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: