What is no-code operations?

What is no-code operations?

No-code operations is an evolving job category and skillset within the world of tech. It takes a systems thinking approach to building impactful internal tools—all without the need for code. For some, it's a project. For others, it could become a full-time job.

The tech industry is no stranger to job category creation. Pew Research estimates that there are at least 15 job categories that the industry has created in the last 20 years alone. Jobs like “informational security analyst” or “computer network architect” have been coined by, and widely adopted by tech.

“No-code operations” may soon join these ranks. Based on the need to create highly specific internal tooling—and fast—no-code operations is the practice of using no-code and low-code tools to build internal systems without reliance on engineering support.

The goal isn’t to eradicate the need for coding in your internal tooling. Instead, the goal is to empower a wider range of people to get more done, faster.

The need for no-code operations

Especially for the non-technical, creating internal software has historically been a lengthy and painful process. First, you’d have to encounter a problem that you run into repeatedly—say, for example, an approval workflow. To justify solving it, you’d then need to encounter the problem often enough to demonstrate a need to solve it.

And if you met those two requirements: great! From there, you might ask your engineering team to build the tool in question. But engineering priorities rarely center around the world of internal tooling. So more often than not, you’d be stuck with makeshift solutions until they made that tooling onto the roadmap.

That’s where no-code operations comes in.

How no-code operations is shaping internal systems

It’s rare you’ll find someone that debates the need for internal tooling—it is, after all, the lifeblood of a smooth-operating organization. But why create internal tools through a no-code approach (as opposed to a code-based approach)?

Airtable’s own David Peterson, who originated the term, explains that the need for no-code operations stems from two primary tooling needs: speed and specificity. Both, as he points out, are needs that no-code operations is uniquely poised to solve.

Removing speed as a limiting factor

Formal internal tools are generally prefaced by manual, jury-rigged processes. Think about your most repetitive tasks in a job—like data entry or approval workflows.

Take, for example, a pricing approval workflow. If a member of your sales team wants to discount your product, they probably have to coordinate with a combination of sales operations and sales management to approve it. And depending on factors like the depth of the discount, that workflow might involve even more stakeholders. If you’re responsible for facilitating those approvals, it can take hours, or even days to complete—even when the process is standardized.

While manual processes like these get the job done, they also eat into valuable time. Workarounds like manual coordination can take hours out of your week. And it takes longer still to build a tool that can solve for it. So for many, tackling it manually becomes the only option.

The no-code operations approach can widen the range of people who can solve those types of problems effectively. So instead of pushing the workflow problems of the entire organization into the lap of engineering—or into a complex suite of point solutions—it more evenly distributes the burden.

And the nature of no-code operations means that you can get a functional tool up and running even faster. By using pre-made “building blocks,” teams can build internal tools in a fraction of the time it’d take to build a custom-coded solution.

Addressing niche pain points with niche solutions

No-code operations also enables a new level of customization in internal tooling.

The needs of each individual company, team, and role sit at a narrow intersection of operational challenges. Solving them with one-size-fits-all tools across the organization is difficult at best.

Consider, again, the example of a pricing approval workflow. The discounts you can offer are highly dependent on your company’s unique policies, procedures, products, and stakeholders. A tool that automates it needs to be specially designed to navigate each of those needs and nuances. But that level of nuance is challenging to capture if you haven’t executed the process firsthand.

When you empower individuals to create their own tools—especially the people that historically relied on engineering to do the same thing—you unlock a new world of niche solutions. And by removing the need to code in order to participate, no-code operations empowers those people to be a part of the process.  

This snippet from David Peterson puts it best:

When the person who feels the pain is also empowered to build the solution, the result is magical and utterly unique. Mass market software forces us to conform to a specific way of working. No longer. With no-code tools, you can build a workflow that matches how you actually do your work.

No-code operations could, in the future, serve as a consultative role across an organization. By working with individual teams to understand their niche pain points, no-code operations could be the function to create custom solutions. From there, they could teach those teams how to use no-code tools to allow them to tweak and customize their tooling even further on their own. The result would be a streamlined network of internal systems, continually iterated on by the people that actually use them.

A growing demand for no-code operations

While the concept of “no-code operations” is still in its infancy, for some, it’s already a full-time job. Companies like MarketerHire and On Deck have ventured to hire employees to cover a variety of operational functions through low and no-code tools. Titles run the gamut from “no-code operations” to “automation engineer,” and more.

Skills of a no-code operations hire

As a new role, the skillset is, in some ways, still being defined. But even in these early stages, a few key requirements have emerged:

  • An affinity for processes and systems thinking: Systems thinking isn’t just for software engineers. Those in no-code operations roles need to be able to contextualize even niche workflows in the grand scheme of company operations. It’s not enough to solve one discrete problem—those solutions also need to fit into the existing operational framework.
  • Strong functional knowledge of low-code and no-code tools: No no-code operations hire can function without understanding of low and no-code tools. They don’t need to be an expert in every low or no-code tool in the landscape. But they do need to show expertise in their chosen no-code stack, and have an understanding of similar tools that exist outside of it.
  • First-rate communication skills: As the de facto workflow advisor for teams across the organization, a no-code operations hire needs to be able to communicate—and listen—like a skillful consultant. The ability to understand the world of their internal customer is key to addressing the wildly specific challenges they face. Grasping those challenges is the key to crafting meaningful solutions. And that starts with good communication.
  • A knack for creativity and resourcefulness: A no-code operations hire needs to be resourceful, above all else. After all, the role’s primary function is to build meaningful internal tools out of pre-made building blocks, as provided by low- and no-code tools. Since they’re addressing novel problems, they need to understand how to mix and combine their building blocks to create new solutions.
  • Extreme attention to detail: Similar to communication, this soft skill is core to building meaningful internal tooling. A solution, however neat, isn’t useful unless it solves the unique pain points of the teams that need it. A no-code operations hire needs to understand and revel in the details that separate a functional solution from one that can 10x team productivity.

No-code operations in the future

So what’s the future of no-code operations? It’s impossible to know for sure. But job boards like NoCodery and Makerpad highlight a clear continued demand for no-code skillsets.

At scale, it’s unclear whether the need for no-code expertise will fall on dedicated no-code operations hires, or operations specialists in each functional area—like marketing automation specialists might for marketing. But in either case, the speed and specificity no-code operations can bring to internal tooling is hard to ignore. And for organizations dedicated to streamlining their work, it’s unlikely to go unnoticed.

No-code operations is just one part of a larger low- and no-code movement that’s changing the way people work. Learn more about how these tools are changing the nature of work in this piece.

*e signup form:*
Sign up for Airtable for free
More for the record