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India will be the global AI leader, says GitHub CEO Thomas Dohmke

Dohmke said there's incredible energy and things are moving and evolving fast in terms of infrastructure, which is a reflection of the country's flourishing software industry

Thomas Dohmke, CEO, GitHub, India visit

Thomas Dohmke, CEO, GitHub, India visit

Peerzada Abrar Bengaluru
Thomas Dohmke, chief executive officer of developer platform GitHub, recently announced his arrival in India by sharing a 2008 photo from his previous visit to Bengaluru. A lot has changed since then. In an interview with Peerzada Abrar, Dohmke said there's incredible energy and things are moving and evolving fast in terms of infrastructure, which is a reflection of the country’s flourishing software industry. He said that India will not just be a global leader but the global leader in the age of artificial intelligence (AI). By 2027, Dohmke said India will overtake the United States as the largest software developer community. GitHub was acquired in 2018 by Microsoft in a stock deal valued at $7.5 billion. Edited excerpts:

You recently shared a 2008 photo from your previous visit to Bengaluru on social media. What kind of change have you seen since then and how do you see the economic opportunity here?

It’s my fifth visit to India and my second time in Bengaluru. I was here with my wife in 2008 for a wedding. We arrived from Germany at the old airport and then left from the new airport. When I compare India back then and today, there's incredible energy; things are moving and evolving. There was no Metro then, and now we have multiple lines. The airport is phenomenal, modern and clean. I think that is also a reflection of what's happening in the software industry. There are a huge number of software developers already in India. They are number two on GitHub. We predict that by 2027, India will overtake the United States as the largest software developer community on GitHub. Then we have this age of AI that has started. We see a lot of Indian companies such as Infosys, Cognizant, Paytm and MakeMyTrip adopting Copilot (an AI coding assistant) and Microsoft’s AI services and products.

You have said that India is at the nexus of monumental economic opportunity. Could you explain that?

If you look at AI in the developer space like Copilot, our case studies have shown up to 55 per cent productivity improvements. We see developers also telling us that they get the job done faster and they're more fulfilled and in the flow. We're living in a world where our attention is the most valuable currency. Every entertainment service is fighting for our attention; so is our work task. We see a huge demand for developers building AI systems and bringing those same productivity gains that we have seen in the developer world into other parts of the business. For example, Microsoft has built a dozen Copilots now. But there are not enough software developers in the world, even in India, where 200,000 students graduate in computer science every year. There's more demand for software developers than supply. If you take those two things together, you're going to see the convergence of India having the potential to become the leader in this age of software and AI in the coming years.

What role is GitHub playing in the technology ecosystem, and where does India fit into that, including helping build innovations?

GitHub is the home for software developers to collaborate and build, including open-source projects. We are seeing a tremendous amount of new open-source projects in the AI space. Over 4 million organisations in total are building their private source code. It is a social network for software developers. As India is number two in that developer community, it plays a huge role, including in many open-source projects and on the enterprise side with customers and partners like Infosys and Cognizant.

What are the collaborations that you are having with technology companies here, including Infosys, Cognizant and HCL?

We are providing GitHub, including Copilot, for free to open-source developers and students. Hopefully, they will bring that experience when they join a company, besides what they learn at the university. We are also partnering with companies like Infosys. We opened a centre of excellence that allows Infosys to upskill their employees to use GitHub and Copilot, making them experts in AI technology. They can then take that knowledge to their customers. We are partnering with many of those companies. We also have commercial interests in India where we are selling our products to companies like Paytm and MakeMyTrip and helping them improve their productivity.

To create software, one had to be a professional software developer. With OpenAI’s large language model and GitHub Copilot, there is a new fusion between the language of a human and a machine, and anybody can be a coder. What impact would this have on the global economy?

Until now, to build software, you had to learn a programming language. It meant you had to learn English or understand it, as most of the documentation and the software ecosystem communicates predominantly in that language. Now, a six-year-old in Hyderabad or Bengaluru or Berlin, who probably doesn't speak English, can be a (software developer). Most of their parents don’t have a computer science background. Even in India, there were 15.4 million software developers in May 2024 compared to 1.5 billion citizens in this country. With Copilot, you have a companion who is always available and has infinite patience. It speaks in human language. I think that alone will democratise access to those who want to build software, in the same way one can learn to play an instrument, paint, or become a storyteller. I think by 2030, we will have more than one billion software developers on GitHub. They would have the ability to use human language to write code to a Copilot. The flip side is that we are increasing the supply of software developers. That is desperately needed in a world that is increasingly not only eaten by software but requires ever more skills from them to manage the large complex systems that we are running.

What impact do you see generative AI, ChatGPT and Copilot having on businesses and society?

I think we will accelerate human progress. We're going to change the way we're living. Probably we won't have an Iron Man, but we will have JARVIS (AI that functions as Tony Stark's assistant) in our phone. For example, Siri voice assistant got better yesterday (with ChatGPT integration). I think we're going to use human language for many more tasks. We will have smaller agents and then agents of agents to help you do tasks such as travel booking, doing taxes, writing codes, and summarising team meetings. We'll just unlock so much more creativity. There are also a lot of bigger problems to solve in this world, including climate change, cancer, diabetes, and going to the moon. They will be solved with computer systems and AI.

There are also concerns related to security and the ethical implications of generative AI. How do you view these concerns?

These are all important problems. We at Microsoft and GitHub have been developing what we call responsible AI for a long time. Those things are running in parallel. The models are progressing fast. They are seeing a lot of innovation in all parts of the stack. These include layers related to hardware, service, and application as well as responsible AI and regulatory pieces. Those have evolved fast. That also shows the great ability of humans to reconsider their thinking and approaches. For example, there is the EU AI Act, which must be one of the fastest (regulations) following technology. We have a better opportunity to create a better world and not the doomsday scenarios that we see in Hollywood movies.

You also call yourself a LEGO dad. Could you share some of the learnings as CEO of GitHub and managing family life?

Both roles are remarkably similar. Whether it's being a CEO or a father, you want to enable the family as well as the employees who work with you within the company to learn and grow. At Microsoft, we call it the growth mindset, or Satya Nadella (Microsoft CEO) calls it a 'learn-it-all' culture instead of a 'know-it-all’ culture. That's in many ways very similar for kids that are growing up in our household and employees that are growing up at GitHub. You want them (kids) to solve their problems and conflicts with their friends and teachers or navigating school. LEGO is interesting. If you put it on the table, whether you're an adult or a kid, you will build something that enables them to unfold their creativity. Kids are very eager to explore their creativity, and so are our employees in the company. Often most innovation comes when you create an environment of psychological safety and there is enough room to innovate. The biggest challenge you have is how do you prioritise the right things. That sometimes feels easier in business versus family life.

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First Published: Jun 11 2024 | 8:27 PM IST

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