No Code, No Jobs? Should Software Engineers Fear the ‘Low Code’ Trend?

No Code, No Jobs? Should Software Engineers Fear the ‘Low Code’ Trend?

Apr 12, 2021

It seems you can use software to automate anything these days – including to build software applications.

In software development terms, ‘No Code’ means pretty much what it says on the tin – creating software apps without having to code. It’s not that the code is entirely absent (we’re nowhere near the stage of even imagining what software built on something other than code would look like).

Rather, No Code is a form of abstraction, the hiding of the complex, messy world of programming languages behind a neat, user-friendly veneer of pre-built elements and drag-and-drop interfaces.

No Code platforms are therefore a way of opening up the world of application building to people who haven’t got the first idea how to write code. There are two key benefits – allowing more people to step into the world of application building will ultimately result in more software, perhaps more creativity.

And because they are designed to be supremely user friendly, No Code platforms also lead to development up to 10 times faster than traditional coding methods.

The reality of these benefits means that No Code and its cousin Low Code (where the nuts and bolts of an app are put together using a user-friendly UI before a qualified coder finishes things off) are really taking off.

Gartner has forecast that, by 2024, No and Low Code will account for two-thirds of all development. Forrester expects the market to reach $21.2 billion by 2022, up from $3.8 billion in 2017.

Understandably, there are those who make a living as professional software developers and programmers who are concerned. Automation leads to worries about making people redundant, or at least certain skillsets redundant, in every industry it touches.

But how valid are these fears?

No Code Web Development

One point worth making is that Low and No Code are already well established and have been with us longer than you might think. Take website development, for example. Once upon a time, the only way to build a website was to hire someone who could code HTML. It was a skilled, time-consuming, expensive business.

As it tends to do in a market economy, technology found a way to slash the complexity, the timescales and the cost of web development. Web building services like Squarespace, Wix, Shopify and Big Commerce are prime examples of No Code platforms. Nowadays, you don’t need to know a thing about HTML to build and run a website.

There are two important things to note about how web development has evolved which provide useful lessons for No or Low Code development in general. One is that the emergence of user-friendly drag-and-drop website builders has unarguably been a force for good. It has triggered a radical democratisation in web building.

In the past, anything other than the most basic and crude sites was beyond the means of your average SME. Now, thanks to No Code web builders, everyone has the resources and the ability to create slick, visually appealing, customer-friendly websites. In that sense, No Code has already had a key role to play in the digitisation of the economy.

The second point is that website builders haven’t killed HTML web development as a skilled trade. The biggest companies and the biggest websites still want customised software assets that go beyond the capabilities of a Squarespace or a Shopify. Indeed, most website building platforms still allow for HTML customisation, a Low Code offer that retains a need for skilled developers).

The biggest players in web-based markets also seek to retain an edge through constant innovation, continually rolling out new digital products across multiple channels, which creates a need for teams for software engineers.

The Future of Development

Web development and management offers the most visible example, but the same principles apply across the IT stack. Whether it is creating mobile apps or introducing RPA tools to automate digital processes, there is a clear two-tier market emerging – demand for simple, accessible, affordable solutions from smaller businesses, and an ongoing need amongst larger organisations for skilled developers to custom-build their digital environments.

In that sense, software engineers have nothing to fear in the immediate future from the No and Low Code trend. If anything, demand for programming expertise is going up not down – the US Bureau of Labor Statistics expects job roles for software developers to increase by 22% in the 10 years from 2019.

Longer term, it may well be that the rise in No and Low Code solutions changes the nature of software development as a profession. But that’s a long way from saying developers will be made obsolete.

Particularly in relation to Low Code, as platforms become increasingly sophisticated, it may well be that they become a friend rather than an enemy to developers, helping to take some of the heavy lifting on the biggest, most complex projects, speeding up delivery overall and allowing skilled devs to focus on innovation and optimising value and performance.

Ultimately, to paraphrase Jeff Atwood of Stack Overflow, the way the relationship between programmers and No and Low Code platforms evolves may serve to remind the profession that writing code is not the end purpose of what they do – it’s to solve problems and deliver business solutions in digital form, however that might be achieved.