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Reddit Chief Engineer Quits After Less Than Two Months on the Job (recode.net)
129 points by 001sky on July 14, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 143 comments

A recurring, and not-commented-on theme in each of these communications is that the board wants more growth. Reddit closed a $50MM round in fall of 2014, and has never had a strong monetization story.

If the investors came in expecting major growth (since this is not a business with a great monetization story) it's not surprising that there's pressure and turnover right now, almost a year later. And, it may well be that what's needed is a CEO with enough credibility to tell the board "you won't get that growth yet, we have some work to do."

Saying that to the board is obviously going to be hard to do for Ellen, or anyone in Ellen's shoes if they brought her in to deliver growth, and she promised to deliver that growth.

So, lots of drama, yadda yadda, but I would bet 100:1 that drama has, at it's fundamental source, intense pressure from the board, and I would also bet you that this kind of pressure is new for reddit as a company.

To me, that's likely at least some of the context for the rumors that Ohanian intervened directly to get rid of Victoria, the former AMA lead at Reddit. AMAs are one of Reddit's most visible branding / marketing measures. If you need to deliver growth, and aren't seeing it, it is completely natural to be looking at your premier product lines and trying to get them to do more. And, I would be surprised if this kind of thinking weren't informing senior management as they're struggling to deliver on these promises.

From the outside it looked more like Ellen was focused on improving the monetization prospects rather than focusing on growth. In particular, placing limits on abusive content and users would make the site more attractive to advertisers.

Firing Victoria fit the same motive -- monetize the most popular product (AMAs). Reddit leadership wanted to explore ways to monetize that feature, and for some undisclosed reason Victoria didn't fit with that plan.

The return of Huffman signals a shift back to the Cult of Growth, in the hopes that investors won't worry as much about monetization so long as the site is growing. One thing the board won't settle for is neither growth nor profitability.

Not that I disagree, but it's worth mentioning (for anyone who doesn't frequent reddit) that firing Victoria was apparently Alexis Ohanian's decision, and not Pao's[1][2], which suggests that the pressure is coming from the board and not an endeavor specific to Pao.

[1] https://www.reddit.com/r/technology/comments/3d6asv/former_r...

[2] https://www.reddit.com/r/TheoryOfReddit/comments/3d2hv3/kn0t...

I find it extremely rare that the board is not involved directly in every hiring/firing for startups under some sort of business duress.

Total tangent: I did not understand the outrage at reddit. The management clearly let her be thrown under the bus by the conspiracy wackos.

I don't know if reddit can still be called a startup. It's a decade old content aggregator business. That's like calling Facebook a startup in social media.

I thought they were still not profitable, which makes me use the term startup. I could be wrong though.

What I find intriguing is that fact that they have 160m unique visitors and over 7 billion page views each month, yet they generated less than $8.3m in ad revenue last year.

That just feels wrong, somehow...

People have been saying that about reddit for years. They overestimate "average" CPM by about 100x.

People don't pay a lot for ads, and when they do, it's only on a fraction of the page views.

Display advertising will not be reddit's "cash cow", it will be one pillar of many sources of revenue. The good news is, Steve and Alexis both know this.

Those figures always sounded surprising high to me.

The initial reddit page has one ad above the fold, but most detail pages have the ad placed way below the fold.

Whether or not everything you say is true, they should be generating more than $8.3m in ad revenue.

I should clarify that I worked at reddit and speak from experience and not conjecture. Selling ads on reddit is hard, I'm actually impressed that they made that much from display ads last year.

>In particular, placing limits on abusive content and users would make the site more attractive to advertisers.

I see no problem with this. I purposely avoid recommending or even mentioning reddit to the people in my life because of all the horrible content on the site. I won't promote these subs, but there are many, many popular racist subs and subs that promote violence against women and, hell, one that is dedicated to showing photos of dead women who were attractive in life. There's a creeper sub that shows candid photos of women on the street that pathetically skirts the rules by pretending its about "fashion."

My god, reddit is a mess. I can't ever imagine recommending advertising there. I can imagine videos games, e-cigs, energy drinks, etc advertising there as these things already have a lousy reputation, but reddit is not on the path of being this broad forum with lots of members with disposable income. Growth isn't impressive when its just more of the same, largely unprofitable, "manboy" demographic.

This is why USENET lasted so long and was so prolific amongst techies. It never had to make a profit. You could trivially start new "communities", etc. Reddit is pretty much USENET as web, but the problem is, someone has to pay for all those servers and staff. No one is donating or proving access as part of your shell account like they did back in the USENET days. I find it questionable that such forums would ever be profitable. I suspect the next gen reddit will be something that has more in common with torrent-like tech than old school client-server web tech.

> I can imagine videos games, e-cigs, energy drinks, etc advertising there as these things already have a lousy reputation

Holy hell, you need to walk outside your bubble a bit.

I tried not to make any judgement about the changes, just to analyze the motive. It has always been a Sisyphean struggle to sell ads on Reddit -- in large part because the content is so unpredictable. Whatever access they can provide for a brand to connect with a target demographic has to be weighed against the cost of being embroiled in controversy for advertising alongside the content that shows up on Reddit.

Given the ongoing narrative of a push for growth, the sacking of Victoria Taylor seems like even more of a bungle to me.

Last I heard the AMA mods are going it alone without admin support. The mods themselves previously said that the subreddit couldn't continue as it was without this support. Even if it somehow does, that leaves probably THE biggest growth tool at their disposal in the hand of unaffiliated volunteers.

