Boosted by the COVID-19 pandemic, low-code is becoming more and more popular in the IT world. Easy to use, it represents a real revolution in terms of time-to-market. However, behind the scenes, this coding approach is grinding the teeth of a good number of developers. For many, it’s like the sword of Damocles, heralding the end of their careers. However, the facts show a completely different reality!
At IT-Development, the central part of our ClickOnSite V2 solution is based on a low-code strategy. Innovative at that time, this choice has not diminished the primary role of web developers.
François Pouilloux, CTO at IT-Development (ITD) since 2013, explains how this decision led our core teams to extend the limits of their professional and personal skills.
What is low-code?
Traditionally, specific business applications require excellent technical skills (software architecture, design, programming, databases, systems, network, etc.). Modern development tools, such as frameworks, allow us to industrialize and make the essential functions and services of an application reliable. But it remains a delicate and time-consuming process to orchestrate the mix between the technical and functional parts of applications, both from a human and software point of view.
Therefore, low-code attempts to provide an answer to simplify and accelerate the delivery of solutions, following users’ needs. How? By offering business teams a technical environment and basic « building blocks. » They can then assemble them (usually visually) to build a data and processing model directly deployed and executed by users. Then, the applications can be easily and quickly configured by business specialists. There is no need to mobilize specialized development knowledge and these applications can be customized ad infinitum. From a business point of view, the time to market is up to 4 to 5 times faster, which makes it easier for the solution provider to multiply projects. Finally, for customers, the risk level is minimized, and the return on investment is faster.
Relying on low-code to meet specific telecom needs
This virtuous concept was implemented by ITD’s founders many years ago. As of 2014, the ClickOnSite software has been redesigned to be fully customizable, without the need for development. Over the years, coupled with a new agile organization, this investment has paid off. Our teams have created a highly flexible solution that can be customized to the specific needs of each mobile network operator (MNO) or towercos.
When generalization becomes the keyword
Nevertheless, it is not easy to provide generic and straightforward tools without necessarily knowing how and why they will be used. There is no business data model, no processing, and no user interface, so everything has to be imagined in a generic and elementary way. A challenge that we accepted thanks to the concepts of « lightly structured » databases (NoSQL and graph) and process modeling with BPMN. To achieve this, we relied on components and concepts largely derived from open-source software to rethink how we build and deploy our solution.
Furthermore, the choice of low-code has led us to review our overall approach to development.
Usually, as a developer, we create a specific code for each customer. With low-code, developers only work on generic code. Customization is directly managed by the Business Analyst who implements each module according to the client’s requirements. The development team is, therefore, only partially responsible for the user experience and final performance. It is essentially up to the Business Analysts to take on this critical responsibility, with the Product Owner’s (P.O). support. Therefore, this must be taken into account by the P.O. and the developers. They must make an extra effort of abstraction and generalization to anticipate Business Analysts’ needs and guide them towards good practices.
Comparing this same principle to the building industry is like making bricks without knowing whether they will be used for a traditional house or a super modern building and designing them to be correctly used in both cases.
Extending the technical skills
For this reason, at ITD, low-code has not led to a reduction in the size of the development team. Quite the opposite! We have been encouraged to train our employees and recruit increasingly qualified profiles, capable of bringing the necessary added value.
Having « hard » skills (languages and tools) on a resume are not enough! You have to be able to challenge and question yourself. You have to master the components of ClickOnSite end-to-end. Keep up with technological developments. Finally, you have to know how to mobilize your skills to make them grow, and to do this, the management must be able to allocate time to expand this knowledge.
Soft skills: the other pillar of ITD’s low-code developers
However, it is wrong to think that technical expertise is the only asset of our low-code developers. Otherwise, what would be the chances for a young graduate to access this job? So, go for soft skills! You have to know how to listen, structure your thinking, synthesize, and be creative. These are qualities that can be found in a young developer, which will be useful in a low-code context. As we said before, low-code takes the developer away from the end-user. But even if he is not directly related to the customer, the developer must remain attentive to his expectations. He must come out of his bubble, be both altruistic and humble. As the holder of technical knowledge, he must serve others. Consequently, he must test his communication skills with the company’s different entities daily: Product Owner, Business Analysts, Sales, etc.
To sum up, I think that a low-code approach often complicates the life of the developer. Nevertheless, it pushes him to be rigorous, persevering, and strict. Thanks to it, new doors open up for him: personal development and professional evolution.