December 23, 2020
Blog post

The future of no-code: 2021 and beyond

To say that 2020 has been quite a year would be somewhat of an understatement. As the globe has struggled under the weight of an unprecedented pandemic, the tech space has also seen an unprecedented shift. Not all that long ago, “no-code” as a term referred to a concept mostly adopted by budding entrepreneurs—those looking to make the next Instagram, AirBnB or Wordpress but who didn’t have the technical skill (or cash to pay skilled developers) to do it, so used no-code based apps and tools to do it instead.

Now, it encompasses so much more. Employees are automating complex operational workflows to save themselves time and reduce margin for error. Conglomerate firms are hiring agencies to help connect the dots in their business practices without those agencies needing to use a line of code. Creators are setting up shop then selling and marketing products, all without code. People around the world in all manner of business are streamlining internal processes and reducing manual input, thanks to the fast-growing number and type of tools available.

We’ve also noticed that a real maturity has started to develop. Many more people are moving past the ‘just starting out’ learning phase and onto the ‘launching projects’ and implementing phase.

Tooling has expanded into new areas, giving non-technical people even more capabilities, such as data analysis, machine learning and artificial intelligence. More now than ever, the gap is closing between projects built with and without code.

So, what does all of this mean for the no-code landscape looking forward to 2021? We took to Twitter to ask the same question, and here are some of the awesome responses we got.

Prediction 1: Tighter integrations between platforms/tools

Thomas weighed in with his thoughts on improved integrations between popular tools and how this might affect the community into 2021 and beyond.

“I see a lot of no-code tools that are extremely valuable and a joy to use because they integrate so well with each other. Some like Zapier and IFTTT are great examples, but also Airtable, Glide, Webflow, Mailchimp and others stand out by how well they integrate with other tools and how well other tools integrate with them.

For 2021 I expect that the major platforms will take a close look at which integrations are used, and why and how to make the integration experience even better for their customers. And perhaps even go the extra mile and discuss product roadmap and infrastructure decisions with their key integration partners. Better and tighter integrations between the major platforms will be great for customers but also strategically it might mean that it becomes more difficult for new tools to compete with existing tools if they can't integrate as tightly as the incumbents. All the major platforms evolve and are moving forward which creates an interesting tension between stability and backwards compatibility on the one side, and new features and innovation on the other side.


In your opinion, do you think it's better for the community to have fewer tools that integrate better/offer a better UX and improve processes, or more tools that collectively push the boundaries?

I think short term the community will benefit from better integrations and consolidation. Mid- to longer-term, new tools that can look at the landscape with fresh eyes will be the ones that push the boundaries.

Other things I am looking forward to in 2021: better documentation, and better and more examples and more community engagement formats inspired by interactive live-streams—think cooking shows but for no-code. I'm very excited about how far no-code got in 2020 and can't wait for 2021. Exciting times.”


Prediction 2: More freelance gigs and employment

Dale, founder of http://goodgigs.app (built on Bubble) discussed how no-code will open up work opportunities.

“As no-code gets more widely known, there will be more companies and/or founders with the resources to hire no-code experts. I get asked at least weekly if I know any Bubble freelance experts. I think this space will be a hot career opportunity for no-coders and automation experts. I personally would love to see a platform that helps connect clients with freelancers.


So what do you think the role of the no-code expert will be?

There will be a need for both folks that can execute on a particular tool (Bubble vs Webflow), as well as a need for consultants that understand the whole landscape and can advise clients on what no-code stack they need, depending on the project.


What do you think people could/should do to get hired as a no-code expert? A Bubble expert, for example—how would she or he get found by you?

Like any good freelancer—have an online presence and portfolio site. It could be as easy as setting that up on Notion, spelling out their skill set and what tools they use, but more importantly what use cases they can help with; what can they actually help build. Most clients don't know anything about the tools and they need educating. Freelancers should be active in the communities, but also in spaces where clients/entrepreneurs hang outside of no-code.


Do you think agencies offering the same expertise might be a threat to freelancers? Some people think 2021 will be a big year for agencies…

I used Minimum Studio to help me build the latest version of goodgigs, and no way—there is going to be so much work! I know Minimum are super busy. And, freelancers and agencies can co-exist, appealing to different budget levels etc.”


We also chatted with Josh, who sees no-code consultancy in particular being a big thing for 2021.

“I think no-code tools are the natural evolution of product building. It’s the proverbial, “make the shovels” mantra. There are 10 entrepreneurs out there for every skilled coder that can actually build something, and no-code democratizes access to creating good products. Especially MVPs and especially for micro-SaaS applications.


Being a no-code expert is no different than being an expert at any other application. The world needed word-processing consultants to help train up employees who only ever used typewriters previously. The world needs data and ERP consultants as business decisions are driven evermore by customer data.

