Who are low-code app developers? An intro to five types of builder
Adding nuance to the citizen developer conversation
Today, anyone can build. Gartner predicts that over half of all app development will be low code by 2023, while Forrester estimates the low-code market to grow to $21.2B in 2022.
Which begs the questions: In a world where anyone can develop, how should devrel and developer marketing look? How can you scale developer outreach when developers are no longer centralized by function or role? Who are these low-code builders, where do they hang out, and how can someone build a community of them?
We haven’t seen much nuance in what’s been written about these low-code builders (sometimes called citizen developers). But in fact, builders are as diverse as the things they build — they’re hardly homogenous.
So to help get you started, we’ve segmented low-code builders into five broad categories based on their shared jobs to be done. Once you determine what broad bucket you’re serving, you’ll want to segment your users further into primary and secondary audiences.
But first: a quick refresher on the low-code space.
Unpacking the low-code landscape
The low- and no-code space isn’t new, but in the last few years has begun to meaningfully expand beyond core enterprise use cases. Here’s one simplified way to look at the space:
Product-building: Products that reduce the time and effort it takes to ship stuff, whether you’re building for external audiences (users, customers) or internal audiences (colleagues):
Simple websites, e.g. a personal portfolio site
Websites, from simple (personal portfolio) to complex (job boards, e-commerce sites)
Apps (directories, booking, social networks, etc)
Internal tooling (i.e. IT management, help desk ticketing, CRM, analytics dashboards)
Business and workflow automation: Products that automate repetitive business tasks and workflows.
Many of the more mature enterprise platforms fit here -- like OutSystems, Microsoft Power Automate, Salesforce Lightning Flow and Oracle Visual Builder -- many of which actually require a developer to implement.
You’ll also find more modern consumer-friendly platforms, some which offer automation as a core offering (Zapier, IFTTT), and others which offer it as a feature on top of the main service (Slack Workflow Builder, Asana Automation, Monday.com, and many, many others)
Unpacking five types of builders
So those are the tools, but who uses them? Here’s one way to think about it:
Let’s walk through each category.
Titles: Marketing Ops, Sales Ops, RevOps, BizOps, program manager
This person might be who you think of first when we talk about low code: they are creative, systematic, and identify as ‘tool geeks.’ Because of a lack of formal training, they may feel uncomfortable self-identifying as “developers,” but probably know their way around a SQL query and Stack Overflow.
Their roles may differ (we’re seeing Marketing Ops dominate), but they share a few key traits:
- the ability to identify an inefficiency
- the creativity to figure out a solution,
- and the motivation to make it happen.
Core job to be done
They often own the operations of a team or organization, and make things run as painlessly and productively as possible for colleagues. So their primary need is to enable themselves and/or their immediate team to become more productive and reduce repetitive work, without begging for (often impossible-to-obtain) internal developer resources.
Testing or maintaining a low-code solution isn’t always their formal purview (and they’re often overloaded by requests), so they value templates, use cases, community examples, and opportunities to connect and share ideas with like-minded builders.
Example use case: Creating a custom editorial calendar tool using Airtable.
They might use..
Slack Workflow Builder
2. IT / Internal Tools teams
Titles: IT manager, Internal Tools Engineer
The OGs of the low-code world, these developers use low-code platforms to automate internal company workflows and build internal apps.
Core job to be done: Increase company productivity and fulfill internal requests for colleagues in less time than traditional development.
Example use cases:
Using Servicenow to manage IT services and ops (help desk management, hardware inventories, etc)
Building a drag-and-drop GUI on top of a MySQL database
They might use:
Microsoft Power Apps
3. Freelancers / Studios
Titles: Freelancer, agency, dev shop or studio owner
Either an individual freelancer or small studio looking to maximize profit by reducing the overall cost and time required per client project.
The reusable components enabled by low-code platforms help these studios be more efficient so they can dedicate expensive developer hours on harder, more custom work.
Core job to be done:
They typically seek one of two outcomes:
Increase profitability and become more efficient on client work by using low-code templates and reusable components
Create an additional revenue stream by offering low-code tool implementation and training as a service
Example use case: Customizing integrations for client projects using Zapier
They might use..
Salesforce Lightning App Builder
Titles: Founder, Co-Founder, CEO, CTO
As early-stage founders, people in this category are wearing many hats and seeking to find product/market fit as quickly as possible with a limited budget.
Their main priority is growth and the systems and tools that enable it. They either work for themselves, or as part of a very small team (<3 employees).
Core job to be done:
Founders turn to low-code to both shorten time to market and also save expensive development resources (you’ll notice a trend here).
They may be looking to:
Unlock growth: Rapidly build an MVP or proof of concept, iterate quickly, find product market fit and worry about tech debt later
Create a basic but functional side-hustle as a secondary passive revenue stream
They might use…
Titles: Software engineer, developer (seniority and company size ranges)
By developers, we mean individual contributors sitting within software development teams. It’s their formal job to build and ship quality software as quickly as possible, often for an external audience.
Core job to be done:
These developers turn to lower-code tooling (though it’s not always branded as such) to save time in the development process by abstracting away rote setup/infrastructure/implementation. In turn they’re able to focus on higher-leverage work and increase developer productivity.
Low-code tools can also indirectly delight developers by removing annoying cross-functional requests off their plate entirely (by enabling their less-technical peers to solve their own problems).
Example use case:
Using Netlify to deploy and maintain an e-commerce website
They might use…
If you’re looking to grow a user base of low-code builders, start by understanding the people behind the apps: their roles, motivations, pain points, and jobs to be done. Talk to current and prospective builders and notice the trends that emerge in these conversations; this will form the foundation of your messaging and go-to-market strategy.
No matter their role, every prospective builder needs simple on-ramps to start with less friction, so provide goal-based templates, examples, FAQs, community resources, and opportunities to get direct help.
Reactions? What would you add or change? Let us know. :)