★ Twitter Tumult

If you had told me three weeks ago that Twitter, as a company, would today be embroiled in turmoil — perhaps outright existential crisis — over a company-wide email from Elon Musk centered around the phrase “extremely hardcore”, this is not the scenario I’d have imagined.

It’s as though Musk has taken Facebook’s “Move fast and break things” motto and reduced it to “Break everything fast.” Last night, reports of mass resignations inside Twitter seemed so dire that Twitter itself seemed to be documenting its own demise, like HAL 9000 singing “Daisy”, ever more degenerately slurred, near the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey. I lost count of how many of the people I follow were seemingly posting what they expected, last night, to be their last-ever tweets.

The New York Times:

Hours before a Thursday deadline that Elon Musk
gave Twitter employees to decide whether to stay or leave their
jobs, the social media company appeared to be in disarray.

Mr. Musk and his advisers held meetings with some Twitter workers
whom they deemed “critical” to stop them from leaving, four people
with knowledge of the conversations said. He sent confusing
messages about the company’s remote work policy, appearing to
soften his stance on not allowing people to work from home before
warning their managers, according to those people and internal
emails viewed by The New York Times.

All the while, two people said, resignations started to roll in.
By the deadline, 5 p.m. Eastern time, hundreds of Twitter
employees appeared to have decided to depart with three months of
severance pay, the people said. Twitter later announced via email
that it would close “our office buildings” and disable employee
badge access until Monday.

Zoë Schiffer, today:

Email from Elon to the engineering team: “Anyone who can actually
write software, please report to the 10th floor at 2pm today.
Before doing so, please email me a bullet point summary of what
your code commits have achieved in the past 6 months.”

Elon Musk is also asking for up 10 screenshots of the “most
salient lines of code” from Twitter engineers.

This latest edict is bananas in several ways, not the least of which is that the company claimed just 12 hours earlier that its offices would be closed today. As I quipped (on Twitter, which, as I publish this, is still seemingly fully operational), either (a) the offices aren’t closed until next week; or (b) getting to the 10th floor is an interview puzzle to keep your job?

But at a deeper level, the idea that counting lines of code or looking at “up to 10 screenshots” of code can give any effective measure of a programmer is absurdly wrong. Some of the most elite programmers I’ve ever known have an uncanny knack for reducing lines of code. Programmers working on security issues necessarily code with painstaking care. And, of course, there are dozens of essential roles at Twitter — some highly technical — that don’t involve “code commits” at all.

Alex Heath and Mia Sato, reporting for The Verge:

Twitter had roughly 2,900 remaining employees before the deadline
Thursday, thanks to Musk unceremoniously laying off about half of
the 7,500-person workforce
when he took over and the
resignations that followed. Remaining and departing Twitter
employees told The Verge that, given the scale of the
resignations this week, they expect the platform to start breaking
soon. One said that they’ve watched “legendary engineers” and
others they look up to leave one by one.

“It feels like all the people who made this place incredible are
leaving,” the Twitter staffer said. “It will be extremely hard for
Twitter to recover from here, no matter how hardcore the people
who remain try to be.”

Multiple “critical” teams inside Twitter have now either
completely or near-completely resigned, said other employees who
requested anonymity to speak without Musk’s permission. That
includes Twitter’s traffic and front end teams that route
engineering requests to the correct backend services. The team
that maintains Twitter’s core system libraries that every engineer
at the company uses is also gone. “You cannot run Twitter without
this team,” a departing employee said.

It’s a fact that there have been mass resignations — on top of last week’s mass layoff — in the face of Musk’s fealty demand. Whether these resignations spell doom for the company remains to be seen.

My apparently wrongheaded optimism for Twitter under Musk’s leadership was rooted in the idea that while he might — and almost surely would — make mistakes with product decisions (including content moderation), product decisions can be reversed.

Losing essential talent and destroying employee morale, not so much.

This thoughtful, measured thread from departing Twitter engineer Peter Clowes sums it up:

I didn’t leave because I hate @elonmusk. I definitely didn’t agree
with many of his decisions or how they were carried out but I also
understood and respected others.

I don’t know him and if someone tells me to hate a stranger I say
“no thanks”.

I didn’t leave because of the 50% company wide layoff that missed
me. We all knew a layoff was coming. Prior management would likely
have cut too shallow at first and then had to do multiple rounds.
I think that would have sucked regardless.

I left because I no longer knew what I was staying for. Previously
I was staying for the people, the vision, and of course the money
(lets all be honest). All of those were radically changed or
uncertain. […]

If I stayed I would have been on-call constantly with little
support for an indeterminate amount of time on several additional
complex systems I had no experience in. Maybe for the right vision
I could have dug deep and done mind numbing work for awhile. But
that’s the thing…

There was no vision shared with us. No 5 year plan like at Tesla.
Nothing more than what anyone can see on Twitter. It allegedly is
coming for those who stayed but the ask was blind faith and
required signing away the severance offer before seeing it. Pure
loyalty test.

I’ve been struggling to express it succinctly but my shock has been, basically: Layoffs are inherently deeply traumatic, both personally and institutionally, and for a company still trying to do great things and compete in a tight marketplace — and Twitter’s marketplace is the most competitive in the world: attention — the highest post-layoff priority for any company’s leader should be to restore, maintain, and if possible, boost morale.

Yet all of Musk’s actions to date can only be seen as destroying morale. I do not think he’s secretly trying to destroy his own $44 billion acquisition, but if he were, as though in a real-life Brewster’s Millions scenario, this path seems like the surest way. He’s shooting holes into his own sinking ship.

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