Extremely Hardcore: Our New York magazine cover story

Twitter’s staff spent years trying to protect the platform against impulsive ranting billionaires — then one made himself the CEO

Extremely Hardcore: Our New York magazine cover story

For the past several months, Platformer has covered every twist in the story of Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter, from his first day on the job to his increasingly risky ideas to save the business. And for almost as long, we’ve hoped to be able to tell a fuller version of the story — one that conveyed the chaos that Musk unleashed in its totality, along with untold stories about the employees he chewed up and spat out along the way.

Today, along with our colleague Alex Heath at The Verge, we published our effort to do just that. “Extremely Hardcore,” our new cover story at New York magazine, attempts to capture what it has felt like for those inside — while raising the question of whether the fallout could take big chunks of Musk’s empire down with it.

We hope you’ll enjoy the story, which we excerpt below. Browse the version of the article posted to The Verge and you can watch Musk’s net worth fall as the chronology unfolds. And, of course, we’ll have plenty more to say on this subject in coming weeks as the company’s free fall continues.

On that subject: we’re told that Twitter revenue on Tuesday was down 40 percent year over year. And Musk’s first giant interest payment on the company is due at the end of the month.

Things are going to get worse before they get better.

On October 26, an engineer and mother of two — let’s call her Alicia — sat in a glass conference room in San Francisco trying to explain the details of Twitter’s tech stack to Elon Musk. He was supposed to officially buy the company in two days, and Alicia and a small group of trusted colleagues were tasked with outlining how its core infrastructure worked. But Musk, who was sitting two seats away from Alicia with his elbows propped on the table, looked sleepy. When he did talk, it was to ask questions about cost. How much does Twitter spend on data centers? Why was everything so expensive?

Alicia was already tired of Musk’s antics. For months, he had gone back and forth about buying the company where she had worked for more than a decade. He’d tried to back out of the deal, but Twitter sued, and the chief judge of Delaware’s Chancery Court said a trial would move forward if the acquisition wasn’t complete by October 28. Facing what many legal observers called an easy case for Twitter, Musk caved. So here they were, trying to show Musk what he was about to buy, and all he wanted to talk about was money.

Fine, she thought. If Musk wants to know about money, I’ll tell him. She launched into a technical explanation of the company’s data-center efficiency, curious to see if he would follow along. Instead, he interrupted. “I was writing C programs in the ’90s,” he said dismissively. “I understand how computers work.”

Alicia knew Twitter had problems; when prospective employees asked her why she’d stayed there so long, she would tell them, honestly, that the company was incredibly inefficient. It took a long time to get buy-in on projects, and communication across teams was generally poor. But it operated with a “benevolent anarchy” through which anyone could influence the direction of the product. “You didn’t need someone in a position of power to explicitly grant you permission,” Alicia says. “It was very much a bottom-up organization.”

Rumors were swirling that Musk planned to cut 75 percent of the company. People were audibly sobbing in the bathrooms.

Unlike some of her colleagues, Alicia wasn’t reflexively anti-Musk. She respected what he had done at his companies and felt hopeful that, as someone who thought of himself as an engineer, he would support her highly technical work. But Musk had a different interest that day. Twitter, he said, should immediately get into video.

“We really should be able to do longform video and attract the best content creators by giving them a better cut than YouTube,” he said, according to Alicia’s recollection. The infrastructure engineers in the room agreed that adding support for longform video was technically possible, but their job was building stuff — not strategy or marketing. It seemed as though Musk didn’t understand the basic organizational structure of a social-media company; it was as if a rich guy had bought a restaurant and started telling the cooks he wanted to add a new dining room. Might he want to speak with the media product team instead?

Just then, David Sacks, a venture capitalist and friend of Musk’s who had advised him on the acquisition, walked into the room. A fellow native of South Africa, Sacks had worked with Musk at PayPal and later led the enterprise social-networking company Yammer to a $1.2 billion sale to Microsoft.

“David, this meeting is too technical for you,” Musk said, waving his hand to dismiss Sacks. Wordlessly, Sacks turned and walked out, leaving the engineers — who had gotten little engagement from Musk on anything technical — slack-jawed. His imperiousness in the middle of a session he appeared to be botching was something to behold. (Musk did not respond to multiple requests for comment.)

Continue reading at The Verge.



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