'Context switching' is a major drain on developer productivity — here’s how GitHub plans to solve that

Software developer burnout concept image showing female programmer sitting at a desk looking stressed.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

GitHub’s new ‘Copilot Extensions’ offering promises to deal with a common thorn in the side of developers known as ‘context switching’, a term used to express the psychological strain placed on staff who are forced to jump from one task to another. 

When developers move from one task to another, or one environment to another, they are liable to lose focus, experts told ITPro, adding to workloads and affecting overall productivity rates. 

GitHub’s new offering, unveiled at Microsoft’s Build conference this week, will centralize tools and services in an effort to minimize this strain, ensuring that developers avoid burnout when completing tasks across various ecosystems and architectures.

Copilot Extensions will enable developers to build and deploy to the cloud in natural language with their “preferred tools and services” without having to leave the integrated development environment (IDE) or GitHub itself.

The offering integrates with a variety of different platforms, including DataStax, Docker, Microsoft Azure and Teams, MongoDB, Pangea, Pinecone, Product Science, and a few others. 

In the announcement, GitHub asked prospective users or readers to imagine the struggle faced by a developer who needs to, for example, deal with an issue that requires working in numerous environments.

“With enough context, you start troubleshooting what could be the cause, going to tools like Sentry for error monitoring to learn more. Then, you have to figure out a solution, apply the fix, and then deploy with Azure. In this scenario, there is a lot of context-switching,” GitHub said. 

The firm then claims that its new product will solve the issues presented in this common scenario by essentially bringing the “whole process together” and consolidating these tools into one system.

Dom Couldwell, head of field engineering EMEA at DataStax, one of the Copilot Extension partners, told ITPro that this could play a key role in helping reduce the strain of context switching for developers. 

“If you find yourself constantly switching from meetings to coding, or to looking at different kinds of coding and back again, then it can be hard to get into that productive mindset and stay there,” Couldwell said. 

“The Copilot approach aims to help developers work around different areas in coding and development in one place. This makes it easier to avoid context switching overhead, because developers can work in the way that suits them rather than having to switch between different ways of thinking about problems,” he added.  

Context switching significantly undermines productivity 

Context switching has been a pain point in development for years, with research from as far back as 2018 detailing how it causes problems by breaking up workflows and leaving projects unattended.

“We found that developers switch about two-thirds (59%) of their daily tasks from which 40% require context switching, and they never resume 29% of their interrupted/switched tasks,” the research stated.

The report also suggested that developer work sessions are often “fragmented into many short sessions” of between 15 and 30 minutes, with the average programmer spending similar amounts of time “reconstructing working context before resuming interrupted tasks”.

George Fitzmaurice
Staff Writer

George Fitzmaurice is a staff writer at ITPro, ChannelPro, and CloudPro, with a particular interest in AI regulation, data legislation, and market development. After graduating from the University of Oxford with a degree in English Language and Literature, he undertook an internship at the New Statesman before starting at ITPro. Outside of the office, George is both an aspiring musician and an avid reader.