Acquiring good programming talent as a bootstrapping startup is no easy task. Top flight programmers are worth the output of ten mediocre ones, and in the high stakes world of startups, this can mean the difference between success and failure. While companies have looked to algorithm and programming challenges during interviews as a means to identify the high flyers, there's really no substitute for looking at a programmers day to day code output. This is why GitHub has emerged as a powerful way to find programming talent.
What is GitHub?
GitHub is a web based code repository built upon the popular source control protocol Git. Git was created in 2005 by Linus Torvalds, better known as the creator of Linux. The Git protocol rose to popularity on Linux, and provided a number of features building upon previous version control systems like BitKeeper. It provided a basis for a distributed, non-linear change process that scaled easily to large projects.
GitHub was created in 2007 by a team of three led by Chris Wanstrath, a former CNET employee. Primarily written in Ruby on Rails, GitHub adds a web interface to the command line environment of Git, and more importantly adds a method to easily share Git repositories socially. GitHub grew in popularity almost immediately, starting in the Ruby community, but soon branching out into other languages. GitHub hosts open source projects for free, and covers expenses by taking a monthly charge for hosting proprietary code. GitHub has remained profitable and avoided venture funding for a number of years until 2012, when it closed a $100 million series A funding round led by Andreessen Horowitz.
Not Just for Indie Programmers
While GitHub has become one of the most popular places on the web to host small open source projects, almost all of the Web's biggest companies host code on GitHub. Companies like Twitter, Facebook, Lockheed Martin and even the White House host code on the site. Some of these companies have opened up their code to the public to allow for a crowdsourced approach to code improvement. Big open source projects like Ruby on Rails, the popular web development framework, greatly benefit from the energized community that is empowered to contribute by the GitHub platform.
Building a GitHub Resume
GitHub's enablement of code sharing and social coding has turned into its greatest asset. Instead of allowing public full access to code, GitHub open projects allow users to "fork" a code repository, creating a copy for a local account. This allows users to work on code independently. Once a user has made a meaningful improvement to the code, the user can send a "pull request" to the project owner, who can then decide whether to incorporate the changes into the original project.
This approach streamlines the code improvement process and creates a powerful way for individuals to build credibility as a programmer. A history of commits to big projects with meaningful improvements is an impactful way to demonstrate coding prowess, and many technical team leaders have expressed that a solid reputation on GitHub can be more convincing than an ability to answer algorithmic questions in a technical interview. A GitHub history serves as a meaningful tech resume, so much so that apps have been developed to pull a users commit history from GitHub and form a readable resume from the results. A savvy job seeker in technology would be well served by establishing a history of meaningful code improvement and creation on GitHub.
An Audacious Future for GitHub
GitHub managed to operate profitably for a number of years before receiving any venture funding due to its subscription revenue from hosted closed projects. Despite its profitability, the company opted to receive venture funding from one of the many interested VC firms to the tune of $100 million. The size of this capital infusion hints at the size of the strategic vision that GitHub is looking to realize long term. GitHub is looking to expand in every direction: to institutions big and small; to different platforms; and even beyond programming to the world of writing and design. With its large infusion of cash, and its history of success, GitHub is going to be worth watching for some time to come.