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GitHub recently launched Copilot for Business, which enables companies to purchase and manage licenses for their entire team. If you're considering investing in GitHub Copilot, here's what you need to know.
Short answer: Yes, GitHub Copilot could be a valuable investment for your team.
Long answer: It depends on your team's specific needs.
I’ll start by admitting that I am biased. I work at GitHub, and I love Copilot. GitHub Copilot helped me rediscover the joy of coding. I used to love coding. Then, I experienced burnout and imposter syndrome, and I struggled with opening my code editor. However, besides those two factors, I think GitHub Copilot solves a shared problem for developers and business stakeholders: speed.
The problem with speed in software development
Businesses need to make money to survive, pay their employees, and continue paying for the technology that supports their applications. Investors expect a return on investment, and customers expect features that meet their needs. In an ideal world, software developers would have the time and resources to write, test, refactor, and deploy code at their own pace. But the reality is that businesses need features delivered quickly. This can lead to pressure on software developers to move faster, but to the non-developers it can feel like software developers aren’t moving fast enough.
Why are software engineers taking so long to code?
Coding is hard. Software developers face numerous challenges, such as:
Estimating the time it will take to complete a task
Envisioning all the problems they may encounter while coding
Being asked to complete a task quickly without understanding the complexity involved
Many times in my career, non-developers like salespeople or product managers have told me, “Here’s the feature we want, but it shouldn’t take you too long.” Spoiler alert: I hate to admit it, but it always takes me longer than expected. Sometimes, it may seem like I just have to update one word or change one picture. However, the request might mean I have to venture into an unfamiliar part of the codebase, learn a new tool, or make a change that could potentially disrupt the entire system. I come from the startup world where we’ve adopted the “Move fast and break things” motto, so my software development process often looks like this:
Designing the feature
Starting to code while referring to documentation
Realizing that the initial plan won't work and starting over
Adding workarounds to meet the deadline
Rushed testing and deployment
Fixing bugs after the code breaks in production
This cycle of coding, testing, and fixing can lead to burnout and decreased motivation to continue building skills and contributing to the company's success.
What do software developers want?
Software developers want to feel valued and have the opportunity to continue building their skills. Improving skills can mean watching educational content, building side projects, attending conferences, and more. However, with a heavy workload, finding time to do anything outside of work-related tasks can be challenging. (Yes, many companies provide 10% learning time as a benefit, but it feels like a formality. It’s hard to use this benefit when the engineer’s learning time is not accounted for during the sprint.)
When I’m unable to build my skills, and I feel like there aren’t enough hours in a day, I start fantasizing about working at a different company. Is there a company where coding doesn’t feel stressful, and I’ll feel motivated to learn, blog, build my career, and still maintain a healthy work-life balance?
Enter GitHub Copilot
GitHub Copilot helps software developers write code faster by reducing the time spent sifting through documentation, writing boilerplate code, and trying to remember syntax. With GitHub Copilot, software developers can have more time to focus on their passion for coding, which helps businesses retain investors, customers, and most importantly, software developers. (Yes, you can always replace software developers, but software developers with legacy knowledge of the codebase are invaluable to a company’s success.)
Examples of GitHub Copilot’s positive impact on developers
Less time reading documentation
In the example below, Chris Sev explains that instead of spending too much time reading documentation and context-switching, GitHub Copilot led him in the right direction.
Less time writing boilerplate code
In the example below, Kelsey Hightower used GitHub Copilot to handle writing boilerplate code.
Less time recalling syntax
We all forget syntax sometimes. Memorizing code is not the best use of anyone’s type. In the example below, GitHub Copilot helps Lisa Reiber focus on the logic rather than the syntax.
Bonus: Writing code is more accessible
As an industry, we’re learning to prioritize accessibility for the user. But, what about the developer? The GitHub Next team is making coding more accessible for developers of all backgrounds with the following experimental features:
Hey, GitHub - a voice-activated AI programmer that allows you to code hands-free
GitHub Copilot CLI - GitHub Copilot assistance in the terminal
GitHub Copilot Labs - provides an explanation of code snippets in your codebase
As someone who struggles with impostor syndrome and anxiety (as many developers do), GitHub Copilot gives me an extra boost of confidence and reassurance that I’m going in the right direction.
Additionally, I’ve noticed that GitHub Copilot can understand other spoken languages. Code is American-English centric, which can be a barrier to non-English speaking software engineers. If you write a comment in a non-native language like Spanish or German, GitHub Copilot can still suggest code to help developers build applications.
Will Copilot steal my company's code?
With Copilot for Business, GitHub won’t retain code snippets, store, or share your code regardless if the data is from public repositories, private repositories, non-GitHub repositories, or local files.
Additionally, GitHub built a filter to help detect and suppress GitHub Copilot suggestions that contain code that matches public code on GitHub.
For more information on privacy and fairness around GitHub Copilot, check out the features page and scroll down to the FAQ section.
Whether or not GitHub Copilot is a valuable investment for your team depends on your team's specific needs. However, it’s worth considering.
You can learn more about how GitHub Copilot increases developer happiness and productivity by checking out the following posts: