Chapter 2: Joining GitHub

Six months ago I joined the impressive team at GitHub. Since I haven’t publicly shared much about my experiences yet I wanted to take the opportunity to reflect on my latest chapter.

What is GitHub?

GitHub’s goal is to help individuals and organizations build better software, together. We do this by providing tools that enable teams to collaborate quickly and easily, and produce higher-quality results than possible with other tools and philosophies. We use GitHub to build GitHub.

Our roots are based in the open source community but we also understand very large organizations (and their workflows, needs, challenges, benefits, etc.).

Of the 230 GitHubbers (plus or minus a few), the majority of us work remotely and do not live in San Francisco.

We have a unique mascot, the “Octocat” :octocat: which is an octopus and a cat. We turn it into all kinds of fun characters, t-shirts, and stickers. We also use emoji a lot. :grin: :thumbsup:

Why GitHub?

I’m glad you asked! I’ve dabbled in web development and design for over a decade and worked with open source technologies like WordPress for many years now. Shortly after GitHub appeared in 2007 it became the location for many great open source projects. It was also a beautiful website with powerful features amongst a landscape of dull interfaces and online experiences.

I created a GitHub.com account back in 2009 and didn’t do much with it. As I collaborated with clients that hosted their own projects privately on GitHub I realized that I had only seen the tip of the iceberg: many individuals and organizations were working together on GitHub and I started to realize its amazing potential.

How did you get a job at GitHub?

I’ve had an “internet friend”, @bleikamp, for many years who I met through Noah Kagan. I also followed @kneath who was a prominent designer and a member of the 9rules community. In the back of my mind I knew they both were doing cool stuff at GitHub.

I happened to be in San Francisco last summer for a conference and invited myself to visit the GitHub offices (HQ 2.0). Ben obliged and after chatting (and walking away with a nice t-shirt) my interest in GitHub was re-ignited :fire:.

A few days later I was browsing the “About” page on GitHub.com and saw an open position for a “Technical Account Manager”. After reading it I realized it described much of what I was doing at Crowd Favorite. I wasn’t really looking for a new job, I was fully prepared to spend time doing some soul searching, but, it seemed too good an opportunity to pass up. I asked Ben if he’d be willing to pass my name along to the right folks so I could learn more about the position and he happily did.

After answering a dozen written questions—example inquiries from existing and potential customers—I was invited to do a series of phone :phone: interviews. I enjoyed the conversations and got the sense this was a sharp team with fun challenges ahead.

From there I was asked to come :airplane: to San Francisco and spend a day at the office, meet, eat, and mingle. I really enjoyed speaking with a bunch of GitHubbers (@danishkhan, @dsorkin, @leereilly, @lizclink, @jessla, @pmn, @sachinr) and casually meeting many others. I expected to be uncomfortable and nervous as I’d not interviewed anywhere in many years, but I felt welcome and that GitHub and I would be a great fit for each other.

Luckily, GitHub agreed. I was offered the position a week later, picked the first week in January as my start date (two other awesome TAMs would start with me that week: @joewadcan and @davideg) and went into the holiday season ready to relax and wind things down at Crowd Favorite.

So, are you a web developer at GitHub?

No, I’m part of the “sales and account management” team. There are about a dozen of us. One of our primary goals is to help individuals and organizations ”bring GitHub to work”.

For some groups, that simply means we help make sure buyers or managers at larger organizations understand the ins-and-outs and pros and cons of purchasing an account on GitHub.com, our hosted “SaaS” product that most folks know as “GitHub”.

The majority of our team and time is actually focused on helping customers that want to install GitHub onto their own servers. GitHub Enterprise is our on-premises product that is essentially the same as GitHub.com but limited to just your employees and the software is installed on your own servers. Companies and teams love :heart: GitHub but, understandably, many do not like the idea of having their intellectual property in “the cloud” and beyond their control.

Externally, I talk to prospective customers about everything from pricing, to the competitive landscape, through proposed workflows, and sometimes simply how to complete a purchase. I jump on the phone to answer questions, draft thousand-word emails describing why GitHub may be their best solution, and even respond to questionnaires with hundreds of items to help organizations understand the impact of installing GitHub Enterprise in their environment. I also travel to meet and speak with prospective and existing customers to understand their software development and collaborative processes better.