If it flounders or doesn't operate as smoothly as they need, whats the next step? Try and reintegrate into the mods workflow?

Or worst case scenario, take over the subreddit entirely, which would be a massive change for the community in some ways, to have a major subreddit being run by employees.

Both Ellen Pao and Bethanye Blount mentioned the demand of growth, I just can not see a way the fallout from Victoria can be managed from this point towards that goal. Seems like such a colossal mismanagement, unless AMA's aren't part of their strategy, or they're planning on really shaking up the user/mod/admin dynamic.

It feels like reddit management totally forgot AMA is not operated by them at all. That's worrying - They do not pay the content creators and moderators in any way (and that's fine as long as they can rule their communities), but if there is the possibility of profit, they just assume it belongs to them and not to anyone else. I cannot explain what happened (absolutely no communication with the AMA mods) but with that kind of attitude. They just screw themselves over with that IMHO.

Most likely they thought a community member would pick it up. Of course they are aware that AMA is where the money is coming from, Pao used it as a monetization lead iirc.

Someone said they want Reddit to have 1 billion users.

That's nonsense!

Just imagine if you wanted to drive HN into high-growth mode. It would kill everything here.

If you take a community site (and Reddit is a community site, not a society site) and add people not in the same community mindset, you end up with twitter trending topic nonsense of six million middle school girls yelling for attention at boy bands.

People use Reddit (and HN) to get away from the bulk of the world, not to have the bulk of the world join them on their private anonymous message boards too.

Basically, Reddit can't massively grow without fundamentally changing it. At the core, it's just an online message board. Those have limited TAM based on topic+culture of the entire site. If you want a billion users, you don't have Reddit, you have ReddTwitBook+.

Source: used to work for a VC-funded niche online message board site that was unable to grow no matter what they tried. same pattern: promises of growth, no growth, management changes, promises of growth, no growth, etc.

Reddit is a community hosting site, according to some recent PR I read, so the idea is that, unlike HN or Twitter, you can create your own "Reddit", where you're part of 15-20 small HN-like communities.

HN could be on Reddit, for example (in theory).

In fact, that might be a good exercise -- what tools would have to be added to Reddit to emulate the HN experience for any given subreddit? This place is fairly heavily moderated by a vetted and trusted team put in place by PG himself, for example -- how do you emulate that level of quality in a moderator group, and then multiply it by the 10k or so subreddits? Maybe there's a way to get a slightly lower quality moderator that scales better, or something.

A Reddit user's "workflow" hasn't significantly changed in the past 8 or 9 years. Maybe that's the problem.

jbob2000 you're shadowbanned and your comments don't show up for most users.

where you're part of 15-20 small HN-like communities.

That's the problem though, right? The goal is to have one place to go. That's why posts on HN get read by billionaires and people living in homeless shelters—there's one source of "what's hot right now" ranked on the front page.

If you bifurcate your topics into 100 narrowly focused interest areas everybody individually subscribes around, you lose the inherent usefulness of being exposed to new topics you wouldn't have otherwise found. (it also provides a common social context around "did you see X today?" — you want to be part of the in crowd, so needs to see the same thing, and the same thing everybody sees has to be marginally useful/relevant)

In order to drive that communal "new things we all care about" feeling, you need a (loosely) coherent community, not just being surrounded by everybody who visits the DMV this month.

Well, functionally, that's the experience you get from Reddit via the "front page" -- all your little communities show up together, showing you what's "new".

Of course, the problem is now that those "little communities" have 3-4 million people in them, and are basically large cities.

The overall readership size isn't of great concern (the more the merrier), but it breaks down when people start interacting at scale. It breaks down when posts start getting thousands of upvotes or tens of thousands of comments. At that point, why bother?

Depending on where you step in Reddit, it's either steeped in a common shock culture (relate everything back to racism, sexism, nazis, 4chan dirty memes, ...) or just friendly nonsense. You never know what will show up where.

All this has happened before, all this will happen again. http://shirky.com/writings/group_enemy.html — http://blog.bumblebeelabs.com/social-software-sundays-2-the-...

You have to fit your thinking to fit the social masses because you can't manipulate the masses enough to fit your clever business model (unless you can demand monopolistic lock-in to force behavior).

>People use Reddit (and HN) to get away from the bulk of the world, not to have the bulk of the world join them on their private anonymous message boards too.

Actually, I think of it as the opposite. I go to Reddit to get the bulk, and other, more anonymous message boards to get away from it. Reddit is hardly anonymous (or private) - it's not attached to your real being, but you're definitely a well-documented member of their society.

>Basically, Reddit can't massively grow without fundamentally changing it.

I honestly do not want to be a part of a "massive-growth" or monetized Reddit. Growth is organic; attempts to inject artificial hormones into the site comes with a sacrifice. I believe that sacrifice is diversity and uniqueness, since knowing how to grow requires you to know what exactly your're growing, and it's hard to understand complex objects. So the leadership creates more rules, more restrictions on freedom in order to get a grasp on it. As a result, content becomes stale, groupthink rules, and the site looses its appeal.

I would venture a guess too that the AMA platform may start having sponsored content or there was some element in the shake up regarding that and people not wanting to take money for AMA's.

When you see celebs and other note worthy folks on there, they casually mention they have a new movie|book|thing coming out and they're there to AMA.

But as a PR tool, AMA can only go so far. How many rounds of anonymous internet questions can someone field before the audience exhausts anything interesting?

