This is the operating question for the no code development space. Who are vendors truly enabling with the no code tools that they bring to market?
We will be updating this post from time to time to make sure that this question is answered thoroughly, and we also plan on introducing some tools of our own to help you assess whether you or your colleagues are in a position to benefit from a no code platform or not. In fact, we are seeking some collaborators on the development of assessements that will match your technical capabilities to the no code tools we think you will be most successful with. Contact us if you would like to contribute to that project or be notified of its progress.
The Promise of “No Training Required” for No Code Development
As you browse various no code tools, you’ll see this promise scattered throughout website copy and other marketing materials. I’d like to say that in a few select cases that this is true, but in doing so I’d be ignoring the reality of each professionals individual experience and education. Two opposing examples come to mind among the hundreds of organizations that I’ve worked with to successfully choose and implement a no code development platform.
The first example is a small HVAC company in North America who was at that awkward growth stage where they knew they needed new systems in place to support the number of teams that they had in the field. At the same time, their technology team was limited to an executive plus one who were dangerous enough to build a few custom solutions from scratch. Their expectations were metered coming into the evaluation and they agreed to attend a training event before making any type of purchasing decision. To my surprise, this executive was able to build 80% of what they needed while he was at the 3-day training. He agreed to sign a contract for the software the last day of the training event, and within a week of his visit he had gone live with a few new business processes.
The second example came from a larger company who had an experienced team that included a developer who wanted the rest of the organization to adopt a no code development platform. In addition to this developer there was an experienced BPM (business process management) user, and a business unit leader who wanted to accelerate the rate of change in their world. Certainly there are some confounding variables here, such as previous experience with BPM technology, but I was still surprised at the experience this group had when they approached the evaluation. Compared to the HVAC company in the previous example I had expected them to pick up the tool quickly. This was not the case – and they struggled to set up a solution for the excel sheet they were trying to replace without any training. After begging them for some time to meet and work through the problem together, we were able to guide them to a working solution, but their impression of how easy the technology was going to be to pick up was definitely skewed by the experience.
A few cautions from these and other observed circumstances:
- Don’t assume competency with a new technology, even if you have used a competing product in the past.
- Be willing to spend time with the training team or self help training material at the start of your experience.
- Seek feedback from other current users who have already gone through the learning curve.
- Maintain a balanced perspective when a learning curve exists – for example, it may take a few weeks to become competent, but that’s a flash compared to the many months it would take the same person to learn how to code.
Some of the most successful teams took a hybrid approach on their no code development projects. They would contract with a professional services organization – either the vendor or a partner – who would take the lead on the more advanced portions of the implementation while a new team of potential no code developers would be trained in parallel with a focus on the pieces of the puzzle they were responsible for delivering.
You could say that the most successful teams had reasonable expectations around the entirety of the no code software development lifecycle. The new batch of no code developers were taking the lead on the scoping efforts so they understood the complexity that they’d be handing off for now until they were up to speed with the language of a new technology to take care of it themselves.
Are No Code Developers Still Learning a Development Language?
If you were to look on the resume of a code level developer, you’d likely see a list of languages that the developer was proficient with. .NET, Ruby on Rails, Python, C#, etc. All of these examples are syntactic programming languages, meaning they require some type of sentence like structure (words, phrases, context). Many no code development technologies are no different, but instead of words or phrases they use shapes and other visual connectors that are dragged and drop within the context of a given UI.
It would be easy to get into a lengthy debate about learning styles, but instead I’ll simplify the argument with some context. If you are a freelancer, imagine a meeting with a client. Or, if you are part of a large company, imagine a meeting with stakeholders from different parts of the business and IT. In either of these contexts, somebody is going to have the job of presenting the progress toward launching a new technology solution. Experienced professionals in these contexts will spend most of their time showing mocked up elements of the user experience or user interface to help everybody in the room understand where things stand. Why? Because showing code to a VP of Marketing isn’t going to get you very far unless that VP of Marketing use to not only be a developer, but also knows the language you are using.
No code development can change these experiences in a significant way. Some of the best no code tools out there provide a visual development experience good enough to walk anybody through a given process. A fair barometer here is something like the workflow diagram that you’ll see at the top of this post. In most professional settings you’ll be met with people who can either read this on their own, or at least be able to follow along as you explain it.
I don’t think we are too far off from seeing more resumes of no code developers who are listing the visual development languages they use in the form of no code platforms they are familiar with. In fact, a quick search on LinkedIn can show you profiles of folks with “BPM Developer at ________”.
So, how technical do no code developers need to be?
Today, its one of those unclear “it depends” kind of answers. I’ve even seen some very experienced developers – code level developers that is – get frustrated using no code development technology. We’ll probably talk more about how to profile a successful no code developer in a future post with one of my friends, now retired, from Lockheed Martin who was clear on bringing in some recent graduates to staff the no code development team instead of reassigning folks who’d been at the company for a number of years.
If you are the kind of person to read tech blogs for fun, and you have toyed with the idea of learning how to code in the past, then you will probably enjoy no code development.
On the other hand, if you live in powerpoint all day and avoid touching complex spreadsheets as much as you can, then you might not find as much immediate success with a no code development tool. Yet.
Again, this will be a topic of continued discussion. . .