Danese Cooper

Danese Cooper has a 25-year history in the software industry and has long been an advocate for transparent development methodologies. Ms. Cooper joined PayPal in February 2014 as their first Head of Open Source, and has previously held many leadership roles within the computer science sector. She has managed teams at Apple Inc., Symantec, and for six years served as Chief Open Source Evangelist for Sun Microsystems before leaving to serve as Senior Director for Open Source Strategies at Intel. She advised on open source policy to the R community while at REvolution Computing (now Revolution Analytics), and she served 18 months as Chief Technical Officer for the Wikimedia Foundation.

She continues to run DaneseWorks, a successful consultancy to companies wishing to pursue open source strategies, which has served the SETI Foundation, Harris Corporation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, among other clients. She is currently serving on the boards of the Drupal Association, the Open Source Hardware Association, as board advisor to Mozilla and Ushahidi, and has served since 2005 as a Member of the Apache Software Foundation. She was an officer at the Open Source Initiative for 10 years.

Transparency and transformation at PayPal

PayPal has gone through a cultural transformation with radical transparency as a cornerstone of the plan.

Three years ago, PayPal was growing exponentially, staying profitable and was considered the most successful online payments company in the world. This should have been the recipe of a company that was attracting top talent across the globe, and keeping their core engineers happy, thriving, and innovative. But, at the time, the PayPal engineering team wasn’t where they needed to be to stay ahead of the curve — they didn’t have the process, the tools, or the resources to extend their talent and stay engaged in creating amazing products and services.

Leadership had encouraged the formation of engineering silos to “concentrate expertise,” but this made it incredibly challenging to get things done. At the same time, popular services such as Google and Amazon were raising the bar for everybody. All businesses — not just software-focused businesses — needed to have websites (and mobile apps) that were snazzy and responsive in addition to being reliable. PayPal engineering needed to push the proverbial envelope to stay competitive in a fierce and unrelenting industry landscape.

For PayPal, the transformation started at the edge of the stack. The Kraken project, which was started by an internal team to support a new checkout system, proved that an open source platform could reduce time to market and still perform at scale. This was achieved largely in spite of the silo culture that ran rampant and tended to restrict innovation and creativity. Support from senior management and perception of less risk at the edge of the stack helped the project and ultimately unleashed a gold rush of interest in repeating the win with releases of internally developed improvements to other open source projects. When I came into PayPal, I received an avalanche of mail from teams who wanted to “open source something.”

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