TechRepublic’s Karen Roby spoke with Vlad Magdalin, founder and CEO of Webflow, about the no-code movement. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.
Vlad Magdalin: No-code is a kind of confusing term to be honest, we moved into this industry with a term that many people misunderstand. A lot of people think it just literally means no code is involved. But at the end of the day, it’s a set of platforms, technologies and tools that help people build software. The things that engineers do in a code editor traditionally over the last 50, 60 years, this kind of software that you and I use every day from Facebook to Twitter, to Uber, to Lyft, to Google Docs, etc. Traditionally, all that software’s built with code directly. No-code technologies help take that power and put it into a visual interface or declarative interface that is more like drag and drop or point and click to help everyone create that kind of software.
It’s still not possible with no-code to create all software, but the industry is really catching up to how much you can do with no-code in a way that it’s solving real business problems. It’s helping entrepreneurs and creators create new products and services without having to get a computer science degree or do four years of training. And really what it’s doing, it’s democratizing the act of software creation the same way that YouTube democratized video creation where you don’t have to be a movie studio anymore with millions of dollars of equipment in order to create entertainment for the web, build an audience, etc.
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And no-code is very similar in that regard, it’s helping companies and individuals take advantage of the power of software and build for the web, create for the web, launch something for the web without having to know how to code. There’s still a lot of code in the background, it’s just we’re building abstractions to hide that complexity away from folks having to learn that in order to get the job done.
Karen Roby: Vlad, expand on the movement. Where does this stand?
Vlad Magdalin: It’s really the early stages. It’s kind of early adopter, more and more people… I mean, the fact that we’re talking about it now, to me it means that it’s starting to go a little bit more mainstream, but most people are not aware of it. It’s something that, the term itself, and the practice itself and the tools are still very early. Where if you take the full possibilities of code, no-code has probably solved maybe 10, 20% of that, but it’s rising really rapidly, that’s the thing that’s really exciting to see.
Five years ago, nobody was talking about no-code, even though some of the principles existed, but today you see people talking about it in high schools, in training programs for new media, in entrepreneurship programs, in marketing companies, agencies, in large enterprises, people are asking the question, “What is no-code and how can it help me solve the problems that I faced in my business or in my life?”
It’s definitely the early stages, but it’s the early stages of what the web felt like in the late ’90s or the early 2000s of like, yeah, it’s early, but there’s so much promise already that you’re seeing a commercial success, you’re seeing a lot of things being built with it that it’s kind of this rolling, how would I call that, ball of momentum where more and more people are seeing that it’s becoming a big thing, maybe a little like crypto, but more real. Where I would say five years from now, it’s going to become a de facto thing. It’s just going to be a way that people build software. And I would probably guess that the majority of people who built software are going to be building it with no-code five years from now. We’re just not there yet.
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Karen Roby: It’s great to think, Vlad, that this is opening it up to people who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to really get a foot in the door without a software engineering degree or the ability to code. So, it’s just really opening it up to people.
Vlad Magdalin: Yeah, and actually I would say it’s to everyone, even people who are developers who know how to write code can gain from no-code technologies. The way that you can sort of think about it a little bit is like Excel or spreadsheets. So, 50 years ago, the things that we do in spreadsheets today were done by Fortran, Pascal, the Cobol programmers that they were doing financial modeling and adding, doing charts and stuff. The only way you could do that is through code.
And then we invented something like spreadsheets with Excel and Lotus 1-2-3, etc., And people started solving real business problems with spreadsheets. And now you could be somebody that’s tracking your home inventory, or your kid’s soccer schedule in Excel, or you’re solving huge multi-billion dollar problems in Excel at a Fortune 100.
And no-code is very similar where it’s this new abstraction that hides a lot of complexity that still solves real problems that can be used by an individual that’s wanting to start something and get it off the ground, like an artist, or a creator, or an entrepreneur, or huge enterprises who are using no-code and low-code to solve things that they would typically solve with engineers. And they essentially have the ability to have their engineers work on harder problems that are even more interesting for engineers like deep algorithms, new innovations, where no-code and low code technologies can provide automation or just a faster way to get things done that solve real problems.
It’s really used by everyone. It’s not just non-engineers, but more so than anything, it does open up the world of software creation to people who are so intimidated by learning how to code from scratch. So, that’s what helps the most, for sure.
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Karen Roby: Yeah. A lot of people are just intimidated and just really want to dip their toes in, but get scared by things like that if they don’t have a background in coding. So, you mentioned high-schoolers earlier, and I’d like to talk a little bit about what the future looks like for them as it relates to this, those that are just now coming up in school and looking to their future?
Vlad Magdalin: I think for younger people, it just means it’s opening up a new age of digital literacy to create for the web. When we started Webflow seven years ago, the only way you could really create something professional and tangible for the web was to write code. And if you went into a program that said, “OK, I’m going to become a web designer or a software developer.” You had to go into a program that taught you computer science or HTML and CSS, etc.
Today, what that means is younger folks can, instead of hearing everywhere the only way to succeed in the digital world is to learn how to code, which actually is still a very valuable skill, but it’s so overwhelming for so many people that less than one quarter of 1% of the entire world is able to tackle that skill. So, it’s such a hard skill to master. So, for young people this means once they recognize that these tools can solve real-world software problems for them.
It becomes a new tool set in their tool belt when they go to their next job, or their first internship, or they want to get a new business off the ground, they can pick up a tool like Webflow, or Airtable, or Zapier that are in this no-code realm and glue them together to create an entire product or service that traditionally would have had them have to hire five software engineers, or having them become a software engineer. So it’s an incredible new skill that they have in their arsenal. If they choose to learn it now, it just gives them a huge leap into the future that is much, much faster to learn than going to full on bootcamp or a computer science program.
To me, that’s the most exciting thing, because it just means that the types of people, the amount of people, and who can participate is greatly opened up. We’re removing barriers, we’re making it more possible for anyone from any background to have access to creation on the web, not just consumption because that’s typically how people use the web, they’re using apps and services, they’re not building them, and I think the no-code movement is just flipping that on its realm.
It’s a little bit like when the printing press was invented, it was only used by the huge states and churches, and less than 1% of people had the power to write, everybody else was reading and consuming. But the people in power were the ones that were distributing written words. And when we democratize it to where everybody can write, sure, not everyone’s writing a novel, but everyone has the opportunity to participate in this space. That’s what I believe no-code is doing for creation on the web, and that’s why it’s exciting for me.