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Ask HN: 300 employees, what is Twitter doing with them all?
40 points by joshfinnie 2432 days ago | hide | past | web | 31 comments | favorite
Twitter just announced their 300th employee [1]. I thought I would extend the question to people who might know. What is a company like Twitter doing with 300 employees? Of course this is all speculation, but I feel 300 is just too much.

I would love to hear what everyone here thinks!

[1] https://twitter.com/#!/twitter/status/28816319556

Factors to keep in mind:

Twitter is a global, high-traffic operation with a pile of dedicated servers. It takes a lot of facilities staff to deal with that.

Twitter is an HA service that is trying to build a reputation for reliability. You need enough ops staff to keep a 24/7 NOC up and running and to deal with illnesses and vacations.

Twitter is in an explosive growth phase. They are quite likely to be employing lots of engineers on strategic projects. It can be a mistake to think of your R&D team as some kind of cost that you need to contain. R&D is an investment in the future. And Twitter has a lot of VC money to invest right now.

Not everything scales. In particular: Sales and customer service don't scale perfectly unless you deliberately engineer that from day one. For example, if you build Google Ads (and are able to compete with the original Google Ads) you can sell ads with Perl scripts. But traditional ad sales requires salespeople. Customers like to be talked to, they like to get their problems solved and their tickets closed by sympathetic humans. Depending on the various business models that Twitter is considering, they may need a bunch of sales people to negotiate deals with customers, and/or a bunch of systems integrators to help customers learn to process the data coming out of the firehose.

Twitter needs lawyers and moderators and ombudsmen. They receive DMCA takedown notices. They receive reports of threats and spam. People steal credentials and impersonate other people. There are privacy laws and telecom regulations. They have to deal with these things in multiple languages and around the world.

Just to give some deeper understanding of why sales doesn't scale: here at The Ad Agency, we're responsible for spending our clients' large budgets buying media from people like Twitter (I don't think we ever buy from Twitter, but we theoretically could). That process involves having Twitter come into our offices to pitch their platform to us, justify an investment, provide us with the tools to sell the idea to our clients, then provide us with ongoing account management to coordinate, implement, track, and report on the campaign. Ad agencies rarely do self-serve media buying, so media sellers need to pound the pavement in NYC to get big brands on their platforms.

Ad agencies rarely do self-serve media buying

And why is that, one might ask?

I'll take a guess: Companies hire ad agencies to pursue advertising strategies that go well beyond what's possible with self-serve media buys. It's not that you can't do a lot with self-serve media, or that there's not a huge business for such media. It's that ad agencies serve a different class of clientele, one that has bigger scope and bigger budgets. And, once the budget and scope grow beyond a certain point, it becomes worthwhile to have actual humans negotiate the deals. After all, negotiation is pretty difficult to automate, and most ads are not commodity products.

Well said. There are better "self-service" marketplaces for TV, where the media sellers have organized, but the online landscape is too fragmented. It would be inane for an agency to train someone up in "Twitter buying", so instead there are people trained in "media planning" (usually specialized in TV, Print, or Digital) who then coordinate with specialists at individual vendors (Twitter, Facebook, Google, other networks).

Ad agencies add value to their clients through strategy, creative, planning, and experience in execution. The actual serving of ads is largely a pass along expense, and therefore ripe territory for smart technology companies.

Pretty good list so I'll add:

The "sponsored tweets" need a sales team. Someone also needs to run metrics, analyze results, report back to the customers, etc.

When you start taking/spending a lot of money you suddenly need finance folks. Someone has to budgeting, analysis, cash flow projections, payroll, benefits, external reporting, etc. A company their size will need several accounting positions as well as a few tax people.

I can't believe I left out the finance and the HR and the office facilities. Those trash cans don't empty themselves. Those tax forms don't file themselves. And the employees that Twitter wants certainly don't recruit themselves.

Just sending your CEO out to raise money requires several people's worth of orchestration and supporting research and due diligence.

Nice reply, also gives a good idea on the complexities/challenges involved in scaling up a startup to global markets.


That's a list of all open positions, maybe that will help give an idea.

