GitHub CEO on diversity, growth and whether tech's in a bubble

Chris Wanstrath, co-founder and chief executive officer at GitHub Inc.
Chris Wanstrath, co-founder and chief executive officer at GitHub Inc.

GitHub is one of those Bay Area start-ups that has made headlines sometimes for the wrong reasons, but its popularity is undeniable.

The company provides web-based tools that developers use to share code and collaborate on projects, and counts almost half of the Fortune 100 as customers. It's so ubiquitous among programmers that prominent venture capitalists valued the company last year at $2 billion. GitHub has been named to CNBC's Disruptor 50 list three years in a row.

On Tuesday, CNBC.com spoke to CEO Chris Wanstrath at GitHub's second annual developer conference in San Francisco to discuss his efforts to balance corporate governance and diversity with the never-ending quest for growth. This interview has been edited and condensed.


Q: Where does most of your revenue come from and what is the biggest growth opportunity?

Wanstrath: Even though software companies are our No. 1 industry right now, I think that's not going to be true for long. We are seeing a lot of growth in what you call traditional enterprises, the Fortune 100 companies.

Q: What does it say about GitHub that the White House chose to partner with you on Code.gov? (Code.gov is a U.S. government pilot program which will make 20 percent of the code built by the federal government open source and available to developers.)

Wanstrath: I think that speaks a lot to the power of the development community and the fact that GitHub is sitting at the epicenter of it, that the government recognizes that where all of the developers are, where they can get real engagement, people will actually give them feedback is on GitHub and through the GitHub platform. It's really remarkable.

Q: What are you doing to promote diversity?

Wanstrath: The biggest thing we have been doing is trying to hire a more diverse workforce and hire more women, take it seriously. It's tough — it's not somewhere where we or the tech industry have excelled — so admitting that and working on it proactively, and knowing that it's never something that's solved or finished but that it's an ongoing thing, that there's a lot of learning and educating that we need to do as a company.

It's super critical for us, not just because of the company, but for the community. The goal of GitHub is to connect all these developers, to unlock their potential together. The world is diverse — we need to have an inclusive company so we can build an inclusive community.


Q: You have changed the corporate structure to make it more hierarchical, a move away from how the company started. Why?

Wanstrath: We have experimented with organization many times at GitHub and some of our experiments did not work. A lot of the changes we have made have not been in service of inventing a new organization, but were in service of figuring out what the developers, the community and our customers need, and how we can build the best thing for them, and trying to change the organization to follow that. I don't think we have always had that mentality, but that's my perspective and that's my philosophy.

Q: Can you give an example of something you tried, but then gave up because it didn't work?

Wanstrath: I can give a lot of examples. I think that we grew really quickly and the organizational structure that we had didn't support our employees, and a lot of that is quite public, and I also think it didn't support our customers, and that's very public as well.

We had a lot of problems — as we grew quickly — in coordinating. A lot of our communications structures were for small teams and did not scale to a larger organization. We are figuring out how to work together at scale, and hopefully as we grow.

Q: You raised funding last year but — as other companies contemplate flat rounds, down-rounds or raising debt — how does the shifting fundraising environment change your plans?

Wanstrath: We have always had a very strong fundamental business, and I have heard that the best time to ask for money is when you don't need it. We have been in situations where we wanted to raise money, not to fuel the core fundamentals of the business, but to fuel big bets and big investments and innovation and things that we haven't even announced yet.

So, we don't pay too much attention to the macro-economic fundraising situation because we raise money to invest in, as opposed to fuel. A lot of companies, they have a model where they raise money and they try to find a product market and a business fit — which is totally respectable — we're the opposite.

(Wanstrath declined to comment on the specific financials of the business.)


Q: What should CNBC's audience have in mind when they look at GitHub?

Wanstrath: There's a lot of conversation about a tech bubble, but with software there's no going back. It doesn't matter what happens in the short term. Software has infected these companies and it's changing everything. Software is not going away. Software is the future. Invest in software.

(Wanstrath would not comment on potential IPO plans down the road.)

Workers install a billboard for GitHub Inc.
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Workers install a billboard for GitHub Inc.