Twitter’s Environment: Autonomy and Purpose

At Twitter, engineering teams have always had a lot of autonomy, and Senior Vice President of Engineering Chris Fry wants to keep it that way. At the same time, he sees the need for enough structure to keep everyone working together seamlessly.

Twitter HeadquartersTwitter has more than 1,000 engineers whose work in lightweight, Agile teams has gone beyond just maintaining the site’s reliability. And there are always new hires coming in who have to be brought up to speed quickly.

While some companies, such as Zappos and Valve, are doing away with managers, Twitter focuses on making managers “super effective,” Fry said. When people are promoted out of a technical role, it focuses on helping them make the transition into their new realm of responsibility. One way is CEO Dick Costolo’s “Leading at Twitter” class.

Fry stresses three things that help the company retain talent: autonomy, mastery and purpose. All that boils down to keeping work interesting. If employees find another team on which they’d prefer to work, they can move if that team agrees to take them on.

“I think of it as creating a free market for talent inside the company, because if you think of the sort of free-market environment for talent in the Valley that we’re in right now, everybody is recruiting engineers [constantly],” Fry told Re/code. “So you want to give people inside the company the same advantage by reaching out to people and giving them new opportunities.”

Twitter’s promotion policies are also a far cry from the stack ranking that Microsoft and other tech companies use.

“We do a lot based on peer feedback, and then promotions are evaluated by a team of engineers,” he said. “So it isn’t like managers pick people and say ‘these people are promoted.’ It’s really a peer-based nomination system rather than management-controlled, and that, I think, has the ability to drive a fair, more transparent system.”

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