How new tools will change the way developers learn to build software

Developers might soon be flying with an AI Copilot.

Major shifts in emerging technologies like generative AI have created both exciting opportunities and new risks. As these technologies scale in use, so does the need for companies around the world to build more–and better–software.

Mark Paulsen, the Global Director of Enterprise Advocacy at GitHub, shared with BetaKit the major trends he’s seeing globally, where Canada fits in, and why companies need to change their approach to skills training for developers.

In demand

Paulsen spoke to a few key trends that are keeping demand for developer talent high. The first trend is simply that people want more software, whether for business purposes or community-focused changes such as financial inclusion.

“There is such a need for software, such a need to meet not only enterprise-specific demands but the ability to make an impact within people’s lives,” said Paulsen.

“Trying to abstract the heavy lifting into a platform is going to be key to help developers stay in the flow and help them to do more with less.”

The second trend is a growth in non-traditional developers. Paulsen cited two key examples: when Operations leaders learn SQL to better work with information stored in data warehouses and Data Scientists learn Python to aid them in their day-to-day analyses. The result is that it’s not just the Engineering or Product teams demanding new software, but more non-technical talent beginning to demand niche products that help them with their work.

Alongside these trends, Paulsen added that there is actually an ongoing “shortage of developers” and recent shifting market conditions haven’t slowed demand.

This points to the third trend Paulsen has noticed: a push to do more with less. Companies have increasing demands on their developers that simply hiring more won’t solve. For Paulsen, the answer to this challenge is empowering developers to do more in their current jobs. He sees generative AI as a key way to address this problem since AI platforms—like GitHub Copilot, an AI pair programmer built using OpenAI’s Codex AI system—can help developers by either doing some of the work for them or helping them extend into adjacent development areas.

“Maybe there’s an API out there that they’ve never used before that they want to get some basic information on,” said Paulsen. “Copilot is able to help you take advantage of that API.”

These trends result in not only significant talent demand but also the need to make it easier for developers to do their jobs. Paulsen said a key solution to the latter challenge is adjusting how development work is done to enable devs to stay in a core working flow rather than always context switching. He shared GitHub’s security team’s approach to this challenge: when the team needs to communicate with developers about a security issue, Paulsen said they do it through pull requests rather than separate security communications.

“Trying to abstract the heavy lifting into a platform is going to be key to help developers stay in the flow and help them to do more with less,” said Paulsen.

Another example of this approach is Microsoft’s Power Platform, which is a low-code platform for rapidly building customized end-to-end business solutions. Leveraging Power Apps, developers can reduce development time and continuously iterate in real-time without sacrificing functionality.

Tension for talent

Paulsen added these trends affect Canada as well, but the country has a unique opportunity. First off, Canada has some of the best engineering schools in the world, resulting in a strong talent base. Further, growth in tech companies–both home-grown and international organizations opening large footprints in the country–means more opportunities for Canadians in Canada, rather than talented devs feeling they need to leave the country to find work. Add in remote work, said Paulsen, and Canadian developers have many opportunities to live locally but code globally.

What you want to avoid, though, is top talent leaving for opportunities abroad. For Paulsen, the solution is marketing to ensure that local talent is aware of home-grown opportunities. He reiterated those opportunities exist in Canada, noting local talent is “reaching the levels of Silicon Valley,” but added that organizations need to communicate what they have available so new talent knows where to look.

“It’s important that those opportunities are known to a lot of these students–to a lot of these people within Canada–because what you want to avoid is the whole brain drain type of mentality,” said Paulsen.

“It’s not only what you know, but your ability to learn more.”

For companies looking to hire, regardless of size, Paulsen said it’s critical to create a culture of learning. This happens in all industries and roles, but Paulsen said it’s particularly important in development because the dev world is evolving even more rapidly than other areas like Sales or HR.

To Paulsen, building a learning environment means going beyond simply hiring talented people or hiring base skills for a role–that’s a given. Because the development world is changing so rapidly, Paulsen said two additional pieces are now a requirement: the first is providing additional skill-building and learning resources for employees to stay on top of new trends as they come. For startups and developers without significant budgets for internal training ecosystems, Paulsen pointed to programs like Microsoft Learn to teach development skills that reduce operational burden by automating complex and repetitive tasks, or, more broadly, looking to free or inexpensive online learning opportunities.

The second need is an educational process that teaches people how to learn. Speaking “from an HR perspective,” Paulsen said it’s critical to not just provide educational resources and hope people pick things up on their own.

“It’s not only what you know, but your ability to learn more,” Paulsen added.

Paulsen specifically noted that helping people identify their preferred learning styles can be a useful tool for developing in-house talent. He called back to earlier in his career as an example, noting that only through much trial and error did he realize that he learned best from hands-on practice rather than writing things down.

Paulsen’s specific learning style won’t apply to all developers, which is his main point. Each person has a different learning style they might not fully know about themselves. Company leaders, faced with rapid changes on the horizon, can help technical team members keep up by helping identify their learning styles.

“A lot of people who struggle with trying to keep up with all of the changes in the industry, just helping them and giving them the tools that they need to figure out what’s the best way for them to learn,” said Paulsen. “I’d say that’s a huge opportunity within the industry because it allows people to stay on top of all of the changes that are happening out there.”

For more information on recommended learning paths and foundational knowledge for developers, visit:

Stefan Palios

Stefan Palios

Stefan is a Nova Scotia-based entrepreneur and writer passionate about the people behind tech. He's interviewed over 200 entrepreneurs on topics like management, scaling, diversity and inclusion, and sharing their personal stories. Follow him on Twitter @stefanpalios.

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