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How to navigate the landscape of No Code?

A mental model to effectively explore the ocean of No Code tools




Introduction


The world of No Code is growing in leaps and bounds. It is such a good thing since it enables anyone to be a creator, in other words anyone can build an app, a platform, a website, automate tasks and many more which was previously possible only with code.


So what's No Code? No Code is a method in which one can build software visually using drag and drop, without writing any code at all. When you become an expert, probably a little bit of code if you need customization. All that's required is knowing what exactly one wants to build, and pick up the right tool to build it.


Whether you are a marketing manager, or a teacher, or a yoga instructor, it doesn't matter, you can build your own websites, apps, even platforms if you have the interest and knack to understand various tools out there and learning the required to a deeper extent.


So, what's this post about? Is it about the list of No Code tools available? Is it comparing Tool A versus Tool B? Nope 🤨, it's not. Rather this post talks about where to start, how to choose a tool, a few tips, tricks and ideas on learning a new tool, what to be cautious about. In short, I tried to come up with an informal framework for new comers to the world of No Code.


One huge reason is, there are a lot many No Code tools, literally flooded. It's extremely easy to get lost. I was in a similar situation when I started to explore, luckily my coding background and running a business helped me understand the ecosystem quite faster. Still, there were a few challenges in terms of picking the right tool for the right job as that becomes a game changer.


Enough talking, let's start with a big picture 😁


Hierarchy/Classification of Tools


Each No Code tool is primarily meant to be used for one type of task. And what do I mean by a task here? It can be one of the following:


  • Building Mobile applications

  • Building Web applications

  • Designing websites, apps

  • Developing websites, landing pages

  • Storing data which can further be used to derive meaning out of it, in other words, a database

  • Content generation, can be text, images, videos

  • Building forms for Surveys, User feedback

  • Building chatbots

  • Automation of workflows


I wouldn't say the above list is a complete one but to a good extent these are some of the primary tasks that any business would require.


Now let's look at the common options we have from a No Code tool for these type of tasks. Again, this list is not exhaustive.


Mobile apps: Bravo, Flutterflow, Thunkable


Web apps: WeWeb, Bubble, Glide, Softr, Retool



Websites: Webflow, Wix, SquareSpace


Backend: Xano, Pipedream (this one is low code)


Here's a post from LinkedIn that shows the top No Code tools in 2024.



An Informal framework


Now that, you get a vague idea about the land of possibilities, very soon it becomes overwhelming. Navigating these myself, I came up with a framework that'll guide you towards picking the right tool and getting started from there.


A picture is equivalent to 100 words, isn't it 😉, hence I came up with a visual first. Take a look and then let's deep dive into each step, shall we?





Here's the Miro board link to see the image.


Step 1 : Your objective


Irrespective of No Code or anything that you plan to learn, I highly recommend to take a step back and answer this question honestly.


Why do you plan to explore, learn this space?What is your short term goal?What is your long term goal?

If we do not do this, we'll never complete what we start. Reflecting upon why in first place are you exploring helps a lot. Branching out to short term goals and long term goals helps channelize your learning.


A few common short term goals that I can think of:

  • To Upskill: Probably you think your career is getting stagnant, or you're someone who genuinely want to keep learning new things 😍

  • Shiny object syndrome: This is a very common phenomenon, especially in the software world. The whole world is talking about it, you see people tweeting about it, you come across your colleagues using it, you're inquisitive to know what it is, and start to learn.

  • Requirement at work: Your boss wants to develop a few things faster, the team is exploring new way of development, thus you're inclined to quickly learn the basics and understand the broad agenda.

  • Automate boring tasks: You're someone who hates doing mundane tasks and thus want to find alternatives to it. Automating them is the obvious next step and what more do you need than a tool like Zapier or Make.


A few common long term goals can be one of:

  • Change of career: You probably want to change the direction of your career completely. Software is one of the fields that lets people come in from any background. I've heard so many wonderful stories of dentists, nurses, veterans, teachers, and many such people learn programming and enter the world of software development. No Code is a boon for people from non-technical background. It gives the power to build irrespective of who you are.

  • Organizational changes: There are times when companies move their development from code to no code. Or, a company may decide to use No Code for a good number of things like building MVPs, building landing pages and such. Not everybody needs a supremely unique design, isn't it? In such cases, you may be forced to pick up a few tools.

