GitHub, Microsoft, and Nat Friedman

In the stories about the acquisition of GitHub by Microsoft, one thing often seems to be overlooked. It’s the name of GitHub’s new CEO: Nat Friedman. If anything makes me confident GitHub won’t lose it’s way now, it’s him. To understand why, I have to get a bit personal and go into the past.

In late 2009, I was interviewing for a job at SUSE. As part of the process, the interviewers showed me SUSE Studio, one of the newest SUSE projects at the time. It was a web-based Linux distribution builder, which was an innovative idea in 2009, but I was actually most impressed by the application’s UI/UX. The whole application looked modern, visually pleasing, and simple to use. It certainly didn’t look like a typical product of a Linux company, more like a product of a startup. This apparent ability of SUSE to create such a top-notch application convinced me to join the company, and I ended up in the SUSE Studio team.

This is how SUSE Studio looked at the time I worked at SUSE.
This is how SUSE Studio looked at the time I worked at SUSE. Source: SUSE Studio blog

After I started at SUSE, I was curious what the secret sauce was and soon stumbled upon the name of Nat Friedman. The whole project was apparently his idea. He convinced the management about it, assembled a team of the best developers he could find, ran it in a startup fashion, and built the product over two years. Remember, this was in a big company full of Novell corporate-style managers on one side and hardcore Linux hackers on the other side. It was no small feat.

Unfortunately, Nat left SUSE shortly before I joined, so I never met him personally. However, I heard many stories about him as he achieved somewhat of a legendary status in the company. Multiple people expressed regrets that I missed him just by few weeks. If I came in earlier, he would have been my boss.

Knowing what I know about Nat and his work, I was pleasantly surprised to see his name pop up as a CEO of GitHub. He has a long history of involvement both in open source and startups (he got into Microsoft via an acquisition of Xamarin, similarly to how he ended up at SUSE after Novell’s 2003 acquisition of Ximian). And from what I’ve seen at SUSE, he seems to be a natural born builder and leader. So I’m pretty sure he can get the CEO job done and that with him, GitHub is in good hands.