Australia sluggish to embrace tech futures as cyberspace bites back – so what next?

Pixelated Australia over a motherboard image
(Image credit: Future)

Code-storage and management service GitHub has brought its annual GitHub Universe event in San Francisco to a close, having spent November 9-10 celebrating global developers and the past, present and future of all things software. With sessions, workshops and discussions both virtually and on-site, GitHub Universe sought to bring together some of the internet’s brightest minds – and in the process shed some unique light on the current state of software development.

For the 10th year, GitHub has also launched its latest State of the Octoverse to coincide with its Universe event, offering a glimpse at the trends and behaviors of the platform’s more than 90 million users. Among the report’s most enlightening findings is a reported 20.5 million new developers who have joined GitHub in 2022, a total growth of 27% YoY. That’s led to more than 3.5 billion total contributions to projects on GitHub across the year so far.

India saw the greatest contribution to the number of new developers to the platform compared to all nations, responsible for 32.4% of all new GitHub developers. It was followed closely by China and Brazil at 15% and 11% respectively. 

Meanwhile, the number of new developers coming to GitHub from Australia also grew at a somewhat surprising pace in 2022, increasing by 23% across the year. That detail particularly stands out because it exists against a backdrop of an acknowledged tech skills shortage in the country. Alongside it, a recent flurry of high-profile cybersecurity breaches have been suffered by Australian businesses, with private health insurance provider Medibank the latest to fall victim.

State of play for tech down under

Australia is not especially unique in having experienced a rise in cybersecurity breaches, with such incidents having seen recent spikes globally. In 2021 alone, overall incidents globally are estimated to have grown by as much as 20%, with instances of cybercrime in Australia particularly growing by 13% in the 2021-22 financial year compared to the previous period.

Seemingly, nobody has been exempt from the increased risk of falling prey to a cyber attack within Australia’s borders. High-profile cybersecurity incidents have been suffered by the likes of Medibank, telco provider Optus and online retailers Vinomofo and MyDeal this year, but it’s not just businesses that are being targeted.

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) confirmed in October that classified documents had been exposed in a data breach in August this year. It’s understood that among the documents uncovered by the hack are details of current AFP operatives involved in active investigations of drug cartels around the world.

The governments for Australian states Victoria, New South Wales and Western Australia are also understood to have suffered data breaches as a result of cyber attacks in 2022.

Tech future a numbers game

This brings us back to the numbers of new developers to GitHub emerging from Australia in 2022. While promising, the 23% increase across the year still only accounts for the 10th highest increase of any APAC nation. This percentage sits behind the likes of Vietnam, Philippines, Bangladesh and Thailand, despite each of these countries boasting a GDP that’s lower than that of Australia.

The percentage increases seen by those closer to the top of the list are also enlightening. Take Hong Kong, which saw the highest percentage increase of 53%, and Singapore, with the third highest percentage growth at 40%. Hong Kong and Singapore are home to populations of 7.4 and 5.4 million, respectively, while Australia’s population by comparison exceeds 25 million.

And while GitHub is certainly not a platform reasonably seen as being fully representative of any country’s total number of web and software developers, the numbers do loom as potentially representative of a bigger problem for Australia’s tech standings and capabilities as much as the country’s rise in prominent cyber attacks do.

The country’s critical tech skills shortage also does the same, not to mention Australia’s notoriously poor internet speeds and quality compared to most other developed nations – with fixed broadband speeds ranked a measly 71st in the world.

Forward thinking for future gains

Compared to most other Western nations, some figures suggest Australia has been slow to invest in tech and software futures, even despite their obvious potential. In the private sector, Australia has lagged in annual investments to start ups for a considerable period, with a Crunchbase report in November 2021 showing per capita funding to start ups for the year at approximately US$145 billion. This amounts to 15th highest in the world, despite boasting a higher GDP than nine of the countries above it in the funding measure.

The private sector is not the only identifiable source for the sluggishness of Australia’s embrace of tech futures. The country’s Federal Government only recently demonstrated willingness for more meaningful tech investment – headlined by the current Labor government’s commitment to achieving a target of 1.2 million tech related jobs by 2030.

There are other signs of optimism for future remedies to the country’s comparatively slower adoption of tech futures, such as a forthcoming intervention by tech giant Apple in partnership with Australian universities RMIT and UTS. This will see the trio launch two App Developer Foundation programs designed to inspire and enable aspiring coders and developers to create their first apps.

A AU$60.2 million investment by the Federal Government to boost Australia’s science and technology diplomacy capabilities is also a welcome sign for a positive change moving into the future.

Ultimately, while it may not be alone in dealing with an increased number of cyber threats, Australia’s influx of such incidents do nonetheless highlight the necessity of proportionately investing in the country’s digital, tech futures. The hope will be that GitHub’s State of the Octoverse report for 2023 will show results even more promising than those of this year.

As Australia’s Federal Minister for Industry and Science, Ed Husic, said in September: “The modern tech sector needs to reflect modern Australia.”

Undoubtedly this is true, but it is also increasingly true that Australia’s modern tech sector needs to reflect the country that Australia wants to be, and Australia must commit to working towards this goal sooner than later or risk the rest of the world passing it by.

James Cutler
Staff Writer

James is a senior journalist with the TechRadar Australia team, covering news, analysis and reviews in the worlds of tech and the web with a particular focus on smartphones, TVs and home entertainment, AR/VR, gaming and digital behaviour trends. He has worked for over six years in broadcast, digital and print journalism in Australia and also spent time as a nationally recognised academic specialising in social and digital behaviour trends. In his spare time, he can typically be found bouncing between one of a number of gaming platforms or watching anything horror.