Creating The Open-Source Development Community With Tom Preston-Werner

Tom Preston-Werner

"We can all come up with great ideas and everyone has a million ideas... The hardest part is sitting down and saying, 'I'm going to do this'."

- Tom Preston-Werner

The "Facebook for coders" is what GitHub is. Co-founded by Tom Preston-Werner, it's the poster child for Silicon Valley's departure from purely consumer-focused startups.

Preston-Werner built and created GitHub from zero into something that worth more than $750 million in 2012 when it received a $100 million round from VC firm Andreessen Horowitz. As a place to home practically all the source-code community has to give, GitHub is having more than 4 million developers that are active in contributing to projects.

GitHub is seen as the mecca for many developers and programmers around the world, a place where they cannot be wrong.

Early Life

Thomas "Tom" Preston-Werner was born in October 28th, 1979 in Dubuque, Iowa. His mother raised him as his father died when he was still a child. His mother was a teacher and his stepfather was an engineer.

Preston graduated grade school at Dubuque Senior High School and attended Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California, to study physics. But after two years studying, he realized that he enjoyed programming far more than the math that was the core of his physics studies. Preston-Werner dropped out of college to pursue other endeavors.

Early Career

Tom Preston-Werner career started in 2004 when he founded Gravatar, a service for providing globally unique avatars that follow users from site to site. His company had about 32,000 users before it was sold to Automaticc in 2007. The service was then used on WordPress.

At the time, he was also a web developer at Active Network. He left the company also in 2007.

Later, Preston-Werner moved to San-Francisco to work for Powerset, a company that created a natural language search engine. After Powerset was acquired by Microsoft, Preston-Werner declined a $300,000 bonus and stock options from Microsoft. This was because he was already on his next project: the soon-to-be GitHub.

Co-Founding GitHub

GitHub founders

Tom Preston-Werner has written something about his passion for ensuring that developers document every code they write so others can easily understand how it works, and this was the initial idea for GitHub,.

GitHub's development started on October 2007. While Preston-Werner was still working for Powerset, he met Chris Wanstrath and PJ Hyett at a Ruby developer meet-up in San Francisco. A year later, Scott Chacon joined the three to then create the web-based GitHub.

GitHub was created with Ruby, a programming language that the three founders have knowledge and experience. The website was launched in April 2008 after it had been released as a beta a few months earlier. The software also runs by Erlang by GitHub.

As one of its founders, Preston-Werner took his position as the company's first CEO and President.

GitHub is essentially a social network for programmers and developers.Often dubbed as the "Facebook for coders", GitHub is based on Git, the distributed software developed by Linux creator Linus Torvalds. GitHub allows developers to send and pull requests on its web-based platform in a much easier way than using the complexity of Git's traditional command-line interface.

As a place for "social programmers", it requires people to first create an account in order to contribute content to the site. By having an account, users can send and pull requests, discuss, manage, create repositories, submit contributions to others' repositories, and review changes to code. However, public repositories on GitHub can be browsed, accessed and downloaded by anyone.

GitHub was born when platforms to house opens-source projects were scarce. Since then, GitHub quickly got the attention of developers and programmers around the world, making it the largest code host - the de facto place for open-source - with a community of more than 4 million people building software together.

Some of its users are Microsoft, Mozilla, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and VMWare.

Resigning From GitHub

Preston-Werner served the company until he resigned in 2014 following allegations that he had harassed Julie Ann Horvath, an influential female programmer.

After working at GitHub for two years, Horvath left the company in March, alleging that a co-founder and his wife had harassed her (she didn't name them at the time). GitHub took her concerns seriously and dismissed Preston-Werner to then launch a full investigation.

The investigation was first announced by co-founder Chris Wanstrath in a blog post. He appeared to clear Preston-Werner and his wife. It was first concluded that they and the company had not discriminated against Horvath who had previously spoken publicly about GitHub's efforts to improve working conditions for women at the company, because she was a woman.

In April 2014, GitHub released a statement denying Horvath's allegations. Wanstrath wrote that there was no evidence of "sexual or gender-based harassment or retaliation" against Horvath. But after a thorough investigation, GitHub acknowledged the claim.

Wanstrath wrote on the company blog:

"The investigation found Tom Preston-Werner in his capacity as GitHub's CEO acted inappropriately, including confrontational conduct, disregard of workplace complaints, insensitivity to the impact of his spouse's presence in the workplace, and failure to enforce an agreement that his spouse should not work in the office."

"While there may have been no legal wrongdoing, the investigator did find evidence of mistakes and errors of judgment," wrote Wanstrath. "In light of these findings, Tom has submitted his resignation, which the company has accepted."

Chris Wanstrath took Preston-Werner's role as CEO as Preston-Werner was dismissed.

In a personal blog post, Preston-Werner said he will be moving on to found an immersive computing company. He then co-founded and became the advisor of Codestarter, a non-profit organization that donates computers to kid coders.

Personal Life

Tom Preston-Werner is married to Theresa, a former grad student in cultural anthropology that has involved in historical research and social subjects. The couple has a son and lives in San Francisco.

Preston-Werner's departure from GitHub was a huge blow for the company. He was the one that benefited the community, the company and users with his technical contributions and evangelism. He was the one that is known for building the community around publicly sharing open-source code.

With Preston-Werner' leaving GitHub, Chris Wanstrath was shy on product development and public speaking. He was less established as the face of GitHub, and was seen as not having the enjoyment for delivering speeches like Preston-Werner.

Preston-Werner is an active contributor to the open-source developer and hacker culture, mostly that involve Ruby. He has written numerous articles that put his philosophies and opinion on various issues. He has also been featured as a guest on podcasts including Rubyology, SitePoint.

He also deliver speeches to developers, speaking about conceptual algorithms and telling them to collaborate more on projects.

Preston-Werner was an initial member of the San Francisco group IcanhazRuby or ICHR after he had been a regular member of the San Francisco Ruby Meetups. He also started CodeConf, a conference he made through the influences of GitHub.