Building Our Skills as Citizen Developers

As citizen developers, we become a part of the application development and delivery process—we have the opportunity to shape the applications our learners will interact with and manifest our designs, with no coding required.

We all know the technology landscape is replete with buzzwords and phrases. Terms such as quantum computing, blockchain, hyper-automation, and multi-experience are becoming mainstream. High on my buzzword list these days is “citizen developer.”

In essence, a citizen developer is a user outside of the IT department who develops new business applications for others to use—using development environments sanctioned by the IT department. That could be someone on your design team who has great programming skills and can code in multiple languages. Or it could be you. No coding necessary!

According to Forbes, in this no-code landscape, citizen developers are “individuals within a company who have access to a visual integrated development environment (IDE). Within this environment, the citizen developer is able to use drag-and-drop application components, and connect them to generate a new unique Web or mobile application.”

From what I read, you could pick and choose from program components using a visual process. You could take pre-built code that actually works (without knowing any code), and put together a process of some sort that others could use to accomplish tasks. And the IT department would be happy!

LOW-CODE/NO-CODE

Welcome to the world of low-code/no-code, where no programming skills are required. Working in low-code involves creating flow diagrams to visualize processes, selecting from existing code objects, and setting the values of available options that drive actions.

Why should we consider becoming citizen developers? Because as citizen developers, we become a part of the application development and delivery process—we have the opportunity to shape the applications our learners will interact with and manifest our designs.

Imagine the impact low-code/no-code software could have on our training budgets! I certainly would rather teach my team how to assemble blocks of code than to write code from scratch. And if we can rapidly prototype, develop, and deliver our own apps, perhaps we can quickly create more innovative learning solutions.

Low-code/no-code is gaining ground quickly, in most cases where companies are looking to rapidly develop applications to support business challenges. In my quest to better understand this space, I turned to the folks at Betty Blocks, where they invite us to “Build complex apps: surprisingly easy, fast, and fun.”

For me, the best way to learn is from example, and they have an ample array of sample apps to explore. I highly recommend looking at the Appraisal and Performance Evaluation example. The entire app was built through a visual interface where the citizen developer was able to drag-and-drop components and determine desired actions with a simple checkbox.

I confess I was confused about the process of working with low-code/no-code, as well as the implications, until I visited the Betty Blocks site. They explain concepts with simple language and use examples to showcase the benefits of becoming a citizen developer.

In my exploration in the low-code/no-code space, I have yet to see a full-blown learning management system (LMS), but I certainly would like to jump on the citizen developer bandwagon and build one (block by block). I can see a future where we have access to the database/content management system/ customer relationship management information back-end, and then we easily customize our learner-facing apps through a low-code/no-code platform.

Other companies in this space to watch include Appian, Mendix, Quick Base, Kony, and Zoho. Yes, the big players are also in the game—Microsoft, Oracle, and Salesforce. And the list goes on.

With all of the low-code/no-code solutions out there, none stands out to me as tuned into the human side of design as the folks at Betty Blocks. Gartner named them to the category of Visionary in its 2019 Magic Quadrant for Enterprise Low-Code Application Platforms report.

I name them to my list of tech companies I’d like to see playing more actively in the learning and development space.

Special thanks to Josh Sides from Betty Blocks, otherwise known as Very Nice Sales Guy, for making the complex easy for me to understand.

RESOURCES

Betty Blocks https://www.bettyblocks.com/

Gartner: Magic Quadrant for Enterprise Low-Code Application Platforms https://www.gartner.com/en/documents/3956079/magic-quadrant-for-enterprise-low-code-application-platf

Appian CEO Matt Calkins Explains Low-Code https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NLpQ7oTgBE8

What Really Is Low-Code/No-Code Development? https://www.forbes.com/sites/johneverhard/2019/01/15/what-really-is-low-codeno-code-development/#6ea0ec2c2a8e

Phylise Banner is the Director of Education for the Society for Technical Communication (STC). A pioneer in learning experience design, she has more than 25 years of vision, action, and leadership experience in transformational learning and development approaches. She is an Adobe Education Leader, Certified Learning Environment Architect, STC Fellow, performance storyteller, avid angler, and private pilot.

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