It’s like anything else. Companies don’t have the internal skill surrounding a single application (in this case, a no-code tool), and will likely be hiring external help to use them to their maximum. I’m not one of those that believes no-code eliminates the need for code, but I do think it shifts the landscape quite a bit. I think it’s the 80/20 of building. Can I put in 20% effort (by using a no-code tool) to get 80% of the benefit? In most cases, probably.

In what capacity do you see no-code experts being hired? Will companies (particularly large corporates) hire people to manage their entire no-code systems, or hiring experts based on their knowledge of one particular tool? Maybe a mixture of the two?

Definitely a mixture of the two. I think if people are hired for entire systems, they’ll likely need actual coding experience (for things like APIs and integrations). It’ll be interesting to see how many people are hired as specific no-coders. You can look at Salesforce as a similar-to. They have positions helping people as admins all the way up to full stack developers. We’ll probably see breakouts like that. Admin consultants that help with how to run and do things with the product, etc etc all the way to integrators that are full stack developers.”

Prediction 3: No-code reaches the masses

We chatted with Ciaran about his hopes for a ‘Flappy Bird’ moment, and a democratized world where everyone builds and automates.

“In the gaming world when the game Flappy Bird went global it was the clearest demonstration to an apprehensive gaming community that releasing viral apps worldwide was accessible to anyone. The creator of the game was based out of Vietnam and created a simple game that just worked.

What followed was the universe of seasoned game devs, and newbies were inspired to start releasing apps. In my opinion no-code is still fringe; there is still apprehension about whether you can build a successful business using no-code tools etc. It's probably missing that universal, simplistic relatable “here is business x, look what they did, here is how they did it...wow anyone can do it then?...OK I'm having a go too”.

The growth of Flappy Bird was massive for the native app ecosystem, everyone in that space benefited from the hype that came with that moment (ad networks, game engines, platforms, copy cats etc).”


When you say 'there is still apprehension about whether you can build a successful business using nocode tools etc' — do you think that's valid? Do you think a big successful business can be built entirely without code?

Clear evidence I can point to in 2020—maybe no. BUT seeing the cook books of the Makerpad community, plus keeping an eye on Indie Hackers etc., I believe businesses built entirely without code are out there.


What rules or approaches might someone need to take in 2021 if they want their business to take off the same way Flappy Bird did?

I think building it alone isn't enough. You have to flex muscles around distribution and promotion. Flappy Bird had an element of luck of course—PewDiePie picked it up and referenced it. But, you create your own luck by releasing something to the world. I started my project Adepty back in April, I only bothered with media engagement this week. Result: national media coverage yesterday. So there is probably something in being on the front foot about distribution and marketing.

A lot of the Makerpad community are wishing each other on—we want each other to succeed and we want to share our recipes so others can succeed. So I'm hoping someone has a breakout moment in 2021 because that kind of “anyone can succeed, the barriers are down” is the story people need as people lose jobs etc.


Yeah agreed. So if the masses do jump onboard next year, what do you think that will look like? Beyond 2021 even, what will it mean if doing stuff without code becomes 'the thing'? Outside of more jobs for people...

More innovation, unique minds from fields like education, medicine, the sciences finding their way into tech business. A broader spectrum of society contributing to the web without the unnatural education barriers and norms which hold back minorities etc. When I think of “no-code”, as much as building I associate it with automation. So productivity gains: people fixing ordinary problems for the betterment of pockets of society. In short, a better internet.”


Prediction 4: Changing the misconception that no-code is only about building apps

Lastly, some words from our in-house creator Tom on how the conceptions of no-code need to catch up with the reality of how people are actually building and working without using code.

“One of the misconceptions that currently exists is that people assume everyone “no-coding” is trying to build consumer apps—in particular apps that will never be able to compete or scale. This is not just incorrect; it actually misses the point entirely.

Of course, if your aim is to build an Instagram competitor that has millions of users using it simultaneously, you may need to bring some engineers on-board at some point in the journey. But the areas where no-code really shines and the misconception is proven are around tech solutions that weren’t feasible beforehand—either due to a lack of resources or an out of balance cost-benefit analysis. The latest tooling brings the cost of development down to almost zero, and as the breadth of functionality has expanded, even the most niche or personal solution is now feasible.

Need to build a mobile app which runs images through an image recognition AI solution that’s used by 3 people working on a farm? No-code enables this type of innovation. That’s where the true value lies.

Additionally, solutions that bring the most value to small businesses are likely not applications at all. The more likely solution is a series of unique integrations connecting together the internal applications and workflows of the business and removing the need for manual work. As a result, huge amounts of man hours are saved and work becomes more efficient, which passes upside to the end user in form of an improved customer experience and errors being reduced, or in some cases, removed altogether.

Reflection

We can’t speak for everyone here, but it certainly seems like there’s a buzz of anticipation around the possibilities 2021 might bring for the world of building sans code. From mega-successful startups to long-established corporates to burgeoning boundary-breaking entrepreneurs, and from freelance experts to agencies, and everything in between—2021 looks like an exciting year. Happy building!

A big thank you also to everyone who contributed to this post.


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