The targeted firings of talented engineers tanked employee morale. Randall Lin worried the dour mood would impact people’s work. He decided to fly to New York with his long-distance girlfriend, Alex, an OnlyFans star who lived in the Midwest, to check on two of his colleagues in person. “People were emotionally a wreck,” Lin said. He paid for the flight and hotel himself.
Lin spent the week ping-ponging between late-night dinners with Alex and coworking marathons with his colleagues, where he did his best to give them a sense of direction and mission. Sure, the CEO was unpredictable, and yes, the recent firings had sucked. But those who remained had a chance to make history, building a super app alongside the CEO of SpaceX. It was worth it.
Then, on November 16, Lin woke up to see a new email from Musk with the subject line: “A Fork in the Road.”
Musk had still not articulated a sophisticated vision for Twitter’s business, but at least now he’d communicated an ultimatum about its culture. Twitter 2.0 would be technical and engineering focused. It would be, in Musk’s words, “extremely hardcore.” Get in or get out—and also, decide in the next thirty-six hours.
Lin’s heart raced as he read the email. It was the moment he’d been waiting for. Since Musk had come on board, it felt like his colleagues had split into camps: the loyal few who trusted Musk as a leader and were willing to do whatever it took to build a new company, and those who were resistant to the new normal and were waiting around to be fired. Lin knew which camp he was in. Now Musk would know it too.
He signed his name, then called a handful of close colleagues. “This is an opportunity. If we lose our jobs, it’s not that bad. What is severance going to get you, anyway? These are fun times to live in,” he told them. “At least you’ll have a story to tell.”
Most were still on the fence. “We’re being asked to keep a sinking ship afloat,” one told him. By early Thursday, November 17, internal polls showed that only about 25 percent of the software engineering organization planned to sign the hardcore email.
JP Doherty did not want to sign the email. But he knew he didn’t have a choice. His son, Rhys, was scheduled to have strabismus surgery in January, correcting an eye issue that made it difficult for him to walk on his own. The procedure cost $10,000 out of pocket. Doherty discussed the decision with his wife, and while she wanted him to be able to quit, they both knew the kids needed his health insurance.
Still, Doherty didn’t mind making the Goons sweat.
As the deadline approached, Doherty was eating lunch in the Twitter cafeteria when Sheen Austin, a Tesla engineer who was acting as the head of infrastructure, stopped to talk. “You can’t do this to your team,” Austin said. “They need you. Twitter needs you.”
Doherty looked him squarely in the eye. “Why are you telling me this?” he asked. “Why isn’t this coming from Elon?” He was annoyed that Musk’s minions were trying to clean up their boss’s mess. If Musk thought Doherty was so important, the CEO could tell him that himself.
Austin looked surprised. “You want to get in front of Elon?” he asked. Doherty rolled his eyes. These sycophants just really didn’t get it.
Nevertheless, Austin set up a meeting for later that afternoon between Musk, Doherty, and a few high-ranking members of the engineering team who hadn’t yet signed the ultimatum.
One on-the-fence Twitter employee pulled up a presentation about Twitter’s core values. “Defend and respect the user’s voice,” one tenet read. “Communicate fearlessly to build trust,” another stated.
The employee said that it seemed fairly obvious Musk didn’t intend to follow these values. Doherty was struck by the man’s bravery.