It's a free PR tool. Why shouldn't Reddit monetize it? Currently it costs the PR folks nothing to put them on Reddit, and gets them a decent chunk of exposure to a very-hard-to-advertise-to demographic.

That being said, I have no idea how you convince someone to pay for an AMA, or how to monetize it in general.

The belief is that if people are paying to have an AMA, then Reddit is more likely to censor questions and / or do things to make the guest look better. Instead of it actually being an Ask Me Anything where some guests get torn up with difficult questions, it becomes PR fluff. Based on what I've read, Victoria was strongly against requiring people to pay to have an AMA.

I don't think Victoria got fired for saying she wouldn't do the AMAs anymore if they tried to monetize them. That's something you can say publicly without much issue, and it's not something you'd probably fire someone over.

It's almost certainly something interpersonal/HR related that caused Victoria to actually be fired.

I don't disagree at all, but the AMA format is really a one and done for a single person. For example, there are some hilarious responses from Jose Canseco (US baseball player from 90's) - if he comes out with a new book or something - how will the community come up with questions to ask that will generate interest?

Also the fact that the demographic is hard to advertise to leads me to think they may have the PR firms promoting movies, books, etc. pay for the AMA rather than try to rely on ads and people clicking. This may have been the contentious thing about people leaving.

Right? That's where I landed, but then realized that there's no enforceable way to do that. Have the moderators/an admin ban all the posts on AMA by people who... what, can pay? Make AMA pay-only to submit there?

Nothing feels right for Reddit -- AMAs are such an offshoot of the platform anyway...

I do wonder if Victoria could do a website that is essentially all AmAs? Basically it would be another interview show with a bit of a twist.

Probably has a non-compete, among other things.

Most likely not. It's actually fairly difficult to enforce a non compete clause in California, to the point that most don't even bother trying. And besides anything useful in this case, would be way too broad to stand up in court anyway. It couldn't be anything preventing her from working at another internet, or media company and even, a clause about refraining from using the AMA format might not stand up either.

On the other hand, she was working out of their NYC office, SF is not a good location for PR work, they in fact relocated her from LA to NYC. These things can often turn into a race to the most favorable courthouse; then again what's a little more bad publicity for Reddit the corporation?

They aren't in that bad of a position. They already have $8.3 million. http://techcrunch.com/2015/02/18/reddit-charity/#.nwugnp:l4S... It's just a matter of growing the community and not pissing them off too much when they are able to successfully do so.

To repost my comment from a previous submission:

There's been a lot of meta discussion how Yishan Wong, Alexis Ohanian, and Ellen Pao have been talking trash to each other about Reddit and seemingly ignoring every NDA in the book.

The comments made in the linked interview trashing a former employer seem to perpetuate this culture. It's weird. (although if you're planning on starting your own startup after a bad job, burning bridges isn't as drastic)

It's /r/subredditdrama played out in real life. It has to promote the strangest company culture when your just-departed CEO has been suing another firm for gender discrimination in a wildly high profile and contentious court case (quite apart from the fact that it would take her gaze from reddit); when your previous CEO left in a huff after he wasn't allowed to move the office closer to his home; and when the founders hover in obscure and unclear board positions. And then talk trash about each other on the site that they all controlled at different points.

So many levels of meta oddness.

I know, right!?

I'll posit Occam's Razor here and say that it is likely just children being children. From what I have seen on the /r/subredditdrama board they really are just sniping each other. It's like Mean Girls and these people really need to get out more. I have not seen this level of immaturity in a long time.

However, my BS klaxon is screaming. These are major players in a top 25 website. They should be more cautious, or have people around them that will urge them to be more cautions (like some 'Memento Mori' roman serf). I feel they should know better; it all seems TOO childish. So, possibly there is an angle being worked here we are not privy to see as of yet. This one is going to take a few months to play out, but not before Halloween I figure.

"These are major players in a top 25 website."

This may indicate the business model is dead. top 25 but no ability to monetize because the business model died while no one was looking.

Think about it.. Consider a much more lofty position, like US News and World Report in the newsweekly market, they were top 3 at one point, out of business today.

Have to face the facts, the reason for lack of execution in the marketplace might be because the biz model is dead. Close up now, give the money back to the investors.

The general public liking something doesn't mean its a guaranteed success or a rational business model.

I agree that the biz model is struggling and that monetization is tough here. However, I was more talking to the maturity of the people there when mentioning a top 25 website. One would think the board would have hired people that are not so petty, but alas.

This is why what Sheryl Sandberg did at facebook is hard. Places like reddit and twitter are fundamentally successful products. The content creators, who are basically working for free, creating stuff that grabs other people's attention.

The whole recent controversy has been strange in general. There's this incredibly pervasive sense that the management in general is completely disconnected from the community, only stepping down from on high to dish out shadowbans.

I don't know what to think honestly, but it seems like the reddit administration is walking close to the cliff currently. Maybe the newOld ceo can turn that around.

They are fortunate that at present the core users (the people doing the vast majority of the moderating, submitting, and commenting) are somewhat captive, there isn't a logical successor waiting in the wings to shine. Thus far Voat, Snapzu, etc are far too immature for anyone to really switch to.

As long as that continues to be the case, the core will probably keep coming back short of literally pulling a Digg V4 and outright breaking the site/removing everything about it that people liked.


It'll be a while still before any competitor gets their act together enough to start siphoning users in a noticeable manner. So I'd say they've got quite a bit more room to go....but they are getting closer to that cliff.

HannibalLecter your comment is dead

It is weird, but when you consider the entire point of Reddit and its role in society, it's not strange that its gossip culture penetrated to its very core.

