Elon Musk’s Twitter threatens to die slowly or quickly amid mass exodus

Elon Musk’s managerial bombshells on Twitter have so thinned the ranks of software engineers who keep the de facto global public square operational that industry insiders and programmers who were fired or resigned this week are doomed. OK: Twitter may soon unravel so badly that it may actually crash.

Musk ended a very public row with nearly two dozen coders critical to the stability of the microblogging platform by ordering their firing this week. Hundreds of engineers and other workers then quit after he demanded they pledge to do “extremely hard” work by Thursday night or quit with severance pay.

The most recent departures mean the rig is losing workers just as it prepares for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, which opens on Sunday. It’s one of Twitter’s busiest events, when tweet surges put a strain on its systems.

“Looks like he’s going to blow up Twitter,” said Robert Graham, a veteran cybersecurity entrepreneur. ‘I don’t see how the lights won’t go out anytime soon’ – although many recent Twitter departures have predicted a more gradual death.

Hundreds of employees signaled they were leaving before Thursday’s deadline, posting goodbye messages, a hello emoji or other familiar symbols on the company’s internal Slack message board, employees say who still have access to it. Dozens of people also took to Twitter publicly to announce they were logging off.

Earlier in the week, some got so angry at Musk’s perceived recklessness that they took to Twitter to insult the CEO of Tesla and Space X. ‘Kiss my ass, Elon,’ an engineer said , adding lipstick marks. She had been fired.

Twitter management sent an unsigned email after Thursday’s deadline saying its offices would be closed and access to employee badges would be disabled until Monday. No reason was given, according to two employees who received the email – one who accepted severance pay, the other still on payroll. They spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing reprisals.

A trusted phalanx of Tesla coders by his side as he ransacked a once-friendly workspace, Musk seemed unbothered.

“The best people stay, so I’m not super worried,” he said. tweeted Thursday evening. But it soon became clear that some crucial programming teams had been completely gutted.

Indicating how short on programmers he is, Musk sent emails to all hands on Friday summoning “anyone who actually writes software” to his command post on the 10th floor of Twitter at 2 p.m. – asking that they steal in San Francisco if they’re not local, said the employee who quit Thursday but was still receiving emails from the company.

After taking over Twitter less than three weeks ago, Musk laid off half of the company’s 7,500 full-time employees and countless contractors responsible for content moderation and other crucial efforts. Then came this week’s ultimatum.

Three engineers who left this week told The Associated Press why they expect considerable inconvenience for Twitter’s more than 230 million users now that more than two-thirds of Twitter’s core service engineers before Musk apparently left. While they don’t anticipate a near-term meltdown, Twitter could get very rough around the edges, especially if Musk makes major changes without too much off-platform testing.

Signs of fraying were evident ahead of Thursday’s massive release. People reported seeing more spam and scams on their feeds and in their direct messages. Engineers flagged dropped tweets. People got weird error messages.

Still, nothing critical broke. Still.

“There’s a betting pool for when that happens,” said one of the engineers, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals from Musk that could impact their careers and finances.

Another said that if Twitter shuts down servers and “high volume suddenly comes in, it might start crashing.”

“The World Cup is the biggest event for Twitter. It’s the first thing you learn when you log on to Twitter,” he said.

With earlier layoffs of curation employees, Twitter’s trending pages were already suffering. The engineering fireworks began on Tuesday when Musk announced on Twitter that he had begun shutting down “microservices” he considered unnecessary “bloatware.”

“Less than 20% is actually needed for Twitter to work!” he tweeted.

This drew objections from engineers who told Musk he had no idea what he was doing.

“Microservices are how most large modern web services organize their code to enable software engineers to work quickly and efficiently,” said Gergely Orosz, Pragmatic Engineer blog author and former Uber programmer. There are dozens of such services and each handles a different feature. Instead of testing the removal of microservices in a simulated real environment, Musk’s team apparently updated Twitter live on everyone’s computers.

And indeed, one microservice briefly broke – the one people use to verify their identity on Twitter via an SMS message when they log in. This is called two-factor authentication.

“You have reached the limit of SMS codes. Try again in 24 hours,” Twitter advised when a reporter attempted to download its microblogging history archive. Fortunately, the email verification alternative worked.

One of the newly separated Twitter engineers, who had worked in core services, told the AP that groups of engineering teams had grown from about 15 people before Musk — not counting chiefs of staff. team, all of whom were fired – three or four before Thursday’s resignations. .

Then more institutional knowledge that cannot be replaced overnight is gone.

“Everything could break,” said the programmer.

It takes six months to train someone to perform an on-call rotation for certain services, the engineers said. Such rotations require programmers to be available around the clock. But if the person on duty isn’t familiar with the codebase, the failures can cascade as they frantically skim through the reference manuals.

“If I had stayed, I would have been constantly on call with little support for an indefinite amount of time on several additional complex systems that I had no experience in,” tweeted Peter Clowesan engineer who took severance pay.

“To make even relatively boring systems work, you need people who know where to go when something breaks down,” Blaine Cook, the founding engineer of Twitter, who left in 2008, said.

“It’s like saying, ‘These firefighters aren’t doing anything. So we’re gonna fire them all.

Engineers are also concerned that Musk is shutting down tools involved in moderating content and removing illicit material that people upload to Twitter — or that there just aren’t enough staff to make them work properly.

Another concern is hackers. When they have violated the system in the past, the damage reduction depends on their early detection and expulsion.

It’s unclear how Musk’s Twitter housekeeping has affected his cybersecurity team, which suffered a major black eye in August when the highly respected security chief Peiter Zatko fired by the company earlier this year. filed a whistleblower complaint claiming the platform was a cybersecurity shambles.

“A lot of the security infrastructure of a large organization like Twitter is in people’s heads,” said Graham, the cybersecurity veteran. “And when they’re gone, you know, everything goes with them.”


AP Technology Writer Matt O’Brien contributed to this report.

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