No-code and low-code tools are dramatically expanding who can build software, and in the process disrupting the typical software development life cycle.
Marc Andreessen, the prolific entrepreneur and investor, famously said that “software is eating the world”. He was right, and now that process is starting to accelerate. New tools and platforms that allow non-technical people to build fully functional websites, applications, and automations without software engineers are drastically changing the cost, speed, and approach to software development.
Imagine a world where anyone who can use software is able to build it. That is the world of low-code and no-code. Anyone who can drag & drop things on a screen and follow basic logic statements could build the next Uber, AirBnB, or Craigslist.
And this isn’t just about early stage startups and entrepreneurs. These days, almost every business is a software company. And to date, building and maintaining software has been slow, expensive, and restricted by the gatekeepers in Product, Design, IT and Engineering departments. The promise of agile software development (more on this later) has yet to be realized, and too many problems are left unsolved.
No-code and low-code tools are dramatically expanding who can build software, and in the process disrupting the prevailing approach to software development in companies today.
The terms “Low code” and “no code” can be somewhat misleading, as these platforms still rely heavily on code under the hood in order to accomplish the building of apps and websites. The key is that these companies have done the work to hide some or all of the coding from the user, abstracted away behind a user interface that makes building digital tools relatively simple.
Think of it this way. At some point, I imagine you’ve heard about how all software is made up of “1s” and “0s”. But humans aren’t good at reading and interpreting long strings of numbers, so early computer scientists came along and wrote software programs in languages that allowed people to communicate requests to computers. These languages (C++, Java, React) are just a level of abstraction to make software easier to create and manipulate.
“No-code” and “low-code” platforms just take this one step further. Now instead of having to learn multiple languages to talk to computers, you can just drag and drop things to create the visual part of your software, also called the “front end”, and you can create basic “if/then” logic statements (if I click the button, then go to that new page) to create dynamic websites and fully-functional apps.
These terms are generally used interchangeably. There are certain tools and platforms that truly require you to know zero coding languages to build a fully functional piece of software, and others that augment the development process to reduce the amount of bespoke code that must be written, however they still rely on software developers. Hence the proliferation of both the “low” and “no” modifiers.
Generally speaking though, the movement to reduce and remove the need for specialized coding knowledge is what no-code and low-code movement is all about.
The process for mass producing goods was a byproduct of the industrial revolution, and manufacturing physical products at scale in the 20th century was done primarily through what has been referred to as a “waterfall” process.
This “waterfall” approach was adopted for software development in the early days of personal computing. Companies were creating software that was designed, built, and distributed as floppy disks and compact discs (CDs). Then along came the internet, which introduced new opportunities to disrupt this traditional, sequential process.
The principles of agile software development were created and quickly adopted by new, fast growing startups who leveraged the speed of development, feedback, and rapid iteration as an advantage against larger, entrenched competitors.
The freedom and flexibility of the agile process was then commonly paired with the “Scrum” project management framework. This brought the structure and regularity that most businesses want. Scrum introduced:
The combination of Agile and Scrum can be incredibly effective, and it has quickly become the dominant approach to building software in today’s major tech firms. When well balanced, Scrum processes facilitate the underlying principles of Agile, however there’s always a risk that the structure of Scrum will overpower the fluidity of Agile.
There will always be a tension between Agile and Scrum, but you can tell when Scrum has suffocated Agile when the structured “output” of the Scrum process becomes more important than the “outcomes” or impact of the actual software.
I believe top software companies are falling victim to this today, and the no-code movement is presenting an opportunity for companies to break out of these unproductive patterns.
Most modern companies that are building their own software follow a team structure made popular by Spotify, with “pods” or “squads” of cross-functional employees collaborating to ensure what they build not only meets the needs of the business but that they solve real problems for the end user.
Product Managers act as the representative of the business. Sometimes referred to as the CEO of the team, they’re responsible for ensuring that decisions are viable given the constraints of the company.
User Experience (UX) or Product Designers work to understand the needs, motivations, and challenges of the user and design how the digital product will be experienced by the customer. This includes creating blueprints, aka wireframes, and low resolution mockups of the pages needed to bring the tool to life.
User Interface (UI) Designers are responsible for the visual design, ensuring that what’s built is on-brand, accessible, and desirable for the end user. Oftentimes, designers will cover UX and UI responsibilities.
Front-End (FE) Engineers develop the portion of the software that you can see and interact with as a user, ensuring that pages are performant, responsive (fit the screen on mobile, tablet, and desktop), and interact and update the user’s data.
Back-end (BE) Engineers are responsible for architecting the data schema, ensuring security, reliability, and building APIs (application programming interfaces) to allow different services and applications to speak to each other.
Full-stack Engineers work on both the Front-end and Back-end of a system.
