There’s so much to say about what’s happening at Twitter, but I’m going to start with one word: “Hardcore.” That’s what Elon said he wants from all his employees going forward – a “hardcore” mentality, a coder-first culture, a sleep-at-the-office-and-pound-Red-Bull kind of sensibility.
I’m pretty familiar with this culture – an earlier, less toxic version of it pervaded the pre-Elon tech world, a culture I reported on at Wired, the Standard, and in coverage of Google and similar companies in the early 2000s. While it had its charms – most of us have pulled an all nighter trying to get a product out – memorializing “hardcore” as a work ethos is a deeply flawed management technique. Not only does it foster unhealthy relationships to work, it also celebrates a toxic brand of male-dominated power – the kind of power that many of tech’s current titans, including Musk, Andreessen, Thiel, and their ilk – seem to believe is threatened. In their writings, investments, and political lobbying, it’s clear that “hardcore” is a philosophy this group of Valley troll-bullies seem desperate to entrench.
In fact, I think it’s fair to postulate that Musk’s takeover of Twitter, supported as it is by Andreessen’s a16, Oracle’s Larry Ellison, a boatload of Saudi money, and crypto mystery man Changpeng Zhao, is at its core driven by a neo-reactionary response to the ongoing decline of the Great Man narrative across our society and in what they deride as “woke” corporate culture. The myth of the hero founder has always dominated Silicon Valley: The energy-drink fueled “great man” of tech who solves the world’s problems not with diplomacy and tact, but through singular genius, movie star grit, an assholic temperament, and raw coding prowess. Elon is, of course, this myth’s current favored son, its most treasured proof. This is the man that took on the entire auto industry, that landed rockets on barges, that married rock stars and inspired countless Iron Man sequels. Never mind the government handouts, the endless lawsuits, the fatherless children or the constant promotion of hate under the guise of “free speech.”
You’ll probably not be surprised to hear that I think the Great Man founder myth is stupid and facile, worthy of ridicule. And far better writers than me have torn it down. But I can’t get the pre-Elon Twitter out of my mind – because I knew the company so well. This was a culture committed to building relationships, that admitted its role in the world was complicated, nuanced, and required endless patience and diplomacy. Its people were not dedicated to profit above all else. Instead, they were dedicated to fostering the site’s unique role in the online world, to telling that story, to listening to criticism, to supporting those who needed support. Yeah, it was often disfunctional, but they worked on that disfunction tirelessly, and with humanity. And because of their work, Twitter’s corporate culture was truly special.
And who was at the core of that culture? I have a theory: It was the women.
Twitter was probably the most intentionally open, accommodating, and thoughtful work culture the Valley has ever produced at scale. And it’s not a coincidence that a healthy percentage of Twitter’s senior executives were women. Nor is it a coincidence that nearly all of them have left. I started keeping a list of the extraordinary women I worked with over the past few years who have recently departed the company. And just for posterity, and perhaps for you all to add to, I present it here. Think about all the men cheering on Elon’s “Hardcore” philosophy, who agree with him that the people below, and countless others, are unnecessary. Read through these names, click on their profiles, and ponder the roles they played in the nuanced ecosystem Twitter once was.
And then, let that sink in.
Leslie Berland – CMO
Sarah Personette – CCO
Dalana Brand – Chief People and Diversity Officer
Vijaya Gadde – Legal, Public Policy & Trust and Safety Lead
Lea Kissner (They, Them) – CISO
Robin Wheeler – Head of Sales
Sonya Penn – GM of Data and Developer Platform
Rebecca Hahn – VP Communications
Lara Cohen – VP, Global Head of Partners
Meg Haley – VP Revenue Product
Maggie Suniewick – VP Partnerships
Stephanie Prager – VP Global Business
Melissa Barnes – VP, Canada and Latin America
Julianna Hayes – VP Finance
Nola Weinstein – Global Head of Brand Experience & Engagement
Sarah Rosen – Sr. Director & Head of US Content Partnerships
Joanna Geary – Sr. Director, Curation
Of course there are, literally, thousands more. These are just the first 15 or so names of senior women executives who I interacted with at one time or another, people who helped make Twitter the amazing place it once was. Please add yours in comments or email me, I’d be happy to add to this list. Oh, and the photos – top is a picture Elon posted to prove he and his engineers were “hardcore.” Love the gender diversity (and the Trumpian thumbs up pose). And below, inexplicably but in perfect troll baiting form, is a picture of his night stand.
17 thoughts on “File Under “Hardcore, Great Men Are All””
I didn’t put it quite in those terms, but Elmo’s destruction of Twitter looks a lot like stupid fratboy panty raid on HugeCo corporate scale.
Putting aside how depressing that destruction is on its own terms, watching a manchild like him stumble into the purchase, and then only stop fighting that mistake when it became apparent more dirty laundry was going to get press treatment, and finally just destroying anything about his new toy he didn’t understand…
Let’s say it gives me greater appreciation for how contingent outcomes can be.
Gotta include https://twitter.com/LeaKissner in that list, Twitter CISO and generally amazing human who previously ran major privacy engineering projects for Google including Google+ (which is how I know her).
Good catch. Added thanks!
Lea uses they/them pronouns and may not identify as a woman.
Thank you. Noted now. Much appreciated.
Serious question – what does it say that ALLLL these women were there AND twitter was not making money, underperforming, and one could argue, failing. This is not to say that correlation equals causation; but it seems dishonest (or maybe just doesn’t fit your narrative), to not acknowledge the poor performance. Should we simply celebrate “representation” and overlook performance? How do you square this?
If you believe “performance” = “shareholder gains” I’m not sure you paid attention to the price Elon paid.
Twitter was making a lot more money than it is now.
The article literally says Twitter Corporate culture was never about profit. Why do you care so much about its profitability anyway? What do you stand to gain?
Del Harvey and Alissa Huskey started Twitter’s Trust and Safety team.
Del lead the team for yeas and denied the term “trust and safety.”
Alissa, while leading T&S Engineering also lead the team that defined Twitter’s core values. Values which have been quoted time and again and truly defined what Twitter was.
Thanks for this article John. A lot of foundational culture work by the #Angels women as well.
This is put very well. Twitter was always the most considerate of the tech company and that goes back to culture.
My question though is, does it work? Twitter might have had better values than say Facebook, but it was never very effective, neither when it came to making money, nor when it came to abuse.
What happens if Musk succeeds while making Twitter’s work place way more toxic in the process? Small teams working long hours can be successful even if being part of them isn’t healthy.
It’s a fine question, which begs a definition of “succeeds.”
I just watched “Porky’s Revenge” last night … I was bored, don’t ask me why.
Elon Musk could have easily played one of guys in the central group of males.
I totally agree with your theory in the latter half of your article, that being, that the women at Twitter were at the core of such a fantastic culture. My sister is a sales exec in tech and is very highly valued by her company. I agree that anyone who has what you refer to as “a neo-reactionary response to the ongoing decline of the Great Man narrative across our society and in what they deride as “woke” corporate culture” is desperate in some way.
My question is: do you think these neo-reactionary responses by many of tech’s current titans can be likened to kneejerk reactions, in the same way that someone would curse if they were stung by a bee, or, given their business acumen, are they making a bet on a toxic brand of male-dominated power and a “hardcore” mentality, in that they believe that the ideals they value will become predominant among the culture and help their own interests prosper?