Why High Performing WordPressers are Unemployable

Business Man on Street

Last week Jake Goldman, founder of 10up, sent out this tweet:

Basically wondering why 10up's applicants only seem to stay at their previous job for 1 or 2 years. I weighed in on how employees need to feel in control & they need to be committed.

Which turned into issues in management which turned into issues in employee expectations. And all of these are valid. They all impact how long someone stays at a job. But as I thought about it some more. I think there's another issue.

Self Starters

The issue is that the type of people that 10up, Automattic, & WebDev hire are self starters. They got here on their own. They used their internal motivation to learn everything they could about WordPress.

There aren't any WordPress masterclasses. There are a zillion entry level classes sure. But to truly be at the top of the pack, to be selected from the thousands of resume's they receive you have to be remarkable.

  • That means learning how to use React in a WordPress space.
  • It means using Backbone to build your plugin's interface just because it's cool.
  • It means making a headless “theme” for WordPress.

There aren't classes on these yet. They're brand new. The closest we have is Zac Gordon's Learn JavaScript Deeply. And that took him a year to build.

These skills are hard skills to learn. They takes time, effort, curiosity, and self discipline.

Let's say you put in the hard work to master one of these skills. And with this magical skill you get hired at a top company. Now what?

Groundhog Day

You build a website with React. Then another. Then another. And for a short while you're still learning.

You learn how to use a new library. Or a new technique. Or you replace some old PHP functionality with React. And in the beginning these small wins feel good.

But after a while it starts to feel old. Like you're a level 80 character in an MMORPG and you grind every day in search of something new… but most days you return empty handed.

I felt this at my last agency job over the course of ~2 years:

  • Learn how to build WordPress sites
  • Learn how to customize themes
  • Learn how to build themes
  • Contribute to Underscores
  • Learn how to customize a plugin
  • Build my own plugin
  • Launch a plugin on .org
  • Etc.

But my agency still wanted me to build plain old WordPress sites. Occasionally I'd be able to build some reusable functionality into a plugin. But for the most part it felt like the world was moving on without me. I knew there was more out there.

Moving On

I got bored. I wish I was aware enough to know that I was bored. At the time I thought I was demotivated. There was probably a sense of “the grass is greener”. And there was FOMO watching what everyone else was doing.

My work suffered for a few months. And then we talked about hiring a new developer. I figured I'd train him for a few weeks and then move on. And that's what happened.

I got bored. I knew there was more but it wasn't available to me. And this is a big problem. Businesses have boring tasks.

Chris Lema said something similar:

What do we do with high performers?

Are high performers unemployable? Yea. Some of them are. I'm debating if I fall in that group.

And businesses have boring tasks. I have to pay myself, I do my own bookkeeping, & I send out invoices. It's super boring. But it's necessary for the business.

So how do you balance boring tasks while motivating employees? I think it means looking at your employees like people with their own motivations & desires. Instead of tools to get a job done.

Just because Sam is good with React doesn't mean she should get every React project. Sometimes you have to switch it up. Move Sam from a maintenance project to an active project. Move her to a mobile team for a few months. And then you can move her back and she'll have a new perspective.

It isn't a new idea by any means. But I haven't seen any large companies that do this well. You often have to wait months, you're confined to your existing silo (moving from one dev team to another dev team), or you have to get permission from someone who doesn't have your interests.

The people we want to hire are avid learners. So we need to build that into our culture. It can't be something tack'ed on. And it can't be buried in bureaucracy. It has to be integrated into the business.

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