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Tech leads are leading the way for SA’s AI adoption

14 March 2024, by Josh Nel

In this article, we explore why tech leads are driving AI adoption in SA’s tech industry and why companies need to support their team in exploring AI and its potential use cases.


There’s a generational divide in trust in AI

Since the initial release of OpenAI’s ChatGPT-3, excitement in AI and its potential reached new heights. AI has extended its lead as South African developers’ most-promising industry. Now, it’s playing an increasing role in software development and helping more developers do their work.

At the same time, a generational difference is emerging over how much trust is put in AI:

Screenshot 2024-02-21 at 15.18.11.png

This made us ask: Are junior developers behind South African tech’s AI adoption?

Tech managers are leading the way when it comes to AI usage

A closer look at the data suggests that South African developers are bucking this generational trend:

Screenshot 2024-03-14 at 16.28.57.png

Tech leads are most likely to have used an AI tool in the last 12 months, followed by juniors. Seniors, on the other hand, are the least likely to have worked with one.

This pattern continues if we look at AI use by age: Tech leads are typically older than the other seniorities and, on average, fall in the over 31 age range:

Screenshot 2024-03-14 at 16.31.29.png

The same data also suggests that tech leads are using AI coding-writing assistants more than any other level of seniority:

Screenshot 2024-03-14 at 16.29.24.png

So why are tech leads at the forefront of AI adoption? The most likely reason is they’re responsible for guiding product development and ensuring their teams remain as efficient as possible.

So, they’ll be experimenting more to see what’s possible, because they need to make decisions about where to integrate it into their company’s product.

We can see this when looking at how different seniorities are using AI tools.

Tech leads are exploring how AI might integrate into their company’s products

In the graph below, we unpack the most common ways developers at each level of seniority are using AI tools in their roles or personal projects:

Screenshot 2024-03-14 at 16.24.20.png

  • Juniors: Unsurprisingly, juniors are using AI to facilitate their levelling-up plans and are the least likely to not use AI in any capacity.
  • Seniors: Seniors are the least likely group to use AI in their role or personal projects. That might have implications for how you integrate AI into your company and process.
  • Tech leads: They, on the other hand, are the least likely to be using it for learning. Instead, they’re exploring the different areas in which AI might assist their team or improve their product. This includes data analysis, automation and Natural Language Processing for chatbots.

Support your seniors in their exploration of AI tools

Integrating AI into your product requires direction from senior team members who understand the business context in which your product operates. Getting this right can mean maximising the output of each developer in your team. As a result, your senior developers should have some experience working with AI tools.

Helghardt Avenant, co-founder of Rehive, explains how having this direction can make a significant difference in using AI to do more with less:

“You just have to build a lot of feedback loops into your workflow[…] A domain specific AI agent where a strong engineer can direct it, can go a long way. In terms of cohesive engineering my opinion is that less people are often better. And if AI can help you do the same or more with less people, that is probably a more productive set up.”

Further reading:

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