GitHub's new CEO: We're serious about the enterprise

GitHub brought social coding to the masses, now it hopes to bring it to the enterprise

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Licenses are a huge barrier to entry for people who are brand new. You want to share code on GitHub, but all of a sudden there's this wall that says: You need to understand the legal implications of what you're doing. Read this document. Then what do they do? They run off. What was their intention? Their intention was putting a little JavaScript widget up that turned the page upside down that they could show to their friend -- and they're both in college. Are licenses really necessary there?

I think not, for a couple reasons: a) they're not even intending for it to be commercial software, b) you probably shouldn't use that in your commercial software given the lack of testing and QA assurance, and c) if you want to use it, you can open an issue and ask for a license. I think the licensing thing isn't a big problem for the jQuerys and the Node.jses of the world. I think it starts when you get into the long tail, where people get a little bit upset that there are all these projects without licenses. But that's how the world works -- there's so much code everywhere without licenses.

If we were to get heavy-handed and force everyone to use these licenses, there would still be code all over the world without licenses on different services. My position is that you can always ask someone to add a license. I think that it's your responsibility when you're using code to look for a license. It's not your responsibility when you're publishing code to always put a license in. I don't think it's fair to tell a 19-year-old kid that you should use this license when they may not even understanding what it means and what rights they're giving away.

I think people should definitely understand what they're doing, what they're agreeing to, and what they're giving up -- which is why we have Choosealicense.com. When you create a GitHub repository now you can pick a license -- and now there's a whole site that we have built with our legal team that explains the legal implications of each license.

For me, it was really difficult creating a project back in the SourceForge days and wondering which of the 55,000 open source licenses to use. It was terrifying. I was a teenager. I was like: Am I going to get sued? What am I doing? GitHub isn't just commercial open source or proprietary software. It's this huge spectrum of homework assignments and little toys all the way up to production-grade, military-quality open source. I think that the licensing issue is gray and not so black-and-white. If you need one, ask. And if you're using open source you should definitely be aware.

InfoWorld: GitHub has a unique culture. From what I understand of your "optimization for happiness" philosophy, there's the idea of hiring only the best and having them decide what they want to work on rather than enforcing more traditional management. How is that evolving? Some enterprise managers would say: Oh, yeah, right. Just let everybody work on what they want to work on, and everybody will pick the fun projects.

Wanstrath: It's never really been about picking anything in the world you want to work on. It's picking the thing that interests you most that has the most impact on GitHub. There are people who say: What interests me the most is uptime and availability. What interests me most is billing code. What interests me most is the customer experience. Then you get people who say: What interests me most is the following social models of GitHub and surfacing repositories that get starred a lot.

The biggest change for us has been that we've started to add rules and processes -- coordination, really. A lot of it has been about communication. Now you can see the things we're planning to do for the next six or seven months. You can send a pull request against it if you think it's wrong. Before, we all had to share the road maps in our head. I might be building something here, not even knowing that Paul is building something over here. That worked out fine until we got more people and decided we needed a lot more coordination, a lot more communication. We used GitHub to do that, so the way that we work right now is way different than before.

The development process hasn't changed that much. We still do branch-based development. We still have this amazing staging environment where we can push out branches and get URLs to send to people to test stuff out. We're shipping much bigger things. Later this year, you'll see. We have some huge projects in the works, things that we couldn't have pulled off before. We're really using the muscle of the company a lot better now.

InfoWorld: What huge projects?

Wanstrath: We can't talk about them yet. What's important to us has always been: It's your first day at GitHub and if you have an idea, you should be able to say it. We want to hear all the ideas from everyone because it's the people using the software -- and we have some of the biggest users of GitHub in our company.

InfoWorld: This is a very competitive neighborhood. How do you attract and retain the best talent?

Wanstrath: That's a great question. I think one of the things we do is we don't really think about it that way. We're trying to build a great environment. We're trying to build a great product. We're trying to build a company that people really want to work for. We're trying to do something awesome together. That's really been the guiding philosophy in many ways.

InfoWorld: There are all kinds of elaborate ways of testing and screening people. But you don't believe in that?

Wanstrath: I mean, if we say we hire the best people, we have to be able to prove that. We know that. We have a system in place.

InfoWorld: How is the GitHub model extending beyond coding? I know you announced last year that your version control was being applied to legal documents.

Wanstrath: Believe it or not, government. Who would think that the government is forward-thinking and progressive and going open source? It's really quite inspiring to see that. But I think government is definitely the No. 1 noncoding group that's taking up GitHub.

InfoWorld: My last question, the thing that still flummoxes me: Why this collaborative model in particular makes it a success? It's not like this capability didn't exist before. It's not as if the technical hurdles are necessarily that high for versioning and code management.

Wanstrath: I know this sounds silly, but I think the thing that makes us different is that we think about people. It's not about the pull requests. It's not about the markdown. Those things can go away. In five years we might not have them. Who knows? But we're still going to be trying to help people work together. What is special about GitHub? It's all the people on it. It's open source. It's all the projects. It's being able to comment on code. It's being able to submit code to someone else and then clicking a button and merging it in so you just collaborated with someone across the planet. That's really magical.

You look at it on paper and it's like -- I don't get it. You could do this with email; you could do that with chat. You could do all these other things before, but there's this community aspect to it, with little things like seeing someone's avatars, seeing someone's face. It's very, very human. GitHub creates an emotional connection with people because that's what we wanted. We care about these people and we want them to enjoy using it. We want them to love it.

This story, "GitHub's new CEO: We're serious about the enterprise" was originally published by InfoWorld.

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