GitHub's tricky AI balance

Today: how GitHub is trying to introduce new AI features without alienating its core user base, Google unveils its latest AI supermodel, and the latest moves in enterprise tech.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella (left) joined GitHub CEO Thomas Dohmke on stage at GitHub Universe in November.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella (left) joined GitHub CEO Thomas Dohmke on stage at GitHub Universe in November. (Credit: GitHub)

Welcome to Runtime! Today: how GitHub is trying to introduce new AI features without alienating its core user base, Google unveils its latest AI supermodel, and the latest moves in enterprise tech.

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Shipping to learn

At this point in 2023, It's hard to find a tech company that hasn't embraced generative AI, especially one owned by Microsoft. But what did GitHub CEO Thomas Dohmke mean last month when he proclaimed that GitHub has been "refounded on Copilot," acknowledging the surge of interest in its coding-assistant tool?

Warning bells immediately sounded for a generation of software developers raised on GitHub. To those who have been there from the beginning, Dohmke's statement — and the demo of GitHub Copilot Workspace — signaled a changing of the guard, a new era for GitHub that was focused less on improving the core experience and more on ramming a generative AI black box into every nook and cranny of a widely used workflow.

Last week GitHub COO Kyle Daigle described the idea of "refounding" the company as a nod to how AI will soon impact most aspects of software development one way or another, rather than a massive course change that pushes the goal of improving a familiar and fundamental user experience to the back burner.

  • "I think it's not that far off to say in the next two years, writing software — the process, that flow — is likely to be completely different," Daigle said.
  • "The refounding idea is not saying open source doesn't matter anymore, (or) developer collaboration doesn't matter anymore. We're signaling that we're in another nexus moment where software development — all-up — is about to change."

GitHub Copilot is likely the most widely used enterprise generative AI tool among professional software developers as the year of the AI boom comes to a close, 

  • The tool, which suggests working snippets of code that solve common problems as developers write software, is being piloted or used to write production code at 37,000 organizations with over 1 million paid users, Microsoft said in October.
  • But GitHub Copilot is used as an extension to an IDE, or integrated development environment, which is more or less a word processor for writing code.
  • The classic GitHub experience is centered around the review of code; deciding whether or not new code submitted as a pull request is ready for the main codebase, fixing bugs or issues in production code, or assigning tasks to developers.
  • While developers have flocked to coding assistants, where they can review the AI-suggested code right as part of the writing process, there was a fair amount of grumbling that GitHub was about to fix something that wasn't broken in favor of improving the core experience.

Daigle disagreed with that interpretation, but clearly heard the feedback.

  • "I think that as a developer … we're the first group to disrupt everyone. And then when disruption comes for us, we suddenly find reasons why it can't always work," he said.
  • Making sure GitHub stays top-of-mind for developers is a key priority for Microsoft, which enjoys a substantial amount of developer mindshare thanks to investments in GitHub and VSCode. 
  • "Microsoft isn't shy about the fact that over time, they want to benefit from that (investment), too, they want to be able to have GitHub be the front door for developers," Daigle said.

Nobody likes change, but the need to keep existing users happy at the expense of evolving their products and services along with emerging technologies has doomed many enterprise tech companies to a slow demise.

  • "What we're trying to find is how can you add these AI powered workflows via Copilot into the rest of the GitHub experience where it actually adds value, not just slap an AI button on it or chat experience on it, and it's going to be totally fixed," Daigle said.
  • "We're shipping to learn, we don't want to break things and move fast."

Read the full story on Runtime here.


Google's long-held reputation as an AI pioneer took a hit a little more than a year ago when OpenAI shipped ChatGPT, which was based in part on many research breakthroughs made by people working for Google. It took a step toward regaining some of that swagger this week with the release of Gemini.

Gemini, a "multimodal" AI model that can work with text, images, and speech will be available in three flavors: Nano, designed for smartphones; Pro, a competitor to OpenAI's GPT 3.5 that will be available next week; and Ultra, the most powerful version of Gemini that will compete head to head with OpenAI's GPT-4 model but won't be available until "early next year."

It's easy to understand why everyone fixates on the horse race between the big AI powers, but as companies like Google start to catch up to OpenAI (after shedding their internal concerns about the possible harmful effects of releasing these models), that story starts to become less interesting. Some customers will always want the most powerful model they can get, but in the enterprise, the companies that make a variety of AI models accessible and digestible by businesses that can't afford to hire top-tier AI talent could be in the best position.

Enterprise moves

Ashan Willy is the new CEO of New Relic, after almost two years as CEO of Proofpoint, another enterprise software company acquired by private equity.

Igor Tsyganskiy is the new CISO at Microsoft, replacing Bret Arsenault, who I profiled for Protocol in 2020 and who will move into a new role as chief security advisor.

Jigar Desai is the new CTO at Calendly, after serving in senior product roles at Sisu and Meta.

Max Roberts and Belinda Finch are the new COO and CIO, respectively, at IFS, which develops cloud software for managing heavy industries like aerospace and construction.

Scott Jones is the new chief revenue officer at Fivetran, joining the data platform company after serving as CEO of Incorta.

The Runtime roundup

AMD introduced a new series of GPUs that appear to be competitive with Nvidia's high-end chips, at least until the next generation comes out.

Microsoft's investment in OpenAI is arguably one of the most important things it has done in years, and Marketwatch asks a good question: Why does Microsoft insist that for financial purposes, that investment is immaterial?

One-cushy sales jobs at Salesforce have become a lot more difficult in the post-ZIRP era, according to Bloomberg.

Steve Katz, known in security circles as "the first CISO" after assuming that role at Citicorp in 1995, died last weekend.

Thanks for reading — see you Saturday!

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