Twitter is Going Where no Software Company has Gone Before
After you’ve squeezed the toothpaste out of the tube, it’s very hard to push it back in.
First off, this has never happened before. A mass exodus of the software teams at a large established software company. Nothing even close to this has ever occurred before.
Software Development - A Very Short Primer
The best software developers are about 100x as productive & effective than a good software developer. It’s like the difference between a movie directed by Steven Spielberg and one directed by Jerry Paris1.
And it’s not just how much code they can write in a day, it’s how good the code is. How clean. And critically for an existing software product, one architected and written by top programmers basically can’t be understood by average programmers. Even giving someone a recipe, they still won’t be a great cook.
Finally, there is a ton of domain knowledge. You have to be working on a software product for years to understand what is going on throughout it, and how a change in one place can cause major problems in another place. A new administrative assistant has no idea who they need to work with for most of the tasks they’re assigned until they slowly learn all the unofficial relationships through which work gets accomplished.
Who is Most Likely to Leave
So why do people leave a job. The #1 reason is a bad manager. Well Elon Musk is going to be a case study in the worst management approach for knowledge workers. If you wanted to drive people out, it’s hard to think of a more effective way to do so2. The #2 reason is no longer believing that your work is having a major impact.
Now when people are given this choice quickly, who’s most likely to leave? The top people. First off, they can easily get a job elsewhere. Second, they are unwilling to be a part of destroying their baby.
Who stays? First, the least competent. They are not that confident they can get a job elsewhere quickly. Second, there are people that have constraints keeping them there from and H1-B visa to a spouse undergoing cancer treatment where a lapse of medical coverage would be life threatening.
Third, there are people who feel responsible to their baby, the program they created. These people are oh so crucial to have any chance of success. But when they see their friends at work mistreated, when they see critical team leaving in mass, and when they realize that it is not possible to keep things running with the few people remaining, they’ll leave.
How Big a Deal is This?
So just leave it running and don’t touch anything - right? Nope. A large complex software program needs constant tweaking just to keep it running. First is when security holes are discovered and they need to be fixed, often in hours. Second the program hits bugs, bugs you were unaware of below that are suddenly a significant problem. Third, you need to adjust it when it gets overloaded in places.
It won’t stop. But the problems will be publicized. People being people, a number will then hammer it exacerbating the problems, exploiting the security holes, and taking advantage of no human content moderation.
So Twitter won’t be running fine one day and be dead the next. But what you will see is the equivalent of an Olympic athlete continuing to compete at the world level while aging 60 years - all in a month or two. And during that degradation people will figure out how to get around the automated content moderation and you’re going to see it get filled with hate speech, scams, & porn. Who’s going to want to read that?
Why this is Unique
Software companies lose key people all the time. They occasionally lose key teams. But they’ve never lost everyone good and a lot of the average people. How do you recover from that? Assume Elon Musk realizes his mistake - how does he fix it?
Do you know how bloody hard it is to hire the best programmers, product managers, QA, project managers, and team leads? It was the biggest struggle I faced most days at my company and we were generally just trying to hire for 5 - 10 positions most times. And it could take months to fill those few roles.
And then when everyone is new what happens? Well it’ll be 18 months before they are comfortable with the code. And you’re not going to get the people who just left back - that bridge is burned. And they’re telling all their peers to not go work at Twitter. How do you fill those positions.
So we’re about to see what happens when a software with a mature widely used program lets the program wither on the vine. I’m not sure what will happen, but I think the odds are it’ll be very very bad.
The change Musk wants to make is not easy. But this could have been handled so much better. He had incredible people who clearly were highly motivated and wanted to have Twitter become even better. He could have had them on his side.
He could have told them that they were all going to figure out how to point Twitter in this new direction. And be honest, that there would be layoffs. But that the layoffs would come with 3 months severance pay and an HR team dedicated to helping people find new jobs.
And that for those that fit the new direction, they were going to build something even better. Get them charged up for the new challenges. And listen to the employees. Truly listen.
The approach Musk took was stupid & unnecessary. He’s been successful but apparently he mistook that for thinking it meant he was perfect. No one is.
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He directed Police Academy 3
I know this world - I was the founder & CEO of a very successful software company and his approach is horrific to watch understanding it’s impact.