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Towards low code, no-code programming

A number of start ups and mature companies are betting on the possibility to create applications without the need to write code. In the picture a number of them. Image credit: Sencha

I started my career as a programmer, assembler was the rule of the game. Actually, for some time I also had to write in Zeroes and Ones, machine code. This is not a statement about how good I was, it is a statement about how old I am!

Over the years, and decades, programming has shifted more and more from the “machine” to the problem area, to the point that some program “languages” were developed to address specific areas. More recently a host of libraries have become available as pre-packaged programs that programmers can use to implement specific tasks (including interfaces). More than that. At system level, platforms have become available providing applications with basic services like communications, data aggregation, storage and retrieval so that the application (and the programmer) does not need to take care of that.

If I look back I can see that programmers had to write much more code in the past than they need to write now to achieve the same result. At the same time we have been writing more and more lines of codes to create programs feeding applications in every imaginable niches. The productivity of programmers used to be measured in lines of code per day. I remember the book Mythical man month pointing out (back in 1975) that the average programmers productivity ia 10 lines of code per day, no matter what programming language is used (that included specs, coding and testing), hence the need for better programming languages that could pack more “action” in a single line of code. That was one of the drive for the creation of libraries and APIs. At one point some “experts” speculated that given the increasing demand for coding, as software expanded to more and more areas, every person on the planet would have to become a programmer. In a way we already are, as we configure out cellphone, tablet through the user interface!

What happens if we look forward extending this trend to the future? For sure we can expect pervasive softwarization of our world as many more products, everyday objects and processes in the background orchestrating everything will rely on software. Hence somebody will have to produce that code. What we can expect is that more and more of this coding will become easier and easier to produce AND that a growing portion of that code will be produced by machines (other code, mostly AI).

We call the first low code, the latter no-code. As shown in the figure there are several companies (many of them start ups that are riding the wave of automatic / semi-automatic software production) offering platforms to support development of services and applications with minimal coding effort. Products are being designed in ways to allow the user to “re-program” their software in an easy way focussing on the problem to solve rather than on the solution (coding). The whole market for these platforms and associated tools is rapidly growing.

We can expect an acceleration in technologies and tools supporting low code and no-code in the coming years as the digital transformation will increase demand for software to deal with and operate in the cyberspace. This area is one of those included in the 2022 Computer Society’s Technology Predictions, as one expected to have a strong impact in the short medium term.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.