GitHub is one of the most prominent and popular software development platforms in the world with more than 31M registered users [https://github.com/about/facts].
But the distribution of GitHubbers varies across the globe. Recently, we’ve taken a look at some of the variations in global GitHub usage, city by city, by leveraging our humanpredictions database.
We decided to take a look at these trends when one of our clients in Mexico City asked why there seemed to be so few GitHub users there; as one of the largest cities in the world, we might expect loads of tech talent on GitHub, but instead it has only (0.1825 +/- .0014)% — a mere fraction of a percent.
We wondered: where in the world, and why in the world, might there be higher or lower numbers of GitHubbers.
So, I started by listing the largest, most populated cities in the world, and the cities considered the best cities for tech. I gathered population sizes of those cities and compared it with the number humans with a GitHub profile that were located within a 50 mile radius of those cities.
At the time of writing, the humanpredictions database has 28,824,988 results with a GitHub profile. Here’s a representation of what I found in our humanpredictions.io database:
Perhaps not surprisingly, the most densely populated city of GitHubbers is San Francisco, followed closely by Palo Alto (around which a 5km radius was drawn for GitHub inclusion).
In the lower quartile of the list is Mexico City.
At the bottom of the list, we found two cities with the lowest density of GitHubbers which are fairly well represented on lists of high-tech cities in the world.
While there may be other correlations, I decided to look at an obvious factor affecting GitHub use hiding in plain sight: GitHub is a website that is written in the English language.
To help explain to our customers in Mexico why there are a relatively low percentage of GitHubbers in Mexico City compared to the population of Mexico City, let’s consider GitHubbers in Tokyo.
Coding Language Barrier?
The following symbols form the Japanese word for “computer programming.”
Like all spoken languages and their written counterparts, the Japanese language was developed long before the rise of modern computer technology. And in order to accommodate and transcribe foreign language words into Japanese — especially technological concepts — a second written language, called katakana, is used.
Katakana represent onomatopoeia for technical and scientific loan words. Therefore, the Japanese word for “computer programming” is pronounced:
pu ro ga ra mi n gu
As onomatopoeia, if you say the word quickly enough, and swallow enough vowels, it sounds close to “programming.” In other words — no pun intended — the method in Japan for assimilating other, non-Japanese words is to form those words into Japanese-like sounds.
This unique, linguo-cultural system of language has not completely stopped Japan from participating on GitHub. According to a GitHub Blog post on (6/4/2015), “Japan has historically been one of the most active countries on GitHub, ranking in the top 10 countries visiting github.com. The thriving software community in Japan keeps growing; in 2014, activity on github.com from Japan increased more than 60 percent from the previous year.” https://blog.github.com/2015-06-04-announcing-github-japan/
In that same blog post, GitHub announced the formation of GitHub Japan, their first official office outside of the United States. In the announcement, GitHub stated: “GitHub couldn’t exist without the Japanese open source community”
GitHub, apparently, knew the liguo-cultural factors in Japan, and of the level of interest in GitHub in Japan, and created a GitHub in the Japanese language.
GitHub Japan removes any remaining language barrier for Japan, and for GitHubbers who speak and read Japanese as their primary language.
The Linguistic Equalizer
Meet Leo Tartari. He’s one of our team members here at humanpredictions. (https://github.com/ltartari) Leo lives and works in Brazil. I told Leo about our client in Mexico, and about my findings about GitHub Japan. (I called GitHub to ask if they supported GitHub in non-English languages. It’s just GitHub Japan, that’s it.)
I posed a question to Leo: “Are people who grow up in countries like Mexico at a competitive disadvantage in the tech world because of the official language of the country?”
Leo’s response was:
“My first recommendation to anyone entering the IT field today is: if you don’t already know English… start learning!
The computer science jargon is mostly built using the English language and not knowing it is a barrier to entry which one will have to navigate using translated material from less trustworthy sources (which tends to be inaccurate and that are most often outdated).
Having access to up-to-date documentation, online forums, and training material is what makes it for learning the language and that’s helpful no matter if you’re a newbie or a seasoned developer.
Another great reason for learning English is availability of jobs… when you have offers in cities like Berlin, Stockholm, and Amsterdam, all startup hubs located in countries where English is not the main language, that seems to also favor an English speaking environment, since that opens up to a broader assortment of talent.”
In my continuing conversations with Leo, he confessed, after pressing him, that he knew of developers with 10 years of programming experience that cannot read in the English language. I thought that was an amazing fact. But I was not completely shocked; from my experience working with deaf and American Sign Language (ASL) community (I was 1 semester away from taking the ASL interpreter exam), I knew that a human being is capable of adapting to visually interpreting written symbols without an audible or spoken context for those symbols.
Leo went on to say that, in his opinion, the programmers with 10 years of experience that did not read in English were not as good of programmers as those with 2 years of experience that could read in English.
GitHub Mexico City?
Looking at the GitHub density data, there is a strong trend in the Top 30 countries of English being a primary language (in the U.S., 95% of the population speaks English) or a strong secondary language, as in the cases of Amsterdam (90%), Tel Aviv (85%), Stockholm (86%), Barcelona (22%), Copenhagen (86%), Madrid (22%), and Berlin (56%).
In countries where the overall levels of people who speak English are under 50%, Spain for example, there may be cities in which the percentage of English-speaking GitHubbers breaks the trend.
In Mexico, the reported percentage of people who speak English (as of January 2013) is approximately 13%. There may be cities, of course, where the percentage of English-speaking people is significantly higher than the national average. And in those cities, you could expect that the percentage of GitHubbers may rise above the national average, as long as other factors, such as the rise of the tech industry in those cities, is also on the rise.
However, Mexico City is not, apparently, one of those cities.
There are global cultural factors at play in the tech industry, that is no surprise. This brief look into the humanpredictions database, combined with publicly available population statistics from the United Nations and “tech-city” rankings, indicates that English education plays a potentially significant role in, at least, the global distribution of GitHub usage and, it stands to reason, the distribution of high-tech usage, in general.
We also discovered that a single entity such at GitHub can respond at the national scale to a global phenomenon such as language distribution, as is the case with the creation of GitHub Japan.
This raises questions about what responsibility global tech companies may have to bolster the trajectories of non-English speaking developers, both for the good of the developers and for the broader tech community.
So, what do we tell our clients in Mexico City?
GitHub broke the language barrier for Japanese speakers by creating GitHub Japan at github.co.jp, which is in Japanese.
GitHub owns the domain github.com.mx…
But it currently redirects to github.com, which is in English.