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Transitioning Your Career to Low-Code, and Fear - Xebia

Transitioning Your Career to Low-Code, and Fear

Introduction
Hello! I am Craig St. Jean, an OutSystems MVP based in Ohio, United States. I am a dedicated Xebian, driven by a high degree of intellectual curiosity and a desire to share what I’ve learned. In this post, I want to tell you about my journey from a high-code and being a full-stack developer to a low-code OutSystems developer.

What kind of fear did I have when I decided to transform my career in that path? What have I gained along the way, and what have I lost? If you're early in your career, how can low-code help bring you forward and elevate what you can do?

My Background (Short Version)

I started programming in 1995, doing C, C++, and many other things. I started programming professionally in 2006 for a property and casualty insurance company on a big Java stack. At that time, we were using BEA WebLogic before Oracle bought it. Then, we migrated to IBM WebSphere Application Server. After that, I took my path toward .Net and kind of went back and forth between those. Next, when single-page applications in JavaScript became a thing, I went down that path, and from there, I went towards OutSystems.

Why OutSystems?

Going from full-stack high-code to OutSystems is a bit of a jump, right? So, why did I make the switch? When I first started evaluating OutSystems and some of the other low-code offerings, I was looking for where the platform would simply not work for me. As I proceeded, it just never hit that point. I could do what I wanted in the way that I wanted to. And for the few circumstances that there was something that I really couldn't do natively in the platform, they had a well-thought-through alternative, for example, with C# extensions in OutSystems for when you have some existing SDK that you want to pull in. Then I started thinking, “okay, maybe I've been thinking about this a little bit wrong,” and I started to dive deeper into OutSystems. Ultimately, I rethought my position on low code and started considering moving my career in that direction.

Fear of Transition

Coming from being a full-stack developer, I had a lot of fear in going towards low-code. I had questions like:

  • Can I still get a job as a high-code developer?
  • If this doesn't work out for me, who's going to hire me?
    - Are they just going to say, “I see that you've got some old experience with Java, .Net, and JavaScript, but you haven't been coding for the past couple of years, so you're out of practice?”

Those were my main concerns. I tried to mitigate the concerns by continuing to code on the side as I was going down my OutSystems journey, but that's also because I love to learn new things. Proceeding through my journey, what I ultimately found was that the fear is a bit irrelevant because now I don't want to go back to high code. Today, I'm using OutSystems, but if there's a different platform that makes more sense for me in the future, I can always go towards that and leverage all the experience that I gained by having already made the mindset shift of going from high-code to low-code.

If, for some reason, I decide in the future to go back to high-code, I still know how to Google things ;). That doesn't change. I still know how to use Stack Overflow. Plus, nothing changes between low-code and high-code in terms of tech lead or architect responsibilities or the ability to read and write user stories. The only real change is working through coding, which changes so frequently that even people staying in high code can’t keep up. So, for now, I can spend my time providing as much value as possible to my business customers, and if I want to go back to high code, then I can evaluate the technology landscape in that moment and learn what is important.

What Have I Gained? What Have I Lost?

That transition was very much worth it, and I’ve gained a lot. I want to provide value for other people so they can do their jobs more effectively. That's one of the things that I care about. Moving to low-code, I’ve gained the ability to provide massive amounts of value as quickly as possible, and I continuously provide more and more value.

I've also gained a lot of career growth, in my case, by joining a partner of OutSystems. But I would have gained similar career growth working at an OutSystems customer because of just how much more I can do and how quickly I can do it. I can spend more time asking my customers and business partners, “What's important to you? How can I help you?”

Another thing I've gained is a new outlook on what making and deploying software can be like. It doesn't have to be learning five different technologies and then figuring out how to deploy all these different things to different environments. It doesn’t have to ensure my database changes are in sync with my application deployment and that I didn't accidentally forget to deploy a microservice that this application depends on. I don't need to worry about that anymore. So, I've gained confidence that what I'm building will work. And I've gained, or lost rather, a significant amount of stress in building and deploying software for my customers.

Last is that OutSystems has an amazing community. When you look at some technology communities, some of them can be rather… toxic. Some of them can be quiet, and some of them are vibrant and thriving. In the case of OutSystems, the community is vibrant and thriving. I've gained many new friends whom I can collaborate with and the ability to participate in something bigger than myself.

What have I lost other than a great deal of stress? I've certainly lost all that time that I used to spend looking for semicolons where I forgot them. All that time trying to figure out why my Maven build didn't work because the conventions of the pom.xml file differed from my understanding of how it worked. I will admit, I've lost the joy of writing code all day, heads down with headphones on, writing massive amounts of code, because I don't need to do that anymore. I can work with low code and build something much faster. I still do coding on the side, but that's not bad. It's a very happy thing in my case, but it won't be for everyone.

How Can Low-Code Elevate Your Career?

I’ve mentioned my path, but if you're new to development, what might your path be? With OutSystems, we're talking about a greatly lowered barrier to entry. If you want to go into high-code, you probably need to learn C#, Java, Go, etc., as well as JavaScript, CSS, and multiple frameworks. If you want to build a web application, do you use Razor, Blazor, MAUI, APIs with a JavaScript frontend? If a JavaScript frontend, now you have to learn React, Angular, Vue, Svelte, or something else. Then, you will have to learn T-SQL, PL/SQL, or an ORM like Entity Framework or JPA to interact with your database. Add on learning how to manage Jenkins or Azure DevOps for your release pipelines, and all of these to get a simple application out the door.

With OutSystems, you can skip most of that because it'll just do it for you. Instead of spending all of that time needed to learn, you can provide value to your employer. You still need to have the discipline to get from a junior to a senior and the experience to know when one thing is the right approach versus another, but it's a lot easier with OutSystems because now you don't have to consider so many things. With low code, you build software differently than you would with high code, and you get the ability to build more diverse systems with less experience.

Everything becomes even more significant if you want to build a mobile app. With OutSystems, if you can build a webapp, you can build a mobile app – it’s the same thing. With high code, you have to learn everything above for the backend, but then you also might have to learn Java, Swift, React Native, or other technologies. Most of today’s mobile technologies also don’t help you build for both Android and iOS, and you might have to build your mobile app twice.

The experience takes time, but how much time it takes to get from one milestone to another is greatly shortened when you don't have to spend all that time learning all these different frameworks, trying to piece them together, and so on. Low-code is really an exciting place to be, and you really can take your career and drive it from junior to senior very quickly or take it from senior to an elevated version of that. Most of the people I work with at Netlink Digital Solutions would agree that this has been a career direction for them, and I highly recommend it.

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