Contributing To WordPress: A Beginner’s Guide For Non-Coders
If you’ve been using WordPress for any amount of time, there’s a good chance you’ve come across the following statement: “Free as in speech, not free as in beer.’ If you haven’t, pull up a chair and let’s talk.
WordPress is a free and open-source software (also known as FOSS) project. The explanation of that could easily fill up a separate article, but the TL;DR version is that the software is free to download, use, inspect and modify by anyone who has a copy of it. These modifications can also be contributed back to the original project and thereby shared with all the users of WordPress, making everyone’s lives better after every release.
Whenever your WordPress dashboard indicates that there is an update to WordPress, it means that hundreds of people from around the world have volunteered their time to contribute updates, bug fixes, and improvements to the project. These contributions are what make open-source projects so popular and appealing. Instead of a small team building only the features they deem important, hundreds of thousands of people can volunteer to improve WordPress on a daily basis.
Now, most people who learn about the fact that you can contribute back to WordPress (this now includes you, mostly because you just read the above three paragraphs) automatically assume that only contributions of code are useful to the project. WordPress is a software project, after all, so surely only software developers could contribute anything meaningful back to WordPress, right?
If you’re reading (or have ever heard) that line in your own voice, fear not. We’ve all been there. I myself was under the impression that the only way I could contribute back to WordPress was through code. However, you would be surprised to find that there are many ways that people can (and do) contribute back to the project without even writing or understanding a line of PHP.
Interested? Then let’s get cracking, shall we?
If you visit the WordPress.org homepage, you’ll see a little “Get Involved” link in the top menu. This takes you to the Make WordPress blog where you can view all the areas in which you could get involved in. At last count, there are 17 active teams working hard on improving various aspects of WordPress. The teams are Core, Design, Mobile, Accessibility, Polyglots, Support, Themes, Documentation, Community, Plugins, Meta, Training, Test, TV, Marketing, CLI, and Hosting. I could write about them all, but would rather highlight some of the easiest to get involved in. I know this because I myself have contributed in one way or another via these teams.
The first thing you will need to do in order to be able to contribute to WordPress is to register a WordPress.org account. If you don’t already have one, you’ll receive an email to confirm your address and generate your password. Once you’ve done that, it would be a good idea to sign up for the WordPress Slack team. The WordPress project uses Slack as its main real-time communication platform, replacing all previous communication platforms such as IRC and Skype. If you don’t already use Slack, I also recommend downloading the app for your operating system; it makes communicating on Slack so much easier. Once you have signed up for Slack, look out for the Slack channel for your chosen team and join them. Most (if not all the teams) have regular weekly meetings for updates and such.
As a small way of showing your contribution chops, you will also now have a WordPress.org profile. When you join a team and make a contribution, you’ll get the relevant team badge added to your profile. As you can see on my profile, I’ve contributed as a Plugin Developer, WordCamp Organizer, Translation Contributor, and on the Community Team. Not that it’s about the collecting the badges (“gotta catch em all”), but it’s nice to be able to see how you’ve contributed to the project.
One of the first and easiest ways to contribute to the WordPress project is to help beta test the new WordPress releases. WordPress usually releases 2 to 3 major versions a year, with a few minor and security releases in between. By downloading the WordPress Beta Tester plugin to a WordPress install, you can test out the newest version of WordPress before their release and provide useful user feedback to the development team. Side note, I recommend doing this on a local install of WordPress, or a noncritical site, as using the beta of any software on a critical site is not recommended.
You can read more about the beta testing process in the Core handbook.
Have you ever visited the WordPress support forums? Did you know that every single reply on those forums is from a volunteer? Now take a look at the forum posts that don’t yet have replies. See any you think you can help with?
WordPress users from around the world post questions to the support forums daily. Even if your knowledge of WordPress is only limited to one aspect of the software, I’m pretty sure you could find one support ticket a day you could answer to help out another user.
The WordPress documentation team is always active. Recent updates include a big overhaul to the Developer documentation, including updating documentation for Theme and Plugin developer, Code Reference and the Rest API and WP CLI documentation. There are still a bunch of projects being worked on, including HelpHub, the new user documentation portal as well as all the various other team handbooks. If you have a passion for good written documentation, there is no better place for you to get involved.
The Polyglots team help to translate WordPress and its free themes and plugins to all the languages around the world. Contributing to this team is as simple as logging into the translation platform with your WordPress.org account, and suggesting translations. Each language has a Global Translation Editor (or GTE) who reviews the translations with a view to include them into the core software.
Over the past few years, the PolyGlots team has held Global Translations Days, where WordPress users meet and spend the day (or part of it) working on translating WordPress. Think of it as a ‘language’ hackathon. It’s pretty cool because all the thinking you really have to do is taking American English and translating it into your own language.
Another outstanding part of the WordPress community is WordPress.tv. This video archive of all things WordPress is led by a great group of volunteers. There are nearly a thousand videos of WordCamp sessions, interviews with community influencers and simple how-to instructional videos. Folks like John Parkinson do an incredible job editing, interviewing, and curating every piece of the WordPress that’s available and present it in video form. They are always looking for additional volunteers to help out with editing or moderating and reviewing videos, so get involved with the folks at WordPress.TV.
Are you always the one in the room who is talking about how great WordPress is to your co-workers, friends, and anyone online who will listen? Perhaps joining the WordPress Marketing team is an ideal choice for your participation. This special group meets every Wednesday morning via Slack to devise and develop different campaigns that try to attract new users, both individual and commercial. There are four different sub-groups within the Marketing team: marketing WordPress to developers (Group 1), marketing to agencies and clients (Group 2), marketing to end-users (Group 3), and marketing the WordPress community itself (Group 4). There is always something new happening within the marketing operations, and you could be a part of it all! Just let the team know you are interested and attend your first meeting.
The last team I want to mention is also my favorite, mostly because it does a lot of direct work with the people who use WordPress and I enjoy working with people. Also, it’s one that I’ve more recently started dedicating more of my contribution time to, and I’ve found the team to be a great bunch of people.
The Community Team oversees official events, mentorship programs, diversity initiatives, contributor outreach, and other ways of growing the WordPress community. Every time you attend a WordCamp or a WordPress meetup, you can be sure a member of this team has been involved. If you like dealing with people in a more direct manner than just email and you have a passion for community events the Community Team might just be the place for you.
So there you have it, seven different places you can contribute some of your time back to the WordPress project without having to look at a line of code. Pick your favorite, and you’re off!