Developers are the Jedis of innovation. Low-code and no-code won’t change that, but it will bring more people into the field of software development and help companies be more agile.
Will the low-code and no-code movement result in fewer developer jobs? Or, will it actually encourage more people to become developers? In this episode of Dynamic Developer, we’re going to talk with Marcus Torres, GM of IntegrationHub and VP of Platform Product with ServiceNow, about how the low-code and no-code movement is affecting the field of software development. We will also discuss how his using low-code and no-code platforms will help companies to be more agile and respond faster to customer needs. The following is a transcript of the interview, edited for readability. You can listen to the podcast player embedded in this article, watch a video above or read a transcript of the interview below, edited for readability.
Low-code and no-code tools will help developers “go faster and build more”
Bill Detwiler: I know that what we’re going to talk about is no-code and low-code. The movement has been part of the developer community for quite a while now—sometimes a little bit of a controversy. Before we get into some of the things that ServiceNow is doing around no-code and low-code, or how you think about it, let’s start with one of the hot button issues which is, what is the net effect of low-code and no-code going to be on the developer community at large? Are we going to see a time where we have fewer developers because more end users and admins are creating code, or really is that sort of just a standard kind of unfounded fear that we always have with kind of new technology and transitions?
Marcus Torres: I don’t know about you, but ever since I was a kid and watching “The Jetsons” or looking at old clips from the 1950s where stoves make dinner themselves, the reality is technology has helped us—it hasn’t hurt us. As a society and as a workforce, we’ve constantly leveraged technology to be more productive and to focus on the things that, in all honesty, humans are better at. Yes, there’s been doom and gloom about everything from AI and now to no- and low-code, the reality is development is a team sport. If you are an admin, if you’re someone in operations, if you just know how to, you’re fluent with Excel, the reality is there’s platforms and technologies out there that allow you to do innovative things. It doesn’t mean developers go away.
One of the most common ways that I see this is it’s just experience like any other job. If somebody starts and picks up a no- and low-code platform, they build what they know, but they start working with their colleagues. They start getting feedback from people just as someone like me in product management hears from customers all the time, and now they want to improve it, now they need to maintain their application. Who’s the army of people that know how to do that best? Real developers. Those real developers can actually enjoy empowering and educating this no and low-code community to go further, faster and innovate themselves.
Those same developers also like using no-code/low-code tools to get past what I want to call the remedial part of application development and really focus on the challenging parts. Like I said, this is a team sport—developers aren’t going anywhere. If you’re listening to this podcast and you’re in computer science and you’re like, ‘Oh, I don’t know I’m going to be automated through some low-code platform,’ that’s not the case. The reality is, developers are the Jedis of innovation, and they’ll continue to be in the future. They just get additional help and can go faster and build more with some of these platforms and along with their teammates.
SEE: Everything you need to know about using low-code platforms (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
Focus on the critical work
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Bill Detwiler: Let’s talk about that, because that’s one of the things that I hear from people who work in and are developing automation platforms—not just with respect to development—but in other parts of what we would consider digital transformation, is that it really is about taking away some of those tedious, repetitive tasks and empowering developers to really focus on those things that they want to focus on. Maybe it’s building new products or solving problems, as opposed to maybe responding to every end user request or product managers request. What’s your take on that? It sounds like that’s what I’m hearing you say.
Marcus Torres: In simplest terms, take the simple tasks away. I think everybody wants that, whether you’re a recent grad in your first role in a corporation to a startup entrepreneur doing it all to an executive—you don’t want to do the remedial tasks. You want to focus on the critical work where you’re adding value to your customer, to your employees, to your organization. The fact is these remedial tasks, what they do is they slow us down from being able to innovate, it’s they slow us down from being able to actually focus on the critical things that are going to bring a higher value. If you have automation platforms like Flow Designer and our workflow capabilities within ServiceNow or IntegrationHub that can connect systems with clicks versus code again…same thing.
