Content Management Systems
Content Management Systems (CMS's) are exactly what they sound like: software tools for managing digital content.
Imagine you are trying to write a blog. You write you build a site in HTML & CSS, and write your first post. Writing blog posts directly in HTML is a tedious nightmare, because you have to surround each paragraph in clunky tags. Converting your written content into a working website becomes a significant amount of work, and detracts from your ability to focus on producing content. Adding basic features like a search bar or comments represents a significant technical investment.
Content Management Systems simplify this process by providing an application where you can write your content directly into an editor, and have it automatically convert it into a website for you. Most Content Management Systems, far beyond just managing content, are full-on website builders.
They let you design a page using a marketplace of themes so you never have to touch the code at all. Then, they have a rich ecosystem of plugins so that you can add just about any feature to the site you want, such as search engine optimization, an ecommerce shopping cart, or analytics.
On top of that, they make it extremely easy to put a website on the internet. Launching a site can be as simple as clicking a few buttons on a hosting provider site like GoDaddy or Bluehost. It completely eliminates the need to pay someone to be your webmaster.
These features make CMS’s extremely popular as tools for launching websites. Wordpress, the popular blog platform, powers something like 27% of all websites on the internet. It is so powerful and easy to use that it is a popular choice for sites that aren’t even content-driven, like an ecommerce website. It’s easy to associate wordpress with crummy, cookie-cutter blog sites, but it is even used by major brands like Tech Crunch and The New Yorker
There are many content management systems out there. Wordpress being the clear leader, and Drupal and Joomla are the two other major players. Products like Weebly and Squarespace brand themselves as website builders, but they are basically the same thing.
Let me say it again: Wordpress powers 27% of all websites. It is hard to ignore! If you search Craigslist for entry-level developer gigs, a large number of them are going to be fixing or maintaining someone’s wordpress site. It is an easy way to break into freelancing for someone with minimal experience, even if the work sucks.
CMS’s are a great and easy way to create your own websites as well, even if you have the ability to code a site from scratch. For a developer, Static Site Generators are rising in popularity as an alternative to a giant monolithic CMS. They hit the sweet spot between the freedom of creating a site from scratch and the convenience of working with a CMS. This site, for instance, is written with an SSG.
There’s a big difference between learning how to use a CMS and how to make a living developing them.
Wordpress is intentionally very easy to start using:
Note that learning to use a CMS like wordpress is not directly a skill needed to become a web developer. Indeed, using wordpress well is often more the wheelhouse of a marketer than a developer.
There’s a big difference between learning how to use Wordpress and becoming a Wordpress developer.
You can make a living by writing plugins and code for the Wordpress ecosystem, but it will be much more work than just learning to set up wordpress sites. You’ll need to learn PHP and MySQL, learn their APIs, and get a good understanding of how it works under the hood.