When we talk to people considering a career in tech, we hear a lot of questions about the future:
- What will job opportunities be like in tech in 2030?
- Will no-code and low-code tools put developers out of work?
- What’s the future of coding?
All fair questions — nobody wants to spend months training for a job that won’t exist in ten years. Here’s the TL;DR: Most folks agree that AI, no-code, and low-code tools won’t be putting programmers out of work any time in the next couple of decades. Instead, they’re likely to support innovation and help engineering departments move faster by automating the most repetitive parts of development.
Before we get to the details, let’s talk about what these technologies really are.
What are no-code, low-code, and AI-generated code?
No-code refers to a variety of tools that allow non-developers (or citizen developers) to build software applications, websites, integrations, automations, and more without manually writing code. Take Zapier, a no-code automation tool. An e-commerce company could use Zapier with an email tool like Mailchimp to automatically send customers a product feedback form — without needing to write any code.
Low-code tools, unlike no-code, are typically used by coders. These are developer platforms that help coders to build more quickly and write less code manually. Instead of typing lines of code into a text editor, developers use a point-and-click graphical interface to assemble pre-built building blocks.
AI-generated code is a whole different story. The idea of AI (artificial intelligence) code is basically this: let the computer write the code for you. The idea has been around for decades, but it’s not as simple as saying “Hey Alexa, build me a program.” Users need to tell the AI what to build in a way that it understands — something that already requires substantial coding knowledge.
How are low-code and no-code tools changing the tech landscape?
Although we hear the term “no-code” a lot more often now in tech circles, these tools are not entirely new.
Anyone who has ever used a visual text editor to write a blog post has used a no-code tool. We typically call tools for writing web content “visual editors” or “WYSIWYG editors.” But, at the end of the day, they’re tools that let you create web pages without writing in a coding language (HTML or CSS).
The availability of blogging platforms hasn’t done away with developers — it’s just made casual blogging more accessible to people who don’t know web development. Non-developers aren’t the only users, though. In many cases, developers are the first to take advantage of these new technologies. Even for coders, it’s simpler to write in a visual editor or a simplified language like Markdown.
The same is true for the recent growth of code development platforms. Often, it’s developers who are adopting these new technologies and driving their growth.
Why would someone who can write code choose to use a no-code platform?
Sometimes, coding is a slog. Developers are constantly looking for ways to make their work more efficient. That can be as simple as a code editor that auto-closes brackets and saves someone just a couple of keystrokes a few hundred times per week.
Every carpenter knows how to use a hammer, but they’ll often choose a nail gun. It makes the work quicker and more efficient, meaning that they can spend their time on other tasks. No-code and low-code development tools are just like that — they are tools. Developers understand what tasks can be handled by a very efficient tool (like a no-code platform or a nail gun) and which require more finesse, meaning that they’re better handled by hand-coding.
What can’t no-code or low-code tools accomplish?
Although the technology continues to grow and improve, today’s no-code, low-code, and AI-code tools are limited.
Software development involves more than writing code.
Developers are creative problem solvers, not just code generators. Understanding a problem and building a solution is more complex than writing and executing code. Even if 90% of code is written by a machine, software engineers and developers still have a role to play.
Low-code, no-code, and AI-generated code might help developers to accomplish routine parts of their job more quickly. But most developers will say that writing that kind of code isn’t the most important part of their job anyway — the most important part is problem-solving.
No platform can cover every possibility.
When businesses work with developers, they’re often looking for software that works in a very specific way. Low-code and no-code tools, by necessity, limit the configuration and customization possibilities.
As the ways we use software continue to grow, a portion of that growth will be businesses with complex needs — needs that no-code platforms can’t handle alone.
Support for legacy systems is critical.
When building a technology stack, most organizations aren’t starting from scratch. In the world of software development, there’s a lot of effort spent supporting “legacy systems.” Remember news about problems filing for unemployment in 2020? In most cases, those were software problems. The systems for submitting unemployment claims couldn’t handle the increased numbers — those are legacy systems built using decades-old coding languages. Continuing to support them is critical.
Even as no-code and low-code platforms improve, nobody expects those platforms to invest in supporting out-of-date legacy systems. Maintaining these systems will continue to require developers.
No-code does not mean no coders.
Tools that allow you to write code without actually writing code have existed for decades — Microsoft released FrontPage, a visual editor for creating web pages, in 1996. Even though FrontPage is long gone, followed by even better services like Squarespace, web developers have continued to thrive. In fact, many small businesses that use platforms like Squarespace still hire developers to implement and customize their websites.
Change is a given in the world of tech careers. Developers are constantly learning new coding languages, frameworks, and libraries. Development platforms that automate some portion of coding will likely be just another technology to learn.
Likewise, as more companies use technology in new ways, there are more opportunities for people who understand programming outside of traditional software engineering. From marketing teams that rely on data engineers to community teams led by developer advocates, businesses are looking for people with an understanding of coding for jobs that aren’t just writing code.
Opportunities for people with computer programming experience won’t go away — they’ll simply continue to grow and change.