It's a cliché that 'software is eating the world'. However, it's true: software is at the core of most of today’s successful businesses. And that's part of the reason why there has never been a better time to be a software developer.
At least that's according to Kakul Srivastava, vice president of product management for GitHub, a source code repository of 38 million projects which is used by 15 million developers worldwide.
“Every business now is starting to see their competitive edge coming from their ability to do great software development, not just their ability to build cars or sell clothes,” she says.
Srivastava says her job as head of product and marketing is to “focus on who GitHub is really for, first and foremost: developers. And the first thing to is acknowledge is they are all different.”
Since GitHub was set up in 2008, preconceived notions of who developers are (and are not) have undergone a huge transformation, she says.
“People think a software developer is a lone wolf,” says Srivastava. “A young man coding alone in a corner. But this is just a myth, it isn't true anymore. Not only is programming often done in a fundamentally collaborative and social way , but increasingly it's accessible to a broader pool of people.”
Over half of GitHub's new signups come from people who are learning software development, rather than fully-fledged developers already, according to their own figures.
She explains: “This tells me the market we're in is expanding and growing extremely rapidly. That's exciting and bodes really well for our industry. But as a company it means we have to do a better job of supporting them on their journey to becoming developers. We take that very seriously.
“It’s a great place to start: you have the world’s code at your fingertips, you have a community, teachers, mentors, and eventually you can give that back and help others to learn and grow. That’s all happening on GitHub, our public open source software community.”
And not only is software 'eating the world', it's also getting subsumed within other fields such as architecture, biology and art, according to Strivastava.
She tells the story of her young niece, who is currently interested in filmmaking but is also learning to program.
“She wouldn’t think what she’s doing is as a software developer but as an artist,” she says. “It just so happens she’s programming to do that. In that story is some of the future of development. Not just for its own sake but to enable other things. I think that’s really profound at an individual level, because these tools should be accessible to anybody.”
Despite the rosy picture Srivastava paints, there are still obstacles in place for those who do not fit the typical stereotype of a white, male developer.
A US study using data on 1.4 million GitHub users found that pull requests (suggested code changes) made on the site by women were more likely to be accepted than those made by men - but they had a much lower acceptance rate if their gender was obvious.
And tech teams are still overwhelmingly male: just 18 percent of Google’s and 16 percent of Facebook’s tech staff are female, according to 2015 figures.
Srivastava blames this on unconscious bias, rather than active sexism.
“I don’t think there are many people rejecting pull requests because it’s a woman. But we all have a degree of unconscious bias. Really the only way to tackle this is to make it conscious. The problem of diversity in tech is very complex, and the problem is there’s no silver bullet,” she says.
It’s something GitHub has actively focused on recently, releasing its own diversity statistics this year for the first time. The organisation has focused on learning from others’ best practice, removing unconscious bias from recruitment and ensuring there are more women and non-white people in leadership roles, according to Srivastava.
“You know, there’s still so much work to be done,” Srivastava adds. “But having said that, there’s a broad recognition that this is a problem. And that increasing awareness gives me hope.”
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