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Alumnus and Github Employee Leads Inspiring Design Workshop

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Students from the School of Graphic Design and Web Design + New Media pose with Academy faculty member Ryan Berkey (second from left), Academy Industry Outreach & Curriculum Specialist Gregory Mar (center) and Github Designer Jason Costello (third from right). Photo by Bob Toy.

Jason Costello graduated from the Academy of Art University in 2011, and he’s been working at GitHub ever since. A student of the School of Web Design + New Media, he joined the young company as their 25th employee, using his skills as an illustrator and usability specialist to contribute as one of Github’s first designers.

On Wednesday, March 25, Costello’s Academy experience came full-circle when he led a foundations workshop for more than 25 current Academy students titled “GitHub for Designers.” The evening started with free pizza and drinks in GitHub’s swanky South Beach headquarters, followed by an inside look at how Github makes creating and collaborating simple.

The workshop introduced students to the GitHub platform, starting with the definition of a “git” as different versions of text files. By the end, Costello had explained and expanded on all of the hosting, development and social tools that have made GitHub the world’s largest code host.

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Academy of Art University students participate in a foundations workshop by alumnus Jason Costello, titled, “Github for Deisgners.” Photo by Bob Toy.

Costello said what first inspired him about Github was the opportunity to “build something that people love ... In my first interview, founder Chris Wanstrath made it clear that first priority was to make something great,” he said. “I was all in by the end of our meeting.”

Today, GitHub has 272 employees, most working out of its San Francisco offices but some remotely from every corner of the map. The company started as what Costello describes as an “open-source community”—an organization with no middle managers where everyone was able to work on the projects that interested them most.

The company currently employs four graduates from the Academy, two from the School of Web Design + New Media and two from the School of Animation. “Our studies helped us build a broad set of skills, which overlap and empower us to do more with less people,” Costello said. “We also learned how to present work and critique others, which I believe is the foundation of our team’s cohesion.”

This was only Costello’s second workshop ever. He delivered his first at UC Berkeley’s School of Journalism, where students have begun using the platform as a way to share and edit copy together before publishing. GitHub’s uses extend far beyond code hosting; now it’s a way for anyone to collaborate on content and track that collaboration online.

At GitHub, Costello has been able to copywrite, build product features and write front-end code, working outside the typical role of “designer” to round out his skill set and address issues he’s passionate about solving.

“There are a few core values of our organization that I cherish. The most important is that it’s better to be non-blocking than to block. Meaning, we value trust over permission,” he said. “This has helped me grow not only as a professional but as an individual.”

When Costello attended the Academy, he didn’t go to studio tours or workshops, but he did attend a few Industry On Campus events. For him, these were an opportunity to find inspiration, gain technical insight and make valuable connections in the industry. “I think the exposure to the local industry is a great perk of attending AAU,” he said.

Wednesday’s workshop wrapped up with an in-depth Q-and-A session, where the students were able to ask specific questions about how to best incorporate GitHub’s technology into their own projects.

“They walked away understanding that GitHub is a powerful tool where project management, collaborative effort and discussion exist in the same place,” Costello said. “They can ditch email and avoid trying to host and version files manually. With those barriers removed they are free to focus on working together to build something great.”