Tom McFarlin On The Differences Between A WordPress Developer and Implementor

In a post recently published by Tom McFarlin, I learned about a new segment of WordPress developers called implementors.

Implementors are generally described as those who look for and use existing solutions to solve problems. Developers on the other hand, approach problems from a different mindset. In a comment left on the post, Julien Maury summarizes the two beautifully:

An implementor will say first “ok I’ll check if there’s some good plugins to do that” whereas a developer will say first “I’ll check if I can do it”.

In the early years of using WordPress, I learned enough to produce the infamous white screen of death. I relied on plugins and themes to accomplish tasks for websites that I built. Just because I’m able to take existing pieces of a puzzle and put them together to make a complete WordPress website, doesn’t mean I’m a developer. However, the term implementor describes me quite well and has a nice ring to it.

I think of developers as those who have the knowledge and skill set to invent solutions to problems. It’s a skill that I envy and respect. An implementor is a good way to differentiate yourself from developers without it sounding demeaning. Some of those who work with WordPress, such as Jimmy Smutek, are already wearing the badge with honor.

Eventually, as my understanding and knowledge grows, maybe I’ll reach a place where I will confidently refer to myself as a developer but, for now, I’m proud to be an implementor and happy for the distinction.

Which term more aptly describes you, a WordPress implementer or developer?


31 responses to “Tom McFarlin On The Differences Between A WordPress Developer and Implementor”

  1. I’m in the middle because I look at time and budget constraints. Just because I can doesn’t mean I should. Plugins (the good ones) are meant to help us develop better.

  2. I’m with @Nathan. I always search for plugins to do the job I need (sometimes buying premium one) and if I can’t find anything so I start coding my own plugin. Time is money and for my work WordPress and its ecosystem are gold!

  3. Also in the middle between implementor and developer, leaning more towards implementation than development.

    The majority of projects I work on just don’t warrant advanced dev work, and I’ve never been one to consider myself a programmer/engineer. I like building sites, but I don’t like writing code. :)

    • Yep I’m with you Andy for now, but my inner man is pushing my vices to learn the actual codes than to use themes and plugins in all my WordPress life if I want to stay secure with my passion for digital/web world.

      • That’s definitely the way to do it. :) Identifying specific problems that you need to solve, then digging into the tutorials and documentation to learn the methods to solve the problem, is how I’ve come as far as I have.

        Case in point: There’s a plugin I want to build to address a specific content authoring problem I’m constantly running into. Nothing’s out there right now that addresses it, so I’m slowly tackling it myself.

  4. I am definitely an implementer who is starting to climb the diving board to jump into the dev waters. I have started moving around some php and altering template files, with a little bit of function-dipping. I am studying all that I can because I want to become a true dev. There are SO FEW African American women represented in the field, that I want to become one to help shine the light for others.

  5. By the description of this article, I would be implementor, because I know how to change a code, to achieve what I want, but I don’t know programming so well that I would be able to write code from scratch.

    But overall I think the term “developer” here is described not correctly. It should be programmer. To take a real world example, construction developer should not necessary lay bricks or draw construction charts.

    That’s why I call myself a developer, because I’m the one who is heading the development process, some might call it being manager. Developer then can do some things himself, like implementation and if the need arises, he can hire programmers, etc.

    So the better classification would be not developer vs implementor, but rather programmer vs implementor.

    • I see what you’re saying. To be fair, Tom McFarlin’s post does describe developers, implementors, and programmers as different things. Good comment!

    • I’m learning fast, I thinks I love the clarification (though I have worked with NIIT Nigeria before), the term programmer basically is used for software developer. If you develop software’s for devices and for web then you are tag a programmer/software developer. If you build website with existing tool, you may call yourself a web developer but not a web programmer. Cool?

  6. I have to agree with everyone here, I am more of an implementor BUT I do like to try and code. I have said it before and I will say it again: The WordPress community is vast and has a lot of talent. If I need to do something, more than likely someone has thought of the same thing and built it. I like to try and find different ways of doing things and sometimes mixing things together provides some really cool. So I have to say I am a “impleveloper”

  7. I’m definitely in the programmer/developer camp. I rarely approach a problem wondering if someone else has already done it. I want to see if I can do it myself. I probably waste loads of time, but I do learn a lot in the process.

  8. The implementor is where I fit, but it is such a strange word that I bill myself as a WordPress Consultant – I don’t just implement, I consult. I know WP well and what it can do and how it can fit inside a client’s business operations. Having a business degree is essential to me because when they ask for a website, I ask them business questions and build the sites around their business needs. I speak their language instead web development language. I know what business plan should look like and how to ask questions about them (yes, your WordPress development clients should have business plans).

    The thing about being an implementor, is that we really do fit inside the industry quite well. The role of an implementor is to know and understand the WP ecosystem, what WP can do and what it can be manipulated to do. Keep up with trends across a wide swath of knowledge areas (design trends, social trends, usage and much more). While I dabble in PHP and template files, I certainly can’t write an inventive plugin from scratch. That’s what programmers and developers are for. I can write CSS rules and know my way around a stylesheet, but I can’t build a beautiful them from scratch. That’s what designers are for.

    But knowing what WordPress can do (in an operational sense, as opposed to a programmatic sense – how does a site operate and does it provide a solution to an operational business need) is what an implementor is all about. I know how to put it together, I keep track of what is new and hot in WordPress so that I know not only the tried and true solutions, but the innovative ones too. That is where our special skillset comes into play. Implementors rely on the skills of developers, programmers and designers (and we will happily pay them!) to create products and services that let us merge their tools into a coherent whole that solves problems and provides outstanding websites for clients.

