Power Automate Desktop: How Do Developers Fit into the No-Code World?
Twenty-five years ago I learned how to program in Mrs. Homa’s computer class in high school. She taught me about the evolution of programming and how “One day, you’ll be able to program in very abstract ways. It’s going to get much easier to build complex things. Maybe you won’t even have to know how to program.” At the time, the idea seemed like a far-off fantasy to me.
She taught me how to manage the bits and the bytes. I learned how at the low level computers spoke in binary, on top of that a layer of assembly code, above that, another layer that I could understand. In the time since that class, many many layers have been added.
The cost of “custom” software has fallen dramatically
With a deep pool of generalized knowledge and decades of experience, programmers like me are expensive. Even with global remote availability, the cost of getting someone who understands software at its core (and can also communicate well with humans) is not likely to decrease. Demand for programmers is just too high.
The world, however, is changing.
If you think about it, many forms of software do the same things: Store data in some kind of database, let certain people add to it, let others read the data and perhaps allow a different group to delete or update the data. This is a well-worn category of software that programmers around the world have been building for decades.
But while those thousands of programmers work on building these apps again and again, small groups have been building tools to ease the job of building software of this form. Slowly after years and multiple generations of software tooling, we’ve reached a point the industry is calling the “No Code Revolution.” And instead of being the latest headline in the hype machine, there is merit to this movement.
Using No-Code platforms like Power Automate or Zapier or IFTTT or many others, non-programmers can connect the inputs and outputs of hundreds of web-enabled services to create interesting behaviors linking many different components together. Instead of having to understand the entire software stack, simple operations can be stacked like Lego pieces to create useful processes that achieve real business results. As a form of prototyping or to automate well-known tasks, these tools actually perform as billed.
The effort to build software, so long as it acts in familiar ways, has fallen to the point where many complex systems can be built with ease. In the coming years, thousands of seasoned programmers will find themselves replaced because of this.
And so, another cycle begins.
Automation for everyone, again
Just this month, Microsoft announced that their latest automation software, Power Automate Desktop, will be free for all Windows 10 users for local use. But is this really anything new?
Automation software has been around for decades! Apple has offered forms of it as far back as System 7, available either through AppleScript or Automator. It’s been perpetually touted as “the next big thing”, but if you could record an AppleScript in 1993, why is this anything worth getting excited about now?
Well, as with just about anything with computers, it’s all boring until you connect it to a network. Power Automate Desktop links closely with the Power Automate cloud, meaning you can weave local computer automation in and around 480+ services, nearly all of which you can trigger remotely. And this is where it gets interesting.
While other automation platforms boast thousands of connected services, Power Automate Desktop is one little app. But by the nature of its connection to Power Automate cloud, this little app can fill in any hole not offered by a remote service.
With some creativity, these tools allow most moving parts of a business to be partially replaced with automation. (This breaks down in the edge case, but imagine the distance you can go with a small team whose only responsibility is to deal with edge-cases… and automate those away too.)
Last year we all learned how quick exponential growth can be. So while the tooling to support this is new, as in just this month for most of us, watch this space. Each automation frees smart teams to do more automation. The distance that can be covered by a small team has never been greater.
The future world Mrs. Homa taught me about feels like it has arrived, but the fundamentals haven’t changed. Programming is as she taught me, just a matter of asking “What does the computer need to do?” over and over again until I’ve reached the answers I need. This still applies today and you can use it at a high level to plan how you (or a competitor of yours) will automate.
You can’t say to a computer “just make it do the thing” without first identifying your goal. Automation is not magic.
With more than half a lifetime of programming, getting it right comes down to asking the right questions. If you ask the right questions of yourself, your team, or your customers, you’ll find that the answers to those questions will guide you towards the right place for automation.
Starting this doesn’t involve any technology at all. Instead, start with questions like “What processes cause my/my team/my customers the most pain?”, “Where have I/my team/my customers run into issues?”, “What questions am I/my team/my customers having to answer over and over again?”
The answers you find to those questions are your guiding light.
You can start with that today.
I’ll be happy to help you in your journey. I can help you find the right questions to ask and with those answers, we can build automation together. Or, if you just enjoyed this blog post, send me a note with your feedback or thoughts. I’m always happy to meet smart people like you.