” Hi, I’m Thomas Dohmke, CEO of GitHub but mostly a software developer. This is how Thomas Dohmke always imagines, The gallery could meet in Paris. Partly due to this attachment to the developer qualification, this East German in his forties was appointed to his position of leader at the end of 2021.
Already reference software from the software community open-source [des logiciels publiés sous une licence libre qui permet à n’importe qui de les utiliser et de les modifier]want GitHub now” where developers live The company itself is built on an open source project called Git and concretely allows developers to host their computer code and manage the different versions of their projects.
But GitHub experienced a real turning point in its history in 2018. Nine years after its founding, Microsoft surprisingly paid $7.5 billion to buy it. If the company hasn’t renounced its core business, it wants to open up a whole new market around artificial intelligence and its new flagship product, the code-writing copilot. Explanation with Thomas Dohmke.
LA TRIBUNE – Microsoft’s acquisition of GitHub in 2018 shook the free software world. Many thought this marriage was unnatural at the time. How have these allegations been seen on Microsoft’s side?
THOMAS DOHMKE – Microsoft has always been a software development company, it’s in its DNA. During its 45-year history, it has undergone several transformations, one of which was its opening to open source. Microsoft has gone from an almost negative view of open source to a true supporter, using and contributing to it internally. The company now has a gigantic open source program, with tens of thousands of developers contributing. So acquiring GitHub in 2018 was just another step, a commitment to the community.
Critics feared that Microsoft would misrepresent GitHub, including through the pursuit of profit. How is the autonomy of the company within the group today?
We want GitHub to remain independent and we don’t want it to become a sales channel for Microsoft. If you go to GitHub today, you won’t find a Microsoft logo or IDs, and there’s no preferential treatment for Microsoft over competitors. Whether you deploy to Azure, Amazon Web Services, or Google Cloud, it’s the same for GitHub. Four years after the acquisition, we are still 100% invested in GitHub’s neutral position.
Surely we imagine that being part of Microsoft brings certain benefits…
Of course we find commercial synergies, as we are part of a large company and it sells GitHub products to companies like Société Générale, Engie or Decathlon, among other French clients. We leverage Microsoft’s international sales teams and leverage the contracts already in place with Microsoft. When selling business software, one of the biggest hurdles is often figuring out the details of the contract between the legal teams of both parties. However, when a contract exists between Microsoft and the customer, he can simply add GitHub to the invoice.
We also find technological synergies within the group. For example, Copilot was created in collaboration with Microsoft and Open AI. We used a model of machine learning created by Open AI, which we ran on GPUs [des unités de traitement graphique, Ndlr] provided by Microsoft Azure. But we try to develop these synergies while maintaining our independence and our startup mindset.
In recent years, Microsoft’s growth, especially its earnings, has been driven by its cloud division, Azure. Can we imagine GitHub taking on a similar role in the future?
Yes ! Like Windows, Office, LinkedIn, and Azure, GitHub is becoming a mainstay of Microsoft. There are overlaps between these activities – for example, Azure runs on Windows and Office runs on Azure infrastructure. GitHub fits into these patterns and could play a big role in Microsoft’s future.
Despite the $7.5 billion acquisition, GitHub remains relatively unknown outside of the IT community and almost paints the image of a small business. How much does it weigh in Microsoft’s business?
I can’t give you an exact turnover, but it will be substantial [peu après notre interview, Microsoft a annoncé que GitHub réalise 1 milliard de dollars de revenus récurrents, contre moins de 300 millions de dollars lors de l’acquisition, ndlr]. This is reflected in the fact that we have 3,000 employees, 94 million developer accounts and more than 4 million customer organizations, including 90% Fortune 100 companies. We have grown significantly since the acquisition and continue to grow. In 2018 we had 28 million accounts, and today more than three times as many! We have lived up to the expectations that Microsoft had for GitHub when it was acquired, and with Artificial Intelligence, we believe we are entering a new era of software development, which we hope will be one of prosperity.
Copilot, the programmer AI you launched in February 2022 after almost a year of testing, was your first step in this new direction. Why do you rely so heavily on artificial intelligence?
