Is this the beginning of the end for hand coding?

The next generation of web tools aren’t just aspiring to replace Photoshop and Fireworks. They appear to be keen to replace the need for hand coding HTML and CSS too.

Our industry is littered with the graves of out of date skill sets and obsolete technologies. Apple refuses to support Flash on the iPhone and it goes from being a common platform to a niche technology. Anybody remember Cold Fusion, or working in Tables for that matter?

Technologies come and go. Those who see the change coming and adapt survive, while those who stubbornly hold on end up becoming an irrelevance. It is both the joy and terror of our sector.

Last week I watched the demo of Macaw, a new graphics tool for creating websites. It is one of a new generation of graphics packages built using HTML and CSS to as closely mirror designing in the browser as possible.

Although it is early days, the demo of Macaw makes me wonder whether hand coding HTML and CSS might not become a thing of the past.

What caught my eye was the fact that Macaw doesn’t stop at being a Photoshop or Fireworks replacement, it also wants to write your HTML and CSS too. Like the WYSIWYG editors of old, it aims to replace the need for front-end coding skills.

Upon seeing this my immediate response was to dismiss this feature as being ‘fine for small sites’ or ‘great for prototyping,’ but that it could never be good enough to use on a ‘serious production site’.

However, as the demo went on I was impressed at just how good the code was and how much control it provided on how the code was written. This was not the spaghetti code of Dreamweaver. This was semantic HTML and remarkably clean CSS.

Sure it wasn’t going to be as good as code written by a specialist. However, it left me wondering whether it was good enough.

  • Good enough to use on a production site.
  • Good enough to seriously undermine the need for dedicated front-end coders.
  • Good enough to question the additional time and money it would cost to hand code something.

Of course it is early days. I haven’t actually played with the app (things will always look good in a demo video), but it did start me wondering if this might be the beginning of the end for front-end coders.

My son is eleven years old and I am currently teaching him HTML and CSS. I can’t help wondering whether I am teaching him a skill that will be redundant by the time he enters the job market. We are not there yet, but Macaw might just give us a glimpse of things to come.

What do you think?

  • Jesse

    Hey Paul, I have had the same exact thought as well. I am currently teaching my wife to code HTML and CSS and she ask’s questions that of which any person new to development would ask, “isn’t there something out there that does this for you by now?” I have played around with Macaw a bit and other like it and they are impressive for sure (so much better that DW ever was). I have just recently updated my workflow to include Sass, Cofeescript, and Gulp.js and I have realized this. As this new tools for modern web development roll out, I think they will inevitably leave WYSIWYG tools like these in the dust, at least for more demanding development.

  • ableright

    You just explained why this won’t replace people that know how to code such as myself. These templates might even be used by PROGRAMMERS with a programmers mindset on solving problems such as myself. They might even be used versus a CSS library with something like Bootstrap at some point. This won’t however replace a client’s need for coders and coding complex things especially on the server side level with languages like PHP and a need to database interaction with MYSQL and a database API. For example a client needs a custom login page where customers get XYZ benefit from logging in or secure access to ABC information. This is solely reliant on the needs of the business, something Macaw can’t possibly do.

    So yes, things like Macaw might become mainstream for rapid UI development, but they won’t replace developers/coders/programmers (whatever you want to call us) that know what we’re doing, and how thing work behind the scenes.

  • ableright

    These templates might even be used by PROGRAMMERS with a programmers mindset on solving problems such as myself. They might even be used versus a CSS library with something like Bootstrap at some point. This won’t however replace a client’s need for coders and coding complex things especially on the server side level with languages like PHP and a need to database interaction with MYSQL and a database API. For example a client needs a custom login page where customers get XYZ benefit from logging in or secure access to ABC information. This is solely reliant on the needs of the business, something Macaw can’t possibly do.

    So yes, things like Macaw might become mainstream for rapid UI development, but they won’t replace developers/coders/programmers (whatever you want to call us) that know what we’re doing, and how thing work behind the scenes.

  • ableright

    When you get to server side programming PHP (an actual programming language) you can’t possibly use drag and drop tools for all the endless possibilities an individual client might need, especially if it further involves database MYSQL interaction which most dynamically generator content sites require.

    Do you think sites like Facebook, or let’s even say your banking website that you login to could be made using drag and drop tools with Macaw? Of course not, and that’s where programmers are needed.

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