Internally, I sometimes help our team spot patterns and edit fellow team members’ high-quality responses to our customers. I work with our account managers to lend some “technical backup” when speaking with customers. I sometimes serve as a liaison to other teams to lend perspective from our customers (to marketing or engineering) and from ourselves (to finance). Sometimes I simply take :pencil: notes during meetings, make checklists, ask questions, or start discussions to help keep our team informed or organized.

In the near future I plan to travel to conferences and meet with more customers and folks that may not have even heard of GitHub.

Are you moving to San Francisco?

Nope, both Rachel and I grew up in Colorado and really like it here. Since GitHub is a global organization with employees and customers all over the world, I asked to see if it would make sense to make me one of the first “Technical Account Manager” hires outside of San Francisco.

I tried to make the argument that by having me as one of the early remote employees on our team we could start to refine our communication and collaboration process and build best practices around working with team members in different locations and timezones. Having joined the team I can actually pull up the internal discussion where my team members discussed this idea themselves just a few weeks earlier.

After six months I think my working remotely has gone well (I believe my team agrees :wink:). As more of us travel more regularly to meet with customers or go abroad to conferences, some of the new behaviors and processes we’ve collectively tweaked have allowed us to work and make decisions asynchronously, prepare to scale our team, all while continuing to provide great customer service.

What’s it like working from home?

It’s great! Sure, I can spend more time at home being productive and I’m also afforded the flexibility to run an errand during the day. But, I also need to consciously separate work from home time and go out of my way to remain socially connected to my team members all around the world.

Luckily, GitHub has a great culture and remote employees are not second-class citizens. We have folks dedicated to making sure our “distributed” needs are taken care of (everything from office supplies through discussing how to prevent feeling isolated) and another team committed to deploying and maintaining our world-class audio/visual technology including providing video cameras in every conference room and live streaming our all-hands and important meetings.

It takes some work on both sides, and it’s not for everyone, but I’ve found it very easy and enjoyable to work from home. I’ve almost always had “side projects” that I’ve worked on at home and I’d like to think I’m disciplined enough to do the right things when temptation is nearby.

One thing is for certain: written communication becomes paramount to success when working remotely. I use chat to stay in touch with everyone throughout the day, GitHub repositories to capture decisions and discussions, our ticketing system to communicate with customers and capture notes from discussions, video calls to have high-bandwidth conversations with each other, and phone calls and screensharing to speak with prospective and current customers.

If you’re considering working remotely yourself I’d highly recommend reading Remote by 37signals. I read it before accepting this position and found it summarized a lot of considerations.

Do you travel much?

Sometimes! I visit HQ 3.0 once every month or so. We have a semi-regular team meeting to have high-bandwith discussions about pressing issues, big decisions, new initiatives and anything else anyone else would like to add to our agenda.

It’s sometimes tough to be away from Rachel for a week but it’s fun because I get to be social with my team: we play pool, go to lunch and dinner, have a drink :cocktail: together, and hang out and chat on our rooftop.

I also travel to meet with customers (I visited Tokyo :tokyo_tower: in May) and have the opportunity to go to conferences to help with our trade show booth or give a talk.

What is HQ 3.0?

This is what we call GitHub’s (current) official headquarters, the third iteration, located in downtown San Francisco.

It’s a couple blocks from the baseball :baseball: stadium in South Beach and was designed to encourage collaboration and have a great gathering space for us, our friends, and the community. We also enjoy all the expected “startup perks”: a nice big dining area where we cater lunch once a week (every other day everyone is encouraged to go out into the local community), a DJ booth, pool table and ping pong, standing desks, quirky conference rooms, video games, snacks, and a big beautiful rooftop deck looking out towards the bay.

If you happen to visit San Francisco and would like to visit, even if it’s just to sit somewhere quiet with wifi, send me an email: [email protected]

Be sure to follow our blog to learn about community events in San Francisco and around the world. For instance, we hold “Patchwork” events for folks new to Git and GitHub looking for a hands-on help session.

Are you hiring?

Great question! We certainly are. In fact, we’re looking for:

You can always find our open positions online at: https://github.com/about/jobs


I hope this has been interesting and lends some perspective about what I’ve been up to lately. If you have any other questions, know of interesting conferences I should visit, or would like to grab lunch: send me an email! :wave: