“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.”