  • Side Hustles: You're a curious cat 😺, outside of your 9-5, you want to build some side hustles. Or, you're someone who keeps brimming with ideas and you want to bring them to life. A good approach is to start building with the appropriate no code tool.

  • Start a business: Entrepreneurial bug bit you 🐞, but you are not from tech background. That should not be a reason to not build a business, is it not? No Code tools may help you start rolling.

  • Freelancing: You want to make some extra cash, some sort of passive income and you've some time in hand. Freelancing is the first option in such a case. These days there are quite a lot of gigs for No Code tools in marketplaces like Upwork.


The reasons can be anything, but make sure to do this exercise honestly. Be true to yourself.


Without a solid end objective, it is practically very difficult to keep up the momentum and see the horizon. We start with full throttle but the motivation dies down soon.


Hence the advice. Set your goal, then start working backwards and you'll reach your finish line 🚩


Step 2: Decide on a category


Once your end goal is set, decide on the category of software you plan to build. Is it a mobile app, or a web app or you want to find alternatives to your massive spreadsheets, or what exactly do you intend to build.


This is very crucial as it helps you stay on track. In fact, it helps you stay on the right track. Without making this decision, you'll not know where to start and very soon you'll feel lost.


Whereas if you take this decision, it helps you narrow down on the subset of tools that you may want to explore. It then gets easier to zero down on a tool and start learning.


Step 3: Pick a tool(s)


Now that you are clear with what you want to build (from a category perspective), start to search on No Code tools in that category. When you explore a tool, keep this as a checklist:


  • Learning Curve: Figure out how long will it take to get a good hold of the tool you select. In order to figure that out, you need to wet your feet without which you'll be unable to understand. Watch a few beginner videos, that gives a good idea as to how easy or difficult the tool is for you to grasp. Not all of us come from the same background, each brain is wired differently, some things come easy for some, whereas the same thing may be a difficult one for some one else. So, it's purely independent on the person who's learning.

  • What comes out of the box: This is another factor that you need to pay attention. Some tools support a lot of built-in functionalities (for eg., authentication related aspects) which may indirectly take a hit on flexibility. Whereas few other tools give a free hand to the end user, but may take a while to get the best out of the tool. Depending on your background and what you plan to build, you need to decide what's more important, flexibility or ease of use.

  • Cost: This is another important factor to pick a tool. Unless the cost is going to be borne by your company, you need to be quite cautious about this factor. Assuming you need to spend from your pocket, it becomes a deciding factor. The tool may suit your other needs but affordability is a key decision maker. Make sure to check the pricing page before you start to delve deep.

  • User Base: Once you are convinced with the above three points, spend some time to understand how big is the user base. What are their case studies, what sort of businesses use this tool, these are a few questions that you need to find answers. Since these tools are relatively new when compared to traditional programming languages, you need to be sure that you'll get the help when you need. Check sites like reddit, are there any Slack groups, X communities and so on.

  • Community Support: This one is quite similar to User base, but varies a lot from a support perspective. Most of the bigger No Code tools have an active support community. Gone are the days where one needs to open a ticket to resolve something. You have a question, you ask in the tool's community forum. Anybody who knows the answer will pitch in and answer. Check out how active the community is. This is very important.

  • Feature Road map: This may not make a lot of sense to people from a non-product background. This is applicable to people who understand a bit abut how products are being developed. If you are from that background, then you may want to pay attention regarding the tool's feature road map. I wouldn't say this is super important to start with, but gives a good idea on the long term vision of the company.


Step 4 : What's the use case?


I highly recommend this step to be performed. Think of a use case or a solution that you plan to build. It can be a note taking app, it can be fitness tracker app, it can be an e-commerce store where you plan to sell some niche, or simple, ask ChatGPT for ideas, but do come up with the end product. Keep it simple.


The reason I emphasize on this task is that, it helps you decide on what features you need to look for in a tool (eg., should the tool support out of the box payments, should the tool support tracking analytics, should the tool allow you to create your own designs).


Another reason is, it'll keep you motivated to become an expert of the tool that you use to build. You will try to find answers when you start adding functionality. Else, you will be a passive learner and get into tutorial paralysis.


Lastly, you can showcase what you build in your portfolio. It'll speak volumes about many things, your knowledge, your attitude, your perseverance and more. It gives a good feeling when you see a finished product, trust me, it's priceless 😊


Hence do not learn a tool without having an idea for a solution/product to build.


