With the increased popularity of javascript libraries and frameworks like Node.js plus the emergence of Python as a leading programming language, more and more people seem to be questioning the relevance of PHP. And yet the stats still bear out what should be obvious to anyone with even the most limited understanding of the web. That the internet is primarily powered by PHP. The vast majority of websites run on PHP. This doesn’t mean you have to know PHP though. Today you can (and many do) make a great living either as a front-end developer, or as a full stack developer using modern JS platforms. 

Although we’re obviously biased here as WordPress developers, and will always advocate for developers to use PHP and learn plugin development… we try to be open minded about the emergence of new technologies. For instance React is an important advancement compared to the jQuery we’re more familiar with due to it’s inclusion in WordPress. And WP is (perhaps slowly) welcome React into the community. React is now used in the WP admin as part of the Guttenberg editor. And though most themes and plugins currently do not implement React, it is possible to “turn on React” and utilize it in a theme or plugin. 

The main reason I wanted to write this post is that I find it interesting (puzzling?) that young developers today often overlook PHP as an option. As I grow older I do sometimes feel out of touch with the latest advances in web development, but that’s nothing new for me. Years ago at age 28 about 6-years into my development career, AJAX was born (this should give you some idea of how old I am!). And it took me a couple of years before I picked it up. I had the embarrassing situation of having clients who understood AJAX better than me and requesting their site start to implement what at the time was the hottest new technology trend. I’ve since tried to become quicker on the draw, so I look around at the landscape as often as possible. With 2020 right around the corner, from my perspective WordPress is more entrenched as the leading platform for most sites than ever before. In fact I was speaking with a client the other day about WooCommerce, and he mentioned how glad he was to have now finally switched all his ecommerce sites over from Magento to WC. The days when “serious ecommerce sites” were usually built with specialized ecommerce software is over. WC is now by far the #1 ecommerce software, with over 25% of all ecommerce sites running it. And that trend is only going to continue as WC becomes even more powerful, and more site owners realize the benefits of having CMS features in tandem with WC. 

To me, the prevalence of use, and the trends in usage are key factors in choosing what technologies you work with. I understand not everybody looks at things that way. For some, it’s a matter of what you enjoy working with, or what you believe is the best choice. There will of course always be a place for specialization in the field. It might, for instance, be better to be one of the best developers in a certain Node.js platform, than to be lost in the crowd of WP developers. Your target market might be smaller, but if you can stand out more, great. That is one of the downsides of being a PHP developer, is that it can be challenging to distinguish yourself from thousands of others. And being a WP developer isn’t really a specialty. 

I would acknowledge some of the criticisms of PHP as a language are valid. And the articles that suggest developers can earn more with “modern technologies” may be true (in some cases). But it certainly varies. Because if you’re looking for opportunities, I find it hard to imagine there are many options better than being involved in projects involving WordPress. The concept some young developers seem to have is that WP sites are all small blogs, or if they are larger projects, it’s mostly put together with plugins and prebuilt themes. That’s simply not true of course. While yes there are millions of tiny WP sites that are built without professional agencies or developers, as a WP developer you work with the many sites that don’t fit this model. The vast majority of WooCommerce sites at some point (if they are successful) end up employing at least 1 developer on a contract basis. And most significant sites, ecommerce or otherwise, do involve a professional developer. The reasons for that are many but I think most obvious is that plugins have limits. Also how unique is a site if it’s built entirely out of 3rd party plugins, with no extra integrations, no unique features? I’m not saying it can’t be done, but most sites need to add something that ends up requiring a PHP developer. 

So, in summary, I believe the future is bright for PHP development. There is little or no chance of any major decline in PHP use on the internet over the next 10-20 years. And I realize, in technology terms, 20 years is an amazingly long time. Yet, that is how entrenched PHP systems are. And I also feel systems migrations are less likely to happen now. You see in the early days of CMS systems the sites being built were relatively small and simplistic. But today they are quite sophisticated. There needs to be a compelling business reason to switch away. If you’ve invested tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars into a WooCommerce site, are you going to suddenly switch to something like Node.js and React? Not likely. Not simply because you thought it might have some small benefits. You’d need a massive, compelling reason to go through that expense. There would need to be a platform that was so vastly superior, that people just had to switch or risk falling far behind. Is the WordPress community ever going to let that kind of gap emerge? Unlikely.