Editor’s note: this month we’re talking about the Products for Product Managers, and how to use them to build great digital products! Keep an eye out for blogs, events, podcasts, and more!

The topic of ‘no code’ and ‘low code’ tools landed in the tech industry only a few short years ago, and boy did they cause ripples when they did! The term ‘no code’ was suggestive of engineers no longer being needed. Whole companies and tech empires being built without a single line of code needing to be written! An apocalypse for HTML!

And then we all took longer than a split second to think about it and realised how ridiculous that was. So in case you’re not caught up yet, we’re going over what no code really is, why it doesn’t mean death to engineering, and how no code and low code tools actually empower product teams.

What Is No Code?

When people talk about no code, they’re most likely talking about the rise of development platforms which allow users to create entire mobile apps and software without having to know how to use programming languages. Some see this as the ultimate next step in lean product development, where no (or at least fewer) engineers are needed.

These platforms use a drag-and-drop approach to building, with pre-built templates allowing users to quickly put together everything from landing pages to entire mobile applications.

It doesn’t just denote the platforms that are used to build apps and software. It’s also the term for a movement that aims to make more parts of business and tech development accessible to those who don’t know how to code. The no code movement aims to use innovative user friendly technology to make everything from data management, to automations and chat bots easier to use and create.

Many no code solutions are open source, lending to the mission of democratizing tech and making it accessible to everyone regardless of resources as well as technical knowledge.

No code tools don’t have to be an all-in one development suite, that’s a very common misconception. Product teams can employ one or two no code tools to help them perform small tasks, while leaving the more important work to the engineers. For example, having a no code data analytics tool enables teams to quickly grab the insights they need without needing to wait for the help of a Data Scientist.

No Code vs Low Code

If you’ve looked into it, you might have noticed references to ‘low code’ as well as no code.

Low code tools are similar to no code platforms in that they allow apps to be built using a user interface as opposed to needing raw programming code. However, for most low code platforms a certain understanding of programming is required. For example, the interface you build on a no code and low code development platform might be the same, but programming will be required by low code app creators in order to dictate the core architecture behind that interface.

white and black heart print iphone case

No Code Platforms and Resources

Now that you’re good and curious about no code, you’re probably looking to dive into some resources, or you might be excited to try out some platforms for yourself!

Here are some great places to start:

  • Airtable: Airtable states that their mission is to ‘democratize software creation by enabling anyone to build the tools to meet their needs.’ With an impressive library of templates, plenty of inspiration on their website, and a great reputation in the space, they’re a great place to start.
  • Nocode HQ: This is the home for no code resources. With free templates and tutorials, this is your one-stop-shop.
  • No Code Founders: The largest Slack community for no code early adopters and enthusiasts. (PS, if you’re into Slack communities, you should definitely check out the largest Slack community dedicated to Product Management!)
  • This year’s Proddy Awards are full of awesome no code and low code tools!

Pros and Cons

No code platforms can be incredibly useful for smaller startups and independent businesses who don’t have the funds for a full engineering team. App development doesn’t come cheap, but without writing code yourself there wasn’t really another option before the no code movement.

The democratization of technology allows people outside of giant tech companies to solve their own problems and build things for themselves.

It also allows professionals such as Product Managers to handle smaller tasks and projects themselves without needing to bother a busy engineering team. While they’re working on the latest big feature, you can build that landing page you need without needing to take up their time, even if you don’t have a CS degree.

That all sounds great! So why, in certain spaces, is it such a controversial topic?

Naturally, engineers aren’t leaping at the chance to be replaced. The development process takes a lot of skill on their end, and a lot of hard work. It’s no wonder that some professionals feel that this new movement is a little…insulting.

There are also some security concerns that have been raised, and how safe user data is when stored in apps built by people who don’t understand tech as well as a developer. No code platforms insist that their pre built templates have been validated by security experts and are safe to use. The platforms allow users to manipulate the interface and make customization choices without changing the integrity of the architecture behind the app.

Why No Code Tools Are Empowering for Product Teams

No code tools are fast becoming staples of product team’s stacks. By adding a few simple no code tools into your tech ecosystem, you empower your product teams to do more for themselves.

Here are some examples:

  • Airtable creates powerful databases that are as easy to use as the spreadsheets everyone in your teams will be familiar with.
  • Mixpanel and Amplitude empower your teams by putting the data analytics they need right into their hands, without needing to take up a Data Scientist’s time.
  • Coda makes project management easy, and centralised.

Does This Mean Product Managers Can Build Apps?

Yes…and no.

A Product Manager at Spotify is not going to be able to take one of these platforms and say “we don’t need developers anymore, I’ve got this!”

man walking on construction site

What the no code movement means for Product Managers is more options to explore, and more freedom to build things for themselves. It’s especially handy for those who are working on a side project, as it gives you the opportunity to play around and build something for yourself, or to quickly launch your project without needing to spend money hiring a developer.

In the workplace, these platforms are already being widely used by Product Managers to find solutions to their problems behind the scenes. But it’s impossible that at top tech companies anything other than engineers will be in charge of building the products used by millions of people.

What no code tools can do is provide support for the internal systems that keep teams running. If you’ve only got one tech team, and they’re focused on building something for your end users (be it a product or a website…or both!) they don’t have time to help their colleagues with teeny requests. This is where no code tools can step in to help.

So can Product Managers build whole apps themselves with no code tools. Absolutely! Will anyone be replacing engineers with these tools? Definitely not!

You might also be interested in: Why Becoming a PM Without a Technical Background Is Possible

To Code or Not To Code: That is the Question!

This all might have you returning to the age-old question: do Product Managers have to learn how to code?

The truth is that while no code development tools may rise in popularity and give birth to many cool projects, software developers and programming languages aren’t going anywhere. Businesses will still be relying on these more ‘traditional’ aspects of building digital products, at least for the foreseeable future.

Despite the rise of no code tools, the question of whether or not Product Managers need to learn how to code hasn’t really changed. And the answer, though frustrating, is simply…it depends.

It’s a myth that we’re on a mission to debunk that everyone working in the tech industry needs to be a tech expert. Many new Product Managers join the role without being able to write a single line of code. When we ask product leaders “what technical skills do you look for in new hires?” the vast majority state that only a willingness to learn on the job and a curiosity is necessary.

On the flip side, there are jobs within Product Management that require a greater level of technical knowledge, and may ask that applicants have an engineering background and/or a CS degree. As you move up the product career ladder, you can either move into more of a people-management role, or you can move more to the technical side. Naturally the latter will require more than rudimentary coding skills!

You might also be interested in: Why Is Coding Important For Product Managers?

So, is no code product development the future of all digital product development? The answer for now is: no. Business users will still need to bow to the knowledge and skill of software engineers. But that doesn’t mean we should let the fun, the opportunity, and the innovation of the no code movement pass us by.

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