Chris Wanstrath, co-founder of Github, joined us to talk about his company’s culture. We discuss the process they use to ship products, hiring good people, and beer thirty.

“Make sure the finished version is something that exists in your mind.”

United States


00:00:02Hey this is mitchell or is this the fourteenth episode of the gaslight podcast Thiss week kevin and i fired up skyping cross our fingers to bring you this week's way going you're doing pretty good Can you hear me loud and clear Our guest is criss want strong one
00:00:20of the co founders of get up and work on the product side get out dot com specifically i wanted to know whether it's a founder chris spent most of his day developing are working on other areas of the business I spent a lot of time developing still for
00:00:32the first couple of years when we were smaller and we didn't have too many people never one sorry that's a much cycle that's six that's call a racetrack like loving it when we first started and we were smaller like i was saying everyone sort of did everything so
00:00:51there was no such thing as a typical day you know you might go a couple days without even writing any code if there's an emergency or fire or you're out traveling doing something are you just don't trying to figure out what accountant to go with there's Plenty that
00:01:03sort of new business things but now things have sort of settled as faras the companies concerned we haven't awesome business operations team so they sort of run the actual company we've got a ton of products that are led by really awesome people the company is led by some
00:01:17really great people that have been there since the beginning as well so i got to spend a lot of my time working on get up dot com developing working directly on new features or working with other people on you know helping them ship things or doing stuff like
00:01:29trying to hire trying to figure out what positions we need in an interview ng s oh yeah most of my time is spent on could've dot com and i probably spent about half my time developing right now which is a big and permit from me i used to
00:01:39spend last year not very much time at all but i've been ramping up lately which is good it's fun to get back into it Yeah so you say you're excited about front and stuff I mean what are you working on now Is that super top secret Or can
00:01:49you tell it's not super top secret We don't we're always improving everything let's say so specifically this year we're working on a lot of i mean you've seen a lot of what we've already done the profile page with the contributions the graph i don't know if you guys
00:02:03have seen that i went on that really good looking stuff yeah that's really cool so that was something that i was really excited to work on ondas funds things like that launch could just like to get a profile a lot of people noticed it right away and are
00:02:14into it they justin palmer who did the design for that worked on um we're the teepee with rick olsen who works for us techno weenie in college they end the calendar about nothing all right You guys ever sell that Oh yeah but it was counter about nothing dot
00:02:28com and you could give it your getup user name and it would basically put an actual calendar on the screen and then put xs on every day you worked on open source so we've had this idea for a while to retract in your contributions or checking your streak
00:02:39and that's where the idea for the counter on getting came from so that was cool it's something we've been talking about since like the beginning the early days to get up it's fun to finally see it on there and just did an awesome job with it cool just
00:02:49just to get a little bit nerdy is there a specific javascript framework that you guys picked it to do some of that stuff i'm pretty sure we did that with the three way mostly used contra script now and jay query and d three last year i think it
00:03:03was last year we we wrote some of our graphs we got rid of some of our graphic the impact graft and we added a one stick the contributor grafts or the frequency graph and those are all d three so we've been standardizing on that throughout get hub he
00:03:15has doubled in any the front and frameworks i mean i know we've done backbone here gaslight and some of us are torturing ourselves with amber currently it's a love hate relationship i have i have gone back home before yeah we've played with backbone on get hub in integrating
00:03:29it didn't really make sense we sort of have i came to like a p jack's based approach where everything's rendered on the server and then you get back the response and the display in different parts of the page you have sort of thing more and more the site
00:03:40to be jackson's you probably noticed just for example we relaunched in december the features are pretty much the same but we redid the whole side it looks a lot better it works a lot faster now and it's all pizza extra but now so all the page loads are
00:03:53done with ajax without layouts and if you click around the body is replaced so you have to reload the css or really good jobs good to drink like that so feels a lot faster when when the pages are actually fast the pages are slow there's no getting around
00:04:05it so that's our preferred approach tio front and stuff at get have at least we have some internal aps that used backbone and angular and just experiment with everything else but our dot com We settled on the p jack's based approach Sure So i kind of asked people
00:04:20around the officer you know what What they want to know about get hubble when i should ask in one thing somebody talked about was pair programming and whether you guys do pair of programming and you know how do you handle with remote people in that sort of thing
00:04:31Is that a big part of the culture there Is that not something you guys really think about too much Um both some people paragraph program almost exclusively some people do it every single day Some people never do it Some people do it um randomly throughout the office like
