Taking Github to the Next Level with SVP of Technology Jason Warner

Episode 115

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There’s no doubt that when Jason Warner joined the team at Github he would have a lot of questions to answer. Github was trying to find its footing in a development industry dominated by the Googles of the world, and as the SVP of Technology, Jason was the man looking to rebuild trust and vision within the company. Jason succeeded and on this episode of IT Visionaries, he explains how. Plus, he dives into what a good employee experience looks like, how developers will evolve over the next decade, and why having a distributed team is the way to go in today’s world. 

Key Takeaways:

  • Mapping success during the early days at Github
  • The future of the industry and developers
  • The merits of having a distributed team

Jason’s background

Jason says he “fell into” the tech world. He had no idea tech existed when he was in high school, but he eventually realized that computers were a big deal. So he applied for an internship at IBM after encouragement from his shop teacher. He got the job and started out carrying printers and computers around the building and soon enough decided to learn how to use them. IBM was impressed with Jason and guaranteed him a job if he got a degree in computer science, which he did. With IBM, Jason worked in IT and system administration, but he wanted to automate things as quickly as possible because he hated memorizing things and doing repetitive actions. So he worked on creating efficient, automated systems.

Scope of the role at Github

As the SVP of technology at Github, Jason is in charge of all software development and security, as well as long term and strategic thinking. He spends much of his time looking at the long-view horizons and figuring out where Github hopes to climb to. Then he helps lead engineers on a way to get the company there. 

In order to achieve the success he maps out, Jason must rely on his employees. The employee experience should always be a concern for any leader within a company, Jason says, and he is no different. The way he views it is that you want to know that employees can come to their job and do their best work and you have to facilitate that. Often that means removing systems, processes or outdated technology and adding things to the experience that makes work easier. Jason says it’s also important to help your employees figure out where work can fit in with your life so that they can achieve a healthy balance. 

When Jason decided that he wanted to join Github, the company didn’t know exactly where it was going. There was risk involved, but he believed that whoever could figure out what to do with Github would be a legend in the industry. Prior to his arrival, Github had a history of blowing through senior execs and the employees were skeptical Jason would survive. And Github had no clear mission or vision. Jason had to marry all those things together and show everyone that he had the confidence and skill to enact things. His main goal was to figure out where trust had eroded so he could try to start building it back up. Jason rose to the challenge and on his one year anniversary with Github, they announced the acquisition by Microsoft. 

“Employee experience is always a concern for any leader, or it should be for any leader in the company. And I don’t mean like what kind of drinks we have in the fridge or any of those things. You want to know that employees feel that they can come here and do their best work.”

“My thesis for joining Github was there were essentially four companies in the world at that time that could fundamentally change the entirety of the industry of software, and that was Amazon, Microsoft, Google, and Github. One of them didn’t look like the other ones and one of them was in a very different market position to do that and effect that change. So of course from an opportunity perspective, I was going to join Github.”

“You have to form an opinion about what you’re going to do and where you’re going to go. You need a mission and vision and have a plan and execute on it. You need to have a market position and value. Once everyone figures out what you know, you can get into the arena.” 

Where the industry is going

According to Jason, the industry is still in its nascency. He thinks that Github should be the most important software company in the world and that 20 years from now it will be a no-brainer that that’s true. What Github is currently working on will become part of the normal workflow everywhere. Once those tools become ubiquitous, the automation that Github plans to roll out on its next phase will begin to creep in. Jason thinks there is no doubt that the category is set to explode. He wants to work zero-to-one and one-to-two. 

One other area Jason is looking at closely is the education of future developers. He explains that If you care about software, Github should be a place for you right now because they will help you move from low- or no-code development into more sophisticated systems. 

Jason encourages everyone to think about where the next 50 or 100 million developers will come from. What will they be interested in and how will they learn? There is an opportunity to help low-code or no-code developers move up into more sophisticated systems. And there is also an opportunity to completely redefine the term “developer.”

“I just think that there’s so much value in just getting people on one project to do one thing and just asking, ‘Hey, is this for you?’ One of the things I think about quite a bit is where will the next 50 million up to 100 million developers come from and what are they going to be interested in? And then how are they going to learn to do development? If you look around the industry, I mean how many people would benefit from what is now called low-code or no-code scenarios, and we categorize them as developers and help them go from that to maybe more sufficient dedicated development if they want to. Look at how many people, if you’ve ever watched a Youtube video, and I will admit to doing this, but go watch a Youtube video of some Excel wizards who are able to manipulate Excel. It’s fascinating. And you know, the industry doesn’t call those folks developers. There’s a very specific idea and notion of what a developer is, but those folks are manipulating inputs and outputs and systems on their own effectively.”

What Jason has learned

Throughout his years in the industry, Jason has noticed that there is a real lack of leadership in the tech industry. Jason actually quit tech twice, but he came back and has stayed because he wants to show that there is an alternative way to be successful.

“My main goal over the last 10 years, but particularly now given the acquisition and where I am in my career, is that I want to have the most success I possibly can being the leader that I am and showing that you can take an approach that is thoughtful, measured, steady, and be human-centered when it comes to being empathetic and working with people. And you can still have massive success so that we as an industry stop emulating the Larry Ellison’s or the Steve Jobs of the world who thought the brutal way of working was the only way you can achieve results.”

What do developers of the future need?

Jason explains that almost everybody in the world wants a platform and to build an ecosystem because that’s where value is. But too many people are jumping the gun. There are two types of developers: the ones who are there to solve a problem and those there to build a thing. Both kinds of developers aren’t looking to string hundreds of thousands of lines of code or systems together. Instead, you want to get the developers on your team onto the spectrum they are drawn to and find a way to get them all the way to the end of the line of their particular projects. And you want that work to be as easy as possible for them.  

Being a distributed team

Jason firmly believes that there are merits to operating either as a distributed company or with the mindset of one. The way to make it successful is having a mission and knowing where you’re going, then making sure everyone is on the same page. If you map things out thoughtfully, all of a sudden things can click into place. And when your people are given the tools and vision to do what they need, the work gets done. Jason believes that all forward-thinking companies are distributed. He also finds it ironic that there are companies trying to make software for organizations that are distributed, but those companies making the software are themselves not distributed. That, he says, can’t work. In order to create products that work, you have to figure out what your customers are doing, how they are living and what pains they are dealing with, and you have to live in that yourself to solve those problems. 

“If you’re not distributed right now, you’re about 10 years behind the curve…. The macro trends of this is that if you’re not thinking about this right now, you’re not going to understand what’s about to happen to you. Talent is not going to be geo-located exclusively in the world and we all know that the next a hundred million developers that are popping up are not going to be in San Francisco. There will always be a class of people that want to come and work in San Francisco, but if you go from 30 million developers in the world to 100 million, how many of those are going to be in San Francisco?”

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Jason Warner, the SVP of Technology at Github, joins IT Visionaries to discuss taking Github to the next level, the importance of employee experience and the future of development.

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