The latest trend in web design and development is no-code. Well, it’s not exactly latest, the trend has been around for a while now. You can go back to the early 2000’s and point out numerous software apps and web offerings that would fall under the no-code umbrella.
However, it’s hard to argue that 2020 besides being dominated by a highly contagious respiratory virus pandemic, no-code has been thrown around a lot. If you visit sites like producthunt, you would know what I am talking about.
Do you remember Microsoft Frontpage, Macromedia Dreamweaver (now Adobe Dreamweaver)? And who can forget Geocities?
According to this article which cites a Gartner report that predicts by 2024, low code (including no-code) platforms will make up more than 65% of all application development.
Sixty-five percent, that’s a large slice of the pie, no matter how you slice it.
The no-code trend in my opinion has been around for at least two decades, possibly even longer if you go back far enough. Since the creation of the internet and rich web applications, people have been predicting no-code would eventually take over and become a thing.
I somewhat joke here as I see value in the no-code trend, tools and platforms making it easier to build products without needing to be an illustrious programmer. But, I stop short of seeing it as something that will make developers irrelevant or can be applied to every use-case.
As someone who is a huge fan of Firebase, a platform you could argue is the very definition of a no-code platform, it still requires a certain degree of manual effort and coding to produce something substantial.
I will admit, I have seen some decent results produced from people using website builders like Wix and Squarespace, no-code platforms which allow you to customise templates, changing colours and branding to suit your own simple needs.
Then you have platforms like Shopify which allow you to create powerful and feature-laden storefronts without needing to write code. Choose a template, change some values and you have a storefront. Once again, no-code in action.
The downside of these tools and platforms is you’re beholden to them. You have to pay recurring costs to keep using them, when they experience downtime, you can’t ask your developer or ops person to SSH in and fix the problem for you. You lodge a support ticket or call the support number (if you even get one on the plan you chose) and you wait.
When no-code solutions work, they work and when they don’t work, they can have real implications for businesses who rely on them and don’t control those pieces of the stack. There is something to be said about owning each piece of your own business (well, most pieces).
I have witnessed the same thing happen in the web hosting world. You have managed hosting which means the hosting provider will handle server resources and issues if something goes wrong, they have one-click installs for popular apps like WordPress and everything comes in a box.
Self-managed means you control the server, you choose the version of Linux/Windows, you can start and stop services, you manually compile apps from source or through package managers. It also means when a self-managed server breaks (besides a datacentre hardware fault) you have to fix it, you have to maintain backups, but you control it.
Sometimes all you need is a no-code solution for an MVP, but there will come a time where you will outgrow no-code and will need someone to write code for you. The move from no-code to code is usually driven by cost, platforms like Firebase start out cheap and once you start exceeding the resources given to you in your plan, they get really expensive.
The lock-in aspect of no-code platforms and tools is also worth acknowledging. Sure, these magical black boxes that you put your hopes and dreams into and they spit out a result are great, but once you commit to them, the ability to easily migrate away is not always easy.
Once you’re “locked-in” you’re beholden to the changes these services make. If they raise their prices, you either have to pay or spend more money migrating away to something more custom or a competing product which might suffer from the same issues.
No-code is Lego for programming. You have to find the right pieces to connect together to produce a result, but you can’t change the shape/colour/size of the pieces you are using.
There will always be people who find these platforms and tools are enough for them and will never need the services of a developer. However, I do not foresee developers all of a sudden becoming irrelevant. Automation is everywhere, not just in tech, but you can only automate to a certain degree before requiring human intervention.
Will no-code replace developers? No. If anything, no-code tools will just be another skill that developers need to learn.
Now if you will excuse me, it’s time to get ahead of the game and update my LinkedIn title to, “Senior no-code Engineer”