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Survey reveals AI’s impact on the developer experience

We surveyed 500 U.S.-based developers at companies with 1,000-plus employees about how managers should consider developer productivity, collaboration, and AI coding tools.

Survey reveals AI’s impact on the developer experience
Authors

Developers today do more than just write and ship code—they’re expected to navigate a number of tools, environments, and technologies, including the new frontier of generative artificial intelligence (AI) coding tools. But the most important thing for developers isn’t story points or the speed of deployments. It’s the developer experience, which determines how efficiently and productively developers can exceed standards, enter a flow state, and drive impact.

I say this not only as GitHub’s chief product officer, but as a long-time developer who has worked across every part of the stack. Decades ago, when I earned my master’s in mechanical engineering, I became one of the first technologists to apply AI in the lab. Back then, it would take our models five days to process our larger datasets—which is striking considering the speed of today’s AI models. I yearned for tools that would make me more efficient and shorten my time to production. This is why I’m passionate about developer experience (DevEx) and have made it my focus as GitHub’s chief product officer.

Amid the rapid advancements in generative AI, we wanted to get a better understanding from developers about how new tools—and current workflows—are impacting the overall developer experience. As a starting point, we focused on some of the biggest components of the developer experience: developer productivity, team collaboration, AI, and how developers think they can best drive impact in enterprise environments.

To do so, we partnered with Wakefield Research to survey 500 U.S.-based developers at enterprise companies. In the following report, we’ll show how organizations can remove barriers to help enterprise engineering teams drive innovation and impact in this new age of software development. 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. After all, there can be no progress without developers who are empowered to drive impact.

Inbal Shani
Chief Product Officer // GitHub

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Why developer experience matters

At GitHub, we’re aware there’s often a significant gap between the day-to-day reality for most developers and “conversations about ‘what developers want.’”

With this survey, we wanted to better understand the typical experience for developers—and identify key ways companies can empower their developers and achieve greater success.

One big takeaway: It starts with investing in a great developer experience. And collaboration, as we learned from our research, is at the core of how developers want to work and what makes them most productive, satisfied, and impactful.

A diagram of a formula behind the developer experience that accounts for productivity, impact, satisfaction, and collaboration.
C = Collaboration, the multiplier across the entire developer experience.

DevEx is a formula that takes into account:

  • How simple and fast it is for a developer to implement a change on a codebase—or be productive.
  • How frictionless it is to move from idea through production to impact.
  • How positively or negatively the work environment, workflows, and tools affect developer satisfaction.

For leaders, developer experience is about creating a collaborative environment where developers can be their most productive, impactful, and satisfied at work. For developers, collaboration is one of the most important parts of the equation.

Current performance metrics fall short of developer expectations

Developers say performance metrics don’t meet expectations

The way developers are currently evaluated doesn’t align with how they think their performance should be measured.

  • For instance, the developers we surveyed say they’re currently measured by the number of incidents they resolve. But developers believe that how they handle those bugs and issues is more important to performance. This aligns with the belief that code quality over code quantity should remain a top performance metric.
  • Developers also believe collaboration and communication should be just as important as code quality in terms of performance measures. Their ability to collaborate and communicate with others is essential to their job, but only 33% of developers report that their companies use it as a performance metric.
Key survey findings showing what developer say their managers use to measure their performance and what developers think will matter more when they start using AI coding tools.
Metrics currently used to measure performance, compared with metrics developers think should be used to measure their performance.
More than output quantity and efficiency, code quality and collaboration are the most
important performance metrics, according to the developers we surveyed.
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A chart showing what developers say their teams spend the most time doing at work.
The top ranked responses that developers say their teams are working the most on including writing code and finding and fixing security vulnerabilities.

Developers want more opportunities to upskill and drive impact

When developers are asked about what makes a positive impact on their workday, they rank learning new skills (43%), getting feedback from end users (39%), and automated tests (38%), and designing solutions to novel problems (36%) as top contenders.

A ranked list of the tasks 500 U.S.-based developers say have the most positive impact on their workdays.
The top tasks developers say positively impact their workdays.

But developers say they’re spending most of their time writing code and tests, then waiting for that code to be reviewed or builds and tests to be executed.

On a typical day, the enterprise developers we surveyed report their teams are busy with a variety of tasks, including writing code, fixing security vulnerabilities, and getting feedback from end users, among other things. Developers also report that they spend a similar amount of time across these tasks, indicating that they’re stretched thin throughout the day.

