Dev

Github cofounder says his company doesn’t just ‘sprinkle Internet on top’

Github cofounder Tom Preston-Werner says with the Internet, "you can escape the tyranny of time and space."

Above: Github cofounder Tom Preston-Werner says with the Internet, "you can escape the tyranny of time and space."

Image Credit: Michael O'Donnell/VentureBeat

SAN FRANCISCO — Some employees at Github live a kind of transient existence that you might even call nomadic.

These workers, primarily software developers, live and work all over the world. It’s so common, in fact, that only about 30 percent of the current Github workforce live near the San Francisco headquarters.

If you’re not yet familiar with Github, the startup builds social coding tools for developers and has been around for about six years. The company recently raised $100 million from venture firm Andreessen Horowitz to promote its tools to developers to share their code, and collaborate on projects.

Tom Preston-Werner, Github’s cofounder, offered some insights into how the company’s unique culture developed at our DevBeat conference. Github doesn’t just advocate and evangelize open source technology, according to Preston-Werner. Its founders and early employees believe wholeheartedly in the power of open data and the ubiquitous nature of the Internet.

The Internet makes it easy to communicate with anyone anywhere in the world, so Github’s founders see no need for employees to be physically present at the office. This is a markedly different approach from Marissa Mayer at Yahoo, who notoriously frowns upon remote working.

“Everything we can do, we try to do online,” said Preston-Werner. This means that Github invests in the most innovative video technology, so meetings can be livestreamed, and any employee can tune in at any time from an Airbnb home in Tuscany or Tahoe. In addition, the company puts various internal development projects on Github to constantly improve the code — its open source Puppet repository had had 43 authors in the last 30 days.

“We took the concepts of the open source community and applied them to our own business,” he said.

The Internet shouldn’t just be sprinkled on top

During his rousing DevBeat keynote, Preston-Werner spoke in depth about the theoretical power of the Internet. He believes that over the past 20 years, not much has changed. Government agencies, for instance, have kept processes largely the same, but added “a sprinkling of the Internet.”

Preston-Werner recently drove to Sacramento, California’s state capital, to deliver papers in person for his wife, who is incorporating a company. This whole exercise would have taken minutes — even seconds — if it could take place online.

Most of us didn’t grow up with the Internet, so this doesn’t seem all that backward. But the next generation of entrepreneurs, the digital natives who can’t bear to part with their iPhones, don’t put up with this kind of experience. They are building new technologies that will fundamentally transform how we live and work.

Most importantly, the Internet will be central to the experience — not just a layer on top. Preston-Werner offers a few examples of startups he admires that were founded by entrepreneurs in their early 20s: Stripe and Snapchat.

“They [the founders] are thinking about new types of communication unfettered from the metaphors of yesterday… by keys and credit cards and cash,” he said. After all, he added, “The Internet is in way more places than even electricity is available.”

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