My take on the no-code movement

Technology · 

Every once in a while, I give my unsolicited opinion on a random topic. Hot take or cold take? You are the judge. Today, I’m gonna talk about the no-code movement.

First of all, what is no-code? According to Wikipedia, no-code development platforms (NCDPs) allow programmers and non-programmers to create application software through graphical user interfaces (GUIs) and configuration instead of traditional computer programming.

I’m personally a big believer in not reinventing the wheel. It’s 2021 and there’s a library or a SaaS for almost anything, and I will always reuse or buy instead of building it myself if I have the opportunity to do so, simply because it’s faster and cheaper. That’s how we were able to build such a complex piece of software like Ludus with a very small team.

So, I’m not against the no-code movement per se, and I actually think it’s great for everyone, but I’m against some ideas that are floating around it.

Fallacy #1: You can now build a very complex project with no-code

No-code tools like Glide or Bubble are great to build MVPs or prototypes but if you want to be serious about the software you’re building, you’ll need to write code at some point. As I already said, I will always use something that exists instead of building it myself, but something like Ludus couldn’t have been built only with no-code tools, it’s just too complex. At the same time, building Ludus wouldn’t have been possible for our small team to build without taking advantage of what already exists out there. If we were able to build something so complex so quickly with limited resources, it’s because we reused existing stuff wherever possible. In the end, it almost felt like assembling LEGO bricks, to the difference that we had to glue them together, and that glue is code.

Fallacy #2: No-code will replace the need for coding

Thinking that no-code will replace the need for coding is like thinking you don’t need to learn foreign languages because there’s Google Translate. Yeah, maybe one day it will not be necessary to know JavaScript or Spanish, but we’re still very far away from that day. I strongly recommend anyone to learn to code and not see the no-code movement as a miracle way to avoid that. Learning to code is not scary. We should stop referring to it as “getting your hands dirty” like it’s an inferior way to do things and we’re too good for that. It’s natural when you’re used to it, there’s nothing dirty about it. And knowing languages like JavaScript, Python, and SQL will give you superpowers.

Fallacy #3: No-code will replace the need for programmers

I disagree with people who say that no-code is the future and that it will ultimately replace the need for programmers. It will actually just simplify their work and allow them to focus on more complicated tasks, but there will always be work for them. And this simplification is not new. The very raw definition of a programmer is someone who automates boring tasks by writing code. And if writing code becomes a boring task, programmers will always find a way to automate that as well. It’s the way it is since forever. Just look at the evolution of programming languages, by comparing Assembly to JavaScript, for example, to convince you of it. Simplifying the life of the programmer has always been and will always be the goal, and programmers should not feel threatened by no-code tools or code automation tools like GitHub Copilot. It can be seen as shooting yourself in the foot but I don’t see it differently as a doctor whose job is to heal people when his very own business depends on people being sick. There will always be sick people to heal and always code to write.

Fallacy #4: No-code is the fastest way to build software

As soon as you know how to code, some stuff is still much faster and easier to manage with a few lines of code, instead of trying to connect 7 different services in a GUI like Zapier to do the same job. No-code can help build stuff that you couldn’t have build without code 10 years ago, but when it becomes an obsession and almost a challenge, it’s becoming ridiculous. When code is the best option, use code. It reminds me of people who create complex drawings with CSS, just for the sake of the challenge, when it would be so much easier to do it with a graphical tool that outputs SVG. There is nothing impressive in using the wrong tool for the job.

Fallacy #5: No-code tools are for non-programmers only

Here I’m talking to the programmers. As the Wikipedia definition that I shared above nicely put it, no-code tools are not only for non-programmers. If you’re a programmer, you should definitely try to use outside help when it’s possible. Writing everything by yourself is not impressive, it’s just an enormous waste of time. So, as always, it’s about finding the right balance between doing stuff by yourself and reuse existing stuff.

In conclusion, I would insist again on the fact that simplifying software building is not a new trend, it’s always been the case. It seems that the no-code movement made this trend more visible and it's true that we can now build very interesting things without writing a line of code. Nevertheless, if you’re not a programmer, learning to code still makes perfect sense in 2021. On the other hand, if you’re a programmer, learn to use no-code tools, it will save you a lot of time, and allow you to focus on more complex problems.

Vincent Battaglia © 2021