This is the transcript of a discussion I did with Rui Ma of Tech Buzz China and Monica Xie of Matrix Partners China on the trend of global developer growth, recorded on February 18, 2021. It is based off of a previous post: "Where Will the Next 50 Million Developers Come From?"

The discussion transcript is organized into the following topics:

  • Why talk about global developer growth?  
  • Diving into GitHub Report Statistics: Present and Future
  • More on Open Source: Startups vs. Tech Giants

The audio/video version of this conversation can be found on the Interconnected Voices YouTube channel.

NOTE: there is no investment advice in this transcript, any other content on this newsletter, or any episode of Interconnected Voices. Please do your own research and make your own investment decisions.


Why talk about global developer growth?  

Kevin: The foundation of this discussion is GitHub's 2020 Octoverse report, plus my own analysis of the report published on the Interconnected newsletter. Octoverse is kind of referring to Octocat, which is, you know, their mascot, and GitHub is where most of the developers in the world are hanging out and working together. And right now, based on GitHub's own claim, they have 56 million developers on their platform.

Obviously there are other competitors to GitHub as well, like GitLab, which is growing very quickly; could be a public company very soon later this year. We also have Bitbucket, which is an older collaboration platform for developers as well. SourceForge is even older than that, but they're still around. And we also have Gitee, which is a similar platform coming out of China. So there are definitely, probably more than 56 million developers. And by GitHub's own projection in this report, they will reach a hundred million developers on their platform in the next five years or so, which motivated this topic: where will this 50 million developers come from?

And the reason I kind of really fixate on developers as a role, as a persona, not just as some kind of worker type, is that they are really the driving force of this technology driven globalization force for the next probably 10, 20 years or so. We are already seeing big companies built from catering to developers like Twilio. Agora will be part of that as well. I will say JFrog and a few public companies and many, many private companies out there.

Diving into GitHub Report Statistics: Present and Future

Kevin: So what I will do is quickly go through some parts of this report, which you can download from Octoverse's website. They have actually three reports, but where you will find the information here is the community report. You have to scroll to the very end of the PDF, but you’ll find there some really beautifully laid out maps of the world to track specifically open source contributors as a proxy to measure developers in general. So obviously it's not one-to-one, but the vast majority of developers these days will contribute or at least use open source technology in some sense.

Based on this report in 2015, the United States was by far the largest of open source contributors, accounting for 30.4% of the world's contribution. Germany and the UK were number #2 and #3 with 7.3% and 5.8%. And in just five years in 2020, which is, you know, pretty much now, the US is still #1, but the proportion has fallen to 22.7% by GitHub's count. What really came up from behind was China and India, representing 9.76% and 5.2% of the global open source contribution proportion.

Another really interesting set of statistics is that GitHub is tracking a lot of countries and regions that are growing really, really quickly by percentage, even though it may be from a very small base. I think some of these regions and countries are really worth mentioning. It’s not clear by reading the report, but this is probably like a year on year growth rate from 2019 to 2020. The #1 growth rate is actually in Nigeria, which is a 65.9%, followed by Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, and Egypt. All of these places have more than 50% year on year growth in terms of the developers coming from those places. And the second half of the top 10 countries are Pakistan, Indonesia, Turkey, Colombia, and Peru.

So I'm going to pause there real quick to see if either Rui or Monica has any commentaries or reactions to some of these numbers based on what you're seeing in terms of where innovation is happening around the world.

Rui: I was just going to say that I had read your blog post before the session, and I was really surprised by some of the countries you mentioned, because I didn't realize they were such developer powerhouses or emerging developer powerhouses. Then I wonder if you had the same reaction when you read the report.

Kevin: Yeah, I was definitely surprised by, I think the growth rate in some of the African countries. Frankly, because I'm just not very familiar with that region, it may be that other people who are more knowledgeable about it, who are in this room can really put us to task and tell us that this is not surprising at all.

