What is Lean Code?

Lean-code development platforms are emerging as leading solutions for companies who want to be software development leaders.

Ben Lloyd Pearson | February 2, 2021

Lean Code –  A software development design philosophy that emphasizes simplicity, efficiency, flexibility, and accessibility.

Lean-Code Development Platform –  A developer service that abstracts away the explicit requirements of standard functions, interactions, errors, and software infrastructure into implicit configurations, scripts, templates, and API requests.

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Software is eating the world, and the companies that lead their industries are increasingly doing so by being leaders in software development. The most basic software integration can have numerous moving parts for data filtering and processing, notifications, user experience, error handling, and more. Not to mention the inherent need for all aspects of any integration to be secure. Each of these items can have numerous explicit requirements that a good engineering team will consider. What do you do when you don’t have an in-house team of experts to guide you towards fulfilling your requirements? 

This expertise gap is the foundation of lean-code solutions that turn as many explicit requirements as possible into implicit interactions that any developer can leverage. Lean-code solutions focus on empowering your development team to more quickly build features at a higher level of quality than they would otherwise be able to on their own. Here are some examples of how lean-code development platforms can increase the velocity of software development teams:

  • Eliminate the need to build elaborate infrastructure to solve complex problems for what otherwise might be a simple use case.
  • Reduce the amount of code developers need to write by turning explicit requirements into implicit interactions.
  • Supply tools that help at all levels of the software stack.
  • Provide automated services to solve common use cases.
  • Provide the flexibility for developers to customize everything to fit their exact needs.

How is Lean-Code Different than Low-Code?

Lean-code shares one of the same fundamental goals as low-code: make software development more accessible. However, that’s where the similarities stop. Low-code emerged as a term to describe platforms that democratize the software development process by enabling armies of citizen developers from less-technical backgrounds. The notion of introducing more audiences to software development concepts like conditional logic, object-oriented programming, interface design, and code syntax is honorable. Still, these platforms’ reality is that they often reach limitations as users seek more significant levels of customization.

The problem with the low-code approach is that no two software development journeys are alike; you’ll certainly need to implement custom code at some point. A good development platform enables this customization by default rather than restricting it to selected frameworks and products. Despite the use of software development language, low-code solutions intend to reduce your development team’s size, making them an antithesis to software development leadership.

On the other hand, lean-code platforms specifically target developers to meet their needs at all parts of the software development process. The goal is to enable all developers to do more, from total newbies learning new technologies to seasoned veterans who want to take their app further. Lean-code platforms allow you to explore new avenues and expand your development effort rather than encourage you to reduce your development team’s size. This developer empowerment is the crux of lean-code design philosophy.

What Are Some Examples of Lean-Code?

Lean code has emerged as the leading design philosophy in three key software development areas:

  • Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) companies like AWS, Azure, Digital Ocean, and Google Cloud that abstract hardware virtualization, deployment, and networking into simple API requests.
  • Continuous Integration solutions like Jenkins, Travis CI, Circle CI, and Screwdriver that represent elaborate build and deployment pipelines as configuration files and scripts.
  • Developer platforms like Twilio, Stripe, and Algolia who provide complete solutions to specific software development challenges via API requests, user experience libraries, and logistical support. 

However, it’s not limited to these areas of technology, and you can apply the lean-code philosophy to practically any area of technology.  These three areas are simply the places this movement has manifested the strongest, with the latter being the clearest example of lean-code development platforms. 

What is the Future of Lean-Code?

In 2019, Slash Data estimated there were just under 19 million active developers globally. That number is expected to grow to 45 million by 2030; this represents a sizable market of people looking for better software development solutions. Lean-code development platforms are emerging as a top-tier choice for companies who want to be software leaders, and it appears that this trend is unlikely to stop any time soon. If you want to learn more about lean-code, read about how Nylas has applied this concept to machine learning for communications and scheduling or how we’ve used this approach to solve common problems developers face when sending emails.

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.