Step 5: How to learn


Did you know that understanding how to learn something is a research topic? I once enrolled in the course Learning how to learn. I learned so many valuable methods, a generic approach, but on following a few of those I felt truly empowered.


When it comes to picking up No Code tools, I've found the following approach to be quite powerful:

  • Start with the tool's documentation. They are usually quite comprehensive and accurate.

  • Get a big picture first in terms of the tool's capability and then drill down into each topic.

  • When you read about a topic, try and map it to a feature that you plan to build as part of your product. This approach helps remember the features better and also helps you dig deeper. It ends up you mastering a feature rather than simply scratching the surface.

  • Do sign up in the tool's community forum. Irrespective of whether you understand the content completely, make it a habit to read a few posts on a daily basis. Slowly you will be able to figure out the thought process behind solving a problem. I would even suggest this as a mandatory step to be followed.

  • One last tip is to subscribe to the tool's newsletter. This is an extremely smart thing to do as you'll be updated with the latest developments, customer stories, bugs resolved, certification related and much more. All in one place 🤠, don't miss doing this.


Step 6 : Time for some action 🎬


Yes, you need to start building your solution/product. Do not aim for perfection, do not spend time on unnecessary things (like choosing font, color theme, etc.,) when you get started, they can come at a later stage. Focus on the crux of the product, build the primary functionalities.


Never find easy alternatives, if you do that, it means you're stopping yourself from becoming an expert. For eg.. originally you might have decided to have a Google Sign up as part of authentication. When you start developing, you may get stuck. Instead of trying to solve it, you may take an easier option of removing that from your feature list. Do not do that. Instead, spend time and try to fix it.


Ask questions in the community forum, don't feel shy of being judged. Most communities these days are very friendly and helpful. Once in a while start answering too, probably you'd a similar problem in the past and you were able to fix it.


If you think your solution/product has taken a decent shape, start socializing in forums. Again, don't be shy. It's your creation, so feel proud about it.


If you selected a use case for a problem statement you have, then start using it on a daily basis. That in turn will give you more requirements and you'll end up exploring the tool further more.


If you have an entrepreneurial mindset, then think of making a template out of it and sell it. Or, build a SaaS product, the canvas is yours, it's up to you to draw what you want 🎨.


In summary, these 6 steps can be your informal checklist when you start navigating the world of No Code. It'll definitely steer you in the right direction and help you reach the shore ⛱


Things to watch out for


Now that we've seen how to start and travel, there are a few things that you need to be aware of as well.


Be realistic with your expectations: Just because No Code tools make our life easier, that doesn't mean it can be used for every situation. We need to be clear with what it can be used for and what it cannot be. Like how you spend time to understand it's features, do think from a limitation perspective as well.


Pick the right tool: This is one of the deciding factors in my opinion. Make sure you choose the right tool for your use case. Trying to bend a tool to do what it's not meant for is not a smart thing to do. If you plan to build a mobile app, make sure you choose the tools that have the native capability. If your intention is to connect to multiple existing tools, make sure the tool you pick allows for such integrations.


Scaling up: When you start to build professionally, make sure you estimate on what it takes to scale up your application to a large number of users, or huge volume of data. Spend time to understand how the tool is built, thus how does it perform from a performance stand point.


Security aspects: Make sure to understand how is the tool designed from a security perspective. It becomes critical when you start to build projects for clients, especially when it comes to sensitive data.


Accept the extra time required: If you come from a completely non-tech background, be prepared to put in that extra effort to understand all coins in the board. Need not go deep, but a basic level of understanding of what is a database, how does it work, what is a client-server, what is meant by deployment. When you know how things work in entirety, you feel more confident and quickly find the missing pieces.


Conclusion


Definitely it was a long read, I sincerely hope you found it useful. We looked at what No Code tools are, few examples in each category, and finally a lengthy 6 step process that helps you understand the big picture, choosing the right tool and how to learn it effectively. In the end we also saw a couple of points that needs to be kept in mind when you start your journey.


So, what are you waiting for? Go start your No Code episode the right way, I'm curious to see what you build 😎


If you think you need help at any stage, there are a lot of helpful NoCode communities too, join them. Or, feel free to send me a DM on X or on LinkedIn.


See you there 👋


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