Executives Abandon GitHub Amid Culture Shift At the Company

Published: February 8, 2016 9:55 PM /


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The repository hosting company GitHub appears to be in the midst of a crisis, with at least 10 executives leaving in the last few months. A recent article from Business Insider provides some insight into the changing culture at the company, which may be the reason some of the executives left. These changes are mainly the responsibility of cofounder Chris Wanstrath, who took over as CEO in 2014.

GitHub used to have a flat organizational structure, where nearly everyone who worked there were considered peers except a few important individuals at the top. However, Wanstrath's tenure has seen the rise of supervisors and middle management. Another huge change is that upper management are no longer allowed to work remotely, but must report in at the office. These changes have met opposition within the company, and Business Insider reports that no longer being able to work remotely was at least part of the reason why some executives left recently.

Although many in the company are resistant to these changes, at least one person who spoke to Business Insider defended them. The person to compares the current situation in GitHub to the situation in Facebook a few years ago, and argues that organizational changes are needed once the company reaches a certain size. "With the benefit of experience, 2-3 years, it's very similar to a set of anecdotes about Facebook, where Sean Parker took off and Gideon Yu, and Owen Van Natta and there's all this drama. And hello? It's a hypergrowth company and it's a normal upgrade cycle," the person explained, "There was a remote culture and very little hierarchical structure which worked wonderfully when they were 30 and 50 people, but at 500, it doesn't work. Chris has decided that the leadership team needs to be in the building and managing, so remote is not an option for senior executives."

Another cause of controversy within the company is the social impact team, which is in charge of dealing with social issues including diversity within the company. The leader of the team and VP of social impact is Nicole Sanchez, who previously caused controversy with an article in USA Today arguing, "More white women does not equal tech diversity." Sanchez brought up a similar point at a diversity training talk, which had a slide stating, "Some of the biggest barriers to progress are white women."

While many in the company are in favor of more diversity, they are growing concerned with the direction of the social impact team. One person stated, "They are trying to control culture, interviewing and firing. Scary times at the company without a seasoned leader. While their efforts are admirable it is very hard to even interview people who are 'white' which makes things challenging." Many long-term employees are also describing a culture of fear at the company, where those who don't support all the changes are being driven out.

Others at the company speak of leadership problems and describe Wanstrath as, "trying to keep everyone happy by not making the hard decisions necessary of leaders." Another says Wanstrath, "hides in conference rooms." Also of concern to some in the company, is the apparent absence of key technical talent from the early days of the company. CTO Ted Nyman and cofounder PJ Hyett reportedly don't appear at the office much and don't often contribute technically anymore.

Is GitHub facing a major crisis, or is this just a result of the company's rapid growth? Leave your comment below.

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I’m a technology reporter located near the Innovation District of Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario.