During my ~5 years as a senior product designer and design manager on the core "dotcom" team at GitHub, I learned a great deal about the challenges of iterating at speed on a highly technical, high-traffic product.
For the time I was most active as an individual contributor on the "dotcom" team (Jun 2012 through Jan 2016), I was the 13th highest overall contributor to the GitHub.com codebase by commit count.
Commits aren’t necessarily the best proxy for what matters, nor is this repository the only codebase I worked on, but I’m extremely proud to have been part of the core team of such a fascinating product, over a significant period of growth and change.
Going beyond design
Designers early on at GitHub always worked incredibly closely with engineering to implement new functionality at all layers of the stack. Not only did I find myself designing primarily in the browser using code at almost every step of the design process, I often collaborated on changes to back-end and systems-level code too.
At times I was even doing things like SSH-ing into production to run custom database-level migrations, and many other things that wouldn’t typically be considered part of a designer’s (or even a front-end developer’s) remit.
This level of cross-discipline trust and collaboration was undoubtledly one of the things I appreciated most about the culture we’d built at GitHub—it made the entire team feel like they were legitimately trusted and empowered to contribute in whatever ways their skillset (or their interest) allowed for, while at the same time having support and feedback from domain-specifc specialists at every step of the way.
In addition to the handful of projects mentioned here on my site, I played a significant role in a bunch of other projects over the years—including some that didn’t ship until well after I left the company. Here’s a few examples:
- Helping to redesign repositories—essentially the most important screen/view of the entire GitHub product—including (re)designing the visual code fingerprint/language graph, and new navigation patterns.
- Early concept work for what became GitHub Marketplace (initially called GitHub "Addons" and Integrations)
- Early design contributions to Projects (boards, cards, etc.)
- Designing and helping build webhooks & services
- GitHub Training site / Guides
- GitHub Pages and Jekyll functionality — including Jekyll's documentation
- Helping to tidy up after pull-requests
- Improving org permissions & Enterprise SSO functionality
- Helping design the GraphQL API playground
- Searching and filtering stars
- A Ton™ of internal tooling/automation/chatbot improvements
- Sneaking this easter egg into the GitHub API (based on this) ^_^
Not to mention all the work outside of product and code—running meetups and speaking publicly at events, interviewing/hiring/onboarding, and eventually stepping up as a design manager, organising design summits, and so forth.
What I’m most proud of
The things I’m most proud to have built during my time at GitHub were the features and workflows which typically ended up having a relatively small surface area (from a visual/UI perspective), but made for an outsised/disproportionate impacts in terms of the powerful new workflows and important cognitive shifts they enabled for people using the product every day. Or sometimes even the small things outside the main role, like publishing a tiny Gist (almost 10 years ago now) which thousands of people have somehow found valuable enough to star and save for later.
If there’s one thing I learned at GitHub, it was seeing first-hand the unbelievable power of small details and incremental iteration—when made in the open—which all accumulates and compounds in ways you could never plan or predict with an top-down process.
As GitHub’s design team continued to grow, my role began to shift into a management role for the last year or so of my time at the company, and my individual contributions to the codebase became less frequent—but my learning and growth never stopped. To this day I remain deeply grateful to GitHub, and to all the incredible people I had the privilege to work alongside—it was a truly irreplaceable and formative experience for me, both professionally and personally.