Growing up, I taught myself how to code in C++by modding and building add-ons for Wolfenstein 3D. It became my entire world, and I would spend hours sifting through code, working out what made it tick, borrowing books from the library and following along to build my grasp of it all.
I didn’t become a developer for one simple reason; I didn’t have one singular passion. I wanted to do and build and make so many things. I was a budding designer as well as a would-be programmer, I was playing drums, guitar and screaming in a series of hardcore punk bands, I was painting skateboards on commission for my friends, and I was spending hours every day writing, blogging and communicating.
For me, there were so many pathways into being a maker, that I wouldn’t and didn’t dedicate myself solely to coding as the path forward; at the time, I didn’t believe that choice would put me at any kind of disadvantage. I saw the value in everything I did outside programming, from the aesthetics of my design work to the clarity of the messaging that I could write.
It would be years before I’d learn that everything I was passionate about beyond code would be somehow considered “soft skills”. And when I learned that, it took the wind out of my sails. I hated that my inability to produce code meant that the skills I was bringing to the table weren’t important. Weren’t valued. And couldn’t open the door for me.
But it doesn’t have to be like that.
No or low code platforms make building tech products accessible and possible for folks who have so much to offer, creatively and conceptually, and are hampered by their dedication to the development of those skills outside of programming.
When I look at tools like Webflow, I see a chance for anyone who has built up enough exposure to the wild wild word out there through living and working on the edge to put that experience to work and build something that draws on it in a real and meaningful way. I see the next opportunity for technology founders and companies who want to build lean, while still building at scale.
I’ve always been something of an outsider in tech.
First as an openly queer person, then as an activist and ethical capitalist, then as a transgender woman. Finding my place hasn’t been easy. And finding it has come down to carving it out for myself; refusing to acknowledge that there wasn’t a space for me and making one.
That’s how I got my first tech job. That’s how I got my second tech job. That’s how I got every writing credit and tech column I’ve ever written. It’s how I’ve had pieces picked up by Wired. It’s how I’ve founded my own startup and creative studio.
And to me — this is what no code platforms represent. The chance for other folks to do the same thing.
I believe in the democratization of the internet.
What the fuck does that mean?
It means that I want a world in which making is accessible to every single human being. Everyone. Everywhere. I want a world where anybody can dream up an idea and build an app, a product or a platform without having the privilege of access to high end technology or a premium education.
We are past the point where you needed to have an engineering team, or a software design team, in order to build something. That’s a good thing. It doesn’t take 8 months of dev time to build a platform, and it doesn’t take the massive investment it used to either.
I believe in a no-code world, where we can invest in, promote and support the tools that will let a new generation of techies make their own dent in the universe. To me, no-code isn’t about creating the shortest distance between ideas and profit. It’s not even about giving new creatives a seat at the table. It’s about tearing down the existing tables in tech and building entirely new ones.
When I say stop coding — I don’t mean stop building.
Hell no. I mean, take advantage of the new world of no-code platforms that have been leaping forward, to the point that anyone with enough technical knowledge to work Photoshop can build an app and create a startup.
If you are a dev, you can come at these platforms with a level of tech knowledge that will 10x your output. If you’re not, you can learn fast, break s**t without destroying months of your work, and have enough room to play and hack and grow.
There’s so much freedom in a no-code approach, and it lets you avoid the risks associated with investing in R&D. You can build with a DIY approach that gives you access to the intended outcomes for your customers, with a path of least resistance.
It’s a complete blind spot to believe that only those who have a background in software engineering can envision different ways of working, living and being.
…and it’s also a fucking blind spot to think that software engineering itself isn’t an ecosystem of privilege and power. It’s the folks whose parents could afford for them to have a computer growing up. It’s the folks who could afford to go to school.
It’s the folks who managed to get an education, and weren’t bleeding themselves dry in the process.
Sure; there are people like me; people who had to work multiple jobs as a teenager just to help the family get by, who taught herself to code in between shifts at McDonalds’.
We were driven. More than we had to be. More than anyone should be. More than the next generation should need to be. Because our struggle meant that we had to spend less time building, less time making, and more time sweating it out to get across the line. It meant that our creativity was stifled by the pressure of it all. And I don’t want that to happen to anyone coming up now, with an idea and a dream and the will to make it a reality.
Joan Westenberg is an award winning Australian contemporary writer, designer and creative director. She is the founder of branding and advertising firm Studio Self. Her approach to messaging, communication and semiotics has built her reputation as a writer, and she has been named as one of the leading startup voices in Australia by SmartCompany.
Her writing has appeared in The SF Chronicle, Wired, The AFR, The Observer, ABC, Junkee, SBS, Crikey and over 40+ publications. Her regular work can be found on Pizza Party, a blog about creativity, culture and technology. Joan is the creator Transgenderinclusion.com, an open-source workplace inclusion hack, and the author of the book #DIY, a manifesto for indie creativity.