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Low-code platforms create call for business-savvy developers

The rising popularity of low-code platforms may mark a decline for coding as a job priority, but demand is up for developers with a strong grasp of business knowledge, say experts.

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There will always be a need for experienced developers to implement complex apps, but software developers must now go beyond coding to add business knowledge to their toolbox as low-code platforms take hold.

Low-code tools allow a subject-matter expert (SME) -- a business expert who is generally close to a business process -- to quickly create an app, iterate and improve it. Non-IT staff who fill this role, also called citizen developers, can use low-code platforms such as Appian, Mendix or Quickbase to build a wide range of applications for tasks such as hosting, integration and the systems development lifecycle (SDLC).

As these platforms eliminate or reduce the need for programming language knowledge, development as a standalone job is on the wane, according to one expert.

The idea of the developer making the business app -- because 'developers make that no matter how complex, or not complex, or how big, or how small' -- that's just gone.
John BratincevicAnalyst, Forrester

"The idea of the developer making the business app -- because 'developers make that no matter how complex, or not complex, or how big, or how small' -- that's just gone," said Forrester analyst John Bratincevic. "We have this huge demand for making applications and automating things that can never possibly be met by coders."

Developers as businesspeople

Soon, development isn't going to be a standalone job -- it's going to be part of a spectrum, Bratincevic said. On one end of the spectrum will be citizen developers creating simple apps with low-code platforms and on the other end, professional developers with business knowledge, handling apps with complex compliance or security requirements.

"The idealized engineer doesn't just cut code ... he understands the business problem, and that is the sort of personality you find in the professional low-code developer," Bratincevic said. "There's a more harmonious blend between the two sides of business and technology."

But when adopting a low-code platform, it's critical to recognize that not all tools and techniques are required in every circumstance, Bratincevic said.

John Bratincevic, Forrester ResearchJohn Bratincevic

"If you take a 'one-size-fits-all' approach to development rigor, you will limit citizen development to only a small group of employees, which is not a good thing," he said.

Enterprises can create a zoning system, with some employees tasked with smaller or simpler apps, and more experienced developers tackling tasks where more rigor or sophistication is required -- whether it's process mining or some other technique, such as automated testing, Bratincevic said.

"For most people, the zones are going to kind of blend together in this pipeline where you're not going to have your professional developers at the top, but you're going to have professionals who know development, the development process and the business processes," he said.

Future hiring trends will favor developers who are familiar with business processes, said Larry Carvalho, an independent analyst at RobustCloud.

"There will be a preference for a developer with knowledge of a specific industry vertical," he said. "I see developers in insurance companies get professional certifications to improve value in the organization, [for example]."

Creativity, expertise will remain in high demand

Developers perform a lot of high-level and creative work that enterprises can't automate their way out of, said Andres Garzon, CEO of developer staffing firm Jobsity in New York.

"This is precisely what makes developers so valuable," Garzon said. "Digital transformation is an important competitive edge, and it requires real human thinking -- not machine learning -- to get it right."

Mukul Chourey, assistant vice president of technology and delivery at SenecaGlobal Inc., a software development services firm in Oak Brook, Ill., agreed that demand will remain high for developers who are comfortable with more complex apps.

"As we move to more and more demanding applications requiring AI/ML, cloud and security interactions, there is no substitute for experienced developers," he said.

A particularly high demand exists for developers with experience in highly specialized technology such as specialized UI frameworks, Kubernetes distributions or niche cloud native tech, said Saju Pillai, senior vice president of engineering at API management platform Kong Inc.

"We're seeing more and more that companies are competing for small pools of highly specialized developers, especially on the top end," Pillai said.

Benefits and limitations of low-code platforms

The benefits of low-code platforms include the ability to create higher-quality applications, because those tools are less prone to human error, Bratincevic said. They are also easier to maintain and give enterprises the ability to generate vast amounts of applications at scale.

But low-code doesn't fit every business need, according to Pillai. One limitation is that low-code platforms work well for only a strictly defined set of problems.

"These tools have not matured to a place where they can be used for systems [or] deep-tech problems," he said.

Low-code development also falls far short of business requirements when it comes to flexibility, said Venkat Ramakrishnan, vice president of engineering and products for Pure Storage's cloud-native business unit.

"High-level development practices like these still lack a degree of customization required to create a highly differentiated product -- both in terms of features and efficient use of resources such as compute, storage, memory, GPUs and networking," he said.

Bratincevic agreed that low-code platforms have limitations, but those limitations are by design, he said.

"When enterprises deal with abstraction, they accept those limitations in exchange for speed, quality and all the other business benefits like [making more] money and innovation," Bratincevic said.

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