Elon Musk’s delusional fixation on code at Twitter.

On Friday afternoon, we uncovered that Elon Musk experienced asked any of the Twitter staff members who “actually publish software” to “email [him] a bullet place summary of what your code commits have attained in the previous ~6 months, alongside with up to 10 screenshots of the most salient lines of code.”

As VP of technological know-how at Slate, my 1st assumed when I read this was “what a huge squander of engineering time.” Next only to “that’s a ton of bullets to read through.”

“Code commits” in program growth are the modifications that engineers make to a code base. Generally, program engineers use methods named “version control” that preserve keep track of of the alterations that they make with notes about why they produced them (form of like “Track Changes” in Microsoft Word). Commits in isolation can be very uninteresting. For instance, here’s just one of mine from a couple of days back:


Greg Lavallee

As you can see, this code dedicate adjusted the phrase genuine to false for a configuration of an advert in a person of our newsletters. Definitely gripping things!

Not all commits are one particular line. Some commits are big! To ship a seriously massive element on a web page or application, you could transform thousands of traces of code. Of class, most software package engineers will notify you that this is a horrible observe. Ideally, code alterations touch as couple strains as possible so that when goods inevitably have bugs, it is easier to keep track of down which commit caused the difficulty and isolate the dilemma.

If we squint and put on our CEO-of-also-a lot of-organizations hats, we can form of visualize what Musk’s hoping for with his ask for. It’s like a self-evaluate for software program engineers. If you ignore the “code commits” part, you could examine this as him inquiring engineers to talk about their achievements. But we just cannot ignore that “code commits” part for the reason that then he followed it up with an check with for screenshots.

Getting judged by your capability to self-advertise is a time-honored American oversight, but including judgment of screenshots of your code by a dude who has never fully commited to your code base is an more stage of dumb. There are several issues with the thought of hunting at a screenshot of a piece of code and then making use of it to decide an engineer’s abilities.

Very first, Musk lacks the context for why the code was published at the time it was prepared and who was creating it. Code published at the last minute to fulfill some advertiser’s distinct ask for is heading to be a ton distinct than code ensuing from a multimonths exertion to re-architect a technique. Code prepared by a junior engineer likely will not be as terse as a senior developer’s code.

Code that is undergone only one particular iteration will likely look worse than a much more mature product that is been designed around time. Frequently, the initially commit for a feature is the most straightforward variation that lets a merchandise team take a look at no matter if it will work—not no matter if it is scalable or bulletproof. Should engineers present that to Musk, or is he following mature code that can make him say “wow”?

There is also the matter of coding design and style. As we say in software package development, There’s More Than A single Way To Do It (or TMTOWTDI, pronounced tim-toady). In follow, groups will typically acquire chosen techniques to do factors to preserve there from being a dozen variants of the similar simple ideas. Some teams are at ease with terseness where a large amount receives performed in one particular line of code (like checklist comprehensions in Python, for illustration). Other teams will flag cleverness in the course of code assessment as difficult to read and a entice for additional junior programmers when they’re introduced to the code base. Would Musk comprehend these tradeoffs as he flips as a result of hundreds or 1000’s of screenshots on his mobile phone when he flies all over in his private jet?

Even extra fraught, in most true code bases, the exact files are touched by dozens if not hundreds of unique developers over time. One particular screenshot is incredibly very likely the conglomeration of hundreds of code commits above a dozen decades.

This very last point is, maybe, the biggest pitfall to Musk’s tactic and telling of what he does not seem to be to fully grasp at Twitter. Code is prepared by teams. Musk is inquiring for displays from persons. Lots of of the engineers at Twitter have worked there a extended time with the identical teammates. They’ve developed camaraderie, lifestyle, and a way of carrying out items.

As of Friday night, this conference could have previously taken location. I just can’t support but surprise how this truly went. Did he check with engineers to get up in entrance of just about every other and reveal their screenshots? Have been they even allowed into the setting up? Did he truly get any value out of this or was it a loyalty exam?

In Oct, there ended up reviews of Musk authorizing Tesla engineers to assessment Twitter code. Bringing in senior engineers who produce application for autos due to the fact they are “10x programmers” is not automatically going to make a staff much more successful. In fact, it might have the opposite influence as those extra familiar with the merchandise sense sidelined or like they have to squander their time making an attempt to demonstrate the context for all their coding choices to a person who is in all probability aching to style code and not hear to their explanations.

Musk is plainly going with what he is aware (code) and not what he ought to be operating on (culture). Assuming that he can go through the code of Twitter’s program engineers and use it for any form of determination earning is pure hubris. But what did we be expecting? This is Elon Musk. He will likely keep on to plow headfirst into Twitter pushing any person out of his way that pushes again. He’ll glance at a space complete of engineers and silently choose them mainly because he’s certain he’s the smartest just one in the area all the even though puzzling cleverness with wisdom.

Just like Musk said in December 2017, I really like Twitter. I hope it doesn’t go absent. I’m still not guaranteed I entirely realize what desires fixing about it. But if he thinks Twitter is going to code its way out of its difficulties or that code was the problem with Twitter in the 1st spot, he’s acquired some surprises ahead of him.

Long run Tense
is a partnership of
Slate,
New America, and
Arizona Condition College
that examines emerging systems, community plan, and society.