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It wasn’t that long ago that the idea of using AI for development was science fiction. Then, along came GitHub Copilot, Microsoft’s AI pair-programming service, in the summer of 2022. 

Then, in November 2023, ChatGPT 3.5 appeared, and everyone got excited about AI. But, you already knew that. You might not know that, according to a new GitHub programmer survey, “92% of US-based developers are already using AI coding tools both in and outside of work.”

Also: GPT 3.5 vs GPT 4: Is ChatGPT Plus worth its subscription fee?

GitHub partnered with Wakefield Research to survey 500 US-based enterprise developers. They found that 70% of programmers believe AI is providing significant benefits to their code.

Specifically, developers said AI coding tools can help them meet existing performance standards with improved code quality, faster outputs, and fewer production-level incidents.

Also: How ChatGPT can rewrite and improve your existing code 

This is more than just people working on external open-source projects or just fooling around. Only 6% of developers said they solely use these tools outside of work. In other words, today, AI programming tools are part and parcel of modern business IT.

Why has this happened so quickly? It’s all about the programmers’ bottom line. Developers say AI coding tools help them meet existing performance standards with improved code quality, faster outputs, and fewer production-level incidents. It’s also all about simply producing more lines of code. 

Also: How to use ChatGPT to write code   

But, Inbal Shani, GitHub’s chief product officer, added, “Engineering leaders will need to ask whether measuring code volume is still the best way to measure productivity and output.” The answer is no. Shani added, “Ultimately, the way to innovate at scale is to empower developers by improving their productivity, increasing their satisfaction, and enabling them to do their best work — every day.”

According to the survey, “Developers want to upskill, design solutions, get feedback from end users, and be evaluated on their communication skills.” In other words, generating code with AI is a means to an end, not an end to itself. 

Also: How to use ChatGPT to create an app

Developers believe they should be judged on how they handle those bugs and issues, which is more important to performance than just lines of code. This aligns with the belief that code quality over code quantity should remain a top performance metric. The worry is that AI coding tools will make managers focus even more on simply shoving more code out the door rather than delivering good code.

Besides, as Mark Collier, OpenInfra Foundation COO, said at OpenInfra Summit in Vancouver, Canada, “The Python community is grappling with code reviews of AI-generated code, often because it’s crap, and the person ‘contributing’ it can’t explain it because they didn’t write it.” 

This is becoming a real problem. Yes, you can have ChatGPT write a program for you, but if you don’t understand what you’re doing in the first place or the code you’re “writing,” the code will still be garbage. So, don’t think for a minute that just because you can use ChatGPT to write a Rust bubble-sort routine, it means you’re a programmer now, You’re not.

Also: Okay, so ChatGPT just debugged my code. For real.

Serious developers also have other problems that AI can’t help — or, at least still can’t. For instance, developers say they spend as much time waiting for builds and tests as they do writing new code. These wait times still need to be solved despite DevOps advances. This, in turn, hinders programmers from learning new skills and designing solutions to novel problems. If AI and better DevOps can help programmers spend more time on these, they’ll be happy, and your company or organization will be more productive.  

Specifically, developers believe AI coding tools will give them more time to focus on solution design. They hope to spend more time designing new features and products instead of writing boilerplate code. The survey is showing that programmers are already using generative AI coding tools to automate parts of their workflow. This frees up time for more collaborative projects like security reviews, planning, and pair programming.

Also: I’m using ChatGPT to help me fix code faster, but at what cost?

In short, even though AI is helping developers at a remarkable rate, it’s not replacing them. It can, however, make them happier, as well as make the entire programming effort faster and more productive if used properly.

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