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What programmer shortage? ‘Low-code’ tools let ordinary workers create apps

June 3, 2021, 8:30 PM UTC

Silicon Valley has a new strategy for addressing the difficulty and expense of hiring software developers. Google and Microsoft along with a host of startups have started offering tools that let ordinary workers build applications and conduct sophisticated data analysis.

Dubbed the low-code or no-code movement, the effort includes startups like Zapier, which helps companies connect applications into a single automated process, to Jotform, which helps companies create surveys to collect data from customers. The products rely on simple software building blocks that can be dragged and dropped into place by untrained workers to build complicated applications.

Companies generally have been trying to shift to more digital and automated processes for decades, though those efforts accelerated during the pandemic. Finding enough programmers can be a challenge. “There aren’t enough experienced programmers to do that,” Edward Abbo, president and chief technology officer at business software maker C3 AI, said on Thursday at a Fortune Brainstorm Tech virtual panel discussion. “It basically opens the aperture dramatically so anyone who has a computer can make applications.”

Analysts say the effort is just getting underway. Companies will spend only about $14 billion this year on low-code tools, according to a recent Gartner report, but that’s up more than 50% over the past two years.

There are some risks to the spread of low-code and no-code tools, however. Untrained employees could violate corporate rules limiting the sharing of data or fail to properly secure the applications they create from hackers.

“We are moving into an increasingly complex world of data privacy and sovereign data requirements,” says Chris Bedi, chief information officer at business cloud-computing services provider ServiceNow. “To have four or five or six low-code, no-code tools out there versus [one] platform I think is untenable.”

The low-code techniques can also be incorporated by startups that aren’t just selling software tools, says Anoushka Vaswani, a partner at venture capital firm Lightspeed. The idea is to give customers the ability to set up or customize a startup’s service without requiring the startup to send its own team of developers to help.

“Even if you’re not a low-code, no-code platform, if you’re a startup, a lot of people are thinking about how to incorporate low-code no-code in some way,” she says. “So when a customer buys it, you don’t need to involve a whole team of engineers to get it up and running at the customer site.”

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