    • Exactly what he said. I believe the WordPress Consultant is the most valuable person in the eco-system these days because they bridge the gap between the developers who might not understand business objectives and the client who might not understand technical possibilities. I do however believe that a Consultant is different to an Implementor in that a consultant will know the “best” solution (whether it’s plugins or custom) and an implementor will find the solution they know how to implement.

      My two cents.

  9. Thanks Jeff for adding thoughts, and Tom for starting this off.

    I think the concept of the “Implementer” is fantastic, and vastly under-appreciated, though I refer to it as the “architect”. To me, that difference, while minor, suggests that this person has not only the skills to see the ultimate goals and corresponding plans of the project, but also the responsibility to assume ownership of the long-term viability of the site (much like a “capital A” Architect).

  10. I like to do things by myself when I can because of my passion for programming but I always approach a client’s work from a practical point of view, and try to find pre-made solutions before doing them myself.

  11. I’m an ‘impleveloper’ too. I’m usually on a tight schedule and budget with a client and building everything from scratch is almost never an option. I build custom themes from a framework (Hybrid), and spend some time finding the most appropriate plugin for any particular needed feature. If I can’t find what I need, then it’s time to consider making it myself (or hiring a programmer if it’s really complex).

  12. I’m in the middle too, sort of in transition to developer. The company I work for makes sites for small businesses, often very small, so they don’t have much of a budget, and we use the Dynamik Website Builder as a starting point for most of our sites, plus a pretty standard collection of plugins.

    The problem has been that while there are a lot of plugins, very very few are simple, clean, focused and easy to use enough for these small business owners to use, so I’ve been building up my development skills building plugins to fill these gaps and have come quite a long way. I’ve made 5 plugins that we use for most clients and a handful of bespoke ones now, so while my day-to-day is largely implementing, I have taken up more development.

    • Very cool Jacob. The thought of building a plugin is something that still scares me. LOL!

  13. I would put myself in the developer camp for sure, but that wasn’t always the case. If anything, never being able to find *exactly* what I wanted in a theme / plugin or getting burned by a plugin not getting updates, etc pushed me towards building things myself. I used to spend a lot of time looking at the code that people like @tadlock and others wrote to figure out what the hell I was doing. And soon enough I was just writing the code without looking for a plugin first.

  14. I’ve struggled with what to call myself for a while now. I hate labels, and I’m not a purist but I need a way to introduce myself to clients and the WP community. To my layman clients, I’m a Developer because that’s the word they tend to use. But to the WP world, I’m somewhere in between implementer and developer.

    I think of non-technical users who “DIY” their own sites without professional help, as “implementers” in the truest dictionary definition of the word. They use the tools (themes/plugins) in their current state.

    I don’t just use the tools, I change them to fit my needs. I might use a theme framework, or add CSS and code to an existing theme. I’ll change the code of a plugin to make it fit my client’s needs. I can do basic coding, but the first rule of coding is, reuse existing code. If it already exists, don’t recreate the wheel. I’ll create CPT’s – but use a plugin to do it, because it’s faster and prone to less error. So just because I can make a contact form plugin, why shouldn’t I use one that already exists if it does the job?

    From reading these posts, I see I’m not alone. I’m a Solutions Provider. I provide solutions for business problems.

  15. I always approach a client’s work from a practical point of view, and try to find pre-made solutions before doing them myself.

  16. I am a programmer. I try to find solutions however that already exist to help customers get their sites up running affordably. This works for me and them. Well less for me. Most of the customers I get all say the same thing most of the time and that is they don’t have much money to spend, but would love to have a website. That case I help them live in their budget and make it work.

    While I love programming it is better to not try and reinvent the wheel.

  17. Definitely a developer. I love building solutions from scratch. As others have said, if there is a viable and well written plugin I may use it to achieve something that would have otherwise taken me hours of development to achieve….but I prefer coding things from scratch my self and knowing how they work.

    Great article!

  18. Either or? Yeah right! Those who are frugal with money – both their own & a client’s, and those who are prudent with time – both their own & a client’s, are smart enough to not reinvent the wheel each and every time something needs to be done.

    If you have some type of ego problem with not looking in the repo for something that will save both time and money, then you won’t survive and thrive at full capacity for too long!

    Can things be done from scratch? Absolutely! I’d say about 80% of the time though, you can code and build from something that already exists and save time while gaining more money.

    “Which term more aptly describes you, a WordPress implementer or developer?” There’s a slightly large gaping hole in the pie chart you’re leaving out by trying to put everyone in one camp or the other.
    “Over 60 million people have chosen WordPress “. If you’re the lone ranger type, then fine. I’ll stick with the community. 60 million brains are better than “one or the other” any and every day.

  19. Being able to sustain a culture that’s friendly to the whole spectrum from developer to implementor has probably been key to WP’s success. Other CMS projects seem to have suffered greatly by not being able to all work together as a whole.

  20. Time is money. Finding an existing solution is my first option so I’d lean to the implementor role. I do like to code as well.

    Good post!

  21. So where do you put someone that is comfortable using lots of custom CSS and HTML on a WordPress site, but who doesn’t know Javascript or PHP?

    • @William That person could be an implementer (using Tom’s description), but they’re likely to learn some Javascript and PHP or at least aspects of the WP framework and/or a theme framework.

      While this may seem like a very limited skillset (it is), it can have some unique benefits since it’s restricted to purely presentational customization. A lack of custom code and dependencies that aren’t updated with the core or a third party plugins makes a very stable, durable, and secure site if the theme/framework and plugins are good.


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