SAP is the largest business software vendor in the world, with a workforce to match—20,000 developers on teams located all over the world. Dominik Tornow, Director of Engineering with the SAP Labs Processes and Tools group, is intimately aware that SAP’s success is tied closely to the relationships and collaboration between all of those distributed development teams.
Despite the fact companies so large tend to degrade into many fractured groups, the secret to what SAP has achieved can be found in their strong culture of sharing information. Even so, Dominik has observed that even when an organization nurtures such a supportive atmosphere, the lack of a lightweight communication workflow can easily hamper creativity.
Not long ago, a single group at SAP asked their managers to allow them to use GitHub for a project. By word-of-mouth, developers in other groups at SAP noticed that GitHub let them share code and ideas to create their own practical, agile workflows. Dominik’s group decided to see what would happen if more developers took GitHub for a spin.
The collaborative nature of commits, comments, and issues in GitHub repositories became ingredients for innovation.
We wanted to make a change, but didn’t want to shove it down anyone’s throat. So we advertised it. We waited for natural adoption. We gave people the option of using the new tools. The collaborative nature of commits, comments, and issues in GitHub repositories became ingredients for innovation.
To help more employees learn about GitHub, they began to facilitate internal day-long hackathons that put in practice this new idea of social coding. The goal of these “Toolathons” was simple: to develop tools to help colleagues do their jobs better. Using tools like Hubot and Yo, employees are tasked with sharing and reusing code from other teams, immediately illustrating the concept of code sharing and discovery on GitHub not only to other developers unfamiliar with GitHub, but also to the competition’s executive judges.
SAP clearly sees the benefit of enabling their 20,000 developers to collaborate with each other. Over time, developers have made connections in amazing ways. Dominik himself has experienced this new, organic reciprocity firsthand—recently, his group initialized a project containing just a few files on GitHub. Within 24 hours, a team on the other side of the world contacted them asking to contribute.
On GitHub, the most natural thing in the world is to contribute back, Dominik says.
Developers at SAP are productive and innovative and are able to imagine great things in that ecosystem.
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