On Leaving Twitter

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:

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.

I know how lucky I am to be a Web Developer, in California, in 2011. This allows me freedoms that few today can enjoy. We are the 0.01%!
Nov 21 via Twitter for MacFavoriteRetweetReply

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.

19 thoughts on “On Leaving Twitter”

  1. Ouch, sorry to hear things weren’t going well for you at Twitter! Best of luck with your future projects!

    Also, we need to go for drive together! I raced a TT-RS on the track and was able to pass it :)

  2. In 2003 I left a big company too. Everyone thought I was crazy as I was young, I was making an extraordinary career and I was earning lots of money.
    What I feared is not to be able to work again in such a challenging project.

    And that wasn’t that. I am now working in a smaller company but I’m free to take many interesting works, I learnt a lot from this change and I have the time to spend on my personal projects.

    Congrats for your decision, I’m sure it wasn’t easy, but I’m sure it will be worthy. Regards!

  3. Sounds like typical work experience in the bay area, thank you for all the hard work you did while you were at Twitter you were instrumental to it’s initial success. We wish you all the best with your next endeavour. The hustle in the bay is a tough grind! – kinda why we live in Bend, Oregon

  4. On leaving twitter. Start something that allows more of a post, a 200 word limit, a mini-blog. While still restrictive, it would attract some of us who would like to write more. Dave English

  5. Good luck with your career move. I totally agree with Dave English’s post. Twitter always frustrated me with its character limits.

  6. I can’t believe you took a job with a 3 hour round trip commute in the first place. We look to hire employees with a commute of < 30 minutes — it's such a quality of life boost that I think in the long run reflects in a happier, more productive culture.

  7. Thank you for sharing. I now work for a smaller company . . . in a cubicle next to the owner. It has been a major adjustment from suits to jeans but overall – the best decision I’ve ever made. It has allowed me to do what I love and to go home on time each day.

    Thanks again for sharing and good luck.

  8. In this age of software you have to look at the google model, get some gray hairs in the management team for experience. A lot of you young people just do not have the work experience to work successfully in a startup. “In the old days” people would put in some HP or Oracle time and then go to a startup. Many of you are just going straight to a startup without having business experience. Of course adding philosophy or literature majors to your companies without business experience doesn’t help either.

  9. Thanks for posting this… and its good to know the Bay Area is as wacky as ever. Seems like the hiring auto-mata machine… hasn’t broken quite yet (and just leave it to SF to tests its strength). I think it is very hard to succeed in SF, too many barriers to entry (though that is have the fun). Sometimes contextual dialog and specific discourse groups (or nano memes), have a way of distancing whole persons from the main action in a company. I still don’t get it, but being smart clearly isn’t the only thing involved in the tech business.

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