In an article for 1843 Magazine, tech journalist Andrew Smith sought to answer the question “Is learning to code in middle age a fool’s errand?”
He concluded that it was not. That rather, learning to code is “a committed act of digital citizenship”:
[Coding gives] a feeling of enfranchisement that comes through beginning to comprehend the fascinating but profoundly alien principles by which software works. By accident more than design, coders now comprise a Fifth Estate and as 21st-century citizens we need to be able to interrogate them as deeply as we interrogate politicians, marketers, the players of Wall Street and the media.”
“Just Learn to Code, Bro”
In the 21st century, coding is everywhere. It’s in your smart devices, your TVs, your laptops, your cars, your music streaming services… You aren’t really addicted to your “smartphone” as much as to the countless lines of code that make that metal brick a technological powerhouse. Your YouTube suggestions are determined by code, your Instagram homepage is driven by complex and personalised algorithms, your Google ads are generated based on your browser history, which is also code.
In an age where infinite combinations of 1s and 0s govern virtually every aspect of our lives, not knowing how to code can be an obvious handicap. Not only in the “enfranchisement” sense that Mr. Smith put it, but also professionally. Learning even one programming language dramatically increases your employability prospects – and your next paycheck. Conversely, not equipping yourself with basic tech skills, let alone programming, invariably puts you at a severe disadvantage. Especially now, with automation threatening jobs left, right and centre.
Code…or die, for lack of a better phrase.
The Times They Are Always A-Changin’
Now, the last few years have been a period of perpetual revolution for the tech industry. Robotics, cloud computing, IoT, Big Data, cryptocurrencies, autonomous vehicles, the “Metaverse”, machine learning, 5G… An industry more globalised than ever before is growing and innovating at breakneck pace – and charting the future course of civilisation while at it.
One particularly disruptive trend is the rise of low-code and no-code platforms. These essentially democratise computer programming, enabling non-developers (people with little or no coding knowledge) to build applications and other software. And they are already a force to reckon with.
What are Low-code and No-code Platforms?
Let’s get down to the brass tacks. As their names suggest, low-code and no-code programming allow users to skip ~90% or the entirety of the traditional coding process respectively.
Essentially, these platforms comprise a user-friendly graphical user interface (GUI) with a variety of components of blocks along with third-party application program interfaces (APIs). Also included are drag and drop interfaces, visual modelling tools, connectors to organise data structures, and automated checks for testing, deployment and debugging. Users can simply arrange these blocks (which contain bits of code) as per their requirements to build an entire mobile or web application (which is the sum of the individual blocks of code).
Who are these users? Practically anybody. You can be a novice programmer or have absolutely no knowledge about coding and still build your own software. Codeless platforms are from the same line of thought as earlier rapid application development (RAD) tools like Excel. The latter is an extremely versatile application that offers a myriad of developer services and benefits to any user, IT or non-IT. But to use Excel to its maximum potential, you need to be well-versed with its functions and formulae. Codeless platforms don’t even require this.
These tools’ growing popularity stems from the rising demand for app and software development coupled with the limited pool of developers. It is also a reaction to the conventional development process’s relative inefficiency. Think of it: usually, you would be relying on a professional programmer to write the requisite pages of code, and then implement, test and deploy it. The entire process involves countless meetings and back-and-forth between management and the tech team. No-code apps expedite the process by connecting the management directly to the product.
FYI: Some examples of codeless platforms include Appy Pie, Salesforce, Zoho, AppSheet, Knack, Airtable, Microsoft Power Apps etc.
The Other Side of the Door
Think of Canva. It’s a graphic design platform that allows you to create attractive and professional-looking posters, presentations, documents and other kinds of visual content using its many optional elements and templates. In its absence, you’d be forced to hire a professional graphic designer or to personally master Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator for your design needs.
Now, Canva is a great tool (we at TRANSFIN. use it regularly!). But at the end of the day, if you personally actually know professional graphic design software like Illustrator, your scalability and scope for customisability and personalisation sky-rocket.
This comparison holds true for codeless apps vs human coders too. In a no-code process, professional involvement is often non-existent. As such, the code “developed” can be too lengthy, not optimal, or filled with bugs. This might lead to slow or faulty apps, fixing which would invariably require professional involvement sooner or later. As such, these platforms can create a lot of so-called “technical debt”.
There are also security issues. If your code is not perfect, it might make your product – and your customers – vulnerable to cyber attacks or data leaks. This is bad news both for those affected and for your business.
Moreover, no-code platforms’ applications are still limited to basic software (this would definitely change over time as the technology improves). For more complicated undertakings, human involvement is a must.
Is Automation Coming for Software Developers?
Despite its disadvantages, the codeless scene is a burgeoning one. These resources are likely to be worth $21bn by next year and grow sharply to $187bn by 2030. By 2024, about 65% of all app development could originate from them.
To quote Chris Wanstrath, GitHub’s CEO:
The future of coding is no coding at all.”
What does this mean for human coders? Will they soon become an extinct species?
Bangaloreans can breathe easy. The rise of the no-code industry will bring with it new innovations, increased demand…and, naturally, new opportunities for traditional coders. Moreover, codeless apps come with worrying cybersecurity baggage and are largely uncomplicated. For the larger platforms, you need a human tech team. Think of it – no-code software itself is not built on no-code apps. It is, ironically, built by human coders.
There’s no stopping the no-code revolution. But that doesn’t mean coding is going to become an obsolete skill. On that note, if you want to finally learn coding – or if you want to brush up on your coding skills – here’s a list of websites you may want to check out!
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