What is This Low Code & No Code Sh!t Anyway

February 1, 2021

Mark Arteaga

One of the things I called out in the year end post for 2020 was the advancement of the low code and no code movement.

This is not a new phenomena and has been around for a long time but with different names. Names such as visual programing or WYSIWIG development where you basically drag and drop 'components' on the screen to build your 'apps' or business logic flows.

Some examples of this are Visual Basic created 30 years ago to help build Windows apps or Visual Interdev created about 20 years ago to create web applications.  In today's terms, Visual Basic would be in the Low Code category as you would still have to do some BASIC code but the UI you could drag and drop.

To me, it all really started in the '70s with tools like Cobol and a great quote from WealthSimple discussing how Cobol Controls your Money is

COBOL democratized coding; companies could take everyday people and train them to be useful COBOL programmers in a few months.

So although COBOL was not 'low code' it opened doors to others who were willing to learn.

Steve Jobs even answered a question on visual programming at Apple's Developer Conference in '97 from an audience member

One quote out of that

The way you get programmer productivity is not by increasing the lines of code per programmer per day, that doesn't work. The way you get programmer productivity is by eliminating the lines of code you have to write. The line of code that is the fastest to write, that never breaks, that doesn't need maintenance is the line of code you never had to write. The goal is to eliminate 80% of your code that you have to write for your app! - Steve Jobs - Apple Developer Conference 1997

So What!?!

As you can see, low code & no code is not new but has been around for 30+ years but we are at the next innovation point. There are definitely some great new tools that people and organizations should know about to start taking advantage of. We at RedBit are taking advantage of them to solve real business problems so you should too!

For myself, there are a few goals these tools are accomplishing.

1. Lower Barriers

The quote on COBOL stated above was

COBOL democratized coding; companies could take everyday people and train them to be useful COBOL programmers in a few months.

If you replace COBOL with Low Code or No Code, I feel that is what this movement is doing. It was done in the past but computing power has dramatically improved allowing new and better tools to be built.

Lowering the barrier of entry into the technology field is allowing people who would have never thought to (or were enabled to) write a line of code to solve problems. Now problems can be solved by people with curiosity and desire to build a solution to solve a problem.

It also allows our industry to be a more inclusive industry where you don't need a compsci degree to get your foot in the door. To get your foot in the door you can use some visual tools to build solutions and if you have the desire to, learn how the internals work and learn to build with code.

2. Efficiency

Wouldn't it be great to solve your own problems by building solutions to solve those problems? This is what low code & no code enables. It enables non-technical people to solve their own problems using technology.

Giving people the power to automate processes and leverage computing power will allow them to focus on work that can't be automated and needs more human intervention.

Enterprise Efficiency

Let's face it, usually there is a backlog of 'work to do' and most departments can't keep up. By using some of the new tools available, departments within organizations can attempt to solve their own problems.

In larger organization you usually have an IT Department who handles building custom line of business solutions either internally or working with companies like RedBit with IT or with other departments.

People within departments can literally drag and drop a process automation flow triggered by an action. For example, when a person receives an email with an invoice attached, a process can be triggered to copy that file to cloud storage, create a task for someone to enter in QuickBooks for accounts payable and finally send a reminder task to pay the invoice before it's due.

Be aware you probably need to work with IT to make sure you are working within the bounds of corporate policies but IT should also enable departments with the flexibility and power to solve problems.

Small & Medium Business Efficiency

Yes, SMBs have challenges also and can greatly benefit from the low code/no code movement. The advantage is you may not have an IT department where technology solutions have to go through but this can also be a disadvantage. When solving problems using  low code/no code tools, make sure to not leak any corporate data and most importantly customer data. This goes for large enterprises also.

3. Time to Market

What if you are starting out or have an idea for a software product but don't know how to code? Well some of the tools available will allow you to get that initial product launched (also called MVP) to market. This allows you to test the need in the market quickly and react to customer requirements.

This is already happening

Depending on the solution you are building and customer size, you may be able to just stick with a low code solution but also think about the possibility of building out a future version of the solution with code. If you have found a market opportunity then you should be able to raise money to fund development and expansion of the software product as well as customer acquisition.

The New Tools

So after all the above, what are some of the tools that are out there? This is only a small list but it's what either we at RedBit are familiar with or have used.

