We Are Expanding the Design Team at Twitter

First things first: we are expanding the Design Studio at Twitter! A few days ago, I opened 8 new positions, which can be viewed here. If you have fantastic design, production, or research chops and you love Twitter, we’d love to talk to you.

Secondly, below is a not-so-brief update on how things have gone in my first month here.

The City

So far, San Francisco has outperformed my already high expectations. It’s an even more enjoyable city to live in than I imagined. The only thing that’s been a bummer is housing selection and pricing. For a 1300 square foot place, I am paying about 2.5-3x what the same place would go for in a nice neighborhood in Seattle; and Seattle isn’t exactly cheap either. I thought I would just have to overpay a little down here in order to get into a decent place, but the reality is that the city is littered with apartments as expensive as $6000 a month that you wouldn’t even want to live in. Thankfully, we got a place on a great block in Noe Valley so at least the neighborhood is perfect for us, but man is it pricey for what it is.

The food in San Francisco has been predictably terrific, and I will just come out and say it: the coffee is better than it is in Seattle. Between Ritual, Philz, Martha’s, and Blue Bottle, just about the only place in Seattle which can compete is Uptown Espresso. That has surprised me a bit. It’s also nice being this close to In-N-Out Burger, which helps (almost) make up for the lack of Skillet down here.

People keep telling me the weather is supposed to turn to shit any day now, but it’s the middle of December and it’s been sunny and mid 60s for most of my time here. I could really get used to this, although I’m sure the summers won’t be nearly as nice as they are in Seattle. I still plan to fly up every couple of weeks during the summer and throughout Husky football season.

The People

It seems like Seattle underindexes just a bit on the “outgoing” scale, while San Francisco overindexes. My theory on this is that since so many people in Seattle are from the region, went to school there, and have such comfortable living situations, they are less likely to seek interactions with strangers. San Francisco, however, much like New York, is more of a melting pot. People come here from all over, don’t have high school and college friends to congregate with all the time, and live in tiny matchboxes, so they are more likely to go out and meet new people.

The effect isn’t dramatic, but I notice it almost daily. More people make eye contact, more people say hello, and more people go out at night. It’s a nice change of pace.

The Design Community

I never really felt like part of the Seattle design or tech community, despite having been a de-facto member of it since about 1997. Perhaps it’s for the reasons listed above. People in Seattle generally seem more content to just do great work as part of their jobs, and then spend nights and weekends doing other things entirely, with other people entirely. The parties I usually attend in Seattle have very little to do with my profession or my colleagues.

In San Francisco, it seems like there’s a much tighter social relationship with one’s contemporaries. Some people don’t like to talk about work outside of work, but I’m not one of those people, so I quite like this dynamic. A lot of what I’m noticing could be self-fulfilling, however, as I’m new here and I may be subconsciously seeking out more community interaction than I did at home.

The Twitters

Where do I start!?

This place is amazing in so many ways, and perplexing in plenty of others.

Let’s start with the really good stuff: I’ve never worked around this many supremely talented people in my life. If you have a great idea here, not only can you find people willing to build it, but you can often find people who have already built parts of it. I feel like I have to preface each sentence I say with “Someone’s probably already thought of this, but…”. It’s a really great feeling knowing there is enough intellectual horsepower and willpower in this organization to envision and create the previously impossible.

The Design team in particular is one of my favorite things about my job so far. We are a diverse group, all having arrived here by wildly different means, and often with wildly different skillsets and perspectives on design. Since the company is so young and the team has exploded from a small handful of people to almost 40 in such a short period of time, most of us have been here for only a few years at most. Having been at Newsvine/NBC for almost seven years and ESPN for 5 years before that, I’m still getting used to the concept of a two-year employee being a “veteran”. In any case, I love my team and we’re about to go through a really great stretch.

Twitter’s new building is pretty amazeballs too. The space is beautifully designed, the food — complete with round-the-clock unlimited bacon — is fantastic, and it’s very conveniently located as far as public transportation goes. The only bummer is there is this annoying air horn at the construction site across the street that goes off incessantly.

