Four years ago, I signed up for a Twitter account. I went through the typical new user hatching process. For a year, I didn’t get it. I barely logged in. When I tweeted, it was about how the Twitter website was down. But eventually I started following someone interesting. Then another. Some followed back… Conversations, Retweets, and the iPhone client happened… After a while, seemingly everyone in the valley had a Twitter account, and plenty were using it as their identity. I too clicked the little blue bird more and more frequently. I was hooked.
Two years ago, a Twitter recruiter contacted me. I went on to interview rounds with amazing, crazy, smart people. The energy was palpable, and I was psyched by the opportunity. Twitter was the hot startup that everyone wanted to join. I was offered a job, and I accepted. I picked the red pill, and got to see how far the rabbit hole goes.
In early 2010, Twitter’s New Hire Orientation was still somewhat of a handwave. I was issued a laptop and just dove in. The team I joined was tasked with accelerating the new user experience. How to make users follow more interesting accounts, so that they get more value out of Twitter, sooner. We did this through a variety of projects:
- Breaking, then fixing the Facebook integration
- Cleaning up the logged-out homepage
- Redesigning Signup and Welcome
- Bucketfuls of A/B testing
Whales, Robots, & Unicorns
Working at Twitter has been an amazing experience, but a difficult, painful, and conflicted one. Eg, I learned Ruby and TDD the hard way: it was beaten into me by a Pivot until I could no longer pair.
Over the past 20 months, I witnessed the company grow from 150 dedicated, passionate employees to more than 750. That’s a 500% increase in headcount. Most tweeps are young, talented, and ambitious engineers. The number of users also exploded, and the mindshare of the Twitter brand creeped all over. The value of the stock skyrocketed. Why would anyone voluntarily leave such fantastical growth?
One major reason is that the commute had become unsustainable. It took me 3 hours each day to get to the office in downtown San Francisco. Eventually I worked remotely, that helped, but it really only divided up my time between “coding days” and “office days”. At the end of the week, I was exhausted. I had absolutely no time to work on personal projects, and not much energy to enjoy my shrinking set of hobbies.
Another reason is that, internally, things are pretty tumultuous. Technical debt is shrinking but still sizable. Projects tend to be judged based on how clever their name is (I’ve learned lots of exotic bird names), and that tends to correlate with how popular the stakeholder is, not with objective value nor usefulness. Many folks have left in past few months, triggering waves of FUD within the ranks. There are plenty of turf wars, and a lot of strong personalities with conflicting views as to what the product is, how it works, and what it means. Eventually, the kool-aid turned a bit sour for me.
I know that, in time, these growing pains will fade and that Twitter might grow from being the internet’s water-cooler to being an advertising and data powerhouse. I could have stayed low, and kept on vesting stock options. But I want a career, not just a paycheck. I want to evolve, to learn, to go beyond myself. I want to master new technologies, invent something new, and discover the meaning of life. All these things, Twitter can help me to achieve them. But not by working there.
You’re crazy. What’s next?
I want to spend more time on my personal projects. I want to contribute to Open Source software again. I want to drive my car to new places before we all run out of oil. Eventually I’ll have to take another job, as I’m not going to retire on my tiny piece of Twitter stock. But there are plenty of opportunities out there for someone with my skill set, and I have the luxury of time.
This is my greatly self-censored story. Don’t read too much into it. If you have an opportunity to interview or work at Twitter, I would highly recommended giving it a shot. It’s a great place filled with friendly, talented, and passionate people. It has a vibe like no other. But make sure you live nearby, are naturally caffeinated, and able to deal with the chaos that naturally permeates from a company that generates LOLcats by day, and triggers revolutions by night.
What I will miss the most, of course, are the friends I made there. Both as a user and as a shareholder, I am looking forward to all the great things they will be releasing in the next few months. I trust they will make sure that Twitter continues to stand for the free and open exchange of information that @biz & @ev originally sold me on.
PS: I still haven’t been to SxSW.