Even Sam Altman became furious and started talking trash to Yishan.

Though to be fair it was after Yishan accused him of perpetrating a "long con" to regain control of reddit.

That one kind of surprised me, I expected Altman to be above that.

    "The company is growing, and we have the opportunity to 
    improve in many areas — including the number of women in leadership 
    positions. I am confident in our ability to recruit women at the executive 
    level, as we have made a point to do so at Hipmunk, where more than half of 
    the executives are women."
I don't know about anyone else, but comments like that make a company less desirable as a place to work because factors like skill, talent, productivity and effectiveness become de-emphasized in recruiting and promotion relative to issues surrounding identity politics.

I don't see how permitting (or worse yet fostering) an environment where office politics or identity politics can flourish is a good thing. I am seeing identity politics issues creeping into decision making more and more often and find it positively toxic.

When you "make a point" to recruit/promote one group over any other on the basis of a demographic box they fit into, you are implicitly discriminating against people who don't fit into that box. Furthermore, when "making a point" goes so far that you've exceeded the 50% mark ("more than half are [insert identifier for someone that belongs to a particular group]") then that certainly qualifies as active discrimination.

I'm 100% in favor of equal opportunity, but ham-fisted hypocritical approaches like this are as bad as what they are trying to fix. Politicking in any form is toxic.

If someone created a petition to now remove Steve Huffman, I'd sign it.

I highly recommend this recent peer-reviewed academic study demonstrating discrimination in Academia:


There are so many subtle factors working against non-white-men that it's impossible to be totally aware of them all. Making a point of correcting (even if it's somewhat of an over-correction) is not a perfect solution but realistically its better than pretending there isn't an issue, or saying your for equality as if that's all it takes.

You'd vote to remove Steve because he said one are to improve is in having more women (i.e. more diversitiy of opinion and experience) in leadership positions?

It's not longer more. His "making a point" has already exceeded 50% by his own admission. That's over-correction and he doesn't see a problem in that?

I'm in favor of people who try to achieve equality. When you adopt a policy that results in over-correction and don't steer back to a position of equality, then the side effects are indistinguishable from the disease it was meant to cure.

Are the effects really indistinguishable? Ok maybe you have a slightly smaller chance of getting a job at Reddit. At least you can take comfort in the knowledge that in almost any conceivable institution or situation you're doing doing pretty well.

I'm assuming your a white man (like myself) but please correct me if I'm wrong. Point is: we've had a good run. If a few extra women get hired at Reddit, we're still doing pretty good in the balance.

I'm mostly white and adopt a cisgender disposition, but identify as agender.

If you think this is a change in attitudes that is isolated to just reddit and hipmunk then you haven't been paying attention.

There is someone with whom I work with or worked that often states/stated how much she hates|dislikes white guys|males|bros|dudes. Yes, those exact words or combination thereof. This happens/happened at least once a week if not more often. It is/was not even subtle or discrete. Sometimes these statements would be uttered aggressively in meetings with a bunch of people present. The culture in SV is such that everyone pretty much tolerates/accepts these statements. If the racial adjective where switched with any other to describe a different race and/or the gendered plural noun were switched for one that described women or anyone else on the gender spectrum, that person would already be talking to HR if not out the door already. Furthermore, this person is/was involved in hiring, which means it's likely gender is a consideration in hire / no hire decisions made. If this isn't toxic, then I don't know what qualifies as toxic.

Another example of the toxicity of this was when I saw Rena Kopelman (of the Kopelman Foundation) giving a talk about how to increase diversity and opportunity for under-privileged groups. I was totally on board with a lot of the talk until she start railing against efforts to making it easier for talented individuals with the right skills to emigrate to the US in search of better opportunities in the US technology industry. I don't see how an anti-immigration position does anything but further reinforce barriers that discriminate against those that didn't have the privilege of being born in the right country.

In terms of privileges, my gender and race have been very very minor advantages. By far the number one privilege I enjoy is having had the opportunity to become a native English speaker despite the fact that English was not my first language. I moved to the states when I was four years old speaking another language, but I moved here early enough that no one can tell I'm not American. Speaking English and not having and accent is many times more advantageous than my gender. After that the privilege of having moved to and grown up in the US comes next (growing up in Western Europe would have also been advantageous, but not nearly as much as growing up in the US for the career I have). Next up comes growing up relatively affluent. Far behind those three would be being mixed race, but mostly caucasian (I got enough Anglo-Saxon genes to dominate the South American genes). Well behind my racial makeup is my gender. I actually can't think of a situation where it was a factor in why I have the jobs I had. In my current job, I was referred to the recruiting department by a well known open source developer who works at the company. I got to know him and earned the recommendation by contributing to open source projects of his under a pseudonym.

If you are a US citizen (or Australian citizen because of the E-3 visa) and speak English natively, you are already far more privileged than most of the white males in the world in terms of getting a job in Silicon Valley.

Like I said in my other comment, my position here isn't about me or any privileges I personally benefit from, but about the environment that is being fostered that my children will inherit once I decide to have a family. If I were about 50-55 years old today, that could be my daughter that gets a position in academia due to her gender or it could be my son that is turned down for position in Academia due to his gender. My position isn't about "us having a good run" and trying to maintain that for my gender. I agree with the goals, but oppose the means being used to achieve it.