On the perplexing side, I am amazed at how much happens here every day that I am completely unaware of. Perhaps it’s just the combination of me being new and the company being so big, but I feel like I know about 1% of everything that goes on every day. It feels like getting dropped blindfolded into downtown Tokyo. I fear that at any moment, someone could ask me a very basic question about something going on in the company and I would have no idea what they were talking about. I’ve been spending much of my first month learning everything I possibly can about all corners of the company in order to make sure that doesn’t happen.

The other interesting thing is the reshaping that’s going on right now as a result of how quickly the company has grown over the last two years. Increasing your staff 20% every year for five years is a growth plan most companies can easily manage, but increasing it something like 700% in only a couple of years creates all sorts of entropy. In the face of this sort of hyper-expansion, it can take awhile for people and even entire departments to find their sea legs. With such a dramatic influx of talent, however, also comes the opportunity to extend the product and the business into new areas, and that seems like what’s happening right now.

The other thing, of course, is managing technical and design debt effectively. If you’re like me, there is no shortage of things you wish Twitter would change, eliminate, add, or improve, and all I can say is: your lists are probably very similar to ours. I know this because I talk to critics all the time, and I was one before joining. Still am, actually:

The great news is that we’re on the same page, and we’re excited about moving Twitter forward as quickly as the universe allows.

#Onward

If you want to be part of the team and you’re interested in working on a product that, on any given day, has the potential to save actual lives, we’d love to meet you. We don’t care where you went to school or how big your previous gigs were. All we care about is how talented you are and how fun you are to be around. If you fit those two qualifications, please join us in helping shape the future of Twitter.

Like this entry? You can follow me on Twitter here, subscribe via email here, or get the RSS feed if that's how you roll.

7 Responses:

  1. Robert says:

    Thanks for posting this, it’s really interesting reading about your transition.

  2. Scott Phelps says:

    I cannot speak to living San Francisco or working for Twitter, but may comment on your Seattle musings.

    Coffee
    The local big boy in town makes coffee that tastes like a burned mess. It is not my taste. I have noticed the locals seem to order drinks that have coffee in them, but seem to be anything but sugar delivery vehicles with coffee added.

    Speaking of the natives…

    Curmudgeons and the Transplants
    As a non-native Seattle resident, I have found most to be incredibly outgoing. The majority of the people I meet are from elsewhere and are itching to make new friends. The city is full of people who hail from an amazingly diverse areas of the world, all usually very intelligent and well spoken.

    That said I am always happy to meet a native Seattleite, as their grumpiness and “let’s just stay at home” attitude reminds me why I rarely meet them. Seriously though, I rarely meet a native. Of the few I know, one of them built a house on the backside of Magnolia, in a neighborhood that shuns all public transportation and seems very secluded on purpose.

    I did notice the natives come out of hiding from July to August, usually to make snide comments at the tourists.

    I should mention that the majority of the people I’ve spent time with who are natives and tech-oriented seem to move to San Francisco. I ‘m sure as a native you’ve seen that migration happen as well.

    The Design Community
    I asked a Microsoft employee why I never saw any of them at Design events and the like. I was informed MS has a lot of internal events and the enormous number of designers they employ just don’t need to socialize in these circles (plus that pesky bridge between downtown and the East).

    It seems the lions share of tech workers in this town are Engineers and the kind of folks that make everything run, not really the design crowd. The designers I enjoy spending time with are usually very outgoing.

    San Francisco
    Is awesome.
    Wine county? Check.
    The tech hub of the world? Check.
    A small restaurant with grilled cheese that can cost over $15? Check.
    Full of tech friends originally from Seattle? Check.
    Less strip clubs than Portland? Probably.
    A house by the park? Probably not.

    Twitters
    I met you because of Twitter.
    Make Twitter better Mike, you’ll do a great job.

  3. Hoppy says:

    Great post Mike… I agree on the Seattle/SF social assessment. Love the quote: “It feels like getting dropped blindfolded into downtown Tokyo,” but not as much as “round-the-clock unlimited bacon.”

  4. Brade says:

    I can only hope your list of needed improvements is similar to mine, because the continued inability to sort followers/followed alphabetically seems like an aggressively purposeful “oversight,” not to mention the inability to “free our data” by being able to access all of our tweets quickly. (But I did read somewhere that someone high up at Twitter wants this to happen as well.)