A ranked list of the top tasks developers and software engineers say they spend the most time working on each day.
The tasks developers say they spend the most time working on each day.

Notably, developers say they spend the same amount of time waiting for builds and tests as they do writing new code.

  • This suggests that wait times for builds and tests are still a persistent problem despite investments in DevOps tools over the past decade.
  • Developers also continue to face obstacles, such as waiting on code review, builds, and test runs, which can hinder their ability to learn new skills and design solutions to novel problems, and our research suggests that these factors can have the biggest impact on their overall satisfaction.

Developers want feedback from end users, but face challenges

Developers say getting feedback from end users (39%) is the second-most important thing that positively impacts their workdays—but it’s often challenging for development teams to get that feedback directly.

  • Product managers and marketing teams often act as intermediaries, making it difficult for developers to directly receive end-user feedback.
  • Developers would ideally receive feedback from automated and validation tests to improve their work, but sometimes these tests are sent to other teams before being handed off to engineering teams.

The top two daily tasks for development teams include writing code (32%) and finding and fixing security vulnerabilities (31%).

  • This shows the increased importance developers have placed on security and underscores how companies are prioritizing security.
  • It also demonstrates the critical role that enterprise development teams play in meeting policy and board edicts around security.

The bottom line
Developers want to upskill, design solutions, get feedback from end users, and be evaluated on their communication skills. However, wait times on builds and tests, as well as the current performance metrics they’re evaluated on, are getting in the way.

Collaboration is the cornerstone of the developer experience

Developers thrive in collaborative environments

In our survey of enterprise engineers, developers say they work with an average of 21 other developers on a typical project—and 52% report working with other teams daily or weekly. Notably, they rank regular touchpoints as the most important factor for effective collaboration.

A survey finding that developers at enterprise companies often work with an average of 21 developers on other projects and often work on a daily or weekly basis with colleagues.
Developers in enterprise settings often work with an average of 21 other developers on a daily or weekly cadence.

But developers also have a holistic view of collaboration—it’s defined not only by talking and meeting with others, but also by uninterrupted work time, access to fully configured developer environments, and formal mentor-mentee relationships.

  • Specified blocks with no team communication give developers the time and space to write code and work towards team goals.
  • Access to fully configured developer environments promotes consistency throughout the development process. It also helps developers collaborate faster and avoid hearing the infamous line, “But it worked on my machine.”
  • Mentorships can help developers upskill and build interpersonal skills that are essential in a collaborative work environment.

It’s important to note these factors can also negatively impact a developer’s work day—which suggests that ineffective meetings can serve to distract rather than help developers (something we’ve found in previous research).

The key factors developers in a survey say contribute most highly to effective team collaboration including meetings, dedicated time for individual work, and access to fully configured dev environments.

Our survey indicates the factors most important to effective collaboration are so critical that when they’re not done effectively, they have a noticeable, negative impact on a developer’s work.

A ranked list of the top tasks developers in a survey reported as having a negative impact on their overall workday experience.
The tasks developers say most often have a negative impact on their workday experience.
Developers work with an average of 21 people on any given project. They need the time and tools for success—including regular touchpoints, heads-down time, access to fully-configured dev environments, and formal mentor-mentee relationships.
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We wanted to learn more about how developers collaborate

So, we sourced some answers from our followers on Twitter. We asked developers what tips they have for effective collaboration. Here’s what one developer had to say:

Twitter user Colby Ray had multiple points in response to our prompt. Click the image to read his tweet.

We also asked what makes for a productive and valuable meeting:

Twitter user kettenaito had several points in response to our prompt. Click the image to read on Twitter.

Twitter user Mateus Feira had several points in response to our prompt. Click the image to read on Twitter.

Effective collaboration improves code quality

As developer experience continues to be defined, so, too, will successful developer collaboration. Too many pings and messages can affect flow, but there’s still a need to stay in touch. In our survey, developers say effective collaboration results in improved test coverage and faster, cleaner, more secure code writing—which are best practices for any development team. This shows that when developers work effectively with others, they believe they build better and more secure software.

Developers in a survey report that collaboration positively impacts how they write code, how fast they can ship it, and more.
Developers widely view effective collaboration as helping to improve what they ship and how often they ship it.

Developers we surveyed believe collaboration and communication—along with code quality—should be the top priority for evaluation.

  • From DevOps to agile methodologies, developers and the greater business world have been talking about the importance of collaboration for a long time.
  • But developers are still not being measured on it.
Developers in a survey respond to a question about what metrics they believe their companies should use to measure their performance and productivity.
The metrics that developers think their managers should use to evaluate their performance and productivity.