Squads are often made of 1 Product Manager, 1 Designer, 1 Engineer Lead, and 3-7 additional engineers, with the composition of the team driven by the type of work being done.
Now that you can leverage the power of software development without needing to know how to write code, these newly developed norms, structures, and processes are coming into question, and the initial promise of Agile software development has been reinvigorated.
Business process analysts, Marketers, Designers, and Product Managers are no longer limited or constrained by access to technical talent. Entrepreneurs don’t necessarily need a technical co-founder. UI designers don’t necessarily need a Front-End engineer. Marketers can automate workflows and campaigns through highly intuitive products that connect apps through APIs, all without code.
In a world where one individual can plan, design, and build a software product, the opportunities for value creation have just multiplied. Just like with the introduction of internet-delivered software, once again, the time, cost, and risks associated with delivering software have been drastically reduced.
Such drastic statements may seem like the end of engineers, but those with hard coding skills need not despair. The proliferation of these tools will free up developers to focus on solving more complex, interesting problems. Instead of recreating the wheel and rebuilding buttons, forms, and graphs, they'll finally be empowered to do the unique, interesting, and high-value engineering work that they’re uniquely capable of. This is unequivocally a win-win!
If a business wants to benefit from all the advantages that software can provide, they really only have a few options.
Each approach has its pros and cons, but regardless of the route you take, it's going to be expensive. Software creates enormous amounts of value, and because the engineers that build software are in short supply, their salaries have gone up and their time is guarded.
The average software engineer routinely makes over $100k, and for top-tier software companies their most talented engineers can make over $500k annually.
For lots of businesses, it’s just too expensive to pay salaries that high, and so outsourcing has become a viable alternative, and subsequently a very large industry.
When a business decides to outsource their software development, they will typically run a Request for Proposals (RFP) process. This entails requesting project briefs and bids from multiple different vendors.
The certainty of cost and delivery can be very appealing for a business, however it can be very difficult for contractors to embrace the uncertain and iterative approach of Agile software development. This leads to projects that greatly resemble the waterfall approach of physical manufacturing, which doesn’t fully harness the cheap and immediate distribution of internet-enabled software.
If you’re interested in finding a traditional outsource software development agency to help you build an app, website, or internal software tool, you’re likely going to spend over a hundred thousand dollars, and you leave yourself with little room to test, learn, and improve what you’ve built.
I believe the introduction of these tools will happen slowly and methodically through larger organizations. Teams that were historically beholden to ever-growing Product backlogs, who rarely had their initiatives prioritized will be empowered to solve their own problems through no-code software development. Process automation will drive incredible value for businesses.
But the real magic will happen at the early stages of product development. With the 10x reduction in the barriers of entry into software development, we will see a spike in entrepreneurship. Design thinking and user-centered design principles will become increasingly valuable as more people will be in a position to experiment with business ideas.
The mini-waterfall process that has evolved out of an over reliance on the structure of the Scrum process due to the disproportionately expensive time of engineers will no longer be necessary. Teams and individuals will be in a position to re-embrace Agile principles, driving experimentation and value creation to new heights.
If you’re a business looking to outsource a project, whether it’s building a website, app, or automating an internal process, you’re in luck! The cost and timelines for these projects are getting drastically reduced because of no-code and low-code tools and platforms.
There are a number of reasons why you should consider a low-code agency over a traditional firm, when considering outsourcing a new software project:
Not every project will be suitable for no-code or low-code tools, and only you will know if you’re pushing on a technical frontier, but for most businesses and most products it’s worth at least checking to see how much time and money you could save.
There are truly no limits to how businesses can leverage no-code and low-code tools to make their businesses more customer-centric, efficient, and profitable. I imagine we will continue to see innovation here for decades to come, but here are a couple ideas:
So, what’s next? How will this low-code movement change things in the future? Here are a few of my predictions:
Here’s just a preview of some of the more popular tools and platforms today:
The Makers List is a marketplace pairing top no-code developers with entrepreneurs and businesses looking for high-quality software at a fraction of the cost and timeline. Here are some of our top agencies:
If you’ve got a project you’re considering, provide some details and get quotes from top no-code agencies today!
As with all great movements it’s the communities that propel them forward and with no-code and low-code it’s no different. There are tons of resources and communities budding up online. Check out some of the most popular ones below:
In summary, the progress being made to expand access to software development through no-code and low-code tools is creating tremendous opportunities for both established businesses and early-stage entrepreneurs. Those who embrace these new tools and platforms will be able to build high-quality software faster and cheaper than their competitors. This will unlock profits and drive innovation through more experimentation and iterative, Agile software development.
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Founders and CEOs from top no-code platforms, communities, and agencies share their predictions for how no-code tools will affect software development and entrepreneurship in the future.
I walk through the Makers Inc. minimum viable product (MVP), and discuss my past experiences as well as my goal for the new business. I'll be sending around regular updates as the project progresses.
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