What is GitHub Copilot: detailed dive-in

What is GitHub Copilot: detailed dive-in

Artificial intelligence is transforming information and technology practices, and modern-day coding assistants are among the most exciting applications.

Code suggestion and generation, quicker debugging, easier testing, and more can be efficiently automated. Code faster, minimize oversight and achieve better output – as simple as that.

Let’s uncover, what does GitHub Copilot do that is distinctive to other intelligent assistants?

What is GitHub Copilot?

GitHub Copilot is an advanced assistant that applies artificial intelligence to empower software developers handle everyday coding-related routines more efficiently.

The assistant can provide contextual suggestions and generate code completely from scratch using prompts. The solution can write code snippets in all programming languages that appear in public coding repositories, including Python, JavaScript, TypeScript, and others.

Market share

The assistant has a market share of 0.42% in the NLP-and-text-analytics market, with 25 category competitors. The alternatives are front-runner Hugging Face, Azure Translator, and IBM’s Watsonx Assistant with respective 40.20%, 9.36%, and 9.12% market shares.

The most prominent customers actively utilizing the algorithm – Fidelity Investments, Scandinavian Airlines, Dell, Shopify, Goldman Sachs, Mercedes Benz, and Lemonade among others.

As to Microsoft’s Fiscal Year 2024 Second Quarter Earnings Conference:

  • The assistant has now 1.3 million paid subscribers, which marks a 30% quarter-over-quarter increase
  • The solution, in particular Copilot Business, has brought 50,000 customers across industries

As to Stack Overflow’s annual survey, the tool was the top pick among queried software developers in 2023:

  • GitHub Copilot – 54.77%
  • Tabnine assistant – 12.88%
  • AWS CodeWhisperer – 5.14%
  • Other tools out of the list – 1.92%

User feedback

According to Mark Cote, at Shopify, the majority of surveyed software developers who leverage the assistant say it’s a tool they’re using no less than once a week, certainly justifying the investment.

As to GitHub’s research:

  • About 60-70% of users reported feeling more fulfilled with their work duties and even less frustrated
  • Software developers reported using the tool
    • To stay on track – 73%
    • And preserve mental workload when performing repetitive activities – 87% 

What about Microsoft Copilot?

Microsoft’s Copilot is another advanced assistant that works within the Microsoft 365 cloud-based platform. The assistant is operating alongside other Microsoft applications – Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Teams, and more – to untangle everyday processes and facilitate greater productivity.

Both technologies are designed to empower business leaders on their digitization journey across industries, however, follow different objectives:

  • MS Copilot is applied to make the interaction with applications more intuitive and productive
  • GitHubs’s Copilot is integrated to automate coding routines 
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What can GitHub Copilot do for software developers?

What are the opportunities GitHub Copilot might provide?

Code suggestion

As you write code, the assistant can offer value-added suggestions, precisely tailored to your current context. What’s more, as you request help, the system will provide multiple options for you to select the best-suiting, and generate additional suggestions if you’re not happy with the first batch.

Code generation

If you’re writing code from scratch, the assistant can draft basic code and boilerplates to facilitate the process. By receiving a description of your current objective, the system can help to create new functions and classes, and other code structures.

Efficient debugging 

You can also ask the algorithm to recommend thought-out strategies and solutions to resolve coding mistakes:

  • If using the IDE, just describe the error in the Copilot Chat
  • If using the CLI, type /fix to get a suggestion

Simplified testing

To verify your code will function as intended, you can also use the program to generate all-out unit test cases. You can simply select a block of code and ask to create test cases for it or describe the features to test.

And how to use GitHub Copilot to maximize the benefits?

Moving further, how do you apply GitHub Copilot to make the most out of the process?

Get specific

To provide relevant suggestions and recommendations, the system must receive detailed and precise prompts. For example, to make the algorithm help write a code to draw a house, you should provide information on the house size, the number of stories and rooms, the color, and other specific things. 

Provide examples

By having more context on what you’re envisioning, the system is way more likely to provide desired output. With examples, the algorithm will have less room for misinterpretation.

Maintain consistent naming conventions

To help the assistant understand context, try using naming conventions to describe the purpose of variables. This practice will keep the output more organized, as the GitHub Copilot will replicate naming conventions you’re using when writing your code.

Break down complicated things 

The assistant works best when writing shorter snippets, so try breaking down the tasks into small, simple steps. To write a function, first explain every step Git’s Copilot must follow.

Is Copilot free for individual users?