We asked developers to share their ideas for measuring how well they collaborate. Here’s what one developer had to say:

Twitter user Andrew DiMola had several points in response to our prompt. Click to read on Twitter.

  • The takeaway: Companies and engineering managers should encourage regular team communication, and set time to check in–especially in remote environments–but respect developers’ need to work and focus.
Developers think regular touchpoints with their teams including meetings, asynchronous communication, and innersource practices help organizations collaborate at scale.
Developers believe that effective and regular touchpoints with their colleagues are critical for effective team collaboration.

4 tips for engineering managers to improve collaboration

At GitHub, our researchers, developers, product teams, and analysts are dedicated to studying and improving developer productivity and satisfaction. Here are their tips for engineering leaders who want to improve collaboration among developers:

  1. Make collaboration a goal in performance objectives. This builds the space and expectation that people will collaborate. This could be in the form of lunch and learns, joint projects, etc.
  2. Define and scope what collaboration looks like in your organization. Let people know when they’re being informed about something vs. being consulted about something. A matrix outlining roles and responsibilities helps define each person’s role and is something GitHub teams have implemented.
  3. Give developers time to converse and get to know one another. In particular, remote or hybrid organizations need to dedicate a portion of a developer’s time and virtual space to building relationships. Check out the GitHub guides to remote work.
  4. Identify principal and distinguished engineers. Academic research supports the positive impact of change agents in organizations—and how they should be the people who are exceptionally great at collaboration. It’s a matter of identifying your distinguished engineers and elevating them to a place where they can model desired behaviors.

The bottom line
Effective developer collaboration improves code quality and should be a performance measure. Regular touchpoints, heads-down time, access to fully configured dev environments, and formal mentor-mentee relationships result in improved test coverage and faster, cleaner, more secure code writing.

AI improves individual performance and team collaboration

Developers are already using AI coding tools at work

A staggering 92% of U.S.-based developers working in large companies report using an AI coding tool either at work or in their personal time—and 70% say they see significant benefits to using these tools.

  • AI is here to stay—and it’s already transforming how developers approach their day-to-day work. That makes it critical for businesses and engineering leaders to adopt enterprise-grade AI tools to avoid their developers using non-approved applications. Companies should also establish governance standards for using AI tools to ensure that they are used ethically and effectively.
92% of developers in a survey say they're already using AI coding tools at work.
Almost all developers are already using AI coding tools at and outside of work.

70% of developers see a benefit to using AI coding tools at work.

Almost all (92%) developers use AI coding tools at work—and a majority (67%) have used these tools in both a work setting and during their personal time. Curiously, only 6% of developers in our survey say they solely use these tools outside of work.
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Developers believe AI coding tools will enhance their performance

With most developers experimenting with AI tools in the workplace, our survey results suggest it’s not just idle interest leading developers to use AI. Rather, it’s a recognition that AI coding tools will help them meet performance standards.

  • In our survey, developers say AI coding tools can help them meet existing performance standards with improved code quality, faster outputs, and fewer production-level incidents. They also believe that these metrics should be used to measure their performance beyond code quantity.
The metrics developers say their managers use to measure their productivity vs. the metrics developers think their managers should use to measure their productivity if they use AI coding tools.
Developers widely think that AI coding tools will layer into their existing workflows and bring greater efficiencies—but they do not think AI will change how software is made.

Around one-third of developers report that their managers currently assess their performance based on the volume of code they produce—and an equal number anticipate that this will persist when they start using AI-based coding tools.

  • Notably, the quantity of code a developer produces may not necessarily correspond to its business value.
  • Stay smart. With the increase of AI tooling being used in software development—which often contributes to code volume—engineering leaders will need to ask whether measuring code volume is still the best way to measure productivity and output.

Developers think AI coding tools will lead to greater team collaboration

Beyond improving individual performance, more than 4 in 5 developers surveyed (81%) say AI coding tools will help increase collaboration within their teams and organizations.

  • In fact, security reviews, planning, and pair programming are the most significant points of collaboration and the tasks that development teams are expected to, and should, work on with the help of AI coding tools. This also indicates that code and security reviews will remain important as developers increase their use of AI coding tools in the workplace.
Developers believe that AI coding tools will make engineering teams more collaborative as the quality of code produced becomes ever more important.
Developers think their teams will need to become more collaborative as they start using AI coding tools.
Sometimes, developers can do the same thing with one line or multiple lines of code. Even still, one-third of developers in our survey say their managers measure their performance based on how much code they produce.
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Notably, developers believe AI coding tools will give them more time to focus on solution design. This has direct organizational benefits and means developers believe they’ll spend more time designing new features and products with AI instead of writing boilerplate code.

