Will ‘No Code’ App Builders Mean Fewer Developer Jobs?

For years, the tech industry has dangled the promise of no- and low-code app builders. And on paper, the idea is a good one: Companies get to build all the specialized apps and websites they need, without the time and agony that goes into most “traditional” development. But no- and low-code platforms also raise the specter of untrained employees building messy products that don’t quite work as intended… and tech professionals needing to spend time fixing their mess.

Tech firms such as Microsoft position their respective no- and low-code builders as the perfect solution for overworked tech professionals, allowing them to focus on big, strategic things while “regular” employees handle the work of building simplistic-but-necessary apps and products. For instance, Microsoft has spent quite some time pushing PowerApps, which allows “citizen coders” to build enterprise-centric mobile apps.   

Other companies large and small have issued their own platforms, including Google App Maker (which offers a low-code building environment for custom business apps) and various startups. When you demo these products, you note how sophisticated they’re becoming; with a little bit of training, even someone with no coding experience can build a relatively robust, single-function app. Even game development is becoming a no- and low-code arena, thanks to Google’s new Game Builder platform.

And sure, these platforms could spare tech professionals from having to juggle quite so many tasks throughout their day—but could they also put these workers’ jobs at risk? After all, if “citizen coders” can build apps, what use does a company have for actual developers?

Unfortunately, more than a few executives might make that kind of “logical” leap and begin reducing their numbers of tech professionals on staff, figuring that other employees with a bit of training can pick up the proverbial slack. Of course, this is a mistaken assumption—these no- and low-code platforms, although increasingly sophisticated, can’t handle many of the development tasks that companies need. (They also can’t handle the building and maintenance of the rest of the tech stack.)

Indeed, most data suggests that software developer roles will only increase in coming years. According to recent data crunched by The Knowledge Academy (which provides online training courses) and Glassdoor, the United States will add more than a quarter-million new software developer roles by 2026. But “citizen coders,” combined with the rise of automation, means those developers will need more highly refined skill-sets if they want to land and preserve their jobs.

In other words, it won’t be enough to grasp programming fundamentals; the most successful developers over the next decade will have sophisticated skills that can’t be easily replicated by algorithms and “citizen coder” platforms. Oftentimes, the best job security is specialization—and adopting “hot” new skills such as machine learningand artificial intelligence (A.I.). 

5 Responses to “Will ‘No Code’ App Builders Mean Fewer Developer Jobs?”

  1. Adam Wood

    I guess those who keep promising this missed out on Microsoft Access and the pain that letting end users make their own “apps” caused. Where I work we still occasionally get a call about one we didn’t even know existed…sometimes it’s an access 2.0 database still running on some hidden away XP box. It is NEVER a good idea to let end users build.

    • John Spooner

      App builders have existed for decades in certain industries. In general they tend to have components aimed at a specific industry and force devs to simplistic designs. Easy to do some tasks but hard to do more than those tasks. Geres hoping we dont fall into the trap the impetus is to get code with no coders. But in the end they just stick coders with horrible tools

  2. “… simplistic-but-necessary …”

    Nothing that’s “simplistic” is necessary. That word means *too simple – inadequate in some way*. The word you are looking for is just plain old “simple.”

  3. Richard Haven

    COBOL was supposed to let business people write their own software. Every decade, I’ve seen ads for tools that eliminate the software developer from the applications-building process

    It has little to do with the syntax or drawing pretty pictures; programmers think differently than users. They imagine what the application will do before they code, and they hold code in their minds as a state-machine as they debug. These are simply skills, but I’m still waiting for an app generator that can do more than demo

    I’ve also been waiting for my flying car for the past 40 years

    • Bob Tabor

      Agreed, and in my experience, many business users ignore the edge cases when automating business processes, handle raw sensitive customer data in Excel, and ignore the importance of data integrity, and it bites them.