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Traditional software development methods are not in step with the pace of technology

It’s no secret that businesses of all shapes, sizes and sectors are fundamentally re-assessing how they operate. The acceleration of digital transformation has left enterprises striving to meet changing customer expectations, as well as remain relevant in a fast-paced, writes Kai Hilton-Jones, VP, International Field Services, GitHub

As organisations pivot to keep pace, software has become the differentiator. It’s no exaggeration to say the quality of software that businesses produce is intrinsically linked to their competitiveness. Companies in every industry are therefore understandably placing a new emphasis on how they build software that gives products and services a competitive edge. However, traditional software development methods are not in step with the pace of technology today, and not adequate to keep up with ever-intensifying customer demands.

As a result, open source software development has become the dominant model for companies looking to drive transformation and innovation. The reason is simple: open source is synonymous with innovation. It allows developers to create better software, faster. With innovation now table stakes in every boardroom, there is even greater emphasis on the speed with which technology can deliver businesses a commercial advantage.

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Open source software is already pervasive, with 99% of software projects containing an open source component. But demand has increased as companies push to carve out commercial advantages. A survey found that more than three-quarters of organisations (77%) were more reliant on open source software than they were 12 months ago, with more than one-third (36%) saying their use of open source has increased “significantly”.

Inevitably, the priority to innovate at pace has brought the way developers work into sharp focus.

Within the open source developer community, there has been a surge in the uptake of automation tools because automation helps teams develop more quickly at scale by removing many of the repetitive and mundane tasks that frequently slow teams down. Less time spent on time consuming and often menial tasks equals more time for developers to focus on creating the software that drives businesses forward.

The bottom line is that automation impacts an organisation’s ability to adapt, and business leaders the world over are starting to recognise the benefits it brings. The World Economic Forum has estimated that more than 80% of business leaders are set to speed up work process automation. Further, Deloitte reports that more than one in three enterprises are already implementing business process management software to automate workflows.

 Kai Hilton-Jones, VP, International Field Services, GitHub, on traditional software development methods and github copilot

Embracing the impact of automation

Perhaps understandably though, not every enterprise is ready to embrace automation just yet.

Many businesses today still work without comprehensive automation practices. Change can be scary and any technology that disrupts the ‘established’ way of doing things will always attract extra scrutiny. Plus integrating new tools – regardless of what they can deliver – into enterprise environments is rarely simple, requiring careful consideration and analysis.

While such reservations are understandable, the reality is there is virtually no part of the software development process that increased adoption of automation tools won’t positively impact. Plus, development teams that have a technical infrastructure that provides suitable languages, convenient editors and highly automated development environments generally have a high level of satisfaction. Research has found that by removing friction and repetitive tasks through automation, teams perform 27% better in open source and 43% better at work, leading to a greater sense of fulfilment overall. Some of the ways automation reduces friction in the developer experience include:

Automating CI/CD to reduce time-intensive manual tasks

Automating CI/CD platforms in the cloud increases consistency, reliability and efficiency in the development process. They also make it easier for teams to discover and fix problems.  Tasks such as code maintenance or debugging take up a large part of daily work time. With the right automation tools, companies can streamline development workflows and enhance the developer experience.

The same research has found that automating the development workflow has enabled teams to almost double the number of pull requests – when a developer begins the process of merging new code changes with code stores in a repository – they can merge in a day. It also increases the number of merged pull requests by 36% and shrinks the time to merge by 33%. Unsurprisingly, this level of productivity gain translates into faster innovation.

Using AI to write code faster

AI-supported tools, such as GitHub’s Copilot, help developers write code faster and with less work. Copilot draws context from the code they are working on, finishing the lines they start or suggesting entire functions.

It helps developers write good and powerful code, and also get “in flow”, the optimal creative state in which they do their best work. In doing so, they improve the developer experience, which is crucial for team satisfaction and, more importantly, frees up developers to focus on the bigger picture and more innovative projects.

Automating testing

The impact of automation isn’t just confined to efficiency gains either. Automated testing tools allow developers to speed up parts of their workflow, such as merging code or running tests. After implementing a CI/CD platform, teams can test their code each time before copying it to the server. They ensure that code is compiled correctly and that only performant – i.e. acceptable – code is produced, boosting productivity.

Code scanning

Companies need to integrate security into every step of the entire software development process. Again, automation makes this possible and enhances the developer experience.

It is almost impossible to keep track of the sheer volume of known security vulnerabilities or to constantly keep up with new zero-day exploits. However, a semantic code analysis engine provides a route to baking security into the entire development workflow. Automated code scanning tools regularly check the code of a repository for security and identify vulnerabilities quickly and reliably. They can also track security advisories for all programming languages and source code packages so that all types of development projects benefit.

Busting the myth of code visibility

From speaking with enterprises, some have voiced the concern that process automation makes code less visible and therefore harder to review. However, such concerns are misplaced. Code reviews are a critical part of open source – they always have been, and always will be.

One of the many benefits of tapping into a diverse, global community of open source developers is the ready access to an army of talented and motivated developers ready to cast their eyes over code. In a community based on shared values, developers are motivated and incentivised to enhance code. But even here, automation offers significant benefits. The ability to automate code reviews themselves means the power of the community will automatically be infused into every project, a win-win for the entire software supply chain.

Software development is relentlessly fast paced, which is exactly what makes it so exciting to work in. Automation is just the latest trend set to revolutionise the development landscape. There is almost no limit to the impact it will have, given its ability to both accelerate innovation and positively impact the way developers live and work. By working through the barriers to adoption of automation, enterprises can empower developers and create the optimum conditions for innovation to thrive in.

See also: GitHub adds option to scan for secrets BEFORE Git pushes

Kai Hilton-Jones

Kai Hilton-Jones is VP, International Field Services, GitHub. (Field Services at GitHub encompasses the Solutions Engineering, Field Architecture and Specialist teams.) He was previously a solutions architecture manager at Qlik.

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