  1. Power Platform - Microsoft's entry into the low code no code space and targeted towards enterprises.
  2. Webflow - Webflow is a tool to build web sites fairly easily. You can think of it as Photoshop or Sketch but actually outputs an HTML website instead of just mock ups. Targeted towards designers but developers have been using it also to implement web sites. You do have ability to embed some JavaScript code to provide some further customization.
  3. Shopify - Although they don't say that they are low code/no code, they make it really easy for businesses to sell online. You can get started fairly easily with a free template, add your products, your content, etc all without touching a line of code. If you need to to customize your site, you have the ability to write some code to make the site uniquely yours.
  4. Bubble - provides users the ability to create web applications (ie allowing users to sign in and manipulate data after authorized) in a drag and drop fashion. It also allows you to create business flows for actions, for example 'do this if a user clicks this button'
  5. Honeycode - Amazon's entry into the space and does the same as Bubble.io and allows to build mobile apps using web based technology. Bubble seems to be further ahead from a functionality and from a visual design perspective.
  6. Betty Blocks - Added this as it is listed in Gartner's 2020 Magic quadrant as a visionary for Low Code Application Platforms. Seems to allow you to build reusable blocks to be used in apps and blocks can be shared within an organization. No way to sign up as you have to register for a demo and pricing not listed so most likely expensive and targeted towards large enterprises.
  7. Zapier - has been around since 2011 and allows you to automate processes. For example, if someone contacts you through your website contact us page, this can trigger a flow that will email the person back 'thanking them for contacting them', email the sales team letting them know about the person contacting them and possibly add them as a lead in their CRM.
  8. AirTable - you can think of Airtable as your spreadsheet on steroids. It's a place to hold your data and then you can further slice and dice the data. Data can come from a contact form on your web page or from anywhere else you can imagine.

Overall, all tools allow you to build solutions and whether that is a website or a mobile app, store data or automate business flows. All these tools can be used alone or in combination to solve business problems.

Good Bye Developers!

Well not really and a few reasons developers will always be required.

Developers that write code are the developers that are writing the low code and no code tools. These tools are built with JavaScript, C#, Java etc and there are systems that run both in the browser or a mobile app and there are servers running in the background.

Developers also can bring some much needed knowledge. For example, our website is built using Webflow and one requirement we had is having the ability to link to a certain section in an article. Out of box, this is not supported by Webflow and example is this [link](https://www.redbitdev.com/post/goodbye-2020-hello-2021#no-code-and-low-code). To solve this, our Webflow team together with our front end developers worked together to get this functionality in and yes it did require code.  

What we have to do is all work together and consider everyone building solutions as builders and not build walls between the two camps. Whether you are building with code, with low code or with no code our goal should be to solve problems and give our users a great customer experience.

Leveraging for Your Organization

In 2011, almost 10 years ago, Marc Andreessen the founder of Netscape wrote Why Software is Eating the World

Over the next 10 years, I expect many more industries to be disrupted by software - Marc Andreesen

In 2015 CEO of Microsoft [Satya Nadella said](https://www.computerweekly.com/news/2240242478/Satya-Nadella-Every-business-will-be-a-software-business)

Every business will become a software business, build applications, use advanced analytics and provide SaaS services - Satya Nadella - 2016

We are now 2021, almost 10 years after Marc Andreessen made the statement above. Unfortunately at the time of this writing, we are also almost a year into a pandemic so software and technology needs to be a strategic part of any organization to be successful.

If your organization is not leveraging technology, you are going to fall behind and risk going out of business. From marketing teams, to accounts payable teams to even developers, the new breed of low code and no code tools will allow companies to stay competitive and become software companies.

The Future

So what does the future contain? I have no idea but what I do know is using a combination of code, low code and no code will allows us to build solutions to solve real world problems.

It also opens up the doors to a whole host of people who would not necessarily think of themselves as 'developers' but they can think of themselves as 'builders' and work together with 'pro developers'.

The future also allows organizations to take advantage of technology to stay ahead of competitors, optimize processes and focus on things that make a difference in the organization to help move it forward.

Talk about what the future contains and how we should embrace these new tools but it's not a new phenomena it's just a new name. People should use them to push company forward, stay ahead of the curve and stay ahead of competitors. There is a worldwide shortage of developers and these tools will help fill that gap to address business needs.

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