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What is "no-code" and how it affects programmers

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A programmer's main job in their career is to write 'code'. To create variables, functions and looping mechanisms to accomplish some form of task in the virtual world with some type of data. More recently, with the advent of frameworks such as Angular and React, that job has gotten simpler and often tedious and time-consuming elements of programming are now accomplished with less code requirements. Things such as authentication, authorization and data-binding can be accomplished with a few lines of code or with pre-built scaffolded models. Which is a good thing, since much of that code is generally the same and tedious to implement over and over.

A few programmers are even busy churning out modules that other programmers can use in their codes and sharing them on platforms such as GitHub. And open-source software is plentiful and freely-available for people to innovate with these days. All of this still mainly falls under the category of 'yes-code'. We still need code and lots of it to get us to a better future. But for sure, the requirements are getting smaller and smaller. And in fact, some are starting to argue against the human task of writing code and preferring to instead let algorithms do the work.

But rest safe, we are still some time away from having software take your programming job. Services such as Wordpress and Squarespace have been around for a while now and they have made the job of web development even simpler overall by taking away most of the coding logic and requirements and replacing them with easy to navigate configuration panels and more visual components. They tend to focus more on rapid development and template-based designs. And they get better and more feature rich by the year. Think of these like layers on top of the framework model mentioned above.

Tech companies are always constantly innovating in this field. We are now getting into new territories of what we can do with little to 'no code' however. Take the company WebFlow for example. They have been around since 2013 and you probably have never heard of them until more recently. WebFlow markets themselves as the "no-code" solution to web development. And they don't make the claim unjustly. I tested the product out recently and was definitely left very surprised. And overall, I was very impressed with their functionality.

Their interface, while not the simplest to navigate and came with a steep learning curve, allowed me to put together relatively complex elements on a page using the built-in CMS and content management tools and not a single line of code was asked of me. It guided me through most of the process, and something that would normally take me an hour or two, took about a third of that time. Once the learning curve was tackled, there was a good chance that I could get it done in minutes the next time around.

WebFlow recently closed a $72 million dollar series-A investment round putting them on the map as a very buyable solution to drag and drop web development that has been somewhat difficult to achieve during the past decade. The idea behind 'no-code' development has been tried by many companies, one example being Microsoft with ASP.NET server controls. The idea was great for its time, but things change relatively quickly in this field and the quality of websites has pushed requirements to new heights, and dragging a button onto a canvas is no longer the challenge that needs to be tackled.

The "no-code" reality could very well be underway now however and we are just starting to see the first few big names that will dominate that industry in the years to come. Tools like WebFlow are not lightweight, that is important to realize. Even on my Surface Pro i5, there are still areas of lag when I was building out more complex modules, and that is to be expected. Undoubtedly as hardware improves, so will the capabilities of these online editors improve and the requirements decrease on the clients end.

The truth is, this is a common part of every field out there. At least, we should hope it is. Maybe not for our sake, as we require employment. But for our children's sake and for the future generations to come as well. We always hate innovation, because it takes away from our own personal livelihoods. But without it, we wouldn't get to enjoy what we enjoy today.

Think of it like this. Someone, at some point in time, had to give up their job and let the future take over, so that you could be here reading this article on your laptop/pc/phone. The server that this website sits on is now managed by software mostly, and not by a system admin. And an operator didn't have to route your request for Google by hooking up wires. Web development might well be in that category today. It could be making room for things such as Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence and VR/AR to become the next fields of study for those getting into Computer Science and one day people will think it's weird that we manually typed <div> using a keyboard.

If you are learning HTML, CSS  and other web technologies today, should you take a pause and rethink where it is headed? I would say, we still have some time before we need to shift gears drastically. Websites are one of the most important inventions that exist today. It's where a massive amount of the population place their attention throughout the day. It's where we buy clothes, food, consume content and communicate with others around the world seamlessly with a few hand gestures. And it is changing in real time 24/7. This makes it difficult from an AI standpoint to determine exactly what the web is.

Inevitably, just as gas station attendants, elevator clerks and telephone operators had to say goodbye to their jobs to make room for technology, so too will web developers say goodbye to HTML/CSS/JavaScript one day so that future generations can function at a rate and a level that we can't possibly fathom today.

For now, happy coding!

Walter Guevara is a software engineer, startup founder and currently teaches programming for a coding bootcamp. He is currently building things that don't yet exist.


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