GitHub Simplifies Sharing Code to Change How Developers Work and Market Themselves

: Simple way for developers to share and store code. Developers have a profile page and can follow others, watch repositories (where code is stored) and discover new projects. Many use their profiles as a resume. GitHub encourages forking -- taking code and developing it in a different direction -- to try out ideas (the practice used to be considered negative).

[ Git is an open-source version-control system that Linux creator Linus Torvalds developed in 2005 ]

LAUNCHERS: Chris Wanstrath, CEO; Tom Preston-Werner, CTO; PJ Hyett, COO.

WHY: Git should make it easier for developers to collaborate, but it needed infrastructure to do just that. SourceForge requires permissions and approvals to post new projects and make code changes, limiting the amount of code shared. Other tools for version control are cumbersome. Plus there was no place for developers to easily track their own projects and coding history.

WHEN/WHERE: April 2008 / San Francisco. Most recent product launch: Github for Mac (June 22, 2011).

BACKSTORY: In October 2007, Tom and Chris, acquaintances, saw each other at a meetup for Ruby hackers in San Francisco. Tom already knew he wanted to start a side project called GitHub. He showed Chris some of what he was working on, and Chris was in. They spent nights and weekends hacking on it, releasing a private beta after three months and launching publicly after six months. Tom quit his day job (at Powerset) in summer 2008.

The hard-core Linux community didn't initially like these "web 2.0" guys climbing into their sandbox, Tom notes. "We went to the meetings that all the core git people went to, so we got to know them, started having a dialogue, and that's what brought us together," says Tom.

BUSINESS MODEL: Subscriptions for private repositories are the main revenue stream (from $7 to $22/month for individuals, $25 to $200/month for businesses). Sales of the enterprise version are “increasing pretty rapidly” Tom says, and the company wants enterprise revenue to exceed individual/business sales in a few years (GitHub won’t release enterprise client names).

Other streams: Job board, GitHub merchandise (enough to support a full-time shipping staffer), customized Git training, and conferences -- first one held in April in San Francisco, next one for Python developers in Miami this fall.

GOAL: “To help developers collaborate on code,” says Tom.

COMPETITION: Version-control tools including Mercurial, Subversion, CVS and Perforce. For storing and sharing code: SourceForge, Google Code, Bitbucket (uses Mercurial).

CUSTOMERS/GROWTH: Over 888K developers and nearly 2.5M repositories. Over 2.5 million code pushes in May 2011.

Tom says they expect to hit 1M developers by mid-September. “There is a huge number of developers who haven’t signed up. We want to expose them to git and why it’s better than what they’re using now,” says Tom.

Site visits by country (June 2011): United States 29%, Germany 7.25%, United Kingdom 6% and  France 4%. Japan, China, Russia and Canada all had about 3.5%, with India at 3% and Brazil at 2.5%.

Tom has made a point of speaking at events worldwide to ensure GitHub has international users. He says there’s “room to improve” in India considering the amount of code outsourced there.

MAJOR PROJECTS ON GITHUB: Ruby on Rails moved to GitHub right after its public launch. NodeJS has been on GitHub since the language was born. Also Diaspora (Facebook alternative) and jQuery.

WHAT A DEVELOPER ON GITHUB THINKS: Max Howell, who made the Android version of TweetDeck and is based in London, has the most-forked project on GitHub, Homebrew. He says GitHub revolutionized open source because unlike SourceForge, the focus is the developer and not the code.

"Creating Homebrew [on Github] taught me that all big open source projects can benefit from a benevolent dictator because projects need a face and projects need someone who can say no," says Max.

GITHUB FOR MAC: Aimed at designers and others who aren't used to operating on a command line. Tom says, "We're working on other native clients to expand that [less technical] audience even further."

ON GITHUB'S SOCIAL LAYER: Tom says social -- inspired by Twitter but not Facebook -- was part of GitHub from the beginning. “We didn’t want to replace the act of coding with the act of socializing. We just wanted to augment the act of coding with the act of socializing about that code.”

STARTUP LESSONS LEARNED: Tom worked at the search company Powerset before it was sold to Microsoft. He says Powerset hired a great PR firm and made bold statements before anything was released. “If you don’t live up to those expectations or exceed them when you launch, you’re in a much worse position than if you had done things a little bit quieter,” he says. That’s why GitHub waits until a product is finished before announcing it.

From Gravatar, a side project he sold to Automattic: “Everything that went into it came out of my own pocket and my own time. It was untenable to keep running it the way it was.” Tom was “adamant” when starting GitHub -- even as a side project -- that there would be a way to make money.

WHO BACKED IT: Bootstrapped and proud of it. Tom says he and Chris didn’t know any VCs when they started GitHub, and having revenue from day one meant they didn’t need to raise.

Although GitHub is not raising right now, Tom says he does meet with VCs: “I can go in and have coffee and get to know them so that when we do want to raise capital or for some venture down the road, we’re in a good position to do that.”

NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES: 34, up from 14 at the beginning of 2011. Most in the SF office but some developers in other parts of the U.S. and abroad.


The developer profile page shows the basic contact info, the number of people following him, who he’s following, his public repositories and his public actions.

Click on a project to see its files and download the code. The tabs across the top allow you to dig into commits, pull requests, issues, the project wiki and graphs showing activity, impact and traffic.

After hitting “Explore GitHub” on the top nav, you can look at projects by repositories, languages and timeline. When you explore by repository, you can see the most forked and most watched projects.


1. “How I Turned down 300K from Microsoft to Go Full-Time on GitHub (Tom Preston-Werner, October 2008)

2. Linus Torvalds on git (Talk at Google, May 2007)

3. Version control in real life: a snapshot of how part of the U.S. Code has changed (from a GitHub project in which the entire U.S. Code is commited every day)


Chris Wanstrath
Email: chris at
Twitter: @defunkt
GitHub profile:

Tom Preston-Werner
Email: tom at
Twitter: @mojombo
GitHub profile:

PJ Hyett
Email: pj at
Twitter: @pjhyett
GitHub profile: