Democratizing Coding in a Connected World: Where Low-code/no-code Citizen Developers and Traditional Programmers Can Meet

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In this special guest feature, Amy Hodler, Director of Graph Analytics and AI Programs at Neo4j, observes that although challenges may arise when fitting low-code/no-code into an advanced technical stack, companies that embrace the movement will only benefit from bringing on citizen developers who are ready to take on new challenges. In her career, Amy has consistently helped teams break into new markets at startups and large companies including EDS, Microsoft, and Hewlett-Packard (HP). She most recently comes from Cray Inc., where she was the analytics and artificial intelligence market manager.

With the pandemic speeding up business and product timelines, the evolving developer shortage, and rise in connected data, there is an increased need for more individuals without formal training or “citizen developers” to help organizations build applications quickly. While low-code/no-code is nowhere near as customizable as coding, it provides organizations with additional ways to get tasks done more efficiently and helps to democratize coding by enabling more people to stretch their technical abilities.

Understanding the value of connected data

While data is the backbone for building these low-code applications, more companies are starting to realize the value of connected data. The COVID-19 pandemic has catapulted the idea that understanding data involves the visualization of complex concepts. According to Gartner, the world is connected now more than ever, spurring businesses to analyze the connections and relationships between data points in order to make more informed decisions. The magic of graph technology is that it stores and computes the way data naturally exists in the real world by understanding the relationships between data points. Graphs are natural and intuitive for most people to understand, whether they can or can’t code.

How traditional programmers and citizen developers can work together

The citizen developer evolution isn’t going to stop anytime soon. Through various low-code/no-code platforms, team members can work together to leverage connected data. For example, through graph visualization, coders and citizen developers alike can unfold patterns and analyze a network. Low-code graph visualization tools can use near-natural language to search for graph patterns without coding skills. Additionally, citizen developers often work with business intelligence, or using low-code/no-code connector tools to link with vendor ecosystems can speed up operations. Looker, for example, is a data analytics platform that connects with vendor ecosystems. Programmers can use this tool to make more effective, data-informed decisions.

To simplify the process of leveraging connected data, citizen developers can also use low-code plugins for graph databases to call an algorithm without knowing the math behind it. Advanced developers can aid citizen developers by creating drag-and-drop modules of common queries that they can reuse to create custom pipelines. These are just a few examples of how programmers and citizen developers can work off each other’s strengths to uncover new insights and build better applications.

Where low-code/no-code fits in and where it doesn’t

At the same time, while low-code/no-code is intended to make some coders’ lives easier, it’s not the best solution for every problem. For more experienced developers, low-code/no-code platforms help speed up routine programming tasks like integrating a digital platform or entering data, allowing them to focus their time on more complex projects. However, low-code/no-code should be viewed as a spectrum from extensibility to ease of use. With greater extensibility, developers can build on top of low-code/no-code applications to get up to speed even faster. On the other end, the easier the platform is to use, the more likely there is less customizability and less advanced performance. In some circumstances, low-code/no-code isn’t reasonable because of the number or kind of “levers” you might want to tune. It’s difficult to write a super complicated query or customize a line of code when only using low-code/no-code programs. Here are several key considerations businesses should contemplate when deciding if low-code/no-code is the most efficient method for a project:

  • Complex systems – While low-code/no-code is ideal for rapid app development, citizen developers can’t solve every complex backend issue. It can be difficult to properly express custom logic and take advantage of more complex features needed for programming or analysis, especially as it relates to business logic or domain specific features.
  • Security – When building an app that requires high security, low-code/no-code development poses certain risks. Although typically hosted in the cloud, low-code/no-code platforms have preset security conditions that are not as easily customizable as it would be if you built the app from scratch.  
  • Accessibility – Low-code/no-code often treats accessibility as an after-thought, rather than an integral part of an application. Building out accessibility needs such as screen readers and voice input can be more difficult with templated software.

To make better sense of the complex data relationships we see in the world, we need as many people as possible challenging themselves to see data as connected. By making coding accessible to more people, we can solve complex problems and understand data in a new light. Although challenges may arise when fitting low-code/no-code into an advanced technical stack, companies that embrace the movement will only benefit from bringing on citizen developers who are ready to take on new challenges.

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