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

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InfoWorld: Did you expect GitHub to take off like it did?

Wanstrath: No, I didn't expect it. I am a developer. We were sort of building GitHub for ourselves, so I knew it was going to be a viable business. For a long time that was the goal. Even after the first year, it felt like it was the biggest thing in the world. At the beginning of 2009, I remember I was looking at how many users were signing up and being like: Who are these people? I don't even know a couple hundred people and yet a couple hundred were joining GitHub every day. That was overwhelming.

Fast-forward to now. It doesn't even make sense. Thousands of people signing up daily, millions of people using the site every single month, governments, huge companies, NASA is talking about using GitHub to put things on Mars. I could never have imagined anything like that, especially how many different open source communities have really clung to GitHub. You have JavaScript, you have Ruby, you have Python, but you also have science, you have government. It's not just these Ruby people or these enterprise people. It's anyone who wants to build software.

InfoWorld: At the same time, it's a pretty simple concept: Put Git in the cloud. You have competition, primarily in the form of BitBucket. Why do you'll think users will stay loyal to you?

Wanstrath: For me, it's about a good product. I don't think our competitors have bad products, but I think we're leading the way. I think we've always prided ourselves on being innovative, pushing out new things quickly, coming up with new ideas. Right now we're working on new ways for people to work together. I don't think any of our competitors are going to come up with that because they're looking at what we're doing and we're looking at how people are working.

As for the open source community, there's momentum. People see an open source project and say: "Where am I going to put mine? I'll put it on GitHub. It's free." Also, there's something to be said for having a dashboard. I'm following a bunch of projects, and I can go to one page to see what's going on with all of them. I think that that's very, very useful.

But for me, it's always been that we wanted to make it really good. We wanted to make it great for developers. I think that accounts for a lot of the success: We built it for the people using it. We didn't go too far into marketing. We let the customers and ourselves drive the product. That's what we're trying to do as we grow and I think that's going to take us a long way.

InfoWorld: Social coding is essential to GitHub. Could you define social coding for an enterprise audience? Also, how do you feel social coding is changing application development?

Wanstrath: Social coding is about people. Before we had a following, before we had any of the social features, all we wanted to do was make it really easy to share code with somebody else. It wasn't about what you were getting out of it; it was about what you were doing with somebody else. It's about the commenting system. It's about being able to look over a code review, get feedback, and sign off on it. It's about forking someone else's project and showing them what you worked on. There's a certain amount of friction in pushing changes to GitHub or changing navigation of the website. We always care about that. But the big picture is -- how do we make it easier for people to work together? What are new ways that we can get different people working together? That's social coding.

InfoWorld: Do you think that also represents a generational shift in coding?

Wanstrath: For me, it's a lot about the Internet. It might be generational, but a lot of people who are programming now grew up with the Internet. It's always been a part of their lives. The default is: I talk to other people really easily. I get feedback. I grab something from someone else. That's the biggest change.

When we were building GitHub we were looking at Twitter. We were looking at Facebook. We grew up on those things. One of the ways I explain GitHub to people is: Think about Facebook. Someone posts a photo; you see it and you comment on it. GitHub is like that. Someone posts code and you see it and you comment on it. It's the move away from email-based collaboration and email workflows for contributing to open source to just the Web. If it is generational, it's a generation that's really comfortable with the Web.

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