    For all the talent currently at Twitter, it seems that improvements and enhancements are VERY slow to arrive. Facebook (despite the fact I don’t use it anymore, because I greatly prefer the brevity of Twitter) at least isn’t afraid to introduce fixes at more frequent intervals. Since Twitter is ostensibly a simpler app, I’d think that agile deployments would be less of a problem for you guys.

    I also continue to believe that Twitter “feels slow.” Each time I see a Twitter link to someone’s profile or particular tweet, I brace myself for a laborious loading process. I applaud the move away from front-end AJAX loading, but more certainly needs to be done to improve the speed. (Google’s search pages should be the target for page load times–they set the gold standard. The same can’t really be said for Gmail or Maps though.) Granted, I use Tweetbot for my normal Twitter activity, but of course still encounter Twitter links across the web.

    Anyway, thanks for the great update. Hope all goes well.

  5. Karen says:

    When did you start st twitter?

    What about the house you built?

  6. Jerry Firman oldfogey says:

    Mike, I am glad you are doing so well in San Francisco. I spent a few weeks there as a kid and I sure enjoyed the place. I will I could say something good about NV but I am sure you are aware of what is going on there. Sorry.

  7. Hey Mike — Curious how do you and the rest of the design team at Twitter evaluate prospective design hires and talent? What do you look at? What do you look for?

    Thanks,
    ~ Ross

Shared
Humanity's deep future:

A group of researchers at the Future of Humanity Institute talk about where our race may be going and how artificial intelligence could save or kill us all.

Steve Jobs speaks about the future at the International Design Conference in 1983:

31 years later, it’s safe to say this is one of the most prescient speeches about technology ever delivered. Jobs covers wireless networking, tablets, Google StreetView, Siri, and the App Store (among other things) many years before their proliferation. A fantastic listen.

How to travel around the world for a year:

Great advice for when you finally find the time.

LiveSurface:

A fantastic app for prototyping your design work onto real world objects like billboards, book covers, and coffee cups. This seems like just as great of a tool for people learning design as it does for experts.

50 problems in 50 days:

One man’s attempt to solve 50 problems in 50 days using only great design. Some good startup ideas in here…

How to Do Philosophy:

If you’ve ever suspected that most classical philosophy is a colossal waste of time, Paul Graham tells you why you’re probably right.

TIME: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us:

Stephen Brill follows the money to uncover the pinnacle of corruption that is the U.S. Health Care system. A must-read article if there ever was one.

DIY Dot Org:

A beautifully designed site full of fun and challenging DIY projects. I could spend months on here.

The Steve Jobs Video Archive:

A collection of over 250 Steve Jobs videos in biographical order

Self-portraits from an artist under the influence of 48 different psychoactive drug combos.

Water Wigs are pretty amazing.

David Pogue proposes to his girlfriend by creating a fake movie trailer about them and then getting a theater to play it before a real movie. Beautiful and totally awesome.

Jonah Peretti's letter to BuzzFeed’s employees:

If you’re wondering what a excellent blueprint for a modern media company looks like, look no further than Buzzfeed CEO Jonah Peretti’s latest email to his employees. In it, Peretti explains a lot of his company’s virtues, the most important being a relentless focus on always providing what’s best for the user. Vox Media (operators of The Verge) is the only other company I can think of which approaches this level of reform and execution.

The Covers Project:

I love this so much: a cross-referenceable database of cover songs, searchable by song or artist. Slowed down, acoustic covers — no matter the song — are so enjoyable to me that I wish it was a requirement to play one at every show. If you like them as much as I do, make sure to check out M. Ward’s Let’s Dance or Sun Kil Moon’s entire album of Modest Mouse covers.

“More and more people in this country no longer make or do anything tangible; if your job wasn’t performed by a cat or a boa constrictor in a Richard Scarry book I’m not sure I believe it’s necessary. I can’t help but wonder whether all this histrionic exhaustion isn’t a way of covering up the fact that most of what we do doesn’t matter.”
- Tim Kreider’s denunciation of the cult of busyness is excellent. (via jimray)