Indeed, there are many tools today that enable you to build things you couldn’t have built even just a few years ago if you were not a programmer. To cite just a few: Webflow or Wix to build websites, Shopify to run an e-commerce shop, or Zapier to build automations between apps.
No code vs Learn to code
This “No code” trend needs to be put in perspective with the “Learn to code” trend. Many people advocate for a future where everyone is a software engineer.
I personally do not believe in such a future, at least not in the way it is often described. Everyone will not be a software engineer. Being a good developer requires a great deal of study and / or years of experience. If you don’t do it full time, you’ll never be a good developer, especially as languages, frameworks and technologies evolve extremely fast.
That being said, I do think the future worker will have some basics of computer science / web development including:
- Understanding how an API works and being able to execute basic requests
- Understanding basic data structures such as arrays or dictionaries
Knowing such basic concepts can multiply the value you get from the no code tools. For example, Zapier is a great tool regardless, but if you know how to make SQL queries, write short scripts and / or use webhooks, you’ll get even more value from it.
It is the same thing for website builders - if you are able to write a bit of custom html or css, you’ll be able to adapt the tool to your specific needs.
Coming myself from a non-technical background and having acquired these basics, I can testify how useful they are. I am not a software engineer, but I can code and that gives me extra power in my roles of product manager, sales & marketing and CEO.
Actiondesk lets non-technical people build powerful automations using only their spreadsheet skills
That belief about the future of work and its relationship to the basics of coding is part of what we’re building with Actiondesk as well. While we may not spontaneously think about it when we talk about “No code”, the first widely adopted no code tool was probably Microsoft Excel. Excel enabled generations of operational people to input, transform and analyze data. It made some concepts coming from computer science easy to understand and use, such as conditional and logical operators (if, and, or, etc.).
The success is undeniable: Excel is still one of the most used business applications in the world.
We feel there is one massive problem with Excel (and Google Sheets for that matter) that needs to be solved. In a world where a typical business has data siloed in several business applications (CRM, helpdesk, invoicing software, etc.), Excel doesn’t interact smoothly with those apps. More specifically:
- You cannot automatically import data to your Excel file and make it so your data is frequently updated;
- You cannot automatically export data to your app, say to update data there or create actions (tasks, messages, etc.).
It is our mission at Actiondesk to make it easy for people to do exactly that: program automations that import data from various sources, transform that data as specified by the user and push that data to any of the business applications she uses.
It is interesting to observe that the same way Excel introduced conditional and logical operators, we are also introducing concepts coming from computer science that may be new for non-technical users.
For example, we have an operation called Unnest (named after the SQL operator) that enables you to turn the table on the left to the data on the right:
This has proven to be very useful for some users. One example is a customer who needs to run automated reports based on their invoices in Zoho Books. An invoice has different items (i.e., products that the company sells). Now this customer needed to have a breakdown of revenue coming from recurring items and non-recurring items in his report.
Through Zoho connectors, he was able to have the list of all invoices and as a field the list of items in an array: [item1, item2, item3]. Thanks to the unnest operation, he was able to transform a table where each row is an invoice to a table where each row is a line_item (which is not possible to get directly from Zoho). With this, he just had to look up the information he needed (recurring / non-recurring) in the table items.
Actiondesk created value for this client in two ways:
- He was able to get a granularity in his report that was not available previously when using Zoho native exports;
- Instead of manually exporting that data from Zoho and transforming it to Excel every week, this process is entirely automated.
By leveraging the spreadsheet skills that most people have and mixing it with the ease of interacting with external apps and data sources of Zapier, we try to bring new powers to non-technical teams.