Nice to see that they have 20ish people on platform/API. That's about 3 times as many people as Facebook supposedly have on theirs.

... and it shows. Facebook's API and platform are terrible.

They have, for example, one person working full-time with relatives of deceased people.

That position was in Facebook and not Twitter. Read about it in nytimes i guess.

What does that mean? Deceased employees? Which kind of daily task does this guy have? http://everything2.com/user/ataraxia/writeups/Professional+m...

Dealing with the accounts of people who have died, handing them over to family members or shutting them down, etc.

Justifying their massive sale price to Google/Yahoo/Microsoft. You can't pay $3 billion for a company that doesn't have at least a few hundred employeees.

Alternatively, businesses can go the boring route and actually make enough profit to justify a $3 billion price.

quite often, in such company sales as well as in stocks/real estate and many other forms of investments, the sale price is a function of future earning potential. Of course, the future earning potential is not often the sole factor, but probably the single most dominant factor in the equation.

Even current profits/revenues are seen as an indicator of future health (along with being an indicator of current health) of the company.

$3 bil might not be much in the not too distant future. New markets that were not practically existent before or are far from being mature, are coming up online - read, india, china, brazil, south east asia and what not. Their online advertising industries have hardly developed, not that those in US or Europe have really matured. There's lot more to come.....

New models like twitter have shown quite a good capability in penetrating not only the developed markets, but also the developing markets. Of course, it still has a long way to go.

I expect a lot of them are in customer service/business development/lead generation roles.

Almost exactly half (150) are engineers, leaving the other half for the businessy roles.

People tells me that twitter guys are smart but it doesn't seems that way. They changed whole architecture again and again but there are still downs time by time. But that is another case. Anyway, with that point of view it might be required to collect some experience and ideas together to brought more stable product. But i'm sorry to say that if it is what they are thinking.. they are in the wrong way.

Same as Digg. Betting they'll be acquired.

I don't think you can compare rapid traffic growth and a traffic slump and call them the "same".

Digg is just a couple of years ahead.

Lets see where Twitter is in 2 years.

Digg used to be big and growing.

You know how when people count lines of code, and other people say it is a meaningless metric?

Number of employees is the same way. You can arbitrarily change the number by outsourcing non-core-business jobs. Like HR or payroll or whatever.

I don't think they have enough employees.

When I send them DMCA takedown notices, they only remove the content if I remind them 3 or 4 times. After weeks of reminding them, the content has been seen by thousands. That kind of defeats the purpose of them even offering to take down the content.

I hope they're re-releasing dabbledb for everyone to use...

Defending Sparta from the Persians.

--- Thinking out loud ---

There is yet a thing to come of twitter:

I design big systems; HQ campus networks, Hospital networks and systems, RFID/RTLS tracking systems etc...

Back at Lockheed in 2002 we talked about this untapped M2M information layer that was just becoming accessible.

We imagined that there was a ton of data, contextual and revealing about what human actions were, that was happening and going to exponentially happen at a machine to machine level...

this device is here, in this state, with this sensor data and tethered to this owner... etc...

Twitter is kind of this sub-meta layer of information that has emerged - but not about machines -- about the human psyche...

there is a lot to be said for the 140 limit -- think of it as a protocol spec for the machine enabled telepathy that is the internet.

take that paradigm and apply it to the M2M idea previously stated: use twitter as a platform (middle ware, much like Emergin) to deliver short context messages between social systems, in an automated way) and then mine the fuck out of it for intent, interest, trend, etc...

This is like using it to data(sift) mine the information users put into the twitdome to determine such things as stock prices, national satisfaction on [issue], etc...

the beauty is that much can be gleaned DUE to the fact that the inputs are of a known, limited size.

I theorize THIS is exactly why the library of congress has chosen/forced? the archiving of all tweets -- as it is immensely valuable for "opinion mining" a populous due to the fact that all entrants are limited to post in a small, set frame. (better be more informed than the populous you wish to control)

Thus the issues about mining are much more manageable.

Why don't you go start a company and show us how great you are at headcount?

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