To understand our enthusiasm, we need to trace the history of IT development. First there was a first wave, from the 1980s to the early 1990s, where computer programming was only learned through books and magazines. You had to buy expensive books, because the libraries only had outdated references. If you got stuck with a problem, the only way to move forward was to ask other people for help, which was difficult outside the big cities. From the mid-1990s, the Internet began to develop and forums appeared. Soon it was possible to easily exchange with other developers and cooperation improved.
It’s the second wave: the internet democratized software development and the world of open source was born. You can share your code with other developers so they can build their own code on it. Thanks to this ecosystem, start-up startups can now not start from scratch, but access thousands of open source libraries. As a result, building an app today is easy, thanks to many tools, including GitHub.
We believe that IT development is now entering a third wave, that of artificial intelligence. Programs like Copilot, which help developers write their source code, give developers access to a new way to express their creativity.
What does Copilot actually bring?
Sometimes we – developers – get stuck writing code because we can’t remember what the programming interface looks like, or how to connect to certain servers, or how to decode an image. So you have to look online, and this is where the story gets complicated. We leave our code editor, where we were creative, to go to our browser, where there are 15 tabs open with surely a TikTok video, a family discussion group, or a news site, so many sources of distraction.
But the worst part is that we also get distracted when we search GitHub, Google or Stack Overflow for the solution to the problem, this time by other developers debating in the forums or in the comments about the best solution to adopt. And since there is often no one solution, you should take the time to find what best suits your own problem. The result of this situation is that you come back to your editor 20 minutes later and you have completely forgotten what you are working on. Copilot partially avoids this loss of time. It represents pieces of code, which the developer may or may not accept. If he continues to write, the software adjusts his proposal. Once the developer is happy with it, they can press a key to insert it and change it as they wish. As a result, when Copilot is running, it writes 20% to 40% of the code, depending on the programming languages and users.
Copilot’s deployment has raised many questions about respecting copyrights, as certain codes have been deposited in intellectual property registries. How do you address these concerns?
A machine cannot infringe copyright, as it is not responsible to the law. Please note that Copilot has no knowledge of the language, it simply converts what the developer writes into a number and then does some calculations to output a new number, which is converted into a code proposal. He only applies a method, he is not intelligent and even less gifted with feelings.
However, it is what the user does that counts. Whether he copies and pastes a piece of code he found on the internet or whether this piece was suggested by an artificial intelligence, comes down to the same thing. It is always the developer’s responsibility to verify that they are not copying word for word any code deposited by someone else and thus not infringing any copyright license.
Writing code is only the first step in the code lifecycle, after which it needs to be reviewed. Specifically, the developer sends a request to the members of his team or to the maintenance team of the open source project he is working on, and it is these other people who will accept the code in the main database. They will look at the code and compare it to what is being done. This is an important step that does not change with the wizard.
However, we are aware of the challenge ahead, so we added a setting during Copilot’s global launch this year. If the developer activates it manually (it’s disabled by default), Copilot will compare the generated code against an open source code base hosted on GitHub. If the snippet looks exactly like this – we’re talking about a significant snippet, which would contain a certain level of creativity, not a simple sentence that would be too short – the assistant will not offer the snippet. The setting is supposed to prevent developers from accidentally copying something made by another developer, and therefore covers some of the risk.
What place will Copilot and future AI-powered tools have in the GitHub model?
It’s a completely new product category, though it’s close to GitHub’s mission of putting developers on the best footing. But Copilot takes us away from the core of our business, which is to become the home of open source and devops. [l’articulation entre le développement et l’administration des systèmes, ndlr]. We are now creating a product that aims to improve developer productivity. Since the launch of the test phase last year, more than a million people have registered an account. There is clearly a market.
What are the next steps?
We anticipate various developments. To begin with, the models will become increasingly powerful and therefore more accurate. On the one hand, they will integrate more parameters thanks to the ever-improving computing power of GPUs. On the other hand, they will be trained on an ever-increasing volume of open source code, some of which has been created thanks to Copilot. A virtuous circle is created.
The other development axis is the user experience layer. Copilot is successful in part because it’s an open app that fits into development environments, not a separate program. We believe a new range of products will change the way developers work. If we succeed in meeting expectations, we believe that in five years’ time 80% of the code will come from suggestions by artificial intelligences.