How a GitHub maintainer wants to make building open source software easier

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  • Stormy Peters, Vice President of Communities at GitHub, believes that open source can improve the world.
  • Companies like GitHub help break down barriers to building software, Peters told Insider.
  • This article is part of Innovation Leaders, a series examining how business leaders view their role in driving technological innovation.

Developing open source software can make the world a better place, according to Stormy Peters, vice president of communities at GitHub.

This was demonstrated by the developers’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the wake of the outbreak, developers around the world have embraced open source software. Interactive models projected the effects of disease in prisons, self-monitoring tools helped healthcare workers care for patients remotely, and a volunteer matching system Community volunteers put in contact with people at risk.

These GitHub-based projects have proven that rapid open-source community collaboration can be used to solve fundamental problems and transform the software world, Peters said. Now she wants to make it easier for everyone to build cloud software for good. At GitHub, she leads projects like GitHub Education to provide free open source resources to students and teachers, and Sponsors, which allows patrons to donate to developers behind open source projects.

“It’s fun to work with, for example, all of our managers in the open source software communities, because everyone sees different solutions,” Peters told Insider. “Some are obviously more altruistic than others, but they all love using technology to solve a problem we have.”

Solving these problems starts with facilitating the creation of projects and the development of communities around them. Companies like GitHub are responsible for breaking down barriers, including finding projects to contribute to and paying people for their time, Peters said.

And Peters’ role in that includes the innovation behind features for developers. For example, she led the team behind Achievements, a project that celebrates actions on GitHub and supports developer recognition. She’s also proud of her team’s work on Discussions, a forum designed for users to ask and answer questions about open source projects.

“I think our job is to empower people to build software and the solutions they need and focus on that by giving them tools that make it easier,” Peters said.

Peters said she is particularly passionate about GitHub Education project. She is responsible for finding new ways to support the 2 million students and teachers who use the product. Peters helped launch Global Campus, a program that gives teachers and students access to GitHub’s premium features for free.

Recently, the company also released its AI-based pair programmer, GitHub Copilot, and online development environment, Codespaces, free for students. Tools like Codespaces were created so that all students could start learning to code, whether or not they had access to a computer.

Making these tools widely available to educators and students is a game-changer because it gives those who want to participate in open source a chance to do so, Peters said. Overall, Peters’ goal is to facilitate the development of the world in broad daylight, which includes finding ways to engage people.

“The open source community is unique because the opportunity for innovation can happen anywhere. It doesn’t matter what your CV is. What matters is that your idea is heard and felt by the community, which has an impact “Peters said. “I believe that the power to create things lies in supporting those who want to implement great things and in collaborating.”

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