If you want to see other first hand examples of this toxicity in action, just go look up some op-ed pieces from The Advocate discussing the discourse around "white male privilege" from the perspective of a gay or bisexual white male. It's entirely possible to be a white male and know what it is like to be discriminated against. If you happen to experience discrimination for other reasons besides your race and gender, you become aware of how the current attitudes of trying to solve discrimination with discrimination is toxic and counter productive as it breeds resentment and opposition from those who would otherwise be allies.




I'm an ally of equality, but I am not an ally of those that adopt tactics to achieve equality like those being promoted by Steve Huffman.

How is it toxic if representation doesn't even equal general populace? Men are clearly getting in no problem. This isn't a case of over correction, it's about seeing if they can look past historical biases towards men and be more open towards hiring for the future.

The study you linked describes current faculty expressing a desire to bring it towards a balance.

I'm not sure where the toxicity is created.

"more than half of the executives are women" === over-correction

Would it be okay for a company to only hire women as executives since women are a minority of the executives in this industry? Technically that isn't over-correction using your definition.

    "The study you linked describes current faculty expressing 
    a desire to bring it towards a balance."
So if you've got XY chromosomes and you're finishing your post-graduate degree who is a solid candidate for a position in academia and that is where you want to work, then you're getting screwed right now through absolutely no fault of your own just because you happen to have XY chromosomes. That candidate is paying for the failures of past generations. Do you think that is fair?

That is exactly one company, not nearly a series.

... and?

FWIW, the litmus test I use to judge these things like what Huffman is engaging in is not my own self interest, but the self interest of my kids when I choose to start a family. I have a basically 50/50 chance of having a boy or girl. If I have a girl, I don't want her to inherit the world we have. If I have a boy, I don't want him to inherit the world we're creating.

I hate to argue morals over the internet but this policy can make economical sense. If you're willing to assume that companies (including your own company) (unconsciously) discriminate against women then it makes sense to actively recruit women. Demand for women at a particular level will be lower so you get more for less.

    "Demand for women at a particular level will be lower so 
    you get more for less."
I don't think that is your intent, but it sounds like you are you proposing that an equally qualified woman hire be paid less than their male counterpart.

That said, demand is not less. Demand couldn't be higher. I haven't worked anywhere in Silicon Valley that didn't wish that they had more female employees and more female candidates, especially for engineering positions. The problem isn't demand, but (1) supply and (2) the fact that most people have no idea how to find qualified women who are in the industry.

I won't comment on any particular one of my past employers or current employer, but I have worked at companies that really struggled with the latter. It's a hard problem to solve that is really demanding of attention to succeed at. Furthermore, when you're trying to get traction, foster growth and improve your product, you don't have time to focus extra effort trying to hire one particular demographic in the current job market. Right now, everyone is struggling to find and recruit any qualified engineers regardless of whatever demographics they might happen to represent.

My comment wasn't meant to be normative but I can actually imagine an employer doing so while playing the CSR card. Maybe not in SV but any place where talent is not that scarce: sure.

I highly doubt that Reddit leadership is/will be responsible for their massive rise or fall in popularity. The people have coalesced around this platform in such numbers that as long as the most basic needs are met for the community to thrive, they will continue to thrive. The few who leave because of this executive turmoil or changes in moderation have already been supplanted by new users who enjoy the system as it is today.

People thought the same about Digg.

That said, I do agree that it will take more than just community / company politics to have a big impact, but if Reddit is pushing for growth and make enough missteps in the actual functionality of the site, that combined with the already unhappy userbase could spell trouble in my eyes.

So features were promised that she can't deliver on schedule. Was engineering not consulted before publicly committing to features? If so I'd probably quit too.

Just before her departure Pao set up a process to figure out with the mods what features to build.[1] Did something go terribly wrong with that process? Was engineering approval not required?

[1] https://www.reddit.com/r/announcements/comments/3cbo4m/we_ap...

The way she describes it, it was a sensible choice. Various things are being promised that she, as Chief Engineer, does not think will happen. Given what happened with Ellen Pao it's not unreasonable for her to assume that responsibility for those failures could easily be put on her when the inevitable happens.

What's the point of being a Chief Engineer if you can't even get some software (the mod tools) written? That seems like an awfully low bar for someone in that position, and to throw in the towel after she barely started seems to speak more to her character than any problems with Reddit.

I mean... you hire someone for a top technical position and they quit when the first bump comes along? That's ridiculous.

I would guess it's more like "I will be building out the product we needed all along, but now with intense board scrutiny, half the budget I wanted, a quarter the timeline we need, and a new CEO (who I may not like). I'm rich enough that I don't have to put up with this shit. See you guys."

Yeah, I don't blame her at all for leaving. Reddit seems like an incredibly poorly run company.

> and a new CEO (who I may not like)

Spez isn't just a "New CEO" he's the original programmer, CEO and co-founder of Reddit. He understands the community more than anyone could fathom someone could. Of all choices I think he's the best choice.

He's focusing on bringing better mod tools, so being the technical lead, I'd be excited for these bumps coming up, not running away with my tail between my legs.

Honestly, if I were Chief Engineer the idea of the original programmer becoming CEO would be a potential nightmare.

I think Spez is a good choice, probably the best choice, but remember that he's been working on a different, unrelated startup for 5 years now. A lot changes in 5 years. The Reddit community now absolutely isn't the Reddit community that existed 5 years ago, the Reddit codebase isn't the same as it was 5 years ago, the Reddit employee base and corporate structure isn't the same. It'll be interesting to see how well he adapts to the situation as it is now.

