SAN JOSE -- PayPal announced on Thursday it has hired a longtime Silicon Valley technology leader to fill a newly created executive position dedicated to opening up the company's software to developers and startups looking to build the next hot mobile app or e-commerce site.
Danese Cooper, who comes to PayPal following stints at Apple, Intel and Symantec, will become the new head of open source, a position that some experts say would have been unheard of at PayPal just a few years ago.
"PayPal up into a couple years ago was very closed off, very insular," said Gil Luria, an analyst with Wedbush Securities. "I think (Cooper's hire) is a great thing. It will help PayPal transition to a more innovative company."
Cooper, 55, will open up PayPal's software to the public and partner with developers to create new mobile apps that let customers make purchases using PayPal, a payments processor for transactions made on the Web and mobile devices. Cooper, a San Francisco resident, will also work on creating new open-source software to share with developers. Open source refers to software code that developers are allowed and encouraged to modify.
Cooper says opening software code to the public will improve PayPal products. Engineers are often not as careful with code that will never be seen by the public, she said, and code that lives in the public is constantly revised and improved by developers who otherwise would never have access to it. PayPal engineers can also talk to other engineers about their products, spurring more collaboration and innovation.
"I know it's kind of counterintuitive," Cooper said, "but transparency is efficiency."
Cooper's hire is San Jose-based PayPal's latest olive branch to the startup world and developer community, which had long been shut out from using the company's technology. As one of the earliest and largest online payments companies, insulated by parent company eBay, PayPal didn't work with more nimble startups, according to some critics. And it was so focused on security and preventing fraud, Cooper and other experts say, it had become excessively secretive.
Luria said Cooper's hire was also prompted by eBay's acquisition of Braintree, a mobile payments platform used by many valley startups, particularly for nontraditional transactions such as a crowdfunding, and by sharing economy sites. Since the $800 million acquisition was finalized in December, PayPal needed someone to continue building relationships with the type of high-profile startups that were Braintree customers, which include LivingSocial, Uber and Airbnb.
Cooper has spent her career working in open-source software, most recently at the Wikimedia Foundation, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that operates Wikipedia, the free and open-source Internet encyclopedia. The foundation -- where Cooper spent 18 months before resigning -- says its mission is to create and distribute educational content online that is open for everyone to use.
"Being that transparent is exhilarating and a way lot of work," she said. "We gave away everything but the admin password."
Cooper's hire is an extension of PayPal President David Marcus's efforts, beginning when he took the top post in 2012, to turn the company around from what many considered to be an oversized and lumbering corporation, some experts say. Since then, the company has started hosting hackathons and opening startup incubators.
"We were very much going the way of a bank," said John Lunn, whom Marcus tapped to improve the company's relationship with developers. "But David came in and very much changed that. That has completely refreshed the way are working across the whole company."
Contact Heather Somerville at 510-208-6413. Follow her at Twitter.com/heathersomervil.