The Silent Majority Of Web Workers

I was reading Mastodon this morning and Andy Bell shared a blog post that really resonated with me. The topic was the (extremely) loud minority of web developers who pump the latest Javascript frameworks, going on about React or TypeScript. What really hit me about this blog post in particular was just how much I felt seen as someone who's plied my career in WordPress and many other less sexy technologies over the last 20 years. Developers like myself ply our trade without much muss or fuss.

WordPress, the reliable, if unsexy, CMS

When it comes to web frameworks and infrastructure, WordPress isn't hip or cool anymore. I remember a time back in the mid-aughts where it might have been, but that boat has long since sailed. It's like gloating about Wordle or Heardle, you may still play, but nobody really cares anymore after it's zeitgeist moment during the pandemic. Wordpress runs on 43.1% of all websites and it's understandable why. It's an established stack, there's plugins for virtually any usecase and it's infinitely extensible. Developers may not love mucking with PHP anymore, but there's tons of marketing and communications folks who are more than happy to keep chugging with what they know.

There is lots of money to be made supporting, maintaining and developing WordPress websites. And with the marketshare it has, that isn't changing anytime soon. There are agencies that charge a mint to institutions to support their WordPress and Drupal infrastructure. They're these monoliths that can barely pivot without 5 years notice. Bleeding edge tech in big organizations is virtually impossible.

Web working robot
Imagery created by Dall-E AI from Bing

Why This Majority Stay Quiet

I can only really speak for myself here, but I wanted to give voice to some of the reasons why someone like myself doesn't pipe up much in online discourse. I certainly have a bit of an inferiority complex when it comes to not being on the bleeding edge of frameworks. I see all the job postings for frontend jobs and so many of them require React, Angular, Vue etc. I've seen the numbers Andy has posted before and I really question the necessity of a lot of these frameworks when it comes to building for the web. You'd think React was running on 75% of websites with the job spec sheets recruiters are working off of. A lot of the frameworks I've dabbled with just come across as reinventing the wheel because they don't want to use semantic HTML and CSS. I've used some of these more modern approached on recent projects and really they're often just layering in levels of complexity that are wholly unneccessary. I've always felt there's a level of job gatekeeping to it all, adding layers of spaghetti code and dependencies that makes it difficult for someone else to come in easily take over a project without a steep learning curve.

I've spent my career being a generalist and it tends to leave you with a ton of experience in all directions, but not allow you to become an expert on any singular thing. I need to know how to maintain, update, backup and secure WordPress. How to setup local installs for development and how to push updates up to various hosting platforms, like Pantheon or cPanel, and manage it through Git. Understand how to theme using PHP and WP hooks. Taxonomies and custom post types and how to display them in a template. How to monitor traffic and pull reports using Google Analytics. Understand how to iterate sites that use Elementor, WP Bakery, Aveda, Divi or Gutenberg (or whatever other WYSIWYG solution for WordPress). All that and I haven't even mentioned writing actual code and doing the bread butter tasks of actually writing semantic, accessible code. It just makes you realize how the idea of being a true full stack developer is just a fools errand in most cases. There's just no way someone can be an expert in all the aspects of the web stack. Full stack is just another way of advertising you're a web generalist.

Nobody wants to talk about these aspects of web development. The day-to-day job of supporting multiple WordPress instances doesn't merit mention. And with the way many on the bleeding edge herald speed of headless SSG setups, I doubt many feel like the new client site built on WordPress running MySQL on a shared hosting package is going to blow the wheels off anybody on social media if you shared a new site design. So people just silently plug along building servicable websites without much fanfare.

About James
is a frontend web developer and graphic designer from Cambridge, Ontario. He's a blogger, mixtape maker, chronic scrobbler, sci-fi geek & dad to a wonderful daughter.