So the three big regions in terms of growth rates are Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America. And that's partially why I'm physically here in Mexico, even though Mexico isn't on the top 10 list, it's one of the largest economies in LATAM. It has, you know, 129 million people within Mexico and another 36 million who live in the United States and Canada. And I just learned earlier today, actually meeting with some Mexican entrepreneurs that 90 million of the 129 million in Mexico have smartphones. And their 4G data coverage is actually pretty good, even if you live in a rural area, not just big places like Mexico City or Guadalajara. So I'm definitely a little bit surprised by that. And, you know, I think as we discuss a little bit more, looking into the future, we might be even more surprised by where things could be going.

But Monica, do you have any thoughts on that before we keep on going with this discussion?

Monica: Yeah, definitely. I think there's definitely some very interesting continents that we didn't expect, but I would like to add that while I was not surprised that China is a rising force in the open source community, I was still surprised by how close it was to the US. As I just came back to China a couple of months ago, I was really surprised by how active the open source community is in China, by coming from both big tech giants, like Alibaba, Tencent, Huawei, but also like how many new startups are coming up in the open source space.

I think there's a number shared by Confluent that more than half of their contributions come from China. So I think this is definitely very exciting to see, and Matrix Partners China also has invested in a couple of open source companies, including PingCAP, which Kevin knows very well.

Kevin: And you said that that report is from Confluent, the company behind Kafka. Is that right?

Monica: Yes, but don't quote me on that. I remember from someone that shared in a webinar, not quite sure whether it's a count by contributions or contributors, but definitely a huge amount of their community comes from China.

Kevin: Okay, cool. Just for those of you who had never heard of those two words before, Kafka or Apache Kafka is a very popular open source project in the messaging streaming space. And then Confluent is the company behind or commercializing that project, which we'll get into in a little bit when it comes to open-source commercialization. We have quite a few experts in the room that I want to invite up when we talk about that, so hang on with that subject.

I want to keep going a little bit more into the rest of GitHub's projections. So GitHub provided some crystal ball content if you will, looking into their own growth and projecting into 2025. What they're seeing is that the open source contribution proportion for the United States will decrease and stabilize to around 16.4%. China's share will increase to about 13.3% and India will reach 7.9%. And there will also be some big, you know, proportion of contribution worth mentioning from Brazil, which they may see getting 2, 3% of the global share and Nigeria to 1.9%.

In addition to numbers, GitHub also has a visual for 2030 in their report, which I encourage you to squint at a little bit. The map has different shades of brightness to indicate which country or region is contributing more or less proportion than others. And if you look at the brightness between China and the United States, they’re actually pretty much indistinguishable. India is also incredibly visible. So is Russia, Brazil. Germany is still very much a contributor as well, never quite faded into the back scenes. And I think Indonesia is another one that is gaining shares.

And I do want to say that I don't want to just tell everybody about the report and take it at face value. Developers mean different things to different people or even different platforms. After I shared my post out on Twitter last week, I got some really good feedback from people who are actually doing a lot of analytics around GitHub accounts and profiles, to see how involved a lot of them really are. And there are quite a number of accounts on GitHub that maybe have one line of contribution in a project somewhere or something that's relatively minor, but still gets counted into this number. That certainly is very different materially from an account or a developer that's consistently growing their contribution into open source projects here and there.

And we can have a discussion about how much we should trust these numbers coming from GitHub, as we look at where the next crop or batch of developers will be coming from, which I think will be a very good proxy for where technology, whether it's new or older, could be updated or emerge around the world - which market, which continent, and things like that.

So with that, I want to again, have our panelists, Rui and Monica chime in a little bit. And then we'll just kind of open it up to discussion with the rest of the room. There are lots of folks in here that I think will have very valuable input to this topic.

Rui: I don't have too much to add. I'm excited to learn from others here, actually, because I primarily focus on consumer internet, so this is all new territory to me. And I've invited a bunch of people, who I think can give better clarity on the nuances that you talk about. For example, I have a GitHub account because I took some machine learning lessons and that was part of the assignment, but I definitely should not be counted as an active developer.

Kevin: We're not going to count you in that crop? Haha.

