Why GitHub wants to get involved in Australia's innovation ecosystem

GitHub announced that it will be upping its presence and marketing spend in Australia and New Zealand, given the 50 percent YoY growth it has experienced in the region over the last 12 months.
Written by Tas Bindi, Contributor

It's been a little over a year since GitHub set up base in Australia and appointed Sam Hunt as the head of Australia and New Zealand.

At the time, there was limited awareness in the region of GitHub's business and enterprise offerings.

"In the first few months, we got involved in a few events, we did some hackathons with some of our local customers like ANZ bank, and what we noticed was this overwhelming sense of 'Yeah we love you, but why are you here?'" Hunt told ZDNet.

A year later, the San Francisco-headquartered company, which provides Git-based online source code repositories, said it has experienced 50 percent year-on-year revenue growth in Australia and New Zealand. Its enterprise customers in the region include ANZ Bank, National Australia Bank, REA Group, and Xero.

Additionally, nearly 100,000 users in the region collaborate on code using the platform every day, the company said.

Hunt stressed the importance of not adopting a "cookie cutter model" -- that is, taking what's working in one region and dropping it into another expecting a similar result.

"We realised how much of a difference it makes when you're actually in the region ... A lot of Australian organisations that opt into the tool are [influenced] by what's being used in Silicon Valley, but don't necessarily know how they should be applying it. That's something we've been able to bring to market by being here. You can't do that remotely. You can't say go to YouTube and watch a webinar," Hunt said.

"It's really important that we meet with people and understand their anomalies and their challenges and work around building a program that's going to support them."

Visiting Australia for the first time, GitHub's chief business officer Julio Avalos told ZDNet it appears to him that Australia is at an inflection point -- on government level, on an educational level, and on a startup level.

"The public sector and private sector seem to be [coming to the conclusion] that the world has shifted," Avalos said. "One of things that has really become clear to me ... recently has been a sense of: 'What are we [as a nation] doing to be part of that shift? Are we doing enough? How are we training the next generation of developers so that companies aren't just getting founded here and then having to go abroad to seek financing, to establish themselves, or to find talent?'"

Avalos believes this "inflection point" presents an exciting opportunity for GitHub to get involved in Australia's innovation ecosystem as it matures, and is particularly eager to get involved with educational initiatives aimed at preparing students for jobs of the future.

"There's obviously a lot of innovation and a real dynamic spirit here, but if [companies are] not able to hire developers in the region, it's only a matter of time before [they] have to outsource that to Southeast Asia, to the States," Avalos said.

"One of the things I've been particularly excited about is the opportunity to work with our enterprise customers -- particularly these large shops like ANZ bank that have their own public service initiatives -- on educational initiatives. We're thinking about how do we something actionable around educating the next generation of software developers?"

Avalos said that while workforce structures have changed with the help of technology, some businesses still lag behind.

"You shouldn't need to have an office in one location and then force people to come here -- we have the technology. Github, if it's about anything, is about democratising access to code, increasing collaboration around code, and redefining what it means to be a software developer and what it means to do software development," Avalos said.

Hunt added that collaboration tools for disparate workforces are particularly important in the ANZ region.

"Usually large development projects aren't just being run in Australia, they're being run in Asia, in Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam," Hunt said.

Having visited coworking spaces such as Fishburners and Tank Stream Labs in Sydney and York Butter Factory and Carlton Connect in Melbourne, Avalos and Hunt believe GitHub can play important role as startups scale and outgrow their coworking space.

"I've always seen us as some version of a beta tester for a potential future work reality, where every department builds on GitHub," Avalos said. "Lawyers work on GitHub, HR works on GitHub, the engineers obviously work on GitHub, the entire company collaborates on it. That starts to force some greater synergy, greater collaboration between departments, not just within your engineering department."

"You don't have to go around and manually try to fact-find within a company -- like documents that might exist on somebody's laptop or somebody's directory that you have no visibility into. This is an issue that causes inefficiency and redundancy. Millions, if not billions, of dollars are spent reinventing the wheel because one person doesn't know if another happens to have a document on their computer and they're not going to go and ask the person about an issue that they seemingly have no relationship to.

"But when you're working in a more collaborative, open environment, invariably you'll create an issue that you think is targeted towards a particular audience, but someone outside that audience might jump in and say 'I remember reading something on that six months ago' and [draw someone else] into the thread."

Reflecting on the United States' presidential election and the political climate in regions such as the UK, Avalos said "people feel disenfranchised".

"I think that in Australia, similar to a lot of countries around the world, there is this feeling that the new economy has left us behind," Avalos said. "The jobs are not just going to different markets, the jobs are increasingly going to robots ... the people that are going to be able to code the robots are the ones that are going to be employable. Computer literacy, code literacy is a sine qua non of employability in the 21st century."

While he praised the Australian government for setting the right policy agendas to boost innovation in the country, Avalos also acknowledged what he thought appeared to be "a certain level of frustration at the speed ... and uncertainty around whether the government is focusing on the right things."

As such, GitHub is also keen to work with the Australian government in some capacity, though the idea is in still in its exploratory stage.

The company does, however, want to see the Australian government open source more of its data. Currently, 32 government agencies in Australia, including the Digital Transformation Agency, have open source data repositories on GitHub.

"The Department of Commerce in the States last year open-sourced Census data and all kinds of projects sprung up as a result -- people were slicing and dicing that data. There was better visibility into how different communities are responding to this or that. That is ultimately going to be part and parcel of 21st century politics," Avalos said.

"Several years ago, somebody, out of a passion project, started putting up proposed laws in Germany on GitHub and then you could follow the flow of a statute just like a pull request, in the same way that you look at code. You could see changes that were being made, who's proposing changes.

"How can we, in Australia, elicit public feedback on legislation? I think there's a real opportunity for Australia to leverage the technology we have to have better communication and have a more relevant feedback process with the citizenry."

Globally, GitHub said there are 20 million developers working on 52 million projects, as well as 1.3 million enterprises.

Avalos said one of the reasons GitHub was able to go so long without having a dedicated sales team is because unlike a lot of B2B companies and B2C companies, GitHub considers itself both a B2B and B2C player.

"I think that division between enterprise and consumer itself is a false choice," Avalos said. "What we found is if you're a developer by night working on some passion project on GitHub, you're probably a developer by day and you're probably having to use tools that are not the tools you would use given the opportunity and choice.

"We've had developers evangelising for us within the enterprises they work in ... so there's always been this virtuous cycle and this deep connection between the community and the enterprise product."

Earlier in March, GitHub rolled out a new payment option for customers that need some but not all enterprise grade features. The new business offering brings SAML single sign-on, automated provisioning and deprovisioning, 24/5 support, and 99.5 percent guaranteed uptime to GitHub.com.

The Enterprise option was updated for performance, reliability, and pull request efficiency.

"Sometimes you start developing things that you think are only going to be relevant for the Coca-Colas and the GEs of the world, but that could also be helpful to smaller startup projects, [and] open source projects," Avalos said.

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