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For years, I’ve been putting off learning VBA, Microsoft’s adaptation of Visual Basic that allows you to write excel macros. It’s not a difficult language to learn, it’s just not core to my job so it’s been tough to find the time. Last night, I followed a link on Twitter to DataNitro, and five minutes later I’d learned VBA.

DataNitro is an excel plug-in that allows you to run Python scripts in Excel, and since I’m already somewhat competent in Python, I no longer have any use for VBA. So maybe I didn’t exactly learn VBA in 5 minutes, but I managed to completely bypass it. To me, that’s just as good as learning it.

Remember the DVD player in the Matrix that plugs into your brain and teaches you Kung Fu? DataNitro is just like that, except for excel nerds. It probably saved me hundreds of hours of grueling, self-guided, trial and error in VBA.

I’m not bringing this up as an advertisement for DataNitro, but rather as an observation about the direction of coding as a whole. A few days ago, Charlie O’Donnell of Brooklyn Bridge Ventures wrote a great blog called “The Last Coder,” in which he hypothesized that front-end development platforms will someday make the entire institution of software programming obsolete. As these platforms continue to multiply and spread, power development will require less and less code and be accessible to more and more people.

So will the coder disappear?

It depends how you define coder. In the sense that someone has to spend 15 hours a day crunching zeros and ones in a darkened room to be considered a developer, yes, I do believe Charlie’s right that the profession will eventually erode away as more elegant ‘front end’ platforms replace many coding projects.

But in the sense that I am a “coder” because these platforms enable me to write software quickly and without formal training, I think the number of coders will be on the rise for a very long time.

There was a time when MS-DOS required a sophisticated learning curve even to run a simple program. The shorter learning curve associated with Apple and Windows opened PCs up to the masses. Similarly, as platforms make development easier, many more people will pick it up than would be willing and able to spend three or six months learning VBA.

Additionally, in the same way that scientists don’t lose their jobs as science moves forward, progress in software platforms will allow “real coders” — the ones crunching the zeros and ones — to focus on more sophisticated, challenging, and impactful projects. Isn’t that exactly what you want if you’re a professional developer?

DataNitro is just one of thousands of platforms powering this movement. Off the top of my head, here are four other young companies that act as a code-less interface to what are otherwise painful development projects:

  • FRAPI – Build an API instantly
  • Monetate – Painless A-B and MVT website testing (an OpenView portfolio company)
  • IFTTT – Instant mashups of your favorite personal programs
  • Zapier – IFTTT for business apps

Nick analyzes portfolio companies and their target markets to help them focus on opportunities for
profitable growth.

  • Vivek Nanda

    Thanks…this indeed was very useful…

  • anon

    your website is so loaded with buzzwords its ridiculous.

  • Michael Ritsema

    This blog reminds of me a quote.

    “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”

    This blog post was very clear, simple, and wrong.

  • Adam Lindsay

    I have been reading articles like this for probably close to 15 years now. Every time a level of abstraction comes along that makes existing tasks easier, it all of a sudden is the end for those that do it the “hard” way. What this article and the many that came before it and I can only assume the many that will come after it fail to recognize is that with each improvement in tools, technology, abstraction comes the ability to solve more difficult tasks. Of course these new more difficult tasks present yet more challenges and we end up right back at the beginning with technical people doing things the hard way who will soon be easily replaced.

    • Kevin Leary

      I agree with Adam’s comments here. This is an interesting topic for sure, but I’m skeptical that programming will ever truly be replaced. You will always need someone to build, service and maintain new disruptive tools. And with each new disruptive tool, there will always be another ground breaking improvement to it in the future.

  • th3iedkid

    Nice note …

    but nothing can replace formal training …it depends on what you were to do…..just because you work on a language stacked on-top of JVM doesn’t mean you have to hire a 1800$ consultant to figure out ‘ClassNotFoundException’ ……trust i’ve seen worser…

  • FennNaten

    Yeah, often seen that. There is a big amount of solutions promising that you won’t have to code, automating things, allowing you to make apps by clicking on menus or drag and drop elements on a design surface… bla bla bla.
    What I’ve seen is that in general, the “automatic” thing only works well for the few use cases you see in tutorials. And if you want to do something that the maker of your tool haven’t think about… You’re screwed.
    Unless you know how to code and understand the underlying mechanism, and DIY.
    In real world apps, you’ll often encounter those kind of edge cases.
    Eventually, the developer of the tool will improve it to add the support of the edge cases, one by one… And the tool will grow so big, with so many menus and options, that specific training will be required to masterize it… And still, edge cases will remain, because there’s always more of them.
    Instead of a coder, you’ll need to hire a specialized guy that you’ll pay even more. Fail.

  • Udayan Banerjee

    Coding will be thing of past only when you could build a complete application from scratch without using some form of if…then…else.

    Personally, I think we are far away from that!

    • Nicholas Petri

      What if ALL you need is if…then…else? Is that still considered coding?

      That’s what IFTTT allows you to do, admittedly for a narrow set of use-cases. We’ll never replace every coding project with a platform, but I do see more and more of these replacing simple, repeated coding projects (in IFTTT’s case, calling on an API to sync apps).