00:04:47oh can you can sit with me and work on this and it sort of happens organically We don't have that hard and fast stands on You need to prepare him all the time or you should never pair program people do it remotely I think that they i don't
00:04:58do it remotely i've never done it i haven't done it remotely in a long time Um well i think what they do now is the icast screen sharing and then talk over skype so when they do it a lot when both people have skype on both people have
00:05:08the right hand screen sharing it seems to be a pretty easy process i think in that case so that you have one person driving the keyboard another person eyes the wingman and then they switch off on who's driving it but yeah we repair program you get home absolutely
00:05:21cool and and you mentioned chris that you have a big part and kind of hiring people and kind of forming the organization ah people wass i mean what is what is the strategy Because i know for any company finding good people is probably the most difficult thing i
00:05:38mean is there Is there a trick that you have for for doing that Well i think that there's any trick it's that we try to get everyone get up involved in the hiring process we'll try to make sure everyone working to get hub knows what we're looking for
00:05:50an employee eyes involved in the interview process we try to make the whole hiring just some really transparent we haven't half that anyone can log into they could see what jobs we're looking for to fill internally that could see who we've talked to in the past or who
00:06:03we're talking to now they can leave a comment everyone sort of gets notified when comments left on and an interviewee so it's very much everyone is involved it it's not just like i take someone and then we hire another tom pick someone who hires them it's a group
00:06:16effort and that has worked out really well for us because we want to have a diverse company and i think the diverse viewpoints now we're getting better diversity overall we're definitely focusing on that if you just have one person making all the hiring decisions the people that the
00:06:28hiring of the reflective of their philosophy yeah we're trying to get you know for instance someone who's really in a pair of programming to talk to individual and then maybe someone is not indifferent agreement also talked about individual to see how they reacted to them with their different
00:06:40philosophies and mine so we actually do pairing as part of interview process as well So yeah i think that the trick we have to try to get everyone involved we try to make sure people know internally what we're looking for What what makes a good get harbor that
00:06:53something we talk about all the time is skilled the responsibility is what we're looking for as we're trying to build the company And trying to make sure everyone is aware that so they couldn't have his good of judgment as any founder anyone it's been in for a while
00:07:03so it's hard to do that especially when you're nuer like a lot of people have been making up for a while so we have a lot of experience with gone to a lot of interviews that went well that didn't go well we have that knowledge but we're definitely
00:07:12trying to spread that throughout the organization make sure everyone knows what we're looking for and has a good eye when you think about like trying to maintain that culture and i mean get hubbs you know grown pretty darn fast is there Is there something that you guys do
00:07:24in particular to try to make sure culture stays the way you want it You know it's really hard to go from a small company to big company like things just have to change is there a strategy that you have that you think about when you're tryingto make that
00:07:35culture awesome Yeah i think what what we try to do is broadcast it externally as well internally and we do a lot of talks about the way get have works we do a lot of talk about things that are important to us actually when we do this as
00:07:48well internally every friday we didn't think called beer thirty which is a tribute powers that were tommy used to work tom first order and they would every friday with you have a beer thirty four thirty we have a beer or whatever and then you would maybe have a
00:08:01little talk and then people could ask him questions just about what was on their mind and there's circumstances be things like i don't know where we're going What is the funny situation What are users growth for us The question part is not as seriously just like what's the
00:08:16deal with the next summit what's the deal with the hiring strategy those questions really not that much anymore because we tried to be proactive about being transparent so at the pier thirty every friday now tom gets talk for someone else to give a talk about one aspect of
00:08:30like get a philosophy or maybe an anecdote from lesson that we learned in the past when we no well during the period of or maybe when we tried to launch a new product like could have jobs just like that as well as looking at say when the valve
00:08:44handbook came out i don't know if it was leaked or what i remember exactly why they released the hamburger it was made available you can read it you could get a good sense of their culture and the way that valve works internally or at least it felt that
00:08:54way you could get that from the emanuel So we did a beer thirty on the valve handbook and we talked about some of the awesome things that they do some of the things that we wanted to do for instance they talk about the shape individuals i think in
00:09:05the him but were you about your arms And you won't have a wide breadth of skills but you want to go over the deep in one skill and that's going to deepen just one scale and having no experience and other skills so that's something that we saw him
