Recently-departed Twitter staff have told MIT Technology Review they worry that the platform has weeks to live based on current staffing levels, mass resignations overnight, and the morale of those few who remain.
With some within Twitter estimating 75% of those remaining at the company plan to quit after Elon Musk sent an email informing them that they “will need to be extremely hardcore”, and can only remain employed by clicking “Yes” on a Google form, the company looks like it will be sorely short of key staff in the days to come. Last night, Twitter told its staff that all offices were locked and access suspended after it became clear how few were willing to remain on those terms. In a tweet last night, Musk said that “the best people are staying, so I’m not super worried.”
For those who escaped the madness earlier, either through layoffs or after being fired for insubordination, it’s a troubling development. “You’re seeing you can only push the workers so far before they’re going to revolt,” says Melissa Ingle, a senior data scientist contractor who was laid off by Musk this weekend. “These people have options. They’re successful in their careers. They don’t want to be put through this.”
Ingle worries that the widescale revolt—triggered by Musk’s “hardcore” ultimatum—will signal the end of Twitter without drastic changes. “There’s just not enough technical expertise anymore to keep the site running,” she says. “He’s afraid of his own people. Unless major changes are made, I don’t see how it lasts the month.”
She’s not alone in that assessment. One former Twitter engineer, granted anonymity to speak freely, who was fired by Musk as part of a crackdown on those who escaped his initial layoffs but were outspoken in their criticism of him, says the end “could be minutes, could be weeks.”
“It’s the unanticipated problems that’ll break things badly,” he says. “There’s a good amount of resilience built into the infrastructure, but big problems at this scale are never what one could ever expect.”
The former engineer is unsurprised at the scale of those who have said they’ve had enough. “It was an easy choice, given the way he’s been treating people,” he says. Those who remain, he believes, are likely those who are required to remain in continued employment for their H1-B immigration visa, or for private insurance purposes. But they’re few and far between, and the talent in the company has been routed. Just to ensure basic functionality, Ingle believes that “many more engineers will need to be hired.”
MIT Technology Review has previously reported how one Twitter insider believes the company’s systems will degrade over time. Platformer’s Zoe Schiffer reported overnight that many employees who maintained Twitter’s critical infrastructure have also resigned in the last 24 hours. The fact that Twitter offices are now closed could mean it would be more difficult for staff to triage and fix any infrastructure issues that arise before the office’s planned reopening on November 21.
Musk did not respond to a request for comment. Twitter’s own communications team has been massively reduced in the recent layoffs.
“There will need to be major changes needed,” says Ingle. Already, we’re seeing Musk rowing back on some of his more draconian measures. After saying “remote work is no longer allowed, unless you have an exception” in an all-staff email on November 9, Musk is now saying that staff need to have in-person meetings with their colleagues monthly at a minimum.
“He’s going to need to get more people back in who know this system, who are able to ramp up in a hurry, otherwise we’re going to start to see major outages,” says Ingle. That will leave those who have recently departed—or intend on doing so—in a quandary. Many current and former Twitter employees tell MIT Technology Review that they feel conflicted: They are deeply unhappy at the way the company is presently being run, but are also conscious that Twitter has an outsized role in our society, and is a living historical record of our lives.
That conflict is something Ingle is seeing in her group chats with those colleagues who currently remain. “People are just kind of trying to hang on by a thread,” she says. “There’s a sense of loyalty, but morale was already lower than I’d ever seen it in my career. People don’t feel respect. They don’t feel like their work is respected. And it’s just hard to keep people motivated in that kind of environment.”
“Look, I’m an optimist,” says Ingle. “I think there’s a possibility he’ll turn it around, but it’s very slim.” Even with that glimmer of optimism, Ingle and her unnamed engineering colleague aren’t confident that the platform will last long shorn of so many staff. “All signs point to some catastrophic failure of the system,” she says, “and very soon.”