> That seems like an awfully low bar for someone in that position

Given that Reddit has repeatedly said "our infrastructure/codebase is super-complicated" every time users have complained about server stability and the lack of features, that might actually be the truth, and being Chief Engineer is a task that's doomed to fail.

The schema was written by Tony the Pony in collaboration with Zalgo. Everyone I've ever known to look at the codebase ran away screaming with bleeding eyeballs.

whoo boy, I recently did a contract job deploying a clone of reddit (directly using their source code on Github), and yes... it is a gigantic mess of ugly crap code and bizarre design decisions. I'm kind of surprised it works as well as it does.

It was last designed eight years ago and the design hasn't changed much since. It's not surprising that you found it messy.

Unless she got in the position, took one look around and realized there was no way to get to the goals stated... in the long term, better to move on, do something else than get stuck with the bag of poop once the musical chairs are done.

I have no idea what's going on inside reddit, just my two cents / devil's advocate thing.

A Chief Engineer still has a budget, a CEO and a board to answer to. The budget is especially important - if a promise is made to deliver X and Y within six months but you can't hire enough developers to get it done then even the most talented Engineer in the world is going to fail.

So move the dates. These things aren't set in stone and part of her job is to convince the board and everyone else what is realistic and what isn't, convince them that X requires Y budget and Z time and what the risks are and that the investment is worth it and so on.

It's possible that she resigned after she tried that and they blew her off.

True, and if that's why she left that's fine with me.

You'll be pleased to hear that she really values you being fine with it, as do we all.

spez the CEO has made public time commitments for certain updates.

You have no basis on which to attack her character. Circumstances have changed significantly since she started. Why is your first assumption that she's weak? Victoria was fired for standing up for users. Maybe Bethanye was being put in a similar position and wanted to leave on her own terms rather than compromise her ideals.

He now, I'm not attacking her character, and I'm not calling her weak.

What I'm saying is that there is no possible way anyone in that position, in that span of time, with all the personnel changes going on, could possibly understand the problem well enough both in technical terms and in terms of the management and resources and budget, to come to a reasonable conclusion that it's just impossible.

Now, perhaps there is something else going on, like you said, and in which case, well, that's her decision and right to do whatever she wants. But that's not what she's saying.

She may well just have no confidence in reddit's current leadership, of course. Given the recent amazing behaviour by the founder and various ex-CEOs, that would hardly be entirely unreasonable. The whole thing looks like a complete mess.

IMHO, a couple of months is plenty of time to survey a codebase and a company's political landscape.

It's possible she liked what pao was doing and she did say outright pao was setup (glass cliff) and "indirect" gender discrimination at play.

So, just sayin' what she may be sayin', it's not the technical, but social problems at play.

there is not only the fact that they need to be developed... if I remember correctly they gave dates to have them in production. maybe she felt she could not have them done on time.

3 female employees gone from the Reddit team in such a short time. This could create the probably false perception that Reddit seems like a hostile working environment for women. I wonder what they'll do to address this probably false perception.

I think they've turned over something like a third of their workforce in the last nine months. It isn't just these people leaving, though they've certainly been the most public.

The media seems to like the gender war angle - the cynic in me wonders how many news stories have been written about the male employees who have left.

Well, the women who've left have been more prominent, by and large. In the case of Pao and Taylor, they were also extremely abrupt. The guy who organised the secret santa thing got some press, though.

There was that leukemia guy a couple weeks ago.

I'm not sure it's doing the anti-sexism effort any favors that we're turning anything related with women into a sexism case.

You know what's an equally likely reason that three women are gone from reddit? Reddit was employing many women, so when people leave, naturally some of those will be women.

It doesn't look like anyone was fired or made to quit because she's a woman, so let's not play the sexism card just yet.

Maybe it had absolutely nothing to do with gender?

Honestly, it sounds like Bethanye dodged a bullet by getting out now.

I know exactly what they'll do: nothing.

Pao is the only one of the three who left for any reason that might be gender-related, though.

And, yeah, the harassment of Pao was very misogynistic -- and racist to boot (people were calling her a "ching chong cunt") -- but there's nothing to indicate that the other two had any problems due to their gender.

I like the idea that the CEO can resign in a hailstorm of racist and misogynist vitriol but that subsequent departures won't have anything to do with gender.

It's kind of important to realize that those same users were angry at her for getting rid of a different woman. That was the trigger, being upset about a well-liked woman being fired with no warning.

That kind of destroys your premise, IMO.

The vitriol is terrible, but that's more a function of people being angry on the anonymous internet and saying whatever inflammatory things they can come up with to express that.

This would be clever had Pao been the person who fired Taylor. Wait, no it wouldn't. But either way, Pao's boss fired Taylor.

The only person claiming Alexis was responsible for firing Victoria was Yishan who hasn't worked there for 8 months and he based that on the fact that Alexis is Ellen's boss so he's ultimately responsible. Former employee kickme44 pointed out that Alexis actually reported to Ellen, despite his role, and Yishan then back peddles on his claims somewhat.

The fact of the matter is that we just don't know how or why Victoria was fired and we will likely never know. Everything so far is just speculation.


No. Long before Yishan's post, Ohanian posted on Reddit saying he both owned the reorg of AMAs and flubbed the transition with Victoria Taylor. It's not speculation. Consider also that by Ohanian's own direct words, the chairman of Reddit had an operational role over one of the most visible parts of the site. Pao was in a situation that would have been difficult to manage even if things had been going smoothly.

When Victoria was fired, the _perception_ was (possibly incorrect, as we know now) that it was Pao's decision. Not unreasonably, since most personnel decisions below the CEO are made by the CEO. So the original premise still stands.