00:09:15really like we try to do we talk about the shift individuals get hub and that came from i think from valve although it's pretty much a generic concept that people know about and we first discussed it openly in the thirty to the whole company we recorded we stream
00:09:27it so we try to have a conversation every week with everyone about what we're thinking about and it's not really about you know we're definitely trying to push into social so we need new profiles or we need to focus on developer following or anything specific product it's more
00:09:41life saying what makes a good get hubbard what Our values like what do we care about is the company why don't we maybe pursue some revenue streams or products that we could but we don't think it fits in what we were trying to go with the companies the
00:09:54whole or with the kind of workplace you want that is that is i think that really helpful for us to quote preserve the culture just try to get up on the same page get everyone to spend some time with tom with the founders at least just seeing them
00:10:07talk getting a feel for what kind of person they are and what they think about what's important to them and then also having people able to having a two way you could ask a question we could have a discussion with the founder with the founders about whatever's on
00:10:18your mind about a topic that came up so like when there's a big security breach at the beginning of last year that was the beer thirty we talked about security we talked about how important it is to us you know what we've done in the past you know
00:10:29what exactly happened in that circumstance that's an example of something i think is really awesome but we were able to do it but we could happen everyone internally was in on the same page and we were able to talk about internally how important security is todd and why
00:10:41that sort of thing shouldn't happen that etcetera so for us though it's not about keeping the culture the same i think that the culture of hard right now within the culture could have one of the four people i think it's about keeping some of the core values that
00:10:52same like really into obviously it's transparency like a thousand times you know being honest we care about your work your output results and not necessarily when you're at your desk those sort of things i hope that we can keep forever moving forward even if we become a massive
00:11:06company because i think the culture will change especially when you get to a size of people i have never met other people in the company but like the things you care about and the things that you want the values you want reflected in get up dot com and
00:11:17other products i think those should stay the same that's what we tried to get everyone to know about to talk about and make everyone yeah do you guys dio performance reviews This is totally a self serving questions were totally thinking about gas light right now but is that
00:11:29something you guys do like evaluate people We don't think performance reviews right now we're improving our h r set up in a good way to help people get better feedback from people that they work with directly to people that they don't work with that sort of something that
00:11:43undermine and that we haven't done as well as he liked to is what people are doing well it's sort of hard for them to hear about it if you were doing poorly it's sort of hard for them to hear about it we're working on both of those and
00:11:51we definitely want to get you back working in a good way that's productive for everyone if you figure that out you should talk about it cause i feel like that's a really tough thing the work on and preserve culture and not you know well we've been talking about
00:12:02h r is kind of scary already yeah performance refuses word people shells you know i think they immediate useful i mean i'd like to hear about maybe someone said chris did this javascript and you know it was really poorly done but he clearly cares a lot about it
00:12:16he should check out this block or something you know right there is a way that i can see help chris improvements in that he was interested in well i was going to step back a little bit and talk a little about your story you know You've given a
00:12:26presentation before about kind of your path so i don't want to go into the whole thing but one thing in particular is interested in was you know you grew up in cincinnati and you want it Went to college for a while quit that and then came back later
00:12:38to get a computer science degree as one If you just kind of tell me about that thought process like what went on like why'd you leave and want to come back And do you feel like that education was valuable for you So i actually didn't come back I
00:12:50never went back to school to get yes i was I was choosing between out Certain beginning I did go to school I went to cincinnati for english I want tio go into writing um already And you had a program that was good I thought it was good Of
00:13:02course about eighteen Thirty two had a program and i thought that that wasn't going to be a career path for me I wanted to do something a little bit less cubicle driven and corporation So i wanted to get into writing and i during my first year college i
00:13:17spent all my time programming basically So i realized that's really what i wanted to be doing That was what i enjoy doing what i was getting pretty good at or again So i thought and i uh dropped out the beginning of my second year my sophomore year Because
00:13:31i was still in english and i was faced with either switching my major and then drinks yes which would have been hard at the time because like the first years all just basic bad stuff as he was driving to school or getting a job telecommuting what they called
