July 27, 2015

Leaving Twitter

Friday was my last day at twitter.

It’s hard to write anything but generalizations about a four-year, four-month experience. So allow me to shape, before your eyes, my formal response to my time.

Twitter was the biggest mistake of my life.

There was a time I really thought this. About eighteen months in, I was being graded poorly on a job I really disliked and wasn’t really good at. My manager was receiving platitudes from other teams about other work I was doing, but it wasn’t reflecting in my feedback. I was basically told to improve at something I wasn’t good at if I wanted to be allowed to apply for other opportunities in the company. I felt trapped, with no one aware of my skills or all that interested in my development.

I had no network, but I started thinking about where I wanted to go next. I’d set the end of 2012 as my exit window, one way or another. Then, suddenly, I was given a single opportunity with another team. I jumped, and worked like crazy to prove to myself that my capacity was greater than the space I’d been given. Long story short, I found a team much more amenable and supportive, and I ended my time at Twitter largely working at the same level I’d been when I’d left my last employer four years earlier.

Twitter was the most profitable mistake of my life.

Regardless of how you feel about working at Twitter, it’s undeniable that everyone you’ll meet in the US, much of Asia and most of Europe will have heard about Twitter. When asked where I worked, I’d simply say, “…at a tech company.” If pressed for a name, the incredulity in people’s faces when I finally spilled the name was amusing. “Oh! Just a tech company!” “Ha! As if I’ve never heard of it!” and so on. I’ve never worked at a place so universally known, and likely never will.

For all that was restricting me in company, working for Twitter granted me a lot of cachet outside of work. People wanted to talk to me about getting into big tech companies, wanted to confide with me their great new idea, wanted me to advise or recommend to their constituents. I felt woefully unqualified for much of this, and it made me wonder if other people who’d been branded mentors, thought leaders and consultants ever felt the same way.

Meanwhile, working at Twitter meant that I had three free meals available to me four days a week (there was no dinner served on Fridays). And by “free meal” I mean a dozen different meal options of which I could choose any or all. There were additional kitchenettes on every floor with snacks, drinks cereal, coffee and fresh fruit. There were baristas who served coffee. There were game rooms with pinball machines, basketball hoops, gaming consoles, ping pong tables, arcade games and Foosball. There was a wifi-enabled rooftop deck with lawn chairs and artificial grass (originally we has twitter-themed blankets for the lawn but they were quickly stolen). We had free yoga classes, free Pilates classes, free Crossfit classes, free improv classes; discounted body work by in-house masseuses and occasional acupuncturists. Additionally, we had a benefit of $100 towards any fitness or gym membership we’d signed up for. We had in-house showers with soap, shampoo and conditioner, and even our general bathrooms were stocked with toothbrushes, toothpaste and floss picks. More than once I noted, in commiseration with others, that there was no better place to be until you found the place you actually wanted to be.

While starting in a low role initially meant a bit of a pay cut, I was clearly no longer in the capped environment of a religious non-profit, and pay increases came—especially after transferring from Support to Localization. The job I’ll take in August will pay me roughly 30% more than I was just making, but even that was 50% more than my starting income. And then there’s the equity I earned working in a company that would later go public. An entirely, new thing for me, I found myself in possession of highly-valued stock and was able to find a bit of financial freedom as a result. I will forever be grateful to Twitter for all of this.

Twitter was the hardest lesson I’ve ever learned.

I’ve always been blessed and highly favored. I do not have an attitude of persistence and perseverance, largely because my greatest opportunities have appeared, deus ex machina, throughout my life. I’ve been a lover, not a fighter, and the experience of Twitter was rougher than anything else I’ve ever undertaken. As I’ve considered the sum of my time at Twitter, ignoring the emotional flare-ups and bruised egos, what I find is a true reflection of my character and the distance between who I am and who I imagine myself to be. I see obstacles I sat and pouted in front of instead of overcoming, and I see my first real efforts at facing adversity.

I witnessed passion and optimism side by side with burnout and hopelessness, and was given the opportunity to choose where I wanted to be. In March, when I found myself being very cynical about relatively minor things, I noted my position and ultimately decided that I’d rather be somewhere else than to be an obstacle to passion and optimism. And that’s ultimately why I left; I’d learned enough to sense that changes were occurring within Twitter and within me as well that made moving on and leaving that which I’d finally come to understand in order to continue growing in the next unknown the only reasonable option.

Twitter might have been just the beginning.

We’ll see. As I take some time to relax before the next opportunity, I wonder if I can ever leave Twitter behind—or even if I should. Its indelible impressions are really what make me ready to take on what’s next, and I think I’ll just have to accept it for that, knowing that what I get myself into next is likely going to be no less challenging.