Software Development

Is the low-code movement growing? Some tech companies are going all in

And why this form of development might actually expand opportunity in the industry, not shrink it, according to these Philly technologists.

A software engineer at work.

(Photo by Christina Morillo from Pexels)

If you’ve used a website builder, a B2C mobile app or a web-based customer portal recently, you’ve probably interacted with a low- or no-code product.

In the last decade or so, it’s become more common for customer or public-facing solutions to use low-code development — tech that allows users to build products without many or any coding abilities. It doesn’t mean dev teams are snapping their fingers and products are just magically being developed by themselves, but it does allow for a lot less hard coding to implement new systems or for clients to customize their software.

What does that look like in practice? Philly technologists told us.

No code vs. low code

There’s still a lot of technological prowess in building lower-code platforms, but that’s done up front and by in-house developers. The effort here is being taken off of clients of these platforms. Those who use these products and implement them into their own systems don’t need much technical skill to implement low code products or platforms into their own systems.

“What they mean is you, as a user, have no code,” said Eric Heydenberk, cofounder and CTO of Philly- and Austin-based QuotaPath, which makes a payment software for sales teams. At his company, “[QuotaPath’s developers] write the code into the product and that’s the distinction.”

Have no coding experience at all? No-code platforms could work for your software development needs.

No- or low-code products can range from standing up a whole website in a day, to a platform that helps you build your own app, said Bryan Rishforth, executive chairman at Bryn Mawr-based software company Graphite GTC.

Low-code app development is model driven, meaning those interacting with the software just have to drag and drop features or changes they want into the platform they’re using. It’s a software development strategy that allows users to build applications through some pre-built components, rather than building everything from scratch.

Software modeling is also set up to be a bit more intuitive, meaning users with all different levels of development experience are set up to be able to work with a platform. It allows for changes to be implemented more quickly, which means products using low-code methods are often built faster.

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True no-code platforms are for those who have no coding knowledge or experience at all, and are usually a bit more basic. It uses similar drag-and-drop methods to build apps, but users won’t be reinventing the wheel. Simple website-building tools like Wix, which is considered pretty low code, recently rolled out Branded App, a tool to let folks develop native apps without writing any code. Airtable, Shopify and Zapier also offer no-code products.

Benefits of low or no code

Heydenberk, who previously worked on some low-code solutions for emarketing company Monetate, said that he felt the tides were starting to turn toward low-code when QuotaPath was getting started around 2018, but it wasn’t as popular as it is in 2022.

“If we were doing seed stage pitches to investors now, low-code would have been in that pitch deck,” said the 2019 RealLIST Engineers honoree.

He prefers the method of low-code that QuotaPath uses now, which involves engineers building the product, but not needing to be super involved in onboarding clients or developing custom solutions, because the product QuotaPath puts out now should be intuitive and customizable to clients without a heavy tech lift. Low code often allows companies to do twice as much with same number of people, Heydenberk said.

“The idea is, it’s the right code for the right time for the right reason,” he said.

QuotaPath's three founders

(L to R) QuotaPath cofounders COO Cole Evetts, CEO AJ Bruno and CTO Eric Heydenberk in 2018. (Courtesy photo)

Rishforth said Graphite GTC went all in on low code when it was getting started about five years ago. Graphite makes a no-code development platform that allows users to build “enterprise-class” web apps visually, without writing any code. Large companies are using an average of four platforms, from page creation to API-based integration to build applications; Graphite’s low-code platform cuts that down, he said.

Because low-code tech allows customers to build something quicker than if they were building it from scratch, it often leads to business savings, too.

The benefits of low code are pretty clear to Rishforth and the company’s VP of marketing and sales, Byron Druss. Because low-code tech allows customers to build something quicker than if they were building it from scratch, it often leads to business savings, too. Companies that deploy low-code solutions usually don’t have to have the same size of tech team on staff as its not developing from scratch.

“Companies want to digitize, reach new environments and reduce overheads,” Druss said. “And savings with low-code certainly  contributes to overhead.”

Rishforth said the idealized “better, faster and cheaper” idea first coined by Ford — now used as Graphite’s tagline — was previously unattainable. You had to chose two out of three, he said: Better, faster workforces didn’t come cheap, and cheap, fast work usually wasn’t better.

The company is passing on its knowledge to the next generation of technologists, too: It recently worked with Drexel University’s Close School of Entrepreneurship on its Startup Fest, Future Fest with students in a class called Idea Accelerator. Over 10 weeks, they developed a business, app or idea using Graphite’s no-code platform, and three apps were chosen as winners.

“As company technical debt surges … and new startups explode in numbers, tech talent demand has surged, paving pathway for broad adoption of low/no code platforms that can be used by tech and non-tech talent,” Druss said in an email. “This is expected to increase the number of employees engaged in building apps in low/no code.”

Who is it for?

While low- or no-code methods are being used across a variety of sizes and types of companies, startups have a particular edge to gain.

Rishforth said he only sees advantages for startups, who have a lot to gain from keeping teams and costs small.

“They’re running lean and mean, and they haven’t created their wagon wheel tracks in the mud yet,” he said.

But bigger institutions might have more challenges with change management, streamlining processes and introducing agile technologies. It’s harder for established companies to ingrate new systems and switch clients over, he said, but most companies who do make the switch are seeing the returns.

Heydenberk agreed, saying young companies have an easier time starting out in the space.

“I think it’s important it be in your DNA, I’ve seen companies try to move from heavy integrations, when you’re used to delivering a lower quality of service to more people,” the CTO said. “It’s hard for businesses to pivot to being codependent on how they service customers to being more independent. It goes against their nature. Both cultural and organizational change is harder to switch over.”

Will low- and no-code development take away tech jobs?

While technologists who are hesitant about low- or no-code methods say it has the potential to cut out tech jobs, our Philly sources disagreed.

There aren’t fewer tech jobs — the jobs themselves just look a little different than at all coded-from-scratch software company, Heydenberk said.

“Will it cut tech jobs? That’s a resounding ‘no,'” Rishforth sad. “What it’s going to do is expand it.”

Rishforth pointed to some Gartner research that said the industry was poised to grow 30% year over year, to be worth $180 billion by end of the decade. And while it will change what developers are working on, there’s a natural progression of languages and systems that all developers have to keep up with as programming languages age and new ones are introduced. It will also bring folks who aren’t highly skilled technical workers into the the tech field, with a lower barrier to entry to the dev space, Rishforth said.

“Supply and demand will be served by the low-code, no-code development movement,” he said.

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