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GitHub supercharges collaboration in open source developer community

Bryan Wu
Bryan Wu • 7 min read
GitHub supercharges collaboration in open source developer community
CEO Thomas Dohmke speaking at the keynote of October’s GitHub Universe event in San Francisco, where the company is headquartered. Photo: GitHub
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GitHub released its first Octoverse report 10 years ago to celebrate having 2.8 million developers on its online software development platform and to explore the state of open source then. Today, the open source landscape has evolved significantly compared to 2012, when businesses were primarily using open source to run their web servers. It now forms the foundation of more than 90% of the world’s software.

Much of this software is supported by GitHub’s vast community of 94 million developers, which the Octoverse 2022 report found had grown almost 30% from the year before. More than 20.5 million new developers joined GitHub from around the world this year, with the largest growth regions outside the US including India, China and Brazil, as well as other countries within the Asia Pacific (Apac) region.

In line with this rapidly expanding community, GitHub’s message at its Universe event last month is clear: the open source ecosystem benefits from collaboration and GitHub will do its part to create inclusive opportunities for all who wish to partake in the open source journey.

“Open source has created a model of collaboration that we believe is fundamentally better, because it creates collaboration across boundaries and across borders. When collaboration is more inclusive and more diverse, it gets elevated and more problems that we are facing in the world can be solved,” GitHub CEO Thomas Dohmke tells DigitalEdge.

Developer community to continue growing

According to Dohmke, the exponential growth in developers is unlikely to slow down over the next couple of years. “So far, we have no indication that this will slow down. The number of developers or people writing code is continuously growing.”

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While the number of computer science graduates — who have always contributed to the developer pool — is increasing, there are now also many other code-writers who may not traditionally have thought of themselves as developers showing an interest in software development. “During the pandemic, we saw data scientists from a number of institutions share their Covid-19 data per county or per state as CSV [comma-separated values] files on GitHub. Those are not necessarily ‘hardcore’ developers, but they are leveraging the file-based code model viewable on GitHub to share data with others,” he says.

There is also a huge market available for GitHub in the artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning space, with massive potential in industries that range widely from the data-handling sciences to animation in the entertainment world. “The pro-code developer space is ever-growing as we need more developers to tackle the challenges of a world surrounded by increasingly complex software,” says Dohmke.

He also highlights the importance of low-code or no-code developers in GitHub’s ecosystem. “GitHub plays a broader role as a developer platform than just professional developers. From data scientists that are collaborating on code to our expanding education programme that involves both students learning code and teachers managing classrooms on GitHub, everything in the software process applies to these projects.”

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Encapsulating Dohmke’s point was the 40% growth rate of GitHub users in Singapore, which accounts for a surprising 736,000 of GitHub’s community despite the country’s overall population size of only 5.5 million people. While this number is not composed entirely of users who fit the traditional definition of a software developer, GitHub is encouraging many of them to start including themselves as part of the developer community.

Martin Woodward, GitHub’s vice president of developer relations, notes that big tech companies, which have a significant presence in Singapore, are actually driving the adoption of open source in the systems. “We’re seeing lots of the most successful software
companies in the world now having open source as part of their core strategy, and the largest communities in open source are actually being driven by these large tech companies,” he says.

“As an open source advocate, that’s a somewhat counterintuitive data point — that big tech companies, far from breaking open source, are actually bringing new people into the community,” he adds.

Woodward says his “main takeaway” from the Octoverse 2022 report is that GitHub is expanding the scope of who developers are, such that their professions or locations are irrelevant to their place in the open source community. “Because the community is growing so big and more people are coming into it, the definition of who a developer is is expanding and becoming much more inclusive. The most diverse ecosystems in nature are the most healthy systems. To me, that’s very reassuring to see.”

Integrated and inclusive

GitHub recently made several major announcements in its efforts to democratise open source coding opportunities for communities around the world, while allowing developers to plan and track their work on the same integrated platform that they build.

GitHub’s AI-powered Copilot tool — which was previously made available to individual developers earlier in the year — will now be made available to businesses of all sizes. The AI pair programmer uses OpenAI Codex to suggest code and entire functions in real time from
developers’ editors, which internal studies have shown can increase developer productivity by 55%.

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“Just like how the use of programming languages and open-source revolutionised the industry, AI is transforming the future of software development,” says Dohmke. “AI will soon be integrated into every aspect of the developer experience, and, therefore, we’re making GitHub Copilot even more accessible.”

Meanwhile, a team of researchers and engineers investigating the future of software development at GitHub Next is experimenting with “Hey, GitHub!”, a voice-based interactive function with Copilot that would enable the benefits of the programme while reducing the need for a keyboard for developers who are unable, or prefer not, to code manually.

GitHub is boosting integration and inclusivity in other areas too. Its cloud-based Codespaces editor will now be made available to all developers, regardless of technical level. Codespaces, which debuted in May 2020 and is based on Microsoft’s Visual Studio Code editor, can be launched directly from GitHub’s code hosting platform, enabling users to immediately begin editing code in front of them without the need to import the code into a separate integrated development environment (IDE).

To encourage the use of Codespaces, GitHub announced that all users will have 60 hours of free access every month, with paid subscriptions available for developers who require more time with the editor.

Woodward emphasises the “game-changing” nature of the cloud-based editor and its ability to democratise people’s ability to compete on the global stage. For budding developers, he believes the 60 free hours on Codespaces is in the “sweet spot”, based on the editor’s container-based functionality that only computes time used for actual coding work.

He adds that this is a huge step for developers in emerging markets as Codespaces will allow them to select from data centres around the world, opening up collaboration and healthy global competition. “All those developers are now going to get access to computers running in the cloud from data centres around the world [to power their apps].

“I’m really excited [to see how that will impact] the growth markets [as it means that those] developers [can] essentially code from the exact same data centre as a developer in San Francisco. Especially in Southeast Asia, while there’s huge digital penetration, high-tech computers may not be easily accessible by anyone — but with Codespaces all they need is an Internet browser,” he says.

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