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After Twitter Staff Cuts, Survivors Face ‘Radio Silence’

When Twitter employees in San Francisco found out that their new boss, Elon Musk, was planning on laying off half the company, they headed to the nearest bar. A little after 5 pm PT on November 3, drinking spots around the company’s Market Street headquarters in San Francisco were teeming with staffers waiting to find out if they had survived the cull.

“It was a complicated evening,” says one Twitter engineer who avoided the axe, and who asked for anonymity to speak freely about the last week. Between drinks and conversation about their time at the company, tweeps (as the company calls its staff) kept refreshing their phones to learn whether they’d received emails in their work inboxes, suggesting they were safe, or their personal accounts, indicating they’d been let go.

“We started getting messages trickling in,” the engineer says. People would look at their phones then let their immediate drinking buddies know their fate—then message others through backchannel methods to let them know. The engineer was 50-50 about what he thought would happen to him. In the end, he received an email in his work inbox: He was safe.

It wasn’t necessarily the news he wanted—because while his job was safe, his life was far from easy.

Social media has been full of frustrated and fearful ex-Twitter employees cast out from the company, wondering what will come next for their careers. Internal emails sent to those who were given their marching orders suggest that staff will be paid until January 3, 2023, by the company—in part because of a requirement to adhere to California’s WARN Act, which prevents staff being fired without advance notice. Less attention has been focused on those who are left behind to work at a depleted company, picking up the pieces of what’s left—all while under the scrutiny of the world and the control of a capricious new boss trying to overhaul Twitter from the ground up.

Keeping Twitter going is a challenge, particularly when its new owner isn’t telling staff what the plan is. “The way to characterize this past week is just radio silence,” says the engineer. “We’ve heard nothing at all from Elon or any of his close advisers.” That included the aftermath of the layoffs. “As you’ve probably heard, no one hears anything,” says Matt DeMichiel, senior research analyst at Twitter. “To get the slightest sense that people understand there are humans on the other end of these decisions would be a small step in the right direction.”

By Friday morning, November 4, most Twitter staff knew whether their work was still needed or not. For those who remained, it was a puzzling picture to try and figure out who they could work with. “Everyone was trying to pick up the pieces and pull together all the information they had on who was where, and trying to make sure on-call rotations were staffed,” says the Twitter engineer. In practice, that meant trying to contact staff through Slack or other means to ask if they had been fired or not: A response on Slack meant they still had access to Twitter IT equipment, and therefore were spared from the chopping block. Some teams were too depleted to continue, and their work was halted, says the engineer.

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“Saturday was the cleanup,” he says. Much of the day was spent working on removing departed colleagues’ access and trying to get things as stable as possible in case anything went wrong with the platform. “Sometimes you just need to focus on the task at hand,” the engineer says. “We did, and we got it done, and it hurt. But things are still going … for now.”

But they’re only barely going. Musk has been pressing to push out a raft of new updates for the site, threatening to terminate staff who don’t meet his targets. In one of the most iconic images of the last few weeks of chaos, Esther Crawford, whose team was charged with rolling out Musk’s plans for an update to Twitter Blue, was caught sleeping on the floor of Twitter’s offices to try and roll out the update ahead of a November 7 deadline—otherwise she and her team would reportedly be fired. The update pushed to the Apple App Store on November 5, ahead of the deadline, though Crawford had to clarify that “the new Blue isn’t live yet.” Musk fired all but two of Twitter’s communications staffers, according to current and former staff that WIRED has spoken to—meaning public tweets by individual staff members are now de facto statements by the company.

That partial success comes with its own risks. “There’s a lot of scrambling to make sure things are deployed and ready,” says the engineer. “We’re doing some very hasty testing of things.” But each new, hasty change has an impact on performance and on how different parts of the platform interact. “Everything gets really complicated when you start pushing a lot of code very quickly after a week-plus of nothing,” he says, admitting to stability issues. Those issues are compounded by the fact that the staff tasked with making them are overworked, overstressed, and overtired. “It’s not sustainable,” the engineer says. “People will burn out. People will make mistakes they would not have made if they had been able to get a good night’s rest.”

Yet Twitter staff who remain persist. The looming threat of joining those that the company has already dispensed with has meant many current Twitter employees have kept their counsel about what life is like under the new CEO and his hangers-on. “The amount of chaos and disarray after Elon Musk’s takeover, barely one week ago, is sad and disturbing,” says Eddie Perez, a board member at the OSET Institute, a nonpartisan group devoted to election security and integrity, and former director of product management at Twitter. This week Perez warned WIRED that the integrity of the US midterms was at risk because of Musk’s layoffs. “With bread and butter issues like job security and caring for their families at stake, current and former employees are left anxious, cowed, and afraid—and unwilling to tell their stories.”

DeMichiel says he was on a team of five people working on a technical project. “I was one of five, and the other four people working on it are gone,” he says. “I don’t know how I will be able to keep handling all the stuff they were doing to help build that project. The thought of even trying to take on all that work gives me nightmares.” Yet he’s less concerned about the workload as much as the decimation of the company culture. “To know that is slowly crumbling every day, that people you know and work with and are friends with are no longer there, it’s worse than any prospective working an extra 20 hours or something like that.”

Still, Twitter employees keep coming into the office every day. They do it partly because they feel the work they do is valuable and the platform they help support is important. They also do it because they want to keep their jobs at a time when layoffs are hitting the entire tech sector.

And now, some of the people laid off just days ago are being asked back to work as management realizes that their skills are needed to meet deadlines for project rollouts. The engineer advises them to reject the chance to return. “When someone shows you their true self, believe them,” says the engineer, who argues they should not return. If they had let me go and suddenly scrambled to have me back, that would confirm this was not a place that would value any kind of engineering rigor. I would take the money and run.”

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