Microsoft-backed developer platform GitHub has over 15.4 million developers in India, growing 33 per cent year-over-year (y-o-y). India is set to pass the US as the largest developer community on GitHub by 2027. In an interview with businessline, GitHub CEO Thomas Dohmke highlighted that India’s burgeoning developer community, combined with the newfound possibilities of AI, will not only accelerate digital transformation, but will drive immense human and economic progress for India. 


With AI coming in big into coding and software development, what does it mean to be a software engineer in this day and age compared to, say, the dot com era ?

Being a software developer today means that you have to manage incredibly complex systems. You can’t imagine both your personal and professional life without software anymore. Every company today is now a software company. So developers are sitting on this ever-growing pile of software and systems, and the only way to deal with this complexity is to go to the next level. We believe AI will allow us to do so in the same way that developers have moved from punch cards to assembly language to basic programming languages like Basic and Pascal, and then to higher programming languages, to the strong adoption of open source and the adoption of the cloud. With our AI co-pilot, we are seeing productivity gains upto 55 per cent.


But if AI is already doing coding, what does the future hold for developers?

We’re not yet at the stage where AI can write all the code. While it can generate some lines, developers must take these ‘Lego blocks’ produced by AI and assemble them into a cohesive set. This process remains an art in itself. Most software doesn’t adhere to instruction booklets; it stems from the creative minds of developers, program managers, designers and others. One way to conceptualise this is through systems thinking. Developers must tackle complex issues, break them down and solve smaller problems, deciding when to leverage AI. As AI capabilities expand, it’s akin to having larger Lego blocks available. However, developers must still make decisions — like choosing a database or cloud technology, or determining whether the software should run on a mobile phone, a point-of-sale system, or a car. These decisions require human creativity, intuition and judgement. Presently, AI models lack these features and only time will reveal if we’ll ever reach that stage. Nonetheless, it’s currently inconceivable for developers to be replaced by AI. AI serves as a companion, a co-pilot, assisting with tasks that developers prefer not to handle, enabling them to focus on the creative aspects that bring value to companies.


Will AI democratise coding that will enable billions to engage with technology as easily as driving a bicycle? What does this mean for a country like India?

 I think it will impact the economy the same way the Industrial Revolution did 200 years ago. It will completely shift the way we’re thinking about productivity in our companies, and in our lives.

In India, you have a great convergence — on the one side, there’s this new technology that is in its early stages and on the other side there is a big number of computer science graduates every year. In the next few years, these two things will make India a powerhouse of AI.  What India needs is for its kids to learn coding as they learn art, science and math. There is no future where we don’t have computers around us everywhere.

Second aspect is to have clear regulation and policies, especially around large language models (LLMs). Regulation should let open source maintainers, researchers, students and teachers to do to do their work without the same compliance requirements as big companies. If I’m an individual in Bengaluru working on an open-source project, I cannot afford to also have a compliance department.

Third, companies need to invest in AI.  The time is now, the train is already leaving the station.


The developer ecosystem in India on GitHub has crossed the 15 million mark. What is driving this growth?

The accessibility of technology has become so much easier. Today, everybody has a cell phone that is connected to the Internet. We have an interconnected community of developers all around the world that work with each other, without any borders and without any boundaries. All that matters is the code and the intent that you have to contribute back. In India, people see this as an opportunity to improve their lives. It allows them to build a reputation for being an open-source software developer.


How do you see the adoption of AI by Indian companies?

We are really happy with how the AI adoption is going on and also about the opportunity that lies ahead for India to leverage. That’s part of the reason why I’m here... because we see tremendous customer interest.


How do you see the ongoing geopolitical situations such as sanctions against some countries, or the fact that China has developed its own rival to GitHub?

Open source is the only community where politics play almost no role. We are fighting for the rights of of developers everywhere


What keeps you awake and what excites you the most?

Believe it or not, some nights I’m awake because I’m so excited about the opportunity ahead. I’ve been a developer since I grew up in East Germany. I couldn’t just go and buy a computer. I had access to an East German computer in the geography lab in school. So once a week I was allowed to code a little bit. So I’m excited about the opportunity that everybody today has if they want to become a software developer. Nothing is stopping them. The Internet, the cloud, has enabled a world of collaboration, sharing and creation. Now AI is transforming this world and it’s giving everybody the same opportunity. The flip side of that is that as the systems become more complex, we also have to constantly think about securing the software supply chain which cannot be exposed by bad actors.