Automate all the things
"She very politely asked me what exactly ‘no code’ was" by Zoelle Egner
This week, I'm excited to welcome Zoelle Egner (@zoelle) as a guest poster. Zoelle led marketing and customer success in the early days at Airtable. Today, she's offering her time and expertise to VaccinateCA helping get as many jabs in arms as possible. I've written about the difference between no-code twitter and the real world before. Zoelle's piece below is a much better take on the differences between the two (and how we should work to eliminate that difference). Enjoy!
Hello everyone! I’m writing to you from sunny Oakland, California, where I’m up to my eyeballs in civic technology at the moment (working on vaccination efforts at Vaccinate The States) and thinking about who “no code” is for. Specifically, I would like to issue a call to arms to spend more time trying to get no code in the hands of people like my friend L.
If you’ve spent any time on no code Twitter, you’ve probably noticed that many of the loudest voices in the community are folks working on no code side hustles (I say this with love, but—does the world need yet another job board? I am not sure, friends. I am not sure) or startups or consulting. That’s awesome! But it sometimes feels a little like an echo chamber, doesn’t it? A lot of the same types of people, working on the same types of problems.
And yet— once upon a time I worked at Airtable, and I saw a vastly different set of people every single day. Not just startup people - big company people, nonprofit people, education people, you name it. That person in your friend circle who is always ready to make a spreadsheet to organize the group vacation. You know the type.
Y’all: almost none of those people had (have!) heard of no code. Indeed, when I met L at Vaccinate The States, she very politely asked me what exactly ‘no code’ was. And yet, L is the most perfect no code target customer I have ever met. She stays up late on nights and weekends for the sheer joy of tinkering with Zapier. Her color coding game is exquisite. And, maybe most novel for this readership, other people are actually willing to use the systems she builds. Successfully! Hundreds of them! The tools and workflows she’s made with Zapier and Airtable and Google Sheets and Mailchimp have been used to build the most comprehensive map of vaccination sites in the US (40% more than vaccines.gov) in record time, with minimal errors, almost entirely using volunteer researchers and callers.
People like L should be among the poster children for no code. The top targets for every platform. They’re not just curious and resourceful - they make things that work in the real world with other humans.
The way I see it, there are two paths to bringing more Ls to no code (and vice versa):
1. Find the existing Ls and persuade them to try it.
2. Find the existing no coders and make them more like L.
Speaking from experience at Airtable: #1 is not impossible, but it’s not easy either. You have to start with the problems they are trying to solve, and work backwards. (As you may have guessed, there are a lot of problems out there in the world, so this takes some time.) If you work for a no code platform, take my advice: come up with a strategy to find some Ls. If you’re a member of the community hoping to see it expand: find your spreadsheet loving pals and invite them to the party. Stay focused on practical benefits rather than the abstract virtues of no code. They’ll catch on quickly.
For the rest of you no coders in the audience, how can you be more like L and succeed in building sticky systems? Three quick lessons I’ve learned in the four months we’ve worked together:
- Remember to design your systems with people in mind. L understands deeply that people play a key role in any system, not just tools. Everything she builds, she builds with an obsessive focus on how people will interact with it. What will confuse them? What will make them feel unwelcome? What will bore them? What will keep them coming back?
- Over-invest in onboarding and documentation for your systems. For any new tool L creates, you can expect a guide with screenshots, a video, and a dedicated Slack channel for questions.
- Set up a dedicated and low-friction way to capture user feedback—and execute on it *immediately*. L likes Slack, so that’s how she gets her inputs. And because she’s building with no code tools, she incorporates system and tool feedback ASAP when she gets it, so people will keep bringing her more. It makes the system more resilient over time from both a people and design perspective.
by Zoelle Egner