Pao's most vocal detractors "perceived" all sorts of crazy things, from malicious edits (ranging from comments about Pao's husband to moderation of stories about the Trans Pacific Partnership) to a holy crusade against just the kinds of hate speech Pao didn't like, so no, I don't think I'm required to accept the argument that in this case, perception is nearly as important as reality.

No, I do not believe you have established with evidence or reason that the original premise of this subthread still stands.

1. A well-liked/respected employee is abruptly fired. 2. In most businesses, the CEO does all the firings (or is responsible). 3. I liked the fired employee, I thought she did a great job, therefore I am angry at the CEO.

Are you saying you need to be a crazy/malicious person to follow the above logic? Are all the 250K people who signed the petition crazy or malicious?

No, (2) is true of virtually no businesses of any meaningful size! Certainly in most companies of Reddit's size --- over 60 employees --- managers reporting to the CEO have hire/fire.

I wasn't the CEO of Matasano, and I fired people. And Matasano was not a big company.

Finally: people keep talking about Victoria Taylor as if she was somehow a key employee of Reddit. She probably was, but not by design. It was probably mismanagement of the AMAs that resulted in a single project manager becoming one of the most visible people in the most visible part of the site. At any rate: who was responsible for the operational organization of AMAs? Alexis Ohanian.

She probably was, but not by design. It was probably mismanagement of the AMAs that resulted in a single project manager becoming one of the most visible people in the most visible part of the site.

I interpret most of what happened very similarly to you but this part I think can't be right. Her original title was 'Director of Communications', it wasn't someone who started in the copy room and, by grit and luck, quietly ended up running one of the most popular subreddits. If the board is pestering you about growth, the chairman is back and has new plans for AMA, the AMA-person is about to be no-notice insta-fired on a Tuesday by said chairman, you probably know who that person is and what they do. If 'reddit didn't know who they were firing' is plausible then much of the stuff the crazies are saying would be plausible too.

Have a link handy? I can't find it. My memory was he's said a lot of things like "we messed up" and "we could have handled it better". Nothing that says he personally is responsible.

The post that the comment you linked to is part of has a link to the clearest statement he made about it:


(It's also linked in the top reply to the parent post of your linked comment, but it is not visible in the context= view)

I'm looking at the text I was talking about right now. You can find it, or take my word that I'm not making it up, but if you're going to debate this particular issue with me, I'm going to ask you to do your own homework. :)

You made the claim. I provided a link with my own claim because it's the polite thing to do and furthers the conversation.

It's just a pattern (not with you, but with message board arguments):

1. Person X stridently argues a position contradicted directly by the record, which they haven't taken the time to read.

2. Person Y rebuts X.

3. X demands a source from Y.

4. Y sources their rebuttal.

5. X recapitulates argument based on dubious, nitpicky reading of source, pretending they'd known the source was flawed all along.

The problem isn't that providing sources makes it harder to win arguments with lazy people, it's that it tends to introduce a second argument, over the interpretation of the source, as a smokescreen for instability of the first argument. It gets tedious.

I'm not saying that's what you did, just that I've been conditioned by message board nerdery to expect that to happen.

In this case, you can if you'd like just take my word for it that Ohanian took responsibility both for the reorg of AMAs and for the handling of the Taylor transition, not in a tea-leaf-reading way, but directly and overtly, prior to Yishan Wong's post, and in a public Reddit comment.

One of the joys of the web is being able to easily cite and read sources (it was the whole point of hypertext). Sure, we could all just discuss and debate by shooting from the hip with our opinions and recollections like we are at a wine-fueled dinner party but that's not why I come to Hacker News.

I wasn't trying to win or even have an argument with you. I was just trying to better my own understanding of the situation. I hadn't seen Alexis write that and couldn't find it despite spending way more time than I should be reading about reddit drama.

I don't know who you are or why I should take your word for it. I don't know why you'd expect me to take your word for it. That's something you do for people you know in person and trust, not strangers on the internet. That'd be a terrifying prospect if that's how we all did things online.

I, too, have noticed a pattern:

1. Person A writes something about a topic.

2. Person B writes about how bad something is which is related but orthogonal to the actual topic.

3. Persons C...Y have a heated debate of the orthogonal topic.

4. Person Z writes thoughtful comments about the topic but nobody reads it because the meta debate has drown out the actual topic.

A good name for it might be The Hacker News Comments Pattern. I'm not saying that's what you were doing.

I'm not following. What's the orthogonal (B) point?

(I seriously wasn't saying you were trying to bait me into giving you more ammunition for a stupid argument, but I'm pretty sure you really are implying that I introduced a bogus topic.)

> No. Long before Yishan's post, Ohanian posted on Reddit saying he both owned the reorg of AMAs and flubbed the transition with Victoria Taylor. It's not speculation.

That doesn't dispute the fact that Ellen was CEO and Ohanian's boss. He might have been responsible for the reorg, but as CEO, Ellen was ultimately responsible. Unless you think the CEO had no power.

No, you have this backwards. Ohanian was Pao's boss.

That's why it's so weird he took an operational role in the company.

> No, you have this backwards. Ohanian was Pao's boss.

You based this on what specific information? The only insider information I read about this suggested that Pao was Ohanian's boss. Regardless, I still assert as CEO, Pao is the one responsible, and she had options to not put herself in that position.

Ohanian is Reddit's chairman.

Racism doesn't need a legit reason

Do you have a reason to claim that Bethanye is lying?

