Will no-code solutions democratize tech skills?

Will they make the 'old-time' programmer redundant? Probably not, for now...
2 November 2020

No-code gives users building blocks. Source: Shutterstock

Building software and websites used to be the reserve of ambitious coding disciples, who dedicated time to learn and master programming languages only to publish comparatively basic products compared to what we’re now accustomed to.

Now, anyone can build an e-commerce shop, mobile app, even an augmented reality program, without the slightest understanding of how to code, and in just a fraction of the time that it would have previously taken.

This is the age of no-code and low-code software development, one that’s said to be heralding a ‘democratization’ of technology, closing the skills gap and empowering a great swathe of users with abilities that were once the reserve of die-hard specialists.

A movement powered by the likes of Microsoft’s Power Apps to create mobile and web apps and Oracle’s Application Express to develop business apps, alongside others like Webflow, Shopify, Airtable to name just a handful, Gartner expects the marketplace for low-code apps — of which it packages in no-code alongside — to account for nearly two-thirds (65%) of all app development by 2024.

Low code vs. No code

Before we go any further, it’s important to first make a distinction. Low-code refers to platforms that are aimed at developers, and therefore require some technical knowledge. These platforms enable coders to work faster, providing them with certain ‘building blocks’ through graphical user interfaces (GUIs), and reducing the amount of hand-coding required.

No-code platforms, on the other hand, are similar in goal but require no coding whatsoever. That makes them accessible to anyone in the business, operable through drag-and-drop manipulation or simple expressions. The trade-off for user experience is that the apps or programs that can be developed may be limited in their capability and flexibility (at present, that is).

Because no-code platforms are in practice designed to be able to be used by anyone, these solutions have been said to be driving the democratization of technical skillsets, enabling anybody in any industry with an idea to build it into a product.

That’s a powerful offering, and it’s why the marketplace for these tools is set to become worth US$45.5 billion by 2025, according to MarketsandMarkets.

“By a process of ‘abstracting’ the deeper toolsets and mechanics, low-code platforms are able to present comparatively non-technical users with a structured, modeled and often intuitively template-based method for building software applications,” business tech journalist Adrian Bridgwater previously wrote for TechHQ; […] we can see that many business people may want to take this opportunity to tune up the way their apps work.

“What low-code promises to offer us is a way out of the clunky legacy systems of the past. Many of its proponents say that it will help bring apps to market faster and less expensively by eliminating the code and hosting complexities associated with traditional software development models.”

Will no-code replace developers?

But can they truly ‘democratize’ tech skills? Will they make the ‘old-time’ programmer redundant?

While no-code solutions don’t require coding, getting the best out of them requires an understanding of how software and applications work. Providing somebody a complete toolset, workshop and components won’t necessarily mean they can build a functioning bicycle, they need to know the best order in which to assemble the components, and how the machine should work.

At the same time, however, a new generation of workers entering the workforce are bringing an inherent and practical understanding of technology and an understanding of the logic required to build effective solutions — a generation, as noted by TechCrunch, that has grown up with the ability to make entire worlds from their devices in programs like Minecraft and Roblox, and one that’s flocking to computer science majors more than any other before it.

So, while no-code solutions might not make development accessible to everybody overnight, they will increasingly serve more users who understand how to best use them and have the fluency and confidence to do so.

This suggests that no-code solutions could, in time, replace the need for the seasoned developer. But that’s not likely the case for a good while yet. Instead, these platforms can serve as solutions for building basic, bug-free features and developing quick prototypes.

Rather than replacing the need for developers, their time can instead be spent on more complex, tailored work such as APIs, developing workflows and other user interface features that might have been sidelined, while enabling access to the more tech-savvy non-coder in the business, allowing them to create in a way that’s more familiar to them.