When Peter Clowes last updated his LinkedIn profile, he revealed his role as a “layoff survivor” on Twitter. But Clowes, a senior software engineer who joined the company in spring 2020, is now gone too. He resigned yesterday and explained it dispassionately last night on Twitter that he decided to leave Twitter, not for Twitter hobbling or because he hates his new owner Elon Musk, but simply because he no longer had an incentive to stay.
It now appears that a sizeable percentage of Clowes’ colleagues thought the same way. Although they weren’t among the 50% of Twitter employees who lost their jobs in an unprecedented layoff at the social media company in late October, Musk gave them an ultimatum this week. The choice he presented them: commit to a new “extremely tough” Twitter, “work long hours at high intensity,” or leave the company with three months’ severance pay.
Essentially, Musk hoped that a certain percentage of Twitter’s remaining employees — who are expensive and whom he had no say in hiring — would choose to leave the company. In fact, Musk reportedly told investors he could shed 75% of the workforce before taking over the company. So whether he’s in shock today or celebrating their mass exodus, only Musk and his closest circle know.
Certainly, for almost everyone else, the numbers are staggering. The New York Times reported earlier today that its sources internally estimated that at least 1,200 full-time employees had just turned in their token key cards. Clowes, in a long line of tweets about his own departure, suggests the number could be even higher. Referring to his own “organization,” he writes that “over 85%” of his colleagues were fired in October and that a staggering “80%” of those who stayed yesterday resigned.
What actually strikes us when we read Clowes’ explanation of why he left isn’t that so many people went with him. It’s almost more amazing that 100% of the employees didn’t leave, which begs the question of who Musk thought would stay. If he just wanted the staff to have no choice but to kill themselves for now, that seems . . . like a flawed business strategy.
Otherwise, if Musk was hoping to hold someone else, one would assume he would have been offered a carrot. Instead, as Clowes wrote yesterday, there were only sticks, and lots of them.
For example, Clowes wrote that he left because he “didn’t know what I was staying for anymore. I used to stay for the people, the vision and of course the money (to be honest). All of these were radically altered or uncertain.”
Clowes left because, if he had stayed, he “would have been on call constantly for an indefinite period with little support on several additional complex systems with which I had no experience”.
He left because he saw no benefit in Musk’s brash leadership style, which Clowes suggests he could have tolerated longer had he not been operating entirely in the dark. Instead, Musk says he still hasn’t communicated a vision for the platform to his staff. “Not a 5-year plan like Tesla,” Clowes wrote. “Nothing more than what everyone can see on Twitter. It’s reportedly coming for those who stayed, but the request was blind faith and required the settlement offer to be signed before it was seen. Pure loyalty test.”
There had been so little communication from above that rumors and speculation were rife, Clowes suggested. Among staff’s apparent concerns is that Twitter will not only become subscription-based, but potentially “adult content: could become a core component of subscription offerings,” Clowes wrote. (To underscore how little insiders were told, Clowes then referred readers to a Wired story about a Washington Post story about Musk’s reported discussions with employees about monetizing adult content on Twitter.)
Finally, Clowes wrote, “there was no retention plan for those who stayed. No clear benefit to sticking it through the storm on the horizon. Just ‘trust us’ style verbal promises.”
As of yesterday, he was living in a world where “his friends are gone, vision is blurry, a storm is brewing and there is no financial benefit. What would you do?” he continued. “Would you give up time with your kids over the holiday season for vague reassurances and the opportunity to make a rich person richer, or would you forgo it?”
They would take out what Musk was certainly expecting.
The question is if he can rebuild with what’s left before the whole thing collapses.