
The community outreach team handles official WordPress events, such as Meetups and WordCamps. They also run mentorship programs, work hard to attract new contributors to all the Make WordPress teams, and manage various other initiatives. If you have solid people skills and enjoy working with programs and events, check out the team’s current projects. Then jump into their Slack channel or use their contact form to get in touch.
The fields listed above are just some of the many ways you can get involved as a WordPress contributor. For even more options, check out the main page of the Make WordPress website. You’ll find plenty of other groups looking for members, working on projects such as:
- Mobile Development — This team works on iOS and Android apps for WordPress and performs mobile device testing.
- Marketing — Here, you can help market the WordPress platform to developers, agencies and clients, end users, and the community itself.
- Support — If you have lots of experience with WordPress, you can help out the community by answering questions in the support forums and IRC channel.
- Training — This team focuses on creating lesson plans and educational materials for instructors to use.
Finally, if you have an idea for how to contribute to the WordPress community but can’t find a dedicated group, try posting your thoughts and goals in the forums. Chances are, you’ll find like-minded people interested in the same type of work!
Step 3: Stay Involved in the WordPress Community
WordPress Meetups are held all over the world, bringing contributors and enthusiasts alike together.
Just as it’s important to keep learning about WordPress while you’re working as a contributor, it’s also crucial to stay involved with the community. You’ve got to (digitally) mix and mingle! This will help to keep you updated about important news and events and makes it easier to find people to collaborate with and to get help from when you need it.
Even if you’re dedicated to a specific area of contribution, such as translation, you’ll want to occasionally step outside that niche and talk to people involved in other parts of the project. Meeting new people and encountering new ideas this way will help to inform your own work and ensure that everyone is working towards the same goals. Here are a few ways to get — and stay — involved in the community:
- Continue to frequent your favorite research sources especially forums and blogs.
- Stay up-to-date on WordPress news and happenings.
- Keep your eye on the new WordPress Events and News widget in the admin area of your website(s).
- Consider attending dedicated WordPress events, such as WordCamps and Meetups. This is a great way to meet people, share ideas, and start collaborations. If there aren’t any opportunities in your area, you can always start one yourself!
Becoming a WordPress contributor takes time and effort — but it’s well worth the investment. You’ll be part of a vast community of people all working towards a common goal, and you’ll have the chance to put your own stamp on the world’s most popular CMS.
But Wait, There’s More
If you’ve only ever used WordPress to build and maintain your website, it may surprise you to learn how much goes on behind the scenes. A vast, thriving community is required to keep the platform at its best — including developers, designers, writers, and more. Getting involved in this community is simple, and in exchange, you’ll be met with plenty of opportunities for professional development and growth.
To get started as a WordPress contributor, you’ll want to:
- Conduct some research on the platform and community, learning as much as you can and finding out what areas speak to you.
- Decide on one or more fields of contribution that are a match to your skills, interests, and goals.
- Stay involved with the WordPress community through forums, blogs, news, and events.
Do you have any questions about how to get started as a WordPress contributor? And do we have any current contributors in the room? Share your best advice for getting started down in the comments.