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In recent years, so-called “citizen-developers” are producing an increasing number of useful software solutions using low code/no code (NC/LC) platforms. NC/LC allows novice users to ‘write’ software without extensive knowledge of any programming language, and in many cases without any code at all. NC/LC products emerged to meet demands for faster and simpler routes to digitization, which has resulted in tools that sacrifice capability for useability. Despite this most recent trend towards empowering citizen-developers, in practice, most enterprise software is –and will continue to be– made by hand with specialized programming languages that require domain expertise and critical thinking skills specific to software development.

As early as the 1960s, software development languages started to become more like natural languages in an effort to simplify the process. This concept of automated programming evolved in subsequent decades and by the turn of the century, a surge of similarly inspired offerings sought to bring coding outside of computer science. Early offerings including Microsoft’s Visual Basic were so easy to use that they were implemented in primary school curricula. Today, NC/LC offerings span industries and large corporate offerings even include platforms for AI machine-learning and building entire applications all without the need for any in-depth knowledge of programming.

The way most NC/LC offerings work is through a user-friendly drag and drop interface to produce symbolic representations of business logic, which are then automatically transcribed into code. However, there are hard limits to the complexity that can be recapitulated in these frameworks. The expressiveness of drag-and-drop is limited by visual metaphors inherent in the structure of the NC/LC paradigm. This renders them ineffective in facilitating innovative projects because they have been optimized for a predetermined set of anticipated problems and domains.

Recent trends in NC/LC have widened its scope from a supplement for rigorous coding to a more inclusive platform for development-adjacent professionals to create applications on their own. While these tools can help simplify work flows and expand the capabilities of the non-coding workforce, a future where software development is open to all is an appealing if ultimately unrealistic vision. Inherent limitations mean they cannot replace the work of custom software developers that is the foundation of most enterprise systems and product offerings.

In the long-term, custom software by experts we’ll remain the only option for building solutions requiring a high level fit & finish or to meet the demands of complexity. While DOOR3 sometimes utilizes these new tools to increase efficiency, our approach to solution development centers on in-depth analysis to produce hand-built software to modernize and evolve organizations. Our expertise allows us to build solutions that are designed to meet our clients’ exacting performance, security, and usability specifications.

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