Open source developers have worked longer hours and spent more free time programming during the pandemic, new GitHub report shows

Nicole Forsgren google devops dora
Dr. Nicole Forsgren, one of the leading experts on DevOps, and a Google researcher and strategist.

  • Developers are working longer hours and spending time on the weekends contributing to open source software projects, according to GitHub’s annual State of the Octoverse report.
  • Developers may have more time because the pandemic cut out long commutes or they may want to boost their skills during a time of economic instability. 
  • Projects like Google’s AI framework TensorFlow, the Python programming language, and coronavirus-related software have all experienced increased attention. 
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The coronavirus pandemic has brought many changes to how people work, socialize, and spend their free time – including for developers.

Namely, they’re working longer hours and spending more free time writing code, according to a new report from Microsoft-owned GitHub. GitHub, a site for hosting open source projects which over 56 million total developers flock to, published its annual State of the Octoverse report on how developers are working and what the community can learn from it.

The report found that developers are working longer hours during the pandemic, particularly Tuesday through Friday. But they’re also coding more in their free time: Non-work open source contributions increased significantly on the weekends. (GitHub’s report distinguished “work” from free-time projects based on whether the activity came from paid enterprise accounts.) 

People may be coding more now that commutes have been cut out of their work day and typical social events have dwindled. Or, they may look to open source contributions as a way to learn new skills or boost existing ones during a time of economic instability.

“It’s this really interesting, encouraging pattern that people have found another escape in open source,” vice president of research and strategy at GitHub, Nicole Forsgren, told Business Insider. “Some people want to stay home and name their sourdough starter, some people play video games, some people do open source.”

For example, the community for TensorFlow, the Google-born AI open source framework, has grown into a large and established community that now has over 11,000 contributors (up from nearly 10,000 last year). 

Once coronavirus-related lockdowns started around March, the number of new open source projects created jumped 40% year-over-year, which included the rise of open source projects that promote good causes, particularly those related to COVID-19. For example, earlier this year a GitHub engineer built a COVID-19 dashboard to easily track growing cases. The number of new projects created eventually leveled out to about a 25% increase in September.  

Making a software project available as open source is a way for the product to build a community and spread faster since it’s free for anyone to use or contribute code to, and, notably, several open source software startups have also raised funding this year. Cash-strapped companies looking to cut costs may also turn to open source software.

Developers are working faster and using automation when they code

Not only are developers spending more time writing code at work and in their free time, they’re also updating code much faster. The time it took to merge code to a codebase has decreased by 18% this year, the report says.

Part of that decrease may be attributable to an increase in automation, which has the potential to help developers be more productive. For example, developers can automate repetitive tasks, such as code testing. 

“It allows you to free up some time so you can get back to what really matters and get back to the things you want to do, which is nice especially this year,” Forsgren said. 

Read more: Python has overtaken Java as one of the hottest programming languages in the world, according to GitHub. Here’s how a boom in AI jobs is helping developers use the easy-to-learn language to land six-figure salaries.

The trend towards automation has helped give rise to data languages like Python, used frequently data science applications. Python has seen especially strong growth, as it’s frequently used in coronavirus-specific projects, as well as AI projects like TensorFlow. Already, Python has overtaken Java to become the second most popular programming language, after JavaScript.

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