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AI isn’t driving innovation alone, it’s giving developers the capacity they need to do high-impact work

8 July 2024 , by Josh Nel

If you want reliable community data on AI’s impact, check out the 2024 AI Skills and Impact Report. Get access to the report now.

It’s tempting to think that AI drives impact through code generation and replicating human creativity, but that’s not how South African developers use it to drive customer impact at speed. The data suggests developers are in the driver's seat when it comes to innovation, with AI taking over tasks that allow them to focus more energy on high-impact work. Here, we’ll explore how AI’s role in freeing up extra dev capacity is the secret to its impact.

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AI is starting to drive the innovation and impact that SA devs are so excited about

AI has been South African developers’ most promising industry since at least 2021, and has only extended its lead since then:

The percentage of developers listing it as the most promising industry grew massively, from 50% to 68% in 2024.

Rapid advancements in AI tools like ChatGPT-4 and code-writing assistants have contributed to the excitement, but developers themselves say they’re most excited about AI’s opportunities for innovation.

Devs are actively exploring what they can do with these tools with the majority working with AI APIs and code-writing assistants in their work and personal projects.

So, has this led to real gains for tech teams and companies? The initial feedback from both developers and leads is encouraging:

75.3% of devs and 58% of engineering managers say they’ve driven customer impact faster with AI.

As an engineering manager, has your team shipped impact quicker or more consistently when using AI?

Productivity gains aren’t coming at the expense of developers

The ability to drive customer impact at speed using AI isn’t because these tools are replacing devs, and it’s also not from devs using AI to cut corners or generate entire code bases.

Instead, these gains come from devs who use AI to free up the capacity they need for high-impact work. We can see this playing out in the data:

How do you use AI tools?

Developers use AI in three main ways: data analysis, automating routine tasks and levelling up. Each allows devs to spend more time on high-impact work that drives real impact:

  • Automating data analysis means more time is available to strategise and act on insights.
  • Automating testing of software applications which minimises the number of manual tests developers need to run.
  • Optimising code performance by highlighting potential bottlenecks and improvements.
  • Auto-generating documentation for developers so that they’re spending less time creating necessary documentation.
  • Creating custom learning roadmaps or asking for better approaches to technical problems allows developers to use time for learning more effectively.

In each use case, the work AI is automating is a small fraction of the entire software development lifecycle. As a result, it’s not always helpful to focus on AI and its impact in isolation.

A better approach is to view AI tools as part of a developer’s toolbox. It's about knowing what to use and when. These tools are only as good as the developers using them and right now the data suggests they’re starting to do it very well.

If you’re looking for reliable data on AI’s impacts on the SA tech ecosystem, download the 2024 AI Skills and Impact Report. With data from the South African tech community, you'll get exclusive insights and data into:

  • How developers are freeing up capacity with AI tools
  • The AI skills developers need to drive impact
  • The growing importance of soft skills

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