Made of People
The past few weeks have entailed brutal layoffs by well-known tech companies. The treatment of Twitter’s staff has been especially bizarre, and speculation continues about whether (and how long) the company can continue operation having decimated1 its headcount.
Email from Elon to the engineering team: "Anyone who can actually write software, please report to the 10th floor at 2pm today. Before doing so, please email me a bullet point summary of what your code commits have achieved in the past 6 months." Elon Musk is also asking for up 10 screenshots of the "most salient lines of code" from Twitter engineers. . . . Yesterday, Twitter told employees the offices were closed and badge access was suspended until Monday. Employees are extremely confused.
—Zoë Schiffer, Managing Editor at Platformer
I once worked at a company where employees were treated more like code to be debugged, or perhaps feral dogs to be domesticated, than professionals to be inspired. Behavior that was not “extremely hardcore” (as Twitter’s new owner puts it), or was seen as disloyal, could severely limit one’s chances of career advancement. Employees were seen more as potential liabilities than vital assets. A wise coworker observed to me that the company’s most valuable resources left at the end of every day, and management didn’t even realize it.
One asinine speech by a senior manager (which I did not witness first hand) implied that product quality should be deprioritized, because maintaining the high bar (and correspondingly excellent repuation) that this company had earned across the industry was costly. Not prohibitively so; merely an expense that could be reduced, thus netting more money (in the short term). When someone objected, asking semi-rhetorically whether we really wanted to reduce our product from a (metaphorical) luxury car to a jalopy, the manager replied: “You can make a lot of money selling jalopies.”
Another coworker once told me something I didn’t understand at the time, but that rings truer and truer to me: Companies are made of people. They’re also made of paperwork and legal entities and sometimes brick and mortar, and the people who start a company aren’t always the same ones who make it tick in later years, but the people are always the parts that matter most. People run the company, and in many ways, those who control the company exercise control over the lives of other people. That’s a responsibility that some executives don’t take seriously enough.
This is a tough time for tech workers, but if you’re a junior engineer trying to enter industry even as hiring is slowing and the market is flooded with laid-off competition, or you’re a senior who’s back on the market after decades of stability, remember that opportunities are still out there, and some company—some people—really need you. You just may not know them yet.