No Coding Chops? No Problem! The "No Code" Movement Explained

Have you ever wanted to create your own app, but felt constrained by a lack of software development skills? A growing trend suggests that this might not be such a great barrier after all. The so-called "no code" movement promotes the use of simple modular tools to create applications without programming. These tools typically have convenient drag-and-drop interfaces, so anyone with basic computer skills can build an app right from their web browser.

This approach promises to make app development accessible to the masses and help solve a global skills shortage in tech. But is that a realistic goal, or is it too good to be true? Let’s make things clearer with an example.

How it Works: An Example App

Suppose you wanted to create a niche job directory site to connect workers in a particular industry with potential employers. Normally, you would either need to code it yourself or hire engineers to develop the various elements of your application. You would also potentially need various other technical professionals such as database administrators.

In order to build the user interface, you could use HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Then, separately, for the back end, you’d need a more complicated server-side language such as PHP or Ruby. The app would have to interact with a database, queried with a language like SQL. Finally, you would need custom code registering users, emailing them, and allowing them to make payments.

All of that represents a significant demand in programming overhead, not to mention time and money.

No Code to the Rescue

How would a "no code" approach simplify the development of this example app? There are many tools you can choose from to suit the needs of your particular app. In this case, you might use:

  • Airtable to store the underlying data. Unlike a complex database management system, Airtable works like the spreadsheets everyone is familiar with but integrates easily into more complicated workflows.
  • Table2Site makes it easy to turn Airtable data into a functional website with no technical knowledge needed.
  • Mailchimp is perfect for e-mail campaigns.
  • Shopify can be used to receive payment.
  • Use Zapier to integrate the different elements above. You could turn Airtable entries into Mailchimp subscribers, for example.

There are hundreds of tools to choose from, and it’s easy to chain them together to produce a capable application.

Potential Pitfalls

While there is a lot of promise in this new approach to building apps, it has attracted criticism as well. Some experienced developers are skeptical of the idea that non-technical users can create and maintain their own applications without running into problems that require more involved skills to solve.

Security is another potential sticking point. No matter how you choose to approach the development of a new product, make sure that you properly safeguard users’ data and that you are following all the relevant privacy and security laws in your jurisdiction.

Yet, others are more optimistic about the possibilities and believe that “no code” could work well in many situations for coders and non-coders alike.

What exactly are those situations? In general, this approach works best for apps with a low to moderate level of complexity, especially when there are specific tools available that suit the required features of the app.

On the other hand, applications that need a significant amount of customized functionality are less likely to be feasible without some sort of programming involved. The same goes for dynamic apps that will need to be changed over time or which require debugging that may be difficult for non-coders.

"Low Code" -- A Good Middle Ground?

Given these potential drawbacks of “no code” for more complex apps, there’s another approach: “low code.” This refers to the use of development platforms that are mostly driven by graphical interfaces like the tools mentioned above, but which also have the option of using code to customize the inner workings of the app under the surface or integrate different components more effectively.

With “low code,” you can get many of the benefits of “no code” while still retaining much of the power of more traditional approaches to application development. If you are an entrepreneur building a team to create a new product, you could employ a combination of programmers and non-technical workers who could all contribute to the development of the app in their own way, saving you money.

While this strategy makes it possible to build more complex products that a strictly “no code” strategy, it still requires the presence of experienced developers, making it harder for non-technical individuals to put together a working app on their own.

Still, depending on your skill level or your ability to hire, this middle-ground between all-code and no code might be exactly what you need to put together your next project without making too many compromises.

Steps to Take When Starting to Build Your App

Whether you are considering “low code” or a purely “no code” approach, there are a few steps you can take at the beginning of your product development process to make sure things go smoothly.

  1. Familiarize yourself with the many tools you have at your disposal. No Code List and both have fairly complete lists. “No code” tools are often a lot more powerful than they may first appear. With a bit of imagination, you can discover creative ways to combine them!
  2. Decide whether “no code” will work for your app. A purely non-programming approach may not be the right plan of attack depending on how ambitious your goals are for a particular project.
  3. Test your idea first. Before sinking too much time into a product that may or may not find an audience, test out your plan by making a landing page and launching a small ad campaign. This can give you an idea of whether there is really an unmet demand for your app to fill.
  4. Start small and create a minimum viable product (MVP). The first version of your app should be simple so that you can gauge your users’ reactions and change things up as needed to better meet their needs. Luckily, the “no code” model makes it especially easy to get an MVP up and running.

Many of these tools have free trials or low-priced options to get your feet wet without too much commitment. The best way to get started is to dive right in. As you experiment with the various platforms, you’ll quickly realize how easy it is to get a simple prototype working.

Closing Thoughts

In recent years, many tools have surfaced for streamlining the production of new software. We've seen that it's very much possible to produce useful, functional apps with little or no programming involved. This has been a boon to non-developers who wish to build their own products and to employers facing a skills shortage.

While a "no code" strategy may not fit every situation, realistic goals and careful planning can help avoid any snags. Whether you're an experienced entrepreneur or an eager newbie, consider building your next product without writing a single line of code.

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