00:13:43it then remote working for the company in new jersey doing php with a bunch of professional developers So i took that job and dropped out of school because that was an awesome opportunity i thought and i really didn't want to go to school but i didn't enjoy it
00:13:55and i we're spending all my time programming and not going to classes and that sort of thing So i think this job in new jersey and was out there for a little bit very very short on time and i realized it wasn't the the what i wanted to
00:14:07do like sort of what i realized that you could spend your days programming on a prospect that you don't care about it won't feel like berg i think it won't feel like fun It won't be the same thing that you're doing the nights and weekends in your dorm
00:14:19room instead of going to school so i thought maybe then programming wasn't for me again and i moved back to cincinnati And that summer i was goingto go back to school for cs so that i could learn more about it and then hopefully get a better job than
00:14:33some entry level job it's a crappy place and i want to work on a cool summer flounder burgundy would be fun and at that time i was in cincinnati thinking about re enlist re enrolling and i stumbled upon to my friend the job ad for working at cnn
00:14:46san francisco game spot in particular game website which is pretty awesome So at that point i mean i already dropped out of school i tried to get one programming job and it sucks So i thought that would have been a good time for me to try again because
00:15:00like all noon the worst case scenario that fail again move back again and then go back to school I was already in that situation so i went for it and mood of san francisco in two thousand five and i worked again spot and it was it was an
00:15:10awesome job and it you know letting me in syria cisco where a lot of stuff was happening at the time but clearly with the web and ruby on rails which i was into a hobby on the side that was beautifully development especially though so yeah i mean i
00:15:24education i think that i didn't want to go to school ever from the beginning i've never really been good at school i don't like it i just never really i learned better on my own outside of school just sort of that person i think that for me it
00:15:36was a good idea to leave and maybe i should say longer duration left early i don't know i don't think that educations that idea in general i have some good friends who have their degrees and there are doing awesome stuff i think it sort of depends on the
00:15:47person and i think that people really feel like they hate it and they want to drop out and they're going to do something i would encourage them to do that but if people are in school and they're like school and they think they need to drop out to
00:15:56be cool or to be successful i would say you should finish because that's not true at all yeah you kind of strike me as somebody that's really good at that shipping products as faras programming goes and hearing you talk it sounds like you know you're most motivated when
00:16:08you're working on products that you're putting out the door not so much you know working on something someone else tells you to i think there's some people that are more on the lines of they really like programming is sort of like an art and like an idea but
00:16:20i also hear people lament that you know i can't ship something out the door i mean is there anything that you feel like you know you do and you're in your own sort of programming way that that helps you like ship products and finish him and move him
00:16:33out the door yeah something we talk about a lot and get how we want to talk about shipping i mean the biggest thing you already said is i work on stuff that i'm excited about that that's sort of like it's half the battle right there is i want
00:16:44to ship it because i want to share with people i want tio see the reaction i want my friends to use it into st awesome that's always really fine and that's a big motivating factor also internally it's pointing to ship stuff india will show it off either at
00:16:56a few thirty or just a screen shot to show you want to get out like this is finally out there to the world that you can tell your friends about it isn't it exciting that's just a really big crush always it's always fun to help people out tio
00:17:07putting things out there that actually solve problems which is what cruel it's what we got to dio but i think that yeah i definitely think of myself as a programmer i'm not an expert but i have a long way to go trying to get better all the time
00:17:18you know i try to make time to read about the craft of software development and think of that new ideas to get better the actual implementation in the programming but i spend most of my time thinking about what i'm building all right what happened next how people are
00:17:29going to use it what i need to say to a designer to help them like give me something off somewhere to get them thinking about this problem in a way that i can think about it and i think a lot of it has to do with just like
00:17:40i enjoy building tools and tools are really easy to ship because you know when they're useful there kind of ready is a tool is doing its job then it's close to something that could be shipped you might have some polish you might need documentation you might need to
00:17:54think about other concerns but it either works or it doesn't in many cases and so that is always a nice line passes When you're starting to use something like a rewrite of jets internally for in place of the old just it might be a little bit rough around
00:18:07the edges by now you can finally like see the finish line and i think that is where a lot of developers end up struggling is they get to the point where it's working for them internally or they're using it daily but they're not sure where they need to