You can try out the assistant for free by accessing the extension with the zero-cost, one-time, one-month trial, after which you’ll need a subscription: 

  • Copilot Individual – for your personal use
  • Copilot Team – for members of organizations, which enables the owner to manage the access for employees and teams
  • Copilot Enterprise – for members of enterprises, which enables the executives to manage the access for employees and organizations and offers greater flexibility, regulatory compliance, and security

For students and teachers, as well as maintainers of popular open-source projects, the assistant is free to use. All that is needed – a verification of the claimed role.

GitHub Copilot pricing overview

To highlight the most important features:

Copilot Team– Either $4/month or $3.67/month for the yearly subscription
– GitHub Copilot and Codespaces 
– 3,000 CI/CD execution minutes a month
– 2GB of packages storage
– Protected branches
– Web-based support
Copilot Enterprise– Either $21/month or $19.25/month for the yearly subscription
– GitHub Copilot, Codespaces, Connect
– GitHub security, which includes SOC1, SOC2, FedRAMP ATO, SAML SSO
– 50,000 CI/CD execution minutes a month
– 50GB of packages storage
– Premium support

But how good is GitHub Copilot?

GitHub Copilot can help write code, encourage engineers to use best practices, and expand general expertise. With quite wide-ranging capabilities, from offering next lines and creating new structures to writing test cases, the solution can facilitate typically manual, tedious aspects coming with software development.

And still, the Copilot can’t replace human knowledge & experience – you should always review its responses. You might also prefer to use the solution for specific programming languages and frameworks over others since results typically vary.

Getting started: how to install the GitHub Copilot?

Let’s go back to the essentials, how to get the GitHub Copilot to leverage its capabilities?

Choose plan

When starting to use the assistant through your personal account, you’ll need a free demo trial or subscription. If talking about subscriptions, you can choose between Copilot Individual, Copilot Business, and Enterprise.

Install extension

Next step:

  • If you don’t have Visual Studio Code installed, go to their webpage to get the editor
  • If you do have the tool, go straight to install the extension from the Visual Studio Marketplace website 

Get suggestions

The algorithm can provide relevant suggestions across several popular languages and variety of frameworks. The support is usually especially comprehensive for Python, JavaScript, TypeScript, Ruby, Go, and C#.

Next steps

To get the most out of the solution:

  • Configure the GitHub Copilot in your current editor to enable and disable it faster and create your own preferred shortcuts to work more efficiently 
  • Get started with the GitHub Copilot Chat feature to ask for information and assistance
  • Practice writing detailed prompts
  • Learn troubleshooting by leveraging the algorithm
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GitHub assistants’ key benefits

Greater efficiency 

GitHub Copilot might empower software developers by automating traditionally manual, repetitive processes. In fact, as highlighted by McKinsey, software engineers can complete coding-related activities up to two times as fast by applying generative AI.

How GitHub assistant can provide greater efficiency

More specifically, the assistant might provide greater efficiency by providing:

  • Code autocompletion, by completing repetitive snippets and searching specific syntax
  • Code generation, by writing boilerplate structures for functions and classes
  • Comprehensive documentation, by ensuring the comments and descriptions are up-to-date 
  • Codebase analysis, by identifying inefficient patterns and offering better alternatives

Continuous learning

GitHub Copilot, when utilized alongside other educational resources, can help further advanced existing skills. As reported by Forbes, generative AI has demonstrated the potential to transform knowledge application, knowledge storage and retrieval, as well as further knowledge distribution within organizations. 

In particular, the assistant might support continuous learning by providing:

  • Coding suggestions for optimization, readability, maintainability, and performance
  • Coding concepts and terminology, helping understand unfamiliar topics
  • Problem-solving approaches
  • Greater exposure to correct code syntax and structures to internalize standard patterns

GitHub’s assistant: any concerns?

The algorithm was trained on publicly available resources and might inherit flaws from that training datasets. The suggestions might include security vulnerabilities and reference outdated information.

Even with introduced measures to prevent inaccurate responses, offensive and biased prompts are inevitable. To enable code evaluation, the provider offers several useful features – GitHub Actions, Dependabot, CodeQL, and automatic code scanning.

Summing up

Abto Software, Microsoft Gold Certified Partner, is your perfect partner to deliver enterprise-level products. Our company has been empowering leaders across industries – healthcare, retail, finance, construction – since 2007.

Our practice has proven how applying artificial intelligence into workflows can facilitate overall productivity. Increased efficiency, decreased mistakes, employee satisfaction and morale, and consistency across processes – by leveraging advanced techniques, we deliver on-demand products that transform business operations.

And with GitHub’s algorithm utilized alongside domain expertise, our engineers can streamline intense routines to deliver value-added solutions.

Our services:

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