We want to automate the easy things, the trivial things, and allow people to focus the critical part of work that takes cognitive human thought. I’ll give you a great example of this: there’s a customer who is trying to make something more efficient and in their process and they just happened to tell me about how for every single one of these records in this case in ServiceNow that had a specific filter criteria, they have to go and get their team to enter these manually. I was looking at them and I was like, ‘why are you doing that?’ Simply create a trigger in Flow Designer and go and create that child record every single time, you never have to worry about it again.
He’s like, ‘I didn’t know to do that, I was going to put process around it.’ That’s tedious labor that just takes time. Similar to the low-code question of before, we want automation—automation is a good thing, automate the simple tasks, allow the people that we have doing their function to focus on the critical value for their customers. We’re all going to be better off, customers will have better experiences, you’ll probably increase your overall revenue and it’ll drive success and satisfaction for everyone.
How new developers should think about their skillset in relation to low-code and no-code
Bill Detwiler: If you had to tell developers who are coming through the pipeline right now, ‘Look, we’ve had code complete tools library for a long time,’ but there does seem to be kind of a new, the low-code and no-code movement is beyond that. It’s only a step beyond that because it’s pushing those tools and processes a little further, closer to the end user. What do you tell developers—you kind of touched on this earlier—coming through the pipeline now to get their minds right around don’t worry about this, don’t be afraid of this? It’s kind of similar to the tools that you’re using, it’s just a little step beyond that. As opposed to doing a change request, or a trouble ticket that comes in and having to build, like you were talking about this whole process, you can focus on that new project, the new app, doing something a little more interesting kind of that, ‘oh, I really want this data. I really need this one form to do X kind of thing.’
Marcus Torres: I’m going to answer your question. What I think you’re asking is, ‘Hey, there’s a new wave of developers that are coming through and how should they think about their skillset and how that relates to low- and no-code?’
Bill Detwiler: Yeah, that’s exactly it—you said much more artfully than I could.
Marcus Torres: I really think it’s a tool in the tool set. If you look at what developers—and I used to be a developer—sometimes I miss it because you don’t have to deal with all the prioritization, you just put hands on keyboards, get stuff done. But, the reality is our job, our function as developers is constantly to learn new skills and take on emerging technology. And we love it, we love doing that. When you look at no- and low-code tooling, I really see it as a tool in the broader tool set of how they approach a problem. If you have an operational use case, especially retail medical use cases where they still have paper forms all over the place.
They’re just trying to digitize it, almost any local platform can give you a form pretty quickly, like a digital form, think of COVID and all of the restaurants and all of the dentist appointments. I know, because I have two little girls that I had to get a bunch of digital signatures for, and these kind of check-in apps, all you need is basically some content, some forms to fill out, an acceptance, digital signature and go. These are the kinds of applications that I could go and I spin up some like a VM and start to code this full stack in AWS because I have the skillset to, 100%. But should I? Probably not, because it doesn’t require that level of complexity. In the same way that when I approach a project, I like using my hands, because I’m in ‘digital land’ all week long. On the weekends, when I’m approaching say like a home project, I take the right tool for the right job. And I think the same thing is true for no and low-code.
Bill Detwiler: You gave an example which I’d love to drill down on which is you gave that example—what’s your thought process for making that decision? Like you see a project that comes to you where the end goal is X, Y or Z in your case, creating this really quick, this form, a process that allows you to schedule a dentist appointment, which I can identify with too. I had to reschedule my daughter’s orthodontist appointment yesterday. What’s the decision process in your mind for making that choice? Like whether this is something you need to do a full stack development process on, or whether it’s something you can do maybe much more quickly with the right low-code no-code platform.
Marcus Torres: The first thing I would do is probably gravitate to platforms that allow me to do everything. In all honesty, you have platforms that developers live and breathe everyday, whether it’s Google Cloud or Azure, AWS, the professional developer. And some of those cloud companies have come out with solutions for sort of no and low-code, but they seem fragmented or separate from the rest of the platform. And one of the benefits, the reason why I joined ServiceNow and the things I love about our platform is it doesn’t matter if you’re a no-code all the way to pro-code, it is the same platform. If you want extensibility, you don’t have to learn four different ways to do it based on which tool you’re doing, it’s the same ubiquitous platform.
