Q&A with Martin Woodward, Vice President of Developer Relations at GitHub


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  • Why is BelTech a valuable event for technologists in Northern Ireland?

    BelTech was a fantastic opportunity to meet, share and learn from the talented people and companies we have locally, while also attracting some of the best international speakers to our shores. A lot of the time the work we do here in Northern Ireland is for customers in England, The Republic of Ireland, the rest of Europe and the US so it’s great to hear about the amazing work happening right here.

    Can you give us some insight into your talk?

    The developer world is buzzing with the recent developments in AI and the productivity gains available using tools like GitHub Copilot, an AI pair programmer that offers autocomplete-style suggestions as you code.

    I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in the development of this product since its inception and during my session. During my section, I was able to show GitHub Copilot in action, demonstrating its latest features, and our latest release of GitHub Copilot Enterprise which we announced at the end of February. During my talk I will was able to provide insights into how GitHub Copilot is built. As the first mainstream generative AI tool to come to market, the lessons we have learned building Copilot can be used by people using AI to solve problems for their customers and businesses.

    How does GitHub Copilot help improve developer productivity and how are these improvements measured?

    In the last year, we collaborated with Accenture to evaluate the impact of GitHub Copilot on accelerating innovation within a real-world, enterprise environment. 94% of developers reported that using GitHub Copilot helped them remain in the flow and spend less effort on repetitive tasks, while 90% of developers spent less time searching for information. Nine out of ten developers reported writing better code with GitHub Copilot and roughly 95% of developers reported learning from Copilot suggestions.

    In late 2022, our research uncovered that developers using GitHub Copilot code 55% faster. It also found 60-75% of developers using GitHub Copilot reported feeling more fulfilled in their job, less frustrated when coding, and better positioned to focus on more satisfying work. This was also confirmed by our 2023 study, which found that 88% of participants similarly felt less frustrated and more focused.

    Generative AI seems to be the next frontier for software development, what does the future of software development look like to you?

    In a word, fun. I’m an experienced developer but spend a lot of my time nowadays managing a team and setting strategic direction. With GitHub Copilot, I am able to code again on my hobby projects at the weekend, and sometimes I can implement quick fixes to my work code in the time it would previously have taken me just to log a bug. It makes me so much more productive and focused. GitHub Copilot works like a bridge between natural language and programming languages, it makes it easier for me to be productive in programming languages I’m not familiar with, also providing explanations so I can understand existing codebases that I’m not as close to as I used to be.

    The role of software developers is changing at a great pace. Do you have any advice for software developers on how to stay relevant?

    Focus on solving the biggest challenges. Don’t try and solve everything at once but iterate and make the world a little bit better every day for someone. Oftentimes it’s too easy as technologists to be enamoured by the latest shiny toys but the pace of software development continues to accelerate, and the best software teams are working to drive their iteration times down. The latest advancements with tools like GitHub Copilot allow developers to be more productive and iterate faster, but it’s still up to us as developers to figure out the best way to solve the biggest challenges impacting people and business which in turn helps accelerate human progress. The people and organizations that focus on that will win out and as developers we get to make the world a better place, one pull request at a time.

    Day 2 of BelTech (BelTech EDU) brings together secondary school pupils to inspire the next generation of technologists, what advice would you give to young people considering a career in the tech sector?

    Focus on solving problems with technology, learn and then practice by doing. There are a broad range of careers in tech, from the more mathematical and engineering focussed, to the most creative and design focussed. To solve problems for everyone in our community, we need a broad array of people, with different backgrounds, perspectives and different ways of looking for answers. My advice to young people considering a career in tech is to spend time working with people and figuring out what they need and how to help them. As you grow, see what you enjoy and retain your passion for self-driven education. The technology space is one where you never stop learning!

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