  • Developers are already using generative AI coding tools to automate parts of their workflow, which frees up time for more collaborative projects like security reviews, planning, and pair programming.
Developers think AI coding tools will help them upskill, become more productive, and focus on higher-value problem solving.
Developers believe that AI coding tools will help them focus on higher-value problem solving.

Developers think AI increases productivity and prevents burnout

Not only can AI coding tools help improve overall productivity, but they can also provide upskilling opportunities to help create a smarter workforce according to the developers we surveyed.

  • 57% of developers believe AI coding tools help them improve their coding language skills—which is the top benefit they see. Beyond the prospect of acting as an upskilling aid, developers also say AI coding tools can also help with reducing cognitive effort, and since mental capacity and time are both finite resources, 41% of developers believe that AI coding tools can help with preventing burnout.
  • In previous research we conducted, 87% of developers reported that the AI coding tool GitHub Copilot helped them preserve mental effort while completing more repetitive tasks. This shows that AI coding tools allow developers to preserve cognitive effort and focus on more challenging and innovative aspects of software development or research and development.
  • AI coding tools help developers upskill while they work. Across our survey, developers consistently rank learning new skills as the number one contributor to a positive workday. But 30% also say learning and development can have a negative impact on their overall workday, which suggests some developers view learning and development as adding more work to their workdays. Notably, developers say the top benefit of AI coding tools is learning new skills—and these tools can help developers learn while they work, instead of making learning and development an additional task.
Developers are already using generative AI coding tools to automate parts of their workflow, which frees up time for more collaborative projects like security reviews, planning, and pair programming.
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AI is improving the developer experience across the board

Developers in our survey suggest they can better meet standards around code quality, completion time, and the number of incidents when using AI coding tools—all of which are measures developers believe are key areas for evaluating their performance.

AI coding tools can also help reduce the likelihood of coding errors and improve the accuracy of code—which ultimately leads to more reliable software, increased application performance, and better performance numbers for developers. As AI technology continues to advance, it is likely that these coding tools will have an even greater impact on developer performance and upskilling.

AI coding tools are layering into existing developer workflows and creating greater efficiencies

Developers believe that AI coding tools will increase their productivity—but our survey suggests that developers don’t think these tools are fundamentally altering the software development lifecycle. Instead, developers suggest they’re bringing greater efficiencies to it.

  • The use of automation and AI has been a part of the developer workflow for a considerable amount of time, with developers already utilizing a range of automated and AI-powered tools, such as machine learning-based security checks and CI/CD pipelines.
  • Rather than completely overhauling operations, these tools create greater efficiencies within existing workflows, and that frees up more time for developers to concentrate on developing solutions.

The bottom line
Almost all developers (92%) are using AI coding at work—and they say these tools not only improve day-to-day tasks but enable upskilling opportunities, too. Developers see material benefits to using AI tools including improved performance and coding skills, as well as increased team collaboration.

The path forward

Developer satisfaction, productivity, and organizational impact are all positioned to get a boost from AI coding tools—and that will have a material impact on the overall developer experience.

92% of developers already saying they use AI coding tools at work and in their personal time, which makes it clear AI is here to stay. 70% of the developers we surveyed say they already see significant benefits when using AI coding tools, and 81% of the developers we surveyed expect AI coding tools to make their teams more collaborative—which is a net benefit for companies looking to improve both developer velocity and the developer experience.

Notably, 57% of developers believe that AI could help them upskill—and hold the potential to build learning and development into their daily workflow. With all of this in mind, technical leaders should start exploring AI as a solution to improve satisfaction, productivity, and the overall developer experience.

In addition to exploring AI tools, here are three takeaways engineering and business leaders should consider to improve the developer experience:

  1. Help your developers enter a flow state with tools, processes, and practices that help them be productive, drive impact, and do creative and meaningful work.
  2. Empower collaboration by breaking down organizational silos and providing developers with the opportunity to communicate efficiently.
  3. Make room for upskilling within developer workflows through key investments in AI to help your organization experiment and innovate for the future.

Methodology

This report draws on a survey conducted online by Wakefield Research on behalf of GitHub from March 14, 2023 through March 29, 2023 among 500 non-student, U.S.-based developers who are not managers and work at companies with 1,000-plus employees. For a complete survey methodology, please contact press@github.com.

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