Don’t Let Coding Become a Necessary Evil
PSYCH 223 is an infamous class at the University of Michigan. Every entrepreneurship major and minor is required to pass it.
The class is so special because the experience is many students first “dip” into entrepreneurship. Over the course of a semester, you and a team of four need to build something to sell, and then pitch it in front of the class.
Then, the class of ~600 students vote on which were the best. The top teams are invited to pitch their product in front of actual venture capitalists in Detroit.
I was very fortunate to be recognized as a top team.
There were many important decisions that lead to my success in entrepreneurship class in college. But I would say the absolute most crucial decision was to forgo coding — instead relying on drag and drop tools to build my websites and mobile applications.
In PSYCH 223, our team was comprised of brilliant designers, business people, and academics. That said, we had a glaring problem with our team.
I was the only programmer — which put us at a huge technical disadvantage as other winning teams usually consisted of 3+ computer scientists. Right from the get-go this problem made me nervous about our ability to produce a tangible product.
Our PSYCH 223 team: Pnutech. We created pneumonic learning devices for students in college and bundled them into a mobile application
We did have plenty of knowledge surrounding the product we wanted to build. Additionally we ran a plethora of surveys and beta tests throughout the semester.
One would think that information gathering like this would lead to us narrowing our scope on what app to build. But veteran entrepreneurs know that more information leads to more questions. The more tests we ran, the more features we were eager to try within a legitimate application.
With the amount of features we wanted to try, it would’ve been impossible for a solo developer to program a mobile app in Swift/Java fast enough. That’s why drag and drop programs were my crutch.
Drag and drop tools made it easy to change bits and pieces of our app.
Every line of code is expensive. There’s a lot of sunk cost that goes into app development. The entrepreneurship teams we competed with often felt obligated to sick to their original plans for their application. Even if they realized that particular features within their app were lackluster upon being built.
Not us. We were able to test features in hours then erase them or pivot the next day. Drag and drop tools embodies agile development.
Another big benefit was that we were able to get non-programmers in on the action. If my hands were tied, some of the businesspeople could step in and make edits. This made everyone a team player and actualized teammates that otherwise would’ve been blocked.
Once the final mobile app was built, we definitely received some criticism. Many computer science elitists were bitter that we didn’t program our app “the traditional way.”
Some of their criticism is certainly warranted. For instance, our app probably wasn’t as performant as others. It probably wasn’t as scalable as others since our cost would’ve increased exponentially as we added on new users.
But at the end of the day, they had a very performant, very scalable MVP that can’t pivot and doesn’t have a good market fit.
We had a decently performant, decently scalable MVP that could pivot and was more professional and thought-out than the competition by miles.
That’s what the professor and the class recognized when we pitched our product. It’s why we were able to eek out a technical victory with less programming talent.
I’m not going to preach that drag and drop tools are the “future of programming” or that they’re some sort of silver bullet for every technical challenge. They’re not. There’s certainly instances where one needs to fire up Xcode and get their hands dirty.
That said, I’m amazed by how many technical challenges would be better served by drag and drop programs than by native coding.
As a freelance developer, I often work with clients who want to build a simple mobile app for ~50 people to use a few times a month. I tell them that they could probably program it themselves in a week using a drag and drop tool.
Even though I’m a software developer with three years of experience, I still choose to use a drag and drop tool called
Thunkable over native code for some freelance projects. It’s simply faster, cheaper, and delivers a less buggy-product than the alternatives.
That’s why the stigma against using drag and drop programs is completely unfounded.
So if you’re a developer or even a business-person who has a cool app idea, I highly recommend trying a drag and drop tool.
I’m living proof that you can benefit big by becoming an early adopter.
Knowing when to code and when to not, is an undervalued skill that can skyrocket your abilities as an entrepreneur, freelance developer, or hobbyist.
Cheers and good luck on your product development. Here’s my question of the day: