The Best Lean-Code Development Platforms

Learn about the industry-leading examples of lean code development platforms and how they accelerate the software development process.

Ben Lloyd Pearson | February 3, 2021

At Nylas, we’re on a mission to empower developers to build excellent communications and scheduling functionality. In a previous article, we introduced the concept of a lean code development platform to describe a growing trend of developer services that abstract away explicit requirements of the software development process into implicit configurations, scripts, templates, and API requests.

This term defines what a growing list of companies and software projects have set out to accomplish. We think it’s time for these efforts to get the recognition they deserve as a genuinely unique movement in developer empowerment. This article will cover the best examples of lean code design philosophy to provide greater context to this movement’s current state.

Want a PDF of this article?

Share it with a friend or save it for later reading.

Infrastructure Deployment

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) products are among the most widespread examples of lean-code approaches to development challenges. AWS, Digital Ocean, Azure, Google Cloud, and the like abstract away physical computer hardware’s explicit requirements into implicit software configurations. With these products, developers can easily leverage hardware virtualization, networking, security, and data storage without becoming experts at the underlying technology; these platforms reduce hardware configurations into simplified scripts, configurations, and API requests. The primary goal is to help developers more quickly get to a point where they can deploy their software.

The examples above target general developer audiences, i.e., those companies would prefer it if every developer used their platform. But, other companies focus more tightly on a specific audience niche that is seeking distinct solutions. For example, Algolia provides a back end API service that makes it easy for developers to integrate search functionality into their software. They eliminate the need for infrastructure to handle content indexing and build relational data maps via machine learning. Algolia isn’t an IaaS company like the products listed above. However, they still provide infrastructure to help developers solve a specific problem quickly to move on to bigger and better things.

Software Development & Deployment Workflows

Another common type of lean-code developer platform is the rich ecosystem of Continuous Integration / Continuous Delivery (CI/CD) solutions that exist in the market. These tools abstract complex build and deployment pipelines down to comparatively basic configuration files. Companies like Travis CI and Circle CI have found ways to monetize CI/CD as SaaS solutions, but the real rulers of this space are the numerous, beloved open source build services like Jenkins, Screwdriver.cd, Concourse CI, and GitLab CI. There is also an enormous selection of related open source software you can orchestrate to suit virtually any software deployment need. 

Today, these tools are a table-stakes feature for any code development platform and have evolved to produce products like GitHub Actions and Harness. At the core of these efforts is the idea that it should be easy to create trigger conditions that initiate associated data and processing flows. These solutions accomplish this by abstracting away infrastructure requirements to drastically simplify the effort required to connect multiple services in tandem.

Meeting Developer Needs Across the Entire Stack

What might be the best indication of the lean-code movement’s maturity is the emergence of companies that focus on building solutions for the entire development stack. Twilio is one of the most notable examples; their platform started with APIs that connect developers to traditional phone voice and SMS communications. This seemingly simple API hid a relatively complex orchestration of services that managed the entire process of transmitting digital voice and text communications to conventional phone service providers. 

Without a solution like Twilio, every developer who wanted to provide SMS communications to their users would need to become experts at SMS connectivity. The task of building the necessary infrastructure often greatly outweighs the benefits developers will provide to their users, making the project practically infeasible. Further, Twilio has expanded its product line to include a wide range of services that help developers build SMS and voice communications tools. Companies like Twilio step up to be the experts at SMS and voice integrations so developers don’t need to become experts themselves.

Yet, Twilio’s SMS and voice connectivity APIs are relatively simple examples; other similar companies sometimes face much more significant challenges that can reach outside the realm of technical infrastructure. Stripe offers APIs that connect developers to financial networks, an area that is fraught with complicated legal regulations and compliance standards. Since Stripe is an expert at these regulations, they provide developers with out-of-the-box support for commonly-encountered PCI compliance requirements.

Stripe also has a much bigger interest in user experience than a company like Twilio. Users most commonly consume SMS and voice communications via their phone’s default apps; thus, most of the integrations developers build with the SMS and voice APIs are back-end software only. On the other hand, payment processing involves handling user interactions, which is why Stripe also provides their Elements product: a front-end, embeddable UI component that enables users to input payment information. Not only is Stripe making it easier to connect to financial networks, but they’re also making it easier to consume those connections with a robust user experience. This holistic focus across the entire software development stack is becoming the norm among lean-code solution providers and is the hallmark of an industry-leading lean-code development platform.

Lean Code is Here to Stay

Software is eating the world, and any business that wants to keep up needs to produce software that meets its users’ needs quickly. Lean-code development platforms are increasingly becoming the best solution, particularly for companies who want to be market leaders.  If you want to learn more about this concept, read about how Nylas has applied the lean-code philosophy to machine learning for communications and scheduling and email send capabilities. Did we miss any great examples of lean-code development platforms? Share them in the comments!

Ben Lloyd Pearson

Ben is the Developer Advocate for Nylas. He is a triathlete, musician, avid gamer, and loves to seek out the best breakfast tacos in Austin, Texas.