4 Things Nobody Tells You About Low-Code/No-Code
You’ve probably already heard of low-code/no-code. “Low-code/no-code is taking over the world!” said… everybody.
But, if you need a refresher, low-code/no-code is a category of tools and technologies you can use — especially the non-engineer “you”s out there — to build software faster than if you were to write the code for it yourself (or have a team do it for you).
“By 2024, low-code application development will be responsible for more than 65% of application development activity,” Gartner reports.
Why is low-code/no-code “taking over” the software industry? Its advocates claim that it democratizes app dev, that it solves the industry-wide developer shortage problem because you won’t need those experts.
Some of this is sort of true. Sometimes. But the hype machine has created a lot of misconceptions… and made a lot of unfulfilled promises.
Here’s what you maybe haven’t heard about low-code/no-code.
1.) Low-code/no-code (mostly) isn’t what you think it is
Okay, you can blame this one on me a little bit since I just supposedly told you what it is.
Yes, low-code/no-code includes drag-and-drop app builders, and they are what most people think of when they think of low-code/no-code. If you’re researching it, that’s probably what you have in mind.
But the vast majority of low-code/no-code is something else — support tools for non-technical teams like sales and marketing. Think of things like SurveyMonkey. When you use SurveyMonkey, you don’t have to code a virtual survey from scratch. You get a nice-looking template instead, and all you have to do is write your questions, choose a color scheme, and maybe upload a cool graphic or two.
When you read reports from analysts like Gartner about how most enterprise apps will be low-code/no-code soon, they’re not talking about core software products. They’re talking about… surveys, landing pages, and automated emails. They’re talking about enterprises using SurveyMonkey, Hubspot, and Zapier.
All of that stuff is really impactful, but there’s a big difference between a survey about a product, or a landing page for a product, and a product. When it comes to building those, we’re writing more code now than ever. For example, in March, GitHub reported the number of developers using Python has been growing by more than 22% year over year.
2.) If you choose low-code/no-code, you’re choosing low-IP/no-IP
This isn’t just a low-code/no-code problem. It’s a SaaS problem.
When Ford CEO Jim Farley appeared on the popular Fully Charged podcast earlier this year, he explained, “…We’ve farmed out the software modules that control the vehicles to our suppliers because we could bid them against each other…the problem is the software is all written by 150 different companies, and they don’t talk to each other…we can’t even understand it all. Even though it says ‘Ford’ on the front, I actually have to go to Bosch to get permission to change their seat control software.”
In her webinar “Low-Code, No-Code, and Custom Code,” CEO of Beanstock Ventures Shawnnah Monterrey said, “If you look at no-code, you can think of it as ‘no ownership.’ If you look at low-code, it’s more of a shared ownership. So low-code is great for moderate-risk products with common functionalities with minor customization.”
If you want to own and control your own product, low-code/no-code probably isn’t the right choice for many of the same reasons that Jim Farley describes.
3.) Actually… you still need experts
Given that it promised to “democratize app dev,” it might surprise you to hear that professional low-code/no-code agencies that build low-code/no-code apps are a thing.
Matt Varughese, CEO of a no-code app development agency called 8020, said, “More and more people are looking to build their ideas but won’t necessarily want to spend the time learning the ins-and-outs of no-code to make it happen, which is where no-code freelancers and agencies come into play to assist. Since no-code enables all of us to move faster without code, we can, in turn, move faster than traditional dev shops.”
Low-code/no-code hasn’t democratized app dev so much as it just made it necessary to have new kinds of experts (in low-code/no-code app dev).
So, yes, coding isn’t easy, but “not coding” isn’t easy either. Doing either well requires deep knowledge of best practices, data governance, and more.
4.) You can build apps just as fast with pro-code
Pro-code is probably what you’d imagine it is — the opposite of low-code/no-code. When you use a “pro-code” approach, you’re writing and customizing your own software at the “code level.” You’re using programming languages like TypeScript or Python and frameworks like Flutter or Angular.
Today, hundreds of technologies are available that are purpose-built to enable app creators using and writing code themselves. Code editors are enhanced with AI code assistants like GitHub Copilot. Libraries like Tailwind CSS include dozens of drop-in code snippets to generate enterprise-grade UI/UX experiences.
Nooone of this is to say low-code/no-code is never the right option. I’m using low-code/no-code to write this blog! But you have to be discerning about when, where, and how you use it.