No-Code Software: What Is It & Why Should You Care?

The number of students majoring in Computer Science continues to increase more than any other field despite overall declining college attendance numbers. “Everyone should learn to code” (or not). And tech companies continue to dominate the stock market, paying engineers high salaries.

Coding seems hotter than ever.

So why is no-code software being touted as tech’s next big trend and opportunity?

No-code, low-code, zero-code, codeless…

First, let’s understand what no-code means.

No-code software platforms allow users to create customized applications and workflows without having to write code or understand a particular programming language. They typically have modern user interfaces with drag-and-drop and simple logic features to “program” how a workflow or application performs.

An early example is spreadsheet software, like Microsoft Excel. Instead of having to use punchcards on a giant IBM machine to perform calculations, users of Excel and similar programs can just enter numbers on the spreadsheet directly and set up calculations and dynamic financial models right there.

Drag-and-drop tools for creating workflows in the Salesforce Lightning Flow Builder.

More recent no-code software is even simpler—you don’t have to memorize any specific Excel functions. Salesforce Lightning enables business applications and templates to be constructed from pre-built components, Squarespace lets people create websites and e-commerce stores without any special technical knowledge, and SurveyMonkey does the same for surveys and web forms.

No-code, zero-code, and codeless software all mean effectively the same thing. Sometimes there’s a distinction made for low-code software, a sort of middle ground where sometimes a bit of coding knowledge and actual coding is required.

To understand why no-code is trending it helps to look at larger trends.

Increasing Abstraction in Software Development

A powerful trend in technology development in general, not just software development, is increasing abstraction. As technology develops it commonly gets more powerful and capable while simultaneously reducing the need for the user to understand its inner workings.

Cars are a good example. When they first became available, they required a fair amount of knowledge and effort to operate them. Recall that they had to be cranked by hand to start the engine. Nowadays cars can start with the push of a button, and driving one requires essentially zero knowledge about any of their inner workings.

Thanks to advancing technology, starting a car no longer requires cranking it up.

The same abstraction and simplification has been happening in software. Running software on a personal computer in the 1980s still required familiarity with command lines, MS-DOS error codes, and using multiple floppy disks in the right order. None of that knowledge is required today as a casual user of computer software.

Now internet connectivity, computer power, and experience using software are all widespread. They are no longer limiting factors like they were in the past. At the same time, the demand for software to simplify workflows and create efficiencies is greater than ever.

So nowadays, the main limiting factor to creating new software is the availability of software developers.

But with no-code software, the hope is to get rid of this limiting factor. Instead, the people most likely to use and manage particular software applications and workflows can actually develop, maintain, and update them themselves.

Is No-Code All Hype?

As with any new technology that’s getting increasing coverage, some wonder if no-code software is all hype.

Virtual reality, wearables, augmented reality, and “big data” have all gone through the hype cycle in the past 10 years. Some have failed to ever catch on widely (VR, AR) whereas others have become important components of the tech industry.

Where will no-code software end up?

At the moment, the hype around no-code software is increasing and doesn’t appear to be peaking anytime soon. But regardless of how much coverage the concept ultimately gets in the press, it’s very unlikely no-code is a passing trend.

In fact, the whole arc of software development and practices across industries seems to be heading to no-code software.

A doctor using gestures rather than a mouse and keyboard to interact with software

Even simple things like the increasing use of voice and gestures as inputs for software are part of this overall trend in abstraction. One could argue that the ultimate endpoint of this type of abstraction leads to something like replicants in the film Blade Runner. The software has become so abstracted and easy to use that people don’t even know when they are interacting with software (i.e. a replicant). Even the software itself may not know it’s software.

How No-Code Software Is Being Used

Since no-code is a concept that applies to software in general, no-code software can be utilized wherever software is used—pretty much anywhere.

But primarily no-code software is being used for business and enterprise applications. And this makes a lot of sense.

Think about any office you may have worked in or are familiar with. There are all sorts of processes that are specific to that business, need to be agreed upon and understood by everyone involved, and must be completed the same way repeatedly.

Processes like updating a spreadsheet with daily inventory levels, checking workers or guests in & out of the premises, sharing a monthly sales report with a department, onboarding new hires, and generating invoices.

Automating processes with no-code software frees up working from repeating Sisyphean tasks.

While these processes might not be complex, they are often specific enough to the particular organization that off-the-shelf software can’t deliver exactly what they need. With no-code software the people who handle all these things, often manually over email, can set up software to take care of all this.

The advantage of freeing up this time from rote tasks is that workers can now focus more on high value work rather than wrangling together information and people over email. It also frees up IT resources since they don’t need to be directly involved and can deliver better value faster, since the application creator is also the user.

Accessibility & Productivity

“Think about all the white-collar-ish jobs that were created because of Excel, because people could then sort of do that type of work—we want the same thing to happen with low-code/no-code.”

That’s Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, speaking about their no-code strategy in creating Power Apps.

The key to the potential of no-code is the twin promises of accessibility and productivity. By making software development tools more available to more people, more efficiencies will follow.

While it’s hard to dispute the thinking, the real question is not whether productivity will be increased, but by how much will it be.

That’s a tricky question that will likely take years to answer. Even today there is some debate among economists over whether even the internet itself has boosted productivity. Most people think that it has, but measuring it in a reliable way has proved very tricky.

Building Our Own No Code Platform

At Temboo we’re not waiting years to find out. We’ve already built our no-code platform for environmental engagement, and organizations are using it to create their own systems to collect environmental sensor data to measure and monitor air, water, and soil.

You don’t need to be a data scientist, a hardware expert, or software developer to build these types of data gathering systems for the physical world. All you need to do is care, and Temboo can take care of the rest.

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