When people are approaching which platforms do I use, or how do I leverage it, look at something that you can get consistency on, look at something that you can solve all of your problems instead of a subset of your problems. That being said, when you start looking at use cases, what I tend to do is I try to look at the total workflow of that specific use case. I’ll give you an example of this for the last 20 odd years now with various SaaS platforms or various platforms that are out there, people are like, ‘this is my job, and in my job, I do this part of the capability. I need an application just to do this, my part.’ But when you look at the workflow, let’s take an employee onboarding scenario, you’re talking to IT, there’s HR, you have finance, you have your direct team managers, you have potentially procurement or facilities to take care of (not right now), but you know what I mean facilities to arrange the desk. Every single person is a link in that chain of value or in that entire workflow.
SEE: Top cloud providers in 2020: AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud, hybrid, SaaS players (TechRepublic Premium)
When I look at those kinds of problems, I say, ‘Hey, is there a broader workflow here?’ Then you need a workflow platform to address it. In the case of the dentist example, a lot of these SMBs are just like ‘I need to digitize a form so someone can, or I need a scheduling app because that’s what people used to do either in person or on calls, I need them to do this online because it needs to be touch less.’ In those cases, they are starting at just one step of that overall workflow, but that’s the critical need.
When you’re evaluating which platforms go with, part of it is speed and ease and technical acumen. Small dentist offices probably don’t have a developer, or even a local developer per se. But if they can use some of these platforms just to deal with that initial interaction, that’s going to be enough to get them started. In all of these platforms, once you have a little taste of success in being able to deliver that value, you continue to grow from there, and you want a platform that can help you do that.
COVID has changed how businesses interact with customers
Bill Detwiler: I know that we’ve been talking about low-code and no-code being around for quite a while now, but one of the things that seems to have really kind of sparked it, and we’ve talked about some of those examples here with the dentist office is COVID and people having to make sort of rapid and dramatic shifts in how their apps work, how they interact with customers. Speak to that a little bit about what you’ve seen from your customers, and some of those rapid changes that they’ve had to make.
Marcus Torres: I think we are just seeing the true next generational wave of agility. If you look back 10 years, there’s companies you think that would never go under, that no longer exist because of their lack of agility and ability to respond to customers and what customers are looking for. Now we have all of main street, all of retail, all of restaurants having to do the same thing, and it’s about survival and you cannot survive without being agile and that’s exactly what low-code platforms have provided. Customers of ours like HonorHealth they used citizen developers to create a COVID-19 symptom tracker in a chat bot experience in six hours.
We’ve had a U.S. hospital system that developed an exposure tracker app in three days that serves 10,000 staffers. This is what’s required. In some cases—especially with COVID—it’s actually saving lives and creating the right connection so we can address this problem. Now, think of where we’re going to be as a society, as industries, as people coming out of this. We now know what is required to shift quickly and what that means to our businesses and to our families. I think the more people that can innovate and get their hands dirty with things like low-code platforms, the faster we’re going to be able to respond and honestly, compete both as individual professionals or people as well as on a global economy.
SEE: Everything as a Service: Why companies are making the switch to SaaS, IaaS, PaaS, and more (TechRepublic Premium)
How IntegrationHub merges low-code/no-code into the application development process
Bill Detwiler: Let’s talk a little bit about the platform you work on, the IntegrationHub at ServiceNow, I can’t imagine anybody listening to this isn’t familiar with ServiceNow. But give me a little rundown on how IntegrationHub integrates low-code/no-code into its application development process.
Marcus Torres: I’m going to augment your question just a little bit. There are two fundamental aspects of our platform for low-code development. There’s what we call App Engine, that’s our version of leveraging something like Google Cloud or AWS, in the sense of you can take that platform. Whether you’re a no-code developer all the way to a professional developer, you can leverage that platform to solve your needs. And that’s really for any kind of low-code development. Then there’s IntegrationHub, which is our low-code integration solution that is accompanying it. What we really see in the modern enterprise, in the modern business of today, no matter your size is, there are multiple systems you have to connect with, there’s external systems you have to connect with—whether it’s SaaS applications or other platforms that are part of your business to on-premise historical systems or legacy systems.
