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How Wal-Mart enables 'innersource' with Github

Clint Boulton | July 28, 2016
The big box retailer’s technology arm has adopted the open source ethos, encouraging its engineers to write code and share it with time-crunched teams that can use the help.

But as King found innersource isn’t the perfect approach for every Labs project. He says it’s difficult for members outside his search team to contribute to the search algorithms because the platform is so complex, with Ph.D-wielding data scientists and other wonks refining the software. “We want more people to contribute but it’s extremely complicated,” King says. “It’s not something you can just walk into on GitHub and contribute.”

Programming prospects prefer open source

Wal-Mart runs innersource through GitHub Enterprise, which is similar to the public code review repository with one key difference: Companies host it behind their own firewalls. King says this provides piece of mind for his Labs, particularly for highly proprietary search algorithms. GitHub Enterprise is distinct from the public version of GitHub, which the Labs also used to launch OneOps. King says his unit is preparing to launch on GitHub proper Electrode, a tool to enable programmers working with the React OS component framework to enable developers to more quickly build web pages for the mobile web and mobile apps.

Wal-Mart's love of open source accelerated after King's arrival from eBay in 2011. In an effort to make Labs run more nimbly, King says he replaced a lot of decade-plus-old legacy software with NoSQL databases such as Cassandra technology, Kafka queues for its messaging bus and various other open source programming tools, including Node.js, the server-side JavaScript environment. In a highly-publicized move, the company rebuilt its ecommerce platform using OpenStack, becoming one of the largest deployments of the nascent cloud platform.

King says that Wal-Mart’s adoption of open source – both taking and giving back -- has helped it attract top-tier technical talent. King says that while half of the prospects he targets have in hand offers from Apple, Google, Facebook, LinkedIn and other Silicon Valley players, Labs wins such talent contest 70 percent of the time. He chalked up the victories to brand, the promise of challenging work on small dedicated teams, and, of course, open source. “[Prospects] want the reach that we’ve got but work like they’re in a startup,” King says.


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