00:18:19go to share with the public partnership it in general i know people have started with that and that's something that i think about a lot when i'm working on a project like what steps do we need to take before we can shift this to the public And really
00:18:31i think that it's just sort of american ing the block post i know amazon either does or says or used to published the pr the press release first before they started working on a product that they've had the finish line in sight they wanted but suppression is often
00:18:44like that Yeah so yeah so something like that pressure yourself making sure that the finish line's clear thing that you've actually thought about that the finished version is something that exist in your mind I think that also really helps when you're trying to add or remove things you
00:19:00know when you're at the last five percent and there's just one feature that is going to take a lot of work and you can say you know let let's just like punt on that let's not work on that Let's check back later a second time and let's just
00:19:11get this out there when you have an idea of what it is you're building a lot easier to cut or ad features i think because you actually know what it's trying to accomplish and what is the purpose and what's not yeah maybe that's not the best answer but
00:19:20i think like what we do is we always try to think about shipping way have a culture of shipping and that it's what we're working on it's what we're trying to do what you want to share with other people and also knowing what problem you're trying to solve
00:19:32or knowing what what how this is going to delight some wonder how this is going to be used is a good way to gauge you know is it ready or not So i heard you talk there about working with designers and i was kind of wondering get up
00:19:42i mean it seems like it's very development focused right Because it's a developer tool and all that kind of stuff but when you're in your process do you start with the designer Do you start with a design and then fill it out or you know do you start
00:19:53with development say hey how can we make this you know look good and be more usable So designers sort of a bad word for many years because we don't really have a side role that could help like that we have ever everyone is expected to learn how to
00:20:06program to some extent and so we have people that might be traditional designers who it has had that job title in the past and they're amazing visually and they come in and then we try to help them you know let's just do this in hte came out let's
00:20:16do this in ruby instead of just doing a mock let's get this today let's get some code up and that's because you know we're get hub were very development driven company like you say it's about developers but the same time we really want developers to try things out
00:20:28If you have an idea just put something together get a make it work but don't don't worry about it ugly think about you know how you want to use it put it on the page and then ship it internally like staff only put a flag around it and
00:20:40then they comported class and say you know the many designers does anyone have any ideas on how we can make this better And so then you as a developer working grow in your either visual skills or just your product or u x skills maybe some of them say
00:20:52this is great but how do you get to the second screen or where's where's the beck let something like that so we do have designers people that are awesome at doing visual stuff and but the process though is it really like that sometimes an engineer just gets an
00:21:04idea and just build something and looks like craft and they work with the designer and then together it starts looking visually better and start working better and then that engineer becomes a little bit more of a designer himself or herself or the other way there's a person that
00:21:14it starts out individual designer they have a mock up all they have is like a photo shop they put a porter question just image anyone help me and then we started turning it into a working page turning it into html and then along the way to designer gets
00:21:27becomes a little more than an engineer a developer by learning how to do rubio only had our share of the work that sort of thing so it really just depends sometimes what happens to people will get together someone that's more designed happy from more developer heavy and they'll
00:21:39say ok we're going to build this thing together you start with this i'll start with this and then we'll go so that part is sort of up to the teams we found that the best thing is just having two people killed when people work together things often it's
00:21:52like stale when one person does it and puts a huge of my energy into it creates a poor request And can anyone help me And it sort of languages because everyone is always busy all the time you know So you end up getting shipped if someone does say
00:22:05oh yeah i think help you and then get involved So what you need to do is sort of do some internal marketing try to find people who might be in hated by people have talked about maybe that features something complained about in the past enlist them you know
00:22:16tryto get your poor quite into the different rooms People are hanging out there Can anyone check this out If it could be really cool that's one way it starts or to start to get to people have to be getting knowing what they want to do and just just
00:22:26beginning work on it But we focus on more is like where is the product going What are the holes in the product One of the parts of the product that aren't as good as they should be And then you know who is interested in improving these parts and
00:22:38then maybe we can get those people together to work on it That is one thing where that's sort of how that thing going lately but as far as how each of those teachers get improved or added or removed it sort of just depends on who is feeling at
