Lots of organizations say they want to change the world, but in fact, Twitter is actually doing it. There are few companies founded in the last decade that have achieved more success and caused more disruption than the social media giant, which has arguably redefined how we communicate using the Internet.
“One reason I work at Twitter is that you can walk in the office and really feel like changing the world is a possibility,” Fry explained. “This is about creating a new communication paradigm.”
But when a company starts scaling at such an incredible rate, keeping thousands of employees productive and happy — both the veterans and newbies — is no easy task.
Fry, Twitter’s senior VP of engineering, and Krikorian, VP of platform engineering, offered some insight into their company culture while we met at Twitter’s new Seattle engineering office on Wednesday.
“A strong culture helps you bring people in quickly and scale rapidly,” Fry said. “A weak culture will become dominated by all different interests entering the company.”
Here are some of the takeaways from our chat:
“People who come to Twitter actually believe in the product we’re building”
Twitter’s mission is to connect everyone on the planet and enable any one person to talk to anyone, and it’s something that employees buy into.
As a result, Fry explained, Twitter attracts people that care about open communities, open culture, freedom of speech and the notion that all ideas should be free. In addition, there is a strong open-source community inside the technology team at Twitter and a lot of giving back.
That mentality is also evident in Twitter’s quarterly global “Tea Time,” when the company’s founders answer any question that any employee has. It’s been a consistent routine for Twitter since its inception and each office outside of the headquarters has their own version of “Tea Time,” as well.
This all contributes to the company culture.
“There’s a strong feeling that we’re all in this together, and that ideas should be discussed in the open and really debated,” Fry said. “I think the product and the desire to work on that product to change the world really drives a certain culture inside Twitter.”
The efforts of every engineering employee at Twitter is valued, and the company makes sure its workers know this.
“This fits into the Seattle story — we’re actually putting entire teams up here with the trust that they’ll go make a difference on our product,” Krikorian said. “It doesn’t require them to be working in close coordination with the San Francisco office.”
That’s actually Twitter’s general philosophy on productivity for its non-headquartered offices — there are engineering teams in New York and Boston, in addition to Seattle.
“We give them a lot of autonomy,” Fry said. “Each office owns their whole road map and has everything it needs to make forward progress, which I think lets people be productive. A lot of times when you’re in a remote office, you can feel like you’re not connected to what’s happening. Our goal is to give them a ball they can run with, and let them run really far.”
Making sure employees are always improving
Back in August, Fry announced something relatively unique: An in-house engineering education program designed to help employees learn new skills called Twitter University.
“It was really driven by real need, but also driven by a general philosophy about building great organizations,” Fry said.
Previously, Twitter had been using an outside company to train employees in everything from Android development to Python, but the engineering team eventually decided that training should be a core competency of the organization.
Fry got the go-ahead from CEO Dick Costolo and acquired Marakana, a company dedicated to open source training. Now, Twitter is running hundreds of classes for its employees.
“If you can come into work and feel like at the end of the week, you know more than at the beginning of the week, that’s what’s sticky,” Fry said. “It’s a core part of what makes Twitter so great.”
Twitter engineers also participate in “Hack Week,” during the first week of every quarter when they put aside their everyday work and go bananas with whatever crazy ideas they have that the company could potentially implement.
This allows employees to learn new skills, work with people they haven’t spoken to before and show what amazing things they can do.
“It’s just a release valve in a lot of ways,” Krikorian said. “We have deliverables and all the things we want to get done, but this is really about allowing people to have concentrated time to go wild, as opposed to having it has a background task.”
Fry said he’s also been impressed with the willingness of employees to teach each other. During Hack Week, people are devoted to helping others deploy code or maintain part of a system, for example.
Both Twitter University and Hack Week aren’t necessarily quantifiable in terms of the bottom line, and there aren’t usually tangible products coming out of either program. But as Fry and Krikorian explain, it’s about investing in employees for the extended future.
“This is very much one of these things that makes the whole greater when you add it to the company,” Fry said. “It’s a very long-term play about the culture of the company.”