Faster deployment, unprecedented coding efficiencies, and navigating seismic shifts in the world of programming with AI.

By now, it’s safe to say that we’re all on the same page about the impact AI is going to have (and in many cases, is already having) on nearly all aspects of professional life. When figures like Barack Obama are comparing the technology to the discovery of electricity and tech pioneers like Steve Wozniak are pleading for us to proceed with caution when it comes to deploying it, the monumental impact of AI becomes clearer than ever. 

Because of that, we as professionals get to reap the rewards of the current AI gold rush, where every tech giant from Microsoft to Google to Adobe is racing to find ways to implement the technology into their suite of products. In the marketing world, tools like ChatGPT, Midjourney, and Jasper have taken the industry by storm. In terms of financial forecasting, platforms like Workday Adaptive Planning and Anaplan are on the rise. And in the coding world, tools like GitHub Copilot are creating similar buzz. Here at Udacity, we recently spoke with our engineering team and 25% of them are already using GitHub Copilot as their preferred autocomplete to help streamline their everyday workflows. 

But what makes GitHub Copilot such a game-changer to developers around the globe? What circumstances set the table for this to be the case? And most importantly, what steps can you as a programmer take to harness its potential to improve your output and overall workplace satisfaction? We’ll discuss all this and more in this article – let’s dive in.

The ‘Problem’ With Programming As We Know It

Across the traditional coding landscape, true creative problem solving and zooming out to see the ‘big picture’ is something that has historically been reserved for senior developers – while junior programmers have spent much of their time learning the fundamentals and x’s and o’s of the trade. “Programmers need to start developing a new type of thinking when it comes to AI. It’s no longer just the code writing,” said Inbal Shoni, Chief Product Officer at GitHub in an interview on top tech show, Lenny’s Podcast. “It’s now about evolving your thinking to the big picture…Today, we find this in the world of more senior developers, and less and less for the junior developers. But if there is now an AI assistant helping them to write code, they can spend more time from the get-go understanding the larger environment they’re building.”

“Programmers need to start developing a new type of thinking when it comes to AI. It’s no longer just the code writing. It’s now about evolving your thinking to the big picture.”

Inbal shoni, chief product officer at github

And while one could argue that earning your stripes is a critical part of developing the context and know-how to have a nuanced understanding of the skill, what leaders like Inbal Shoni are getting at is that by opening up more bandwidth for developers across all stages of their careers, more opportunities for creative input will naturally follow – and with it, increased productivity, teamwide momentum, and improved results.

We’d be remiss not to mention that there’s also another group of programming professionals who are a little more skeptical about AI making their roles obsolete. In a piece for The New York Times, long-time Silicon Valley coder and columnist Farhad Manjoo expressed his concerns quite openly.

“In a kind of poetic irony, software engineering is looking like one of the fields that could be most thoroughly altered by the rise of artificial intelligence. Over the next few years, AI could transform computer programming from a rarefied, highly compensated occupation into a widely accessible skill that people can easily pick up and use as part of their jobs across a wide variety of fields.”

Farhad Manjoo

Inbal and other leaders don’t seem to hold too many reservations on the matter, however. “It’s called GitHub Copilot, not GitHub Pilot,” she said, going on to state how human beings’ innate spark of creativity that drives innovation is at the very center of humanity, and won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. 

Enter GitHub Copilot, Stage Left…

GitHub Copilot Demo (source: GitHub)

With the redundancies and inefficiencies of traditional programming top of mind, GitHub released Copilot to help overcome these hurdles. At its core, Copilot is an AI programming assistant that enables developers to focus more energy on problem solving and cross-team collaboration and less time hunting down bugs and other mundane tasks. By reducing the cognitive load spent on repetitive, low-leverage functions, developers are more free to use that bandwidth on higher priorities. And since its release, the tool appears to be doing all that and more. In a survey conducted by GitHub, developers who used Copilot reported 75% higher job satisfaction and a 55% surge in productivity. As of August 2023, over 1 million developers and 1 in 3 Fortune 500 companies around the world rely on Copilot in their day-to-day. 

With all this in mind, if we fast forward into the future, it appears that much like writers, researchers, and artists, programmers will interface with AI tools much like a creative director does with her associates or a head coach does with her training staff – bouncing ideas off one another, turning brain dumps into actionable insights, and combing through countless perspectives to arrive at the best possible game plan. 

Want GitHub Copilot in your cockpit?

Here at Udacity, we’re very excited to unveil our brand new GitHub Copilot course. Whether you’re a current or aspiring software engineer, this course is for anyone interested in taking their coding and job satisfaction to the next level. By the end of the course, you’ll even gain hands-on experience with the tool by building a Todo App in just 30 minutes! If you’re interested in learning more about what all the GitHub Copilot hype is really about, then we encourage you to enroll today.

Dakota Nunley
Dakota Nunley
Content Strategy Manager at Udacity