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

In a few short years, GitHub has become the world's largest code repository. CEO Chris Wanstrath explains how GitHub is also helping enterprises revitalize their app dev efforts

GitHub is more than a cloud service based on Git, Linus Torvalds' popular revision control system. It's a cultural phenomenon that marks the ascent of a new generation of developers that, although closely associated with open source, displays equally intense allegiance to social coding and the agile development movement.

Arguably the center of the programming universe, GitHub currently boasts 6.8 million users and 15.2 million code repositories, more than double the respective numbers recorded two years ago, when the company attracted $100 million in venture capital from Andreessen Horowitz. The investment came shortly after GitHub's release of an on-premises version of its software, GitHub Enterprise, for customers who prefer to keep their code inside the firewall.

[ Also on InfoWorld: Git smart! 20 essential tips for Git and GitHub users | GitHub's top 10 rock-star projects | Bitbucket vs. GitHub: Which project host has the most? | Stay atop the latest developer news with InfoWorld's Developer World newsletter. ]

In November 2012, I interviewed GitHub's co-founder and then-CEO, Tom Preston-Werner, who described GitHub's unusual management philosophy and unique appeal to programmers -- and hinted at expansion into new markets. Preston-Werner stepped down as CEO in January 2014 to become president of GitHub and was immediately replaced by co-founder Chris Wanstrath, a former software engineer at CNet, who is the subject of this interview. (Preston-Werner was later accused of misconduct by a former employee and resigned in April 2014.)

The interview with Wanstrath took place late last month at GitHub's San Francisco headquarters, already legendary for its full bar and true-size replica of the Oval Office. This is a critical time for the company, as it faces competition from Atlassian's BitBucket and accelerates its push into the enterprise. What follows is an edited version of an hourlong conversation with Wanstrath. I began by asking him about his role in GitHub's founding.

InfoWorld: Let's go back to GitHub's beginnings. Were you there from the start?

Chris Wanstrath: The founding moment was at Zeke's, a bar a block away from here. Tom [Preston-Werner] pitched me on the idea for GitHub; he wanted to make repository hosting a lot easier. I was totally on board, so we started it together in October 2007. We would meet on Saturdays and talk about what we wanted to do. I would be coding the website, while he would be designing new features or working on the infrastructure. We launched the beta in January and the site launched officially in April [2008]. It happened really quickly. It was only about six months from founding to the first commit and to us charging people money.

InfoWorld: But all along GitHub was free to open source projects and you would charge money only for private repos, right?

Wanstrath: It actually took us a while to come to that, believe it or not. There was nothing like GitHub before GitHub, so we were thinking this is a real business, we have to make it sustainable, so we'll just charge for projects. It feels weird to charge for public projects, but it also feels weird to give things away for free. It took a lot of iterations until we decided that private repositories would cost money and public repositories would be free. It's simple in retrospect.

InfoWorld: When did you come up with the idea for a locally hosted enterprise version?

Wanstrath: People were asking for it immediately. I remember we went to ZendCon in 2008 where I was overwhelmed by the number of PHP developers who were working on government sites. They came up and said: "We love GitHub, we're just not allowed to use it. Please help us." Almost right from the beginning we were thinking about doing a private install version. Not until 2011, 2012 did we actually make it real. It was a long time coming and it still is something that we work on all the time, and I think it's going to be a lot bigger in the future.

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