Quinn Slack thinks we're close to the future that Back to the Future II promised back in the 80s — flying cars, artificial intelligence, sending rockets into space, and the rest of the whole suite — but there's a way to get there even faster.
That's why he and his co-founder Beyang Liu started Sourcegraph, a development environment for programmers that's designed to make it easier to see who is using what lines of code and where while in the development process. The notion Slack employs is that if the coding process speeds up, so does the pace of innovation — and it is certainly something that's slowed down quite a bit at all the non-Facebooks, Googles and Apples of the world.
To do this, Sourcegraph says it has raised a $20 million series A financing round led by Redpoint Ventures along with Goldcrest Capital. Scott Raney of Redpoint Ventures, who has worked with Twilio (which I'd argue has some of the best documentation for introducing someone to programming), and Dan Friedland of Goldcrest Capital are joining the board of directors.
"How most companies build software is broken, programmers write code in single player mode," Slack said. "They fix the same bugs fixed by other developers. Salespeople have tools that help you and the salesperson that lets you collaborate. But if you’re a developer you come in and spend most of your day on an editor, most people don’t know what’s going on. You don’t see what others are writing. All the software developers you do, you go heads down a week or two and then come up for air. At Google and Facebook, it’s way more collaborative. It’s fundamentally a different way of writing."
All this boils down to some simple tools you might expect in a lot of other professions. It means being able to easily search for code semantically, and see who's using it and where it's deployed — and, more importantly, whether or not someone is fixing something somewhere. By just getting everyone on the same page, Slack thinks that it'll smooth out the whole process so people can focus on building, and shipping, the new bits of the products that they need. The whole thing can happen in a developer's favorite editor like Sublime Text, or it can happen in the startup's internal development environment.
“The way software has been built really hasn’t changed,” Raney said. “Increasingly developer productivity is a bottleneck. Really what attracted us, the code intelligence parts, was that the implications are profound. If you were just to build another IDE, that’s gonna be a really difficult way to build a business. That’s, ‘I like this command, or it’s a little faster’. Code intelingence is a really meaty problem that’s hard to replicate.”
Slack's experience comes from his job of parachuting into major organizations that aren't in that FAANG bracket of the world — like banks — and seeing how no one knew what anyone else was working on. The challenge, then, was to figure out how to make the larger projects more collaborative so these companies could move at the same pace that a Facebook or Google would be able to do. That would not only keep them competitive but also help them reach new breakthroughs more quickly.
"We have users and customers doing really interesting things like self-driving cars, blasting rockets off, and we want to make those happen more quickly," Slack said. "These things we’ve wanted to exist, we can make them go faster because the people writing the code can do it better. Within a company, you get to avoid reinventing the wheel. We prototyped a tool that did that, that’s how most developers got to know us."
There are certainly other products looking to attack a similar problem of getting developers on the same page. There's — at least potentially — GitHub and other repository tools that help developers collaborate on the code they check in and out. Slack said that while GitHub is a great developer tool, developers still spend most of their time hiding away in a different text editor cranking away. Sourcegraph's goal is to immerse developers into a more real-time experience which keeps them up to date and working on the most important things they need to develop.