Charity Majors on Elon, CEOs and Tech Workers

Charity Majors (aka @mipsytipsy), writing over on Twitter:

I read something that made me really fucking angry. I’m not going to go look it up, but it was something like how most tech CEOs are watching closely, and privately rooting for Elon’s changes to pay off and make Twitter a profitable business.
It had some anecdotes about how excessively generous and solicitous companies have had to be to compete and retain tech workers, including the chestnut about a FB worker asking about toilet paper in the weekly all hands.
It’s gone too far! CEOs are practically powerless now! 🙄

I won’t embed the full thread here, so click above if you want to read the whole thing. But here’s a few highlights:

On Twitter dying off

And while I don’t really want Twitter to die, and neither, I think, do most of them, there would be something INCREDIBLY satisfying and validating if it did.
However, I don’t think that’s a very likely outcome. I’ll say more in a sec, but I think the likeliest outcome by far is one where Twitter survives and Elon claims victory, or at least saves face.
It took the work of thousands of world-class engineers, designers, support, security, lawyers, accountants, etc over 15+ years to build Twitter. They built it to be resilient.

Charity is absolutely correct here, and she clearly has the authority to speak on large scale systems given her background. Twitter has far too many people invested, both in literal terms, but also in a influential sense to let it simply die. It’s the medium of choice for a great many groupings of traditionally powerful people, from journalists to politicians to venture capitalists. It’s not going to just stop working one day, and Elon isn’t just going to actively destroy it, he’s sunk too much money into it.

I’ve mumbled before about the over hiring and bloat that seems endemic at tech companies. But the engineers who are left are likely to be able to keep the lights on.
(How much forward product investment they can muster is the real question mark.)

The way he dismissed people isn’t some kind of 3D chess he’s playing, it’s plain old ignorance of the complexity of a system he doesn’t understand. He has no experience running a large scale social network, but there’s at least enough people left in Twitter HQ (until the get kicked out of the building anyway) who do know enough to keep the service running.

I don’t think anyone would argue that Twitter had exactly the right number of people, but when you cut as many people as he did, in the fashion that he did, you’re going to lose people that have a lot of important institutional knowledge. And that’s going to make it harder to iterate on the product in a coherent way.

If you look at the features that Twitter is shipping lately, there doesn’t seem to be any logic beyond “what Elon wants”, which is going to run out of momentum at some point.

On CEOs and tech workers

When CEOs call their own employees lazy, coddled and opinionated, and openly long for the days when they could just fire their critics (like Elon did!)…what they’re really upset about is the fact that their workers have more relative power than they used to.
They want a say in things, and they’re not trapped here; they have options. So YOU have to compete to keep THEM happy here, instead of them all trying to keep you happy.
To wrap up… If Twitter recovers, there will likely be a push to credit authoritarian leadership, mass layoffs, and treating workers like shit.
CEOs need to learn that “everything would be great if everyone would just do what I say 😩” is neither true, nor an appropriate thing for a grown ass adult to think. Having other stakeholders with power may be personally inconvenient, but usually yields better outcomes.

I think when the current chapter of Twitter comes to an end, assuming the result isn’t a complete and utter failure, fans of Elon Musk and/or his tactics will point to what little regard he had for the people who worked at Twitter and say that he was right to act how he did.

But there’ll be more than a little selection bias in that. They’ll ignore the possibility that Twitter could have been fine if he hadn’t done anything, and maybe given a different style of leadership where the staff were treated with a modicum of respect and dignity, Twitter would have been even better.

And if this is the final chapter of Twitter, they’ll say he had no choice, he did what he could, and that if he couldn’t save it, then clearly no-one could.

Because just like Trump did, Musk manages to create a reality distortion field amongst his followers that Steve Jobs would have been envious of.