In recent years, the rise of low-code and no-code platforms have led to new ideas about who can be a developer and what it means to build new software applications. The most widely used buzzword to emerge from this trend is the business or citizen developer, which implies that software development has been democratized and is now attainable for any business user within an enterprise.
While many businesses may be interested in turning their business employees into developers, they are often misled by myths regarding low-code platforms and business developers. These misconceptions cut in both directions -- in some cases selling the business developer short and in others giving them too much credit for their limited expertise.
What do enterprise leaders need to know before empowering their business employees with low-code development tools? Here are four myths that can safely be put to rest:
1. Business/citizen developers will create headaches for trained engineers
Low-code and no-code platforms inherently require little experience or training on the part of the end user. Because of this low barrier to entry, trained developers often worry that citizen developers will wreak havoc on existing systems. However, engineers should welcome any business user who takes an interest in low-code platforms: Rather than break the organization’s current applications, they are more likely to reduce the burden on software developers by creating many of the low-level solutions that would prove tedious for IT experts.
Along the same lines, some IT managers may worry that the applications created by business developers will grow out of control, causing problems due to their sprawl across the enterprise’s tech stack. It’s important to bear in mind that a company’s engineering leaders have already built the existing IT infrastructure. Any solution built on a low-code platform will only layer on top of that infrastructure and follow the best practices and governance process. What’s more, low-code applications aren’t released in a vacuum -- a company’s IT employees will be able to oversee these new applications and adjust when necessary.
2. Expert developers and data scientists will one day be replaced by business developers
The growing role of automation and machine learning in business environments has always carried with it the fear of downsizing and job loss. While automated processes do reduce the need for human toil, they have not led to the dramatic job cuts that are typically predicted. Instead, these AI- and ML-backed tools allow human employees to instead focus on more creative, higher level tasks.
Along the same lines, some software engineers argue that the rise of the citizen developer will make existing development and data analysis roles obsolete. This myth couldn’t be further from the truth: Specialized, highly trained engineers will never be completely replaced by business developers. Consider the way no-code and low-code platforms are used: business employees choose from “building blocks” of code, piecing them together to create an application for their specific need. The business developer will never be capable of designing these essential building blocks. Instead, experienced engineers will be responsible for creating new tools, overseeing their implementation, and conducting the data analysis required to inform the next generation of ML algorithms and low-code solutions.
3. Citizen engineers can build any application of any size
When a business user begins using a low-code platform, can they simply create a new application and scale it immediately to the size of the enterprise? In some specific cases, yes: the citizen developer will find success when building small applications to automate individual use cases for small teams. However, this approach has its limits. For mission-critical applications, or for tools that must be able to support 10s of thousands of users, the business developer will not be able to simply build the application and publish it. Enterprise-level software applications require experienced architects to build a scalable solution, especially those that require API and other integrations. The roles of the citizen developer and the professional software engineer could be compared to the roles of your local city government and the U.S. federal government; one is well-positioned to create targeted solutions for a small population, while the other must design complex services for large populations.
4. Low-code platforms are only for independent users
Given their simplicity and plug-and-play interfaces, many assume that low-code platforms are meant to be used by individual business employees, with collaborative efforts requiring more robust solutions. In fact, low-code platforms are a highly useful tool for facilitating collaboration between business users and engineers. Low/no-code tools empower the citizen developer to find common ground with IT specialists, helping to communicate the needs of the business user more effectively. These interactions can inspire software engineers to pursue more creative or ambitious versions of the low-code solution, particularly in cases where a tool could be adapted beyond a single use case to serve an entire organization.
The business developer will neither take over the world nor ruin it. Rather than focus on extremes, enterprises should consider the targeted use cases that could be addressed by low/no-code platforms. By encouraging business users to explore no-code solutions, and by facilitating communication and collaboration between citizen developers and software engineers, enterprises can create a culture of constant improvement and innovation -- and that’s not a myth.