The landscape of WordPress has changed.

time lapse photography of green field and clouds

A few years ago, we were all tasked with learning JavaScript deeply and rightly so. With the advent of Gutenberg and projects like Calypso, it’s obvious that JavaScript is becoming a dominant force in WordPress (not to mention the web as a whole), if you don’t consider it to be so already.

And for anyone who has read Coding Horror within the last decade or so, you’re likely familiar with Atwood’s Law:

any application that can be written in JavaScript, will eventually be written in JavaScript.

Jeff Atwood

But as this has happened, it seems as if its created a clearer divide between what constitutes a front-end developer and a back-end developer in the WordPress economy.

Personally, I welcome it as I find myself even more eager to learn, grow, and work on the back-end as PHP grows and changes. But that’s just me and there’s more to examine.

When we hear that we’re supposed to learn more JavaScript, it brings up a few questions that I think are important:

  • Have we, as contributors and developers building things for and on this project, neglected JavaScript and surrounding technologies too long?
  • Do we need to prepare for the next era, so to speak, in which the majority of solutions are written in JavaScript?
  • Is it assumed that we’re continuing to increase our PHP skills as the language advances?
  • From the outset, are these correlated in anyway?

Maybe asking these questions sounds a bit tedious, if not facetious, but when we’re seeing so much written in JavaScript including tooling, package management, and more, mirror what we’ve had in PHP for so long, it’s important to at least consider.

After all, in some ways, this could drastically impact the trajectory of a career.

In short, I think there are several things at play each of which I’m going to try to distill here.

Neglected? Yes. But That’s Not All.

I do think we, as in those of us involved in WordPress, have neglected JavaScript for too long. And though not all of us are front-end engineers, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be able to work on it a bit.

That said, I also think we’ve neglected updated features of PHP for too long (and this is becoming such a tired statement that I almost didn’t include it).

Mutual Exclusivity?

Though I think it’s important to move into the next era of development including more JavaScript, it’s not mutually exclusive with PHP. I’m not convinced PHP won’t be completely removed from WordPress in the predictable future.

Safe Assumptions

I don’t think it’s assumed that the majority of us are working to improve our PHP skills; otherwise, I think we’d see a broader set of resources devoted strictly too WordPress-centric PHP (not to mention taking advantage of the newest features of the language).

And when I talk about such resources, I’m talking about a WordPress-esque Stitcher.

Correlation

I think they’re correlated but not in the way some may think: I think some people and agencies are going to be just fine if they are to focus on JavaScript-centric solutions. The same can be said for back-end solutions, too.

But if you want to build a full application or solution (or something that’s headless), you can’t just focus on one area.

What’s My Point?

My point is this: There are going to be types of applications that require server-side languages that are not JavaScript that work with client-side features that are written in JavaScript

And though it’s obvious server-side solutions can be written in JavaScript, the web still doesn’t seem to be moving in a direction that’s making that it’s one and only aim.

There are other projects gaining momentum that support this, too.

Secondly, PHP is continuing to evolve in a lot of ways. Whether or not the features that are being added to the language are good or bad aren’t fodder for this post. Instead, it’s a matter of that PHP is continuing to grow, change, mature, and offer a lot of features that’s we – as back-end developers, have wanted for a long time. So why aren’t we pushing to make them more common?

  • Is it because WordPress plugins don’t require said features?
  • Would said features not improve the codebase of some component of WordPress? (In many cases, it would.)
  • Because the economy has changed and the block editor has become the face of the editor (and eventually of theme development), that doesn’t negate the need for back-end support.
  • And so on.

Why are we not, as a segment of the industry, challenging one another to also learn the new features of PHP as much as we are as JavaScript? The language is evolving faster than it ever has before, we’re seeing greater performance gains, ways to write more maintainable code, and features that could not only enhance the tools we’re building but the very codebase of WordPress itself.

Again, Learn But Don’t Forget

Much of this is a bit of musing around two of the core languages of WordPress. As we talk about WordPress and its languages, this is not a mutually exclusive situation where we need to learn JavaScript and forget PHP.

Instead, it’s meant to show that even though we’ve been tasked with learning JavaScript and although JavaScript has vastly changed the way WordPress works, it doesn’t negate the need for server-side work and thus it negate the need to continue to learn it.

There’s still plenty of room for both in the sandbox of WordPress. If anything, let’s not let our PHP skills wane all the while improving our JavaScript skills.

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