The surprising things I’ve learned about Twitter Engineering Culture

In August, I started my role as an engineering manager at Twitter. I came to Twitter looking to level up my technical skills and instincts, gain more management experience, and work on a collaborative team, and I’ve happily found all three. It’s a good thing I didn’t believe everything I read about Twitter when I was interviewing earlier this year. Certain reports of “bro culture” were off-putting to me as a female engineer, and I don’t discount the validity of individual stories. However, at the time, I noticed those examples were at odds with the positivity of my interactions with my interview panel and my friend who referred me, so I decided to press on through the process. I’m really glad I did.

Interviewing

I was interviewing at a few different companies at the time, focusing my efforts on San Francisco based locations to avoid the dreaded bus ride down the peninsula. If you’re looking for a known tech company with the bulk of its square footage in San Francisco, you’re going to find Twitter near the top of the list. However, interviewing for companies like Twitter, Facebook, and Google is rumored to be a grueling test of riddles. It took every ounce of my courage to get over the intimidation factor and work up the nerve to submit my resume both through the Twitter career site and through my friend. Because of that referral, Twitter responded far faster than I expected. Within three days, I was on the phone with my now boss. We went over our scheduled interview time having a rapid-fire discussion about engineering management philosophies. I wrapped up the call feeling excited and inspired. I caught no whiff of superiority. Where were the trick questions? The impression only improved when I came on site the following week. My interviewers were friendly, supportive, and seemed to be interested in making sure that I was the type of manager who not only had a firm technical foundation, but also understood and demonstrated how to develop individuals and teams. I was pleased to find diversity among my interviewers, who represented several countries and included a female engineering manager. It was nothing like I expected. The interview process left me feeling relieved, valued, and hopeful.

Technical Training

Fast forward a couple of weeks, and I was accepting my Twitter offer! As the media continued to hammer Twitter over the summer, I wrapped up my role at Director of Engineering at WIRED, headed off on vacation, and kept my fingers crossed that the job would work out well. Sitting in my first day of new hire orientation, I scanned our group of about 30 and was mildly surprised to find a 50+ female engineer and only two or three millennial dudes in the entire group. As we heard about the company core values, I realized that although Twitter was already my favorite app (having surpassed Facebook for share of my mobile time about 6 months earlier), I hadn’t really connected with the mission of Twitter as a microphone for the voiceless. Now, I was seeing Twitter’s deeper purpose, and I felt proud to be part of it. Jack Dorsey himself held a Q&A session with our group which capped off a great first week.

My training continued over the course of the next several weeks. I was auto-enrolled in technical training on how to build services within the Twitter stack. I’ve since attended training for code reviews, Scala, interview training, transgender allyship, engineering management, and more. So far, Twitter’s invested over 60 hours in my development, and I’ve even been invited to teach and/or facilitate interview and management courses based on my experience. I’ve participated in world-class training programs working for large companies, and I found Twitter’s training to be excellent.

Company Culture

From the first day on my new team, I’ve felt included and welcomed by literally everyone. I’ve attended countless meetings since August, and not once has anyone blinked or stared when I was introduced as the new engineering manager. Let me tell you, that’s not how it usually goes. In the past, there would always be someone who didn’t really believe I was an engineer. I’ve been at developer-only conferences as the only woman where I was asked over and over what my role was (um, developer), and I’m tired of the feigned “good for you!” comments. I just want to be treated like any other engineer — and here, at my new job, I’ve been taken seriously from day one. This was a terrific surprise in my first weeks. Several of my female colleagues have shared with me similar positive experiences.

It’s easy to network at Twitter. I’ve made friends with other engineering managers in my own org through regular meetings, and across the company through Twitter’s Engineering Management Development courses and recurring manager forums. There’s a strong and growing Women in Engineering group at Twitter, which gets together for dinners out and fills a large conference room for lunch time brown bags. I have regular access to my skip-level manager who’s a female VP of engineering. I meet engineers who aren’t on my team through interviews (we regularly share teammates for interview panels) and hack weeks. My own team enjoys quarterly off sites and ad hoc game nights. The drinking culture among the people I’ve interacted with has been markedly subdued, and several coworkers don’t drink at all. Of all the social events I’ve attended after hours, only one (the holiday party) has ended past 8:30 pm. Amazingly, the lionshare of my networking happens within working hours, which helps maintain the sustainable work-life balance that many of us at Twitter enjoy. Productivity is driven by ownership and measured by results rather than face time, a model I greatly prefer.

Room to Grow

I’m finding room at Twitter to learn and experiment. Because Twitter is something in between a startup and an established enterprise company, there are many processes and tons of documentation but without the imperative to do everything a certain way. Managers are given the flexibility and autonomy to maneuver based on team and project needs. I see managers handle this in different ways: people coming from startups want more flexibility, while engineers coming from larger companies would prefer enforced processes. As for me, I’m fine with the middle ground, since I know that nothing remains the same anywhere in this industry for very long. Recent reorganizations have caused us to change course on teams and projects, and we have made some difficult adjustments, but I’m glad Twitter is now very focused. While it’s still invigorating to drop regular assignments for creative hack week projects from time to time, you can’t run a company like a hackathon forever — at some point you’ve got to throw all your weight behind the #onething. Twitter’s made that realization.

I get asked by interview candidates about executive departures and stock price, and of course I’m keeping a sharp eye on these myself. But even since August and through all the rumors over the fall, I see evidence that Twitter is turning the corner. Twitter came to understand itself in a new way in 2016 as the source of news, of “What’s Happening” anywhere in the world. Twitter’s influence on entertainment, celebrities, sports events like the World Series, and of course, politics, can’t be denied. As for abuse, I see no one at Twitter taking it lightly. It’s a huge responsibility, an area of intense internal focus, and a significant challenge to find the balance between free speech and safety. I’m proud that we’re attacking abuse with increased vigor.

Overall, No Regrets

The shine has not quite worn off this new job yet as I survey my six months here. I’m still moved by a conversation I had my first working week with an engineer who gushed about his work on performance, citing the motivation of tsunami victims who need the application to be fast so they can get and receive help in times of disaster. There are the practical little things, like cheap dinner-to-go for purchase at the office — a boon to this time-starved working mom. I get to share a fist bump with Security George on my way in in the mornings. I’m learning new things every single day, and I enjoy my team and work environment. I took a bit of a risk leaving a good thing at WIRED to plunge in at Twitter, and so far it’s going even better than I expected.

Final Thought For Developers

If you want to work at a place like Twitter but think you don’t fit the stereotype of the “typical engineer,” put aside your stereotypes about what an engineer looks like and get busy with that application!

 

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