More on Open Source: Startups vs. Tech Giants

Monica: Yeah I have also invited a couple of friends I know who have been contributing and involved very deeply in the open-source community and really looking forward to what they have to say. And I have one thing to add as well. I have seen particularly how open source has become a way for startups to really tackle some tech giants in a whole new way, especially at the infrastructure level. We have seen a lot of rising open source companies working on mostly database or search engine, all those things that we previously thought would be dominated by tech giants, but by providing their products and through open source, they were able to create not only a more powerful product, but even a new standard by themselves, which is almost impossible in, I would say, the pre-open source world.

And I believe that having worked at AWS, giants are now becoming more and more open to joining this open source force in two ways. One is that they know that they themselves cannot be the only very widely adopted open source tools, even at the infrastructure level. So they have to embrace what the community has to say, and we have seen a lot of their products based on open source projects.

And the second way I've seen, like in China, I was surprised by how many open source projects there are by tech giants like Alibaba and Tencent. And I think that this will create more complexities in the competition between startups and giants, but it also opens up more opportunities for startups to innovate in new ways.

Lastly, I would like to say that for startups, if you really have a very very technology product, don't be afraid to make it open source. By leveraging the community and opening up to the world, you are actually enabling more and more companies to join you to help you iterate your product even faster and you yourself can even become the next standard of a new enterprise tech stack. This really has become a powerful way to compete with the tech giants.

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以下是我在2021年2月18日与Tech Buzz China的马睿和经纬的Monixa Xie关于全球开发者增长趋势的语音讨论的记录,基于我之前写的一篇文章《下一批5000万开发者会从哪里来?


  • 全球开发者增长为什么值得讨论?
  • GitHub报告中的数据告诉了我们什么,关于现在和未来?
  • 更多关于开源的讨论:创业公司与科技巨头

本对话的音频/视频版本可在《互联之声》 YouTube频道上找到








Kevin:我现在打算快速、有选择性地给大家过一下这份报告的内容,至于完整的报告,你可以从Octoverse的网站上下载。他们其实有三份报告,但是我们这里讨论的是社群报告(Community Report)。报告PDF的最后面还能看到一些布局非常精美的世界地图,展现的是开源贡献者在全球的分布,作为衡量普通开发者在全球分布的代理。所以很明显这不是一对一的关系,但是现在绝大多数的开发者都会在某种意义上贡献或者至少使用开源技术。






从增长率来看,最快的三大区域是非洲、中东和拉丁美洲,这也是为什么我在墨西哥的部分原因。尽管墨西哥不在前十名的名单上,但它是拉美最大的经济体之一。它有1.29亿人在墨西哥和另外3600万住在美国和加拿大。我今天早些时候也通过与墨西哥企业家们的聊天刚刚了解到, 实际上,在墨西哥的1.29亿人口中,有9000万拥有智能手机。而且他们的4G数据覆盖率其实是很不错的,不只是在墨西哥城或者瓜达拉哈拉这样的大地方,也在农村地区。所以,我肯定是有点惊讶的。而且我想随着我们讨论更多, 展望未来,我们可能会更惊讶于事件的未来走向。






Kevin:好的没问题。对于那些从来没有听说过这两个词的朋友们来说,Kafka或者Apache Kafka是消息流领域一个非常流行的开源项目。然后Confluent是这个项目背后的公司,或者说是将它商业化的公司。关于这个话题请大家再耐心等等,我们一会儿讲开源商业化的时候还会聊到。Clubhouse这间房里有不少专家,等下谈这个问题的时候我会请他们上来说说。









Monica: 我也邀请了几个认识的朋友,他们一直在深度地参与开源社区,并做出贡献,非常期待他们的发言!我还有一件事想补充,就是开源已经成为了创业公司应对科技巨头的全新方式,尤其是在基础设施层面。我们看到很多新晋的开源公司主要是在数据库或者搜索引擎方面工作,要知道这些是我们之前认为会被科技巨头所主导的东西!但是通过提供产品和开源,初创公司不仅能够创造出更强大的产品,还能够创造出新的标准。我想说,在开源之前的世界里,这几乎是不可能的完成的事。