Microsoft CEO accidentally underplays GitHub’s pervasiveness


Commentary: Few things rock a developer’s world like GitHub. Here’s why just about every developer depends on it.


Image: GitHub

Do you know any company of reasonable heft that isn’t using GitHub? No, the company might not be using it to launch its own open source projects (though, hopefully, that’s coming), but Git has become standard for building and maintaining software, and developers tend to default to GitHub for running Git

Which is why it’s odd Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced that 72% of Fortune 50 companies use GitHub “to build, ship, and maintain software.” Looking at the most recent State of the Octoverse report, it seems what Nadella meant to say was that 72% of those Fortune 50 companies run GitHub Enterprise. But verbal “typo” notwithstanding, 72% of large enterprises may pay for GitHub Enterprise, but roughly 100% of enterprises depend on GitHub in some way. Let’s dig into the numbers that bear this out. 

SEE: A guide to The Open Source Index and GitHub projects checklist (TechRepublic Premium)

Doing developer math

I fact-checked Nadella’s 72% claim not because it seemed high, but because it seemed low. GitHub has become central to how developers build software; as such, the true number of developers using GitHub, as Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols pointed out, is almost certainly 100%.

Yes, many companies will use GitLab (here are just a few of them). But even where companies use a different spin on Git, their developers are still using GitHub. Count on it. 

SEE: Implementing DevOps: A guide for IT pros (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

How? Well, two years ago GitHub announced that more than 40 million developers were using GitHub. As I said then, that number was almost certainly inflated, just as is the 65 million number that GitHub touts today. Historically GitHub has counted “the total number of non-spammy user accounts on GitHub…regardless of their activity status,” thereby including all sorts of inactive accounts, or multiple accounts from the same developer (as is the case with developers like Ian Massingham). 

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So, GitHub overcounts. But even if GitHub is double or triple counting (which seems unlikely), it’s still hard to do math that suggests most developers aren’t using GitHub in some way. After all, by a range of estimates, the global population of software developers is likely somewhere around 20 million. (SlashData pegged the software developer population at close to 19 million in 2019; Evans Data had it at 23 million in 2018; and Statista estimated the total at 23.9 million in 2019.)  

And, yes, virtually all of them use GitHub, whether pulling from public repositories or pushing code to a private repository. GitHub comes with integrations into the tooling developers care most about (CI/CD, etc.). It also has the community that makes the world’s largest repository of code come alive. Through the power of Git, GitHub makes version control powerful; through the power of GitHub, that version control becomes approachable to a wider body of developers. 

In short, few developers can avoid the gravitational pull of GitHub, even if some have managed to evade GitHub Enterprise.

Disclosure: I work for AWS, but the views expressed herein are mine and don’t represent those of my employer.

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