Low-code and no-code software redefines developer jobs

'Technology leaders need to help business leaders see end-to-end complexities, recognize dependencies and drive best practices, not just keep the computers running.'

Low-code and no-code has something for everyone -- for both non-tech users as well as experienced developers. But the movement toward low-code may be more slow-mo that originally hoped. "The applications that a business unit can solve without the need for IT professionals are general and recurring problems, which are already well modeled and solved by someone," says Gabriel Simonet, chief marketing officer for GeneXus. "But when the problem is not well solved or modeled, then IT professionals are needed."

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Photo: Joe McKendrick

It's not that low-code/no-code isn't being enthusiastically embraced -- it's actually booming. Nearly half (47%) of enterprises in a recent TechRepublic survey now use low-code/no-code in their organizations. Of the 35% who are not currently using LCNC, one in five (20%) said they intend to adopt the technology over the coming year.

Today's business users "can combine rich UI frameworks, libraries and a wide variety of APIs delivered as a service to build a more diverse suite of applications," says Snigdha Kotta, product manager of APIs and developer experience for SAS. "While these resources are still disparate and complicated enough that they will likely require at least modest IT support, things are changing quickly." 

One thing is certain: there are going to be more developers -- of varying capacities -- across enterprises. "Low-code and no-code approaches open up analytic and decisioning app development to citizen app developers," Kotta says. "Where before you might have had four or five app developers, now you might have 40 or 50. These approaches also accelerate development and iteration."  

As a result, it's time to challenge "traditional thinking around IT," says Chris Stephens, vice president of enterprise data and analytics for Zendesk. "The role that a technologist plays in the creation of business value is much different than it was 10 years ago. The role has been redefined as the cloud, data and application platforms abstract away what many people think of as technology. Great technology leaders are valuable today because they help business leaders see end-to-end complexities, recognize dependencies and drive best practices, not because they keep the computers running."

The advent of cloud, SaaS and other platform-driven approaches "has allowed IT to abstract away the details of technology stacks, and elevate the role of technology teams," says Stephens. "Low code/no code approaches are, in many ways, a next step in that abstraction journey. IT organizations have new freedom to drive innovation."

This freedom may include a rethinking of the roles of IT departments. "Stop thinking about IT as IT!" Stephens urges. "As we've abstracted away the complexity of technology stacks, technology leaders have become more focused on value creation. This means use SaaS applications for anything that is not creating a differentiated experience for your customers. By their nature, these applications are all built outside of IT. For those experiences where you are delivering something unique for your customers, learn how to understand where your customer is experiencing friction and build experiences that remove it. There will always be a role for great technology teams in that."

At the same time, there are questions that need to be asked as enterprises embark with their low-code/no-code options. For starters, it's important to ask, "What is the business model of the platforms being evaluated? Do you provide the tools for free to developers, or do you charge per end user of the generated application?" Simonet relates. "If the volume of end users is large, the cost of the platform can become something very onerous at the end of the day. Do you charge per developer and allow them to choose where to go live? In these cases, the cost of the tool is lower, but it may require that companies also have system administrators to be able to bring projects to production."

One of the great challenges for low-code tools is going to be the same as for professional developers: evolve," Simonet points out. "What will happen to each platform when technology evolves, when a new programming language appears, or a new platform for which to create software emerges? Are low-codes designed to evolve easily?"

Ultimately, there's nothing new about low-code/no-code solutions, he adds. "Remember that before the low-code wave, there was a RAD (Rapid Application Development) wave and a CASE (Computer Aided Software Engineering) wave. The problem they were trying to solve was basically the same as the low-code tools, however they disappeared. Why? Because they could not evolve, because they were not designed to evolve with technological changes over time." This will be the ultimate test for the low-code/no-code community.