00:22:50the moment who's interested and what kind of marketing you can do internally to get people working on it with him so that i can answer your question it's not usually designed first or developer first just really depends Cool So i guess i had to wear things like i
00:23:02want to ask you about before we go One of them was just uh i was kind of wondering when i met you at the cincinnati drink up you know it seemed like you were a very social person like you're like ready to go like me people and do
00:23:13all that sort of thing And i think that's probably a rare sort of attribute for a developer tohave i mean is that in your personality do you think being like that kind of like it outgoing person meeting people Or is that something have to force yourself to do
00:23:25A lot of not just kind of wonder when you get the energy for that that's a lot of drink up believe it or not i'm thinking there are worse things to go to yeah it was i wanted to meet people especially strangers who were using get hub and
00:23:39took the time another day to come to this to this drink up this nerd meet up but it was really hard to do that when you have never done that socially like i don't even know they're like walking to a person involved in like what's up man stranger
00:23:52you know it's just like never been something that i've ever done in my life So yeah it's a learned thing i found that asking people what they're working on at any meat up is always a great question because then it's on them if they want to talk about
00:24:03their day job but they want to talk about their start if they want to talk about their open source project that their obsession with lately whatever they say i'm going to be interested in you might not even be soft or it might be like oh you know i
00:24:13took a sabbatical and i'm building a chair I don't know anything about building shares just what people are working on is always really interesting that's become easier for me if i could just ask them what they're working on or you know there's a million things you could talk
00:24:25about about get hub i think you have drink up obviously Even ask someone what do you what would you have to get out this year What do you think we should remove what What The charlie missing or like what's your favorite thing and and another site that you
00:24:36think developer focused anything like that it's pretty easy to talk to you people about the hard part for me was always the initial hey what's up the easy part was always participating in the conversation runs that gets telling because there's like a a million things have in common
00:24:49with the person so yeah i just sort of gotten over that awkwardness and just sort of talking people unprovoked now and doesn't want him anymore and it's really fun that's awesome So then i guess i was hoping we could talk a little about the future of get up
00:25:01i know you can't reveal all your get hub in her secrets to me and the world what you could but you could we just stop recording police reveal all your secrets Uh but i just i know i think i'd get up and i think it's like all about
00:25:14the development process right Like it's not just about get it's about how you communicate with other developers and that sort of thing i mean are there pain points that you see in the development process like that you feel like it have doesn't address or maybe should address oh
00:25:27yeah i think so There's a huge amount of friction still in the building process Get out not help with some of it even get up creates But i think the biggest thing on my mind lately that we're working on with what we've been working on is when i
00:25:41see some sort of beginner programmer blawg or learned a programmer blawg And they're saying you could really use get help it's amazing and then there's all these steps involved in getting your project from your hard drive to get out You need to like set up get client If
00:25:55you don't know what the terminal is maybe you need to download get up for mac which we which we make for free But then you don't understand what thinking is or what commits are really or version control itself This is all this knowledge need to have to use
00:26:07Get up when really what you want to be doing is just making code and sharing code So for me i look at that and like us maybe if you've been using get for a long time to get up that stuff is all something you don't think about all
00:26:19the all the command all the work flow setting up a new computer you've done it so many times you just just sort of happens but all the steps taken any one of the steps could be the step that is the breaking point for a new person that gets
00:26:30them to not use get out or to not share that or to go do something else that they're more familiar with that that's the thing for me right now is that really feel like the evening we could make it up for a beginner the better it'll also be
00:26:40for pro user more advanced You kind of wanted to somebody i just might be more less sensitive to the pain because i've done it so many times that adult but yeah when i see a tutorial on how do you get help for beginners And it should all these
00:26:52steps to connect get and get up that's something that i really want to make a lot of you here for everyone you need to talk about even understanding d'oh Yeah all right Cool Well i mean i guess that's pretty much all i had for you I just i
00:27:04want to thank you for creating get hub because i feel like i love get happened if it weren't forget how by probably would not I know i might not even be a program because it was really important for me to see everybody's code and learned about that stuff
00:27:15I don't really have a better way to learn and source Fortune really wasn't doing it for me so so you have the back You're welcome Thank you for using get help because you guys looking for a job thanks for taking time out of your day thank you

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