July 20–24, 2015
Portland, OR

InnerSource as the anti-silo: How open source style has broken silos while strengthening systems at PayPal

Cedric Williams (PayPal)
11:30am–12:10pm Wednesday, 07/22/2015
Average rating: ****.
(4.33, 9 ratings)

Prerequisite Knowledge

Familiarity with pointy-haired bosses, stapler-hoarders, and That Guy That Wants To Take Credit For Your Project


Systems at an enterprise level have a reputation for complexity and fragility beyond the ken of mere mortals. As systems age, their tech debts fade into history, the assignment of roles and responsibilities ossify, and business deal optimizations accumulate into Lovecraftian nightmares. Customers of these systems often end up unable to get new features or integrations added due to conflicts with the owning silo’s priorities or their fear of catastrophic failure.

The answer to this problem can be found in the open source world. Groups such as the Apache Software Foundation and the Linux Foundation have managed building massively complex software over decades of time. Their participants come from many backgrounds and locations, speak different languages, and are still able to create stable, polished, robust, and elegant software. Contrast this with the standard corporate silo behemoth that requires hundreds of pages of specifications and multiple executive signoffs before work even starts, and you can guess that feature velocity will be a bit lower.

Using the principles of open source development, particularly as expressed in the Apache Software Foundation’s approach to product and community management, has enabled PayPal to begin moving large scale systems development from a defensive and risk-averse culture to one of flexibility and collaboration. This session will look at the pressures propping up the silos, explore one of the cases where we were able to break down the silo without breaking the system, and discuss some of the surprises that we found along the way.

  • Pressures that keep silos strong
  • Opportunity costs
  • Bridging the divide
  • Suprising results
  • Road forward
Photo of Cedric Williams

Cedric Williams


Cedric Williams is a technologist, advocate, and coach. He aspires to nurture products, businesses, and societies that make a difference in people’s lives.