Challenges with maintaining up-to-date documentation
Unly made the early decision to embrace no-code in 2019. Each new product was launched using no-code techniques and relied on various tools such as Stacker and Airtable. Numerous scripts were present, either in Airtable automations or Airtable formulas. This required keeping copies of these scripts to track changes. Additionally, identifying dependencies was challenging without a centralized repository of elements.
In the span of 4 years, dozens of databases and around 20 apps, either internal or external, were created. In total, no less than 10 thousand database fields, thousands of users, and dozens of no-code, low-code and “with-code” tools are used to maintain the full tech stack. All this was built by a single developer.
Quickly, it became vital to consolidate all this knowledge and technical debts in a way that allowed us to keep moving forward fast. No-code makes it so much easier to move at higher speed and velocity, but keeping control is essential, or one will effectively end up hitting a wall.
One of the most strategic advantages of our in-house solution was that it allowed us to understand the “web” of all tools we used, and quickly understand how the smallest change could affect our entire ecosystem. Another one was that we had backup of every piece of configuration, formula and script we were using, I couldn’t have slept well without both of those key foundations.
“Having reliable documentation is crucial for producing high-quality no-code applications. ncScale automatically provides us with an overview of our entire ecosystem.”
Co-founder & CTO at Unly
Coming from a professional developer background, I used to have a lot of tools at my disposal, ones I didn’t have to invent myself. Tools like Git are used to streamline the collaboration when working on software. Tools like GitHub take this even further, and help with reviewing work and control the flow of the team, it brings collaboration to another level.
Unfortunately, No-code tools lack this maturity. Most tools out there are simply not at the quality level any experienced developer would expect. Tools like Stacker, Noloco are not collaborative-first and require teams to come up with their own inventive solutions to avoid breaking havoc when updating things at the same time. Airtable shines in that regard, by behaving reliably no matter how many people are working on the same database at the same time.
Unfortunately again, none of those tools is mature enough as far as “balancing technical debt” goes. While Airtable allows for extensive documentation of databases, it completely fails to give us “the big picture”. Using Airtable, Zapier, Make and plenty other tools without any kind of big picture is doomed to fail. What happens when one teammate renames a database field because they want the column to “look nice when exporting a CSV”? Most companies out there don’t even think about those kinds of questions, and it’s those little things that break most havoc into the not-so tranquil flow of most startups.
Consolidating low-code items in one place
Prior to ncScale, manually saving copies of all these elements on Github was necessary. Approximately 30% of development time was spent on documentation, involving the tedious process of copying and pasting scripts and other scattered no-code elements across different tools. The choice of ncScale became evident once Airtable script integration was supported. Now, the list of elements is synchronized, eliminating the need to copy scripts on Github to ensure access to code in one central location.
Ensuring reliable documentation
Having reliable documentation is crucial for producing high-quality no-code applications. ncScale provides automatic and dependable visibility of all no-code elements. This allows Unly to continue moving forward and always keep innovating without slowing down, and without fear of overlooking important aspects.
“The time saved is evident: instead of spending hours digging to locate a specific element, the simple full-text search instantly finds these elements.”
Co-founder & CTO at Unly
Achieving a Comprehensive View of the Infrastructure:
ncScale allows for control and verification before making any changes, determining whether something will break or not. This makes the infrastructure much more robust than before. The time saved is evident: instead of spending hours digging to locate a specific element, the simple full-text search instantly finds these elements.
It is, in my humble opinion, a good-enough reason to use ncScale. This is, by far, the most important feature ncScale has to offer at this time. And it’s something very few companies own at this time, not just anybody has the ability to build such a similar in-house system.
ncScale makes it a breeze, link your tools and that’s it, you don’t have to think hard and long about it.
ncScale is the first actor to focus on documentation-at-scale (AKA “the big picture”). It was simply obvious to me we had to get closer to them and help them design their product and help shape their vision, simply by sharing what we needed the most. And, after a year of hard work and continuous feedback, those efforts paid off.
Our documentation and our ability to understand how any data is intrinsically linked to all other no-code tools we use was our main strength. I couldn’t afford to lose that. I couldn’t afford to lose the peace of mind of knowing exactly how removing/renaming a field would affect our entire tech stack. And for a long time, ncScale didn’t provide any tool that was doing better than what we were doing in-house.
Until then, I kept an eye on ncScale, mostly to serve as a guide through the ever-so eventful journey of a startup. When they released their “Full-Text search”, which is more powerful that anything I could have done myself, I knew the time to switch tools had come.
Our own home-made solution served us greatly, but was too time consuming, and the manual process left a lot to be desired. I made mistakes, forgot to update some things, and got lazy, too.
But now, I don’t have to spend all this time to keep things in-sync. ncScale is far more reliable than my manual old-school process and frees up a lot of my time.
To be completely honest, it isn’t as good as what I want, yet.
I have quite high standards for quality, after all.
But I’ll keep my efforts to help the team bring the most out of it. I trust ncScale will become the de-facto tool to “Manage No-Code technical debt at scale”, the one tool that every company will be using within a few years to help drive innovation, it’s only a matter of time.
Unly is a social impact EdTech company founded in 2018, which aims to simplify student financing and make education more accessible.