SAN FRANCISCO – An increasing number of people in Singapore are creating computer code, underscoring years of government efforts to boost programming expertise to support the nation’s place as a digital hub.
Almost one million residents – or one in six of the 5.9 million population – have latched on to coding, the highest ratio in the world and a fourfold rise from 260,000 in 2019.
The local coding community is also the fastest growing in Asia-Pacific, expanding 39 per cent in the 12 months to September, beating even India, which is expected to overtake the United States as the country with the biggest community of software creators by 2027.
The findings, based on unique GitHub users logging in from Singapore, were released by the software developer platform firm at its GitHub Universe conference in San Francisco, which drew 2,100 techies over two days this week.
There are an estimated 200,000 software developers in the Republic, but GitHub’s data includes members who may not write code but add to analytics, design or deployment of computing commands.
The annual event was a sort of a reboot party for the 15-year-old company, which touts usage by 93 per cent of software developers globally.
Chief executive Thomas Dohmke and other presenters introduced a suite of generative artificial intelligence (gen AI) tools that marked its new focus as an “AI-powered developer platform”.
GitHub, acquired by Microsoft in 2018, has had an early edge over competitors through its tie-up with OpenAI, in which Microsoft invested over US$10 billion (S$13.6 billion) for first rights to its famous gen AI technology, ChatGPT.
Mr Dohmke, a developer himself, called gen AI in coding a “fundamental shift in software development”.
“Natural language gives humans a much better way of expression than any kind of invented programming language, which always will have a much shorter vocabulary, and much more defined way of doing things,” he said.
“We believe that natural language will unlock a new wave of software developers and a new wave of productivity for existing developers.”
Mr Dohmke headlined the upcoming launch of GitHub Copilot Chat, a text-prompt addition to GitHub Copilot made available earlier in 2023.
The multi-language chatbot to be released in December acts like a wingman to coders, giving them suggestions, finishing code lines and even troubleshooting code alongside their makers.
GitHub said it intends to roll out a personalised Copilot version for enterprises, priced at US$39 per user a month, by February. Copilot has raised developers’ productivity by 55 per cent, according to the company.
Singapore, which ranks 10th globally for the number of contributions its coders made to gen AI projects on GitHub, is expected to be a quick adopter.
“In my experience, Singapore has always punched above its weight, particularly in the technology sector,” said Ms Sharryn Napier, GitHub’s vice-president for Asia-Pacific.
Analyst Thomas Murphy from research firm Gartner said GitHub’s offering of Copilot Chat to Copilot subscribers at no additional fee adds perceived value to its core product, which now costs individuals US$10 and businesses US$19 per user a month.
Teachers, students and leaders or administrators of projects who are already using Copilot at no cost will also get the chat assistant.
Tech subscriptions are generally left to expire when customers stop using them, said Mr Murphy, who added: “As long as (GitHub) can keep showing people what the value is going to be, there’ll be opportunities for tremendous revenue.”
Bernstein Research managing director Stacy Rasgon expects GitHub’s revenues to rise fivefold to US$5 billion within the next five years.
Long considered a strategic rather than a revenue driver, the 3,000-strong GitHub is not listed in Microsoft’s 14 product revenue lines.
Microsoft reported revenue of US$212 billion in its last financial year, driven largely by its cloud services unit Azure and software sales, as well as contributions from gaming firm Xbox and social media platform LinkedIn.
With eye-watering costs needed to keep gen AI running, monetisation days seem not too distant for GitHub, which got its foothold as an open source platform for developers to collaborate, using licence-free software.
Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella told an analyst briefing in October that more than one million users from around 37,000 organisations now pay to use GitHub Copilot for business.
Mr Nadella, who surprised delegates and staff with his first appearance at GitHub Universe – which is now in its ninth year – this week, praised the approachability and ease GitHub Copilot offers amateur coders.
He said: “We are what, 100-plus million people already? My dream is like, how can we empower a billion people?”
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