When you look at that entire value, the entire workflow, that you’re building this application for not just this narrow piece, you may start in one chunk and keep growing it. In order to do that, you need to connect systems, people and processes. App Engine helps you build those applications seamlessly in a low-code way, and IntegrationHub allows you to connect to any third-party system or on-premise system, and integrate that into the workflow. This is much different than other platforms where you, what an integration is, you go, you talk to the other system, you map the data to an internal data model with whatever platform you’re using. And then you incorporate that into the application. But, in App Engine and IntegrationHub, you can just seamlessly incorporate that data with what we call a reusable action in IntegrationHub. It just makes it simple. The best part about is professional developers who understand APIs and write all those, they build those reusable actions that then a no- and low-code developer can reuse at any time. And that’s really the beauty of our one platform.
A shift in the mentality of IT
Bill Detwiler: Do you think we’re kind of seeing a bifurcation in the developer community around folks who specialize in languages or even building a full stack developer? As opposed to someone who is half a product manager or even an end-user in some respects, but they also have a little bit of coding experience themselves and they can do some things through no- and low-code. How do you see that playing out in a modern enterprise?
I want to touch on that really too, because I think if that bifurcation happens or you see that happening, it affects the structure of where development lives within an organization—I’ve been around for a while. I started in IT, not in tech media. I’ve written a lot of code myself, but then again, it’s not my full-time thing. So you get someone that may be like, ‘Hey, I can write SQL queries and do what I need to do to pull the data out, but I can’t do this other thing.’ And that’s something that’s been around for decades. It seems to me maybe replaying itself here, but with these no-code, low-code tools.
SEE: Hiring Kit: Full Stack Developer (TechRepublic Premium)
Marcus Torres: Yeah. The fact is low-code and no-code has been a term for probably 15 years, if not more in one way or another. I think I remember trying to write my first website in a low-code front page application, but what did I do? The second I did that I had to jump into the code, the HTML code to actually make it work. But we are at a different time, I think in really a unique time where we have a broad base of the workforce, the majority of the workforce now is the millennial generation or lower. So we have a younger workforce that actually grew up with technology and they’ve used it day in and day out.
We don’t really think of it as, ‘Oh, well, you had apps and phones,’ but that familiarity with technology has given a technical or literacy that just comes with today’s day and age. Now, if you accompany that with the fact that low-code platforms are much more powerful than they were before, you have a perfect union of people who just want to get stuff done and configure out technology if you give it to them, and technology that is powerful enough, yet simple enough to leverage to really innovate on. Now, there is something you mentioned Bill, that is really important, which is enterprises have to be bought into this.
Maybe not the Mom and Pop SMB, but you get into any decent size organization—probably even over 50 people to some degree or definitely in a few hundred—you’re going to have this, you’re going to have some level of cooperation and collaboration, and dare I say guard rails, or even governance around that. That’s because there’s real risk to customers, there’s real risk to liability or systems going down and affecting that business. That is really where IT or some center of excellence comes in that works with this contingency or this constituency of no- and low-code developers. The one thing that I’ve also seen, and I’m curious because again, I used to be in IT too, is there’s been a shift in the mentality of IT. It’s no longer, and nobody who’s in IT don’t get mad at me, but it used to be sort of the department of no, like you can’t do that.
Bill Detwiler: Oh yeah. It was the people that just tell me why you can’t do anything—you’re exactly right. No, I lived that and I was, you’re often seen as one of those people that was saying no.
Marcus Torres: That’s right. But now it’s really about partnership. IT understands and, has always wanted to, deliver value to the organization, but they were always the one with sort of the target on their back if things went bad. Now what they’re really trying to do is create the right empowerment model on the right platform with the right visibility so they can help and empower people to innovate, but help them when they need to get help and monitor the critical systems that apply to the business and ultimately the customer. And that’s what it’s really all about in today’s age, and that partnership culture has really changed. And that’s what I’m seeing more and more today, especially with customers that are being successful with citizen developer programs and no and low-code platforms and blending that with their IT organization or other development organizations.
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