The Importance of Mentors: How a High School Student Became a Professional WordPress Developer

Sunny Ratilal’s WordPress adventure started when he was 13 years old. While learning how to build a custom content management system, he stumbled upon WordPress and started fiddling around with it to learn more about its features. At the age of 14, he landed his first client. WordPress ticked all the boxes for the client’s requirements and Sunny launched his career as a professional WordPress developer.

Sunny Ratilal
Sunny Ratilal

Fast forward to three years later, Sunny is now 17 years old and currently in Sixth Form in London. When not busy studying, he enjoys developing custom plugins for clients and is also a prolific contributor to Easy Digital Downloads, having logged an impressive 1,097 commits to the codebase.

Learning By Contributing to Open Source Projects

While contributing to EDD, Sunny said he has learned a great deal about working in remote teams. “Working alongside EDD developers, we’re scattered all around the World! Some are based in the US, England and even New Zealand! Remote teams are fantastic because it always means someone is around whatever time of the day.”

Getting involved in EDD changed Sunny’s life and opened him up to a new world of collaboration. “[pullquote]Open source software has empowered me to code[/pullquote],” he said. “Contributing to EDD was my first open source project which gave me confidence to contribute to other smaller plugins and then eventually WordPress Core, submitting my first patch to WordPress last year.”

Since his first foray into commercial products involved building extensions for a popular plugin, I asked Sunny if he has any advice to others who want to be successful in that space. He said:

Don’t build the extension because it’s something that’s required, build it because you want to build it. Build something you’re really passionate about; that’s what’ll give you the most pleasure whilst coding it. The key to success is not all about marketing the plugin, it’s about how the plugin is written.

Sunny advises developers to keep it clean and simple. He offered five tips for building extensions:

  1. Write clean code
  2. Document it very well
  3. Make the code efficient, don’t have hundreds of WP_Query instances or load hundreds of JavaScript/CSS files.
  4. Don’t give the customers a chance to complain, have a feature list built and always beta test
  5. Provide excellent support to all customers

The Importance of WordPress Role Models

While learning and working with WordPress, Sunny said that having good role models inspired him to further develop his skills. “I have three very important role models: all three are fellow WordPress developers: Tom McFarlin, Pippin Williamson and Mark Jaquith,” he said.

“They are exceptional developers who have a myriad of knowledge. [pullquote]The plugins/themes they create are made with other developers in mind and their coding is by far some of the best you will ever see.[/pullquote]”

Sunny is hoping to advance his skills along the same path he’s seen forged by the aforementioned developers. “I can say with a great amount of certainty that you can learn something new from every single commit to plugins/themes/WordPress Tom, Mark and Pippin make.” As is the case in many technical professions, Sunny has learned the most by doing and by watching other high performing developers.

A Bright Future for Sunny Ratilal

What does the future hold for Sunny Ratilal? He’s got one more year before entering university. Meanwhile, he is studying Mathematics, Further Mathematics, Computer Science and Physics. He hopes to study Computer Science at University.

He also plans to continue his work with EDD and WordPress. At the moment, he’s taking a break from EDD contributions to focus on his schoolwork. Pursuing a career in WordPress is something he’s considered, and he plans to continue developing while getting his education. “I love building WordPress plugins and themes and have no intention to stop doing so,” he said.

In many ways Sunny Ratilal seems ahead of his time, with his mature knowledge of teamwork, building software and handling customers. Code mentors have made all the difference for him and his experiences highlight the importance of solid role models in the WordPress community.

Though you may often feel like you’re working alone in your small corner of the world, the quality of the code you produce and your interactions with other developers may actually be mentoring future WordPress professionals. A developer who works to help others learn and grow can be instrumental in swinging the doors open for newcomers to the WordPress community.


7 responses to “The Importance of Mentors: How a High School Student Became a Professional WordPress Developer”

  1. I have been thinking about becoming a mentor at my local high school myself. I think there is a lot of greatness that can come from sharing knowledge with others and helping others learn something and especially our youth. The WordPress community has been so amazing here in Arizona and there are meetups held in many parts of the city which allows for even grade school, high school students to attend and they can learn a lot there. Great article and it’s cool to see young people who are also passionate about this amazing Open Source platform.


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