No, and I object to the argument that I said anything of the sort. If you want to debate things with me, please don't start by imposing inflammatory and stupid positions on me.

> No

So then there is no reason to believe that her leaving has anything to do with gender.

> and I object to the argument that I said anything of the sort. If you want to debate things with me, please don't start by imposing inflammatory and stupid positions on me.

I'm not the one that started by posting an inflammatory comment that suggested Bethanye left because of gender issues. If you didn't mean to suggest that Bethanye left because of gender issues, your comment should be corrected.

You mean apart from the concerns she brought about about gender?

Yes, apart from the quote where she specifically backs up my assertion: “I wouldn’t say my decision to leave was directly related to my gender.”

Please, share with me her quote contradicting that saying that her leaving has to do with gender.

Why are people downvoting this comment?

I think it wat the automatic assumption made in it before it was edited. Women leave and join companies all the time, why should three women leaving reddit automatically make it an 'unwelcome place for women'?

Are you suggesting Bethanye is lying? Her reasoning for leaving has nothing to do with being a women, and everything to do with being a smart engineer who won't take shit. Remember, Ellen was instituting policies to make the place more equal for woman.

Frankly, this has nothing to do with being a woman at Reddit, and everything to do with Reddit seeming like a hostile working environment. It just so happens that these 3 people are woman.

This is a very interesting departure.

I understand that in the media, especially with the litigation around Pao and the scarcity of women in leadership and technical positions in high tech, that this would take over much of the discussion. Bethanye also mentioned a "glass cliff", so it's reasonable that this would be a big part of the discussion.

I am very interested in Bethanye's business-related decisions to leave as well, though. I'm nowhere near her level in any corporate hierarchy, but I am very frustrated with how difficult it often is for engineers, even senior or director (or "chief engineer") level tech workers to operate with the level of autonomy and decision authority that is often explicitly promised.

Maybe when the dust settles, if people are still interested, a journalist will have the opportunity to talk with Ms Blount about this. As a dweller on the lower levels of the hierarchy, although with "senior" in my title and all kinds of autonomy spelled out, I can see now that aggressively asserting this kind of autonomy is essential to a strong career, and you need to be prepared to 1) fight it up the chain, and 2) walk away, if other wings of the business try to cram you in a box and tell you that your job is purely to execute a technical vision that may collapse, and the upper level decision makers don't have your back.

Unfortunately, low on the ladder often means fewer options, which makes it harder to fight this fight. Higher usually means better severance, stronger networks, a better chance of a good placement in the next gig.

Anyway, as an engineer, this is the conversation I'd really like to have… though again, I understand that the issue of women in technical and managerial positions is also very important (and isn't necessarily unrelated, either).

Blount also said she believed Pao’s exit was an indirect consequence of gender discrimination

Sounds like she backed the wrong horse.

Apparently reddit has 71 employees. I would really like to know why reddit needs that many employees. It looks to me like an operation of maybe 20 people at most. That includes devops, engineering, social stuff and ads.

Alexa ranks reddit at 24. The other user content focused stuff high on the list are:

2. Facebook (10,082 employees)

3. YouTube (a lot of employees)

6. Wikipedia (~250 employees)

8. Twitter (3,900 employees)

13. LinkedIn (7,600 employees)

15. Sina Weibo (unknown employees)

24. reddit (71 employees)

30. Tumblr (306 employees)

32. Imgur (<50 employees)

Given this, I think it's rather impressive that they only have 71 employees (imgur is impressive too).

Given this, I think it's rather impressive that they only have 71 employees (imgur is impressive too).

In that context, I agree it's impressive. I still don't understand why would one need so many people considering there's next to none (except AMA, and that's gone) interaction with users on site. Code definitely doesn't need that many people (I know this firsthand, because it took me ~two months (less) to make a complete clone from scratch with all of the functionality of reddit for internal use and I'm not much of a coder anymore). Devops might be hairy, I admit that - but even with shifts and redundancy... I've seen sites with much more monetization in ads run on 10 sales people or less. So genuine question is still here, what do these people actually do?

I understand facebook is all over the place and is a lot more than meets the eye on their site, so I can understand their headcount. I can see that with youtube as well, especially if they curate some of the content. Reddit is, well, reddit - next to no interaction with userbase, third party ios app they bought (or something), no android app, codebase already built and not all that hard to build anyways, they did build reddit gold (how much of an effort is that anyways)... and we're left with devops. I'm sure most of those 71 people aren't even technical to begin with and they struggle with ads. I genuinely do not understand need for that many people on board considering the impression of what they do.

To be fair, Facebook tends to hire 1 engineer per 1000 lines of php code.

What's that quote about when Digg invited them to lunch awhile back? That Digg had a few floors, and were blown away by the fact that Reddit's staff could fit in a car?

I'm guessing the old Reddit guys aren't touching this comment section with a 10 ft pole, but they tell it better than what I just wrote. I wish I could find the comment...

> I'm guessing the old Reddit guys aren't touching this comment section with a 10 ft pole

I'm a glutton for punishment. :) The comment was that they were shocked that the entire reddit team fit in a Toyota Yaris, including the beer we brought.

From what I've seen, being a CEO, CTO, etc is almost inherently a glass cliff. You either keep things running smoothly or you will get let go.

Besides, Ellen wasn't even fired. She resigned no?

Ellen Pao resigned under intense pressure from the site's users. There was a petition with 250,000 signatures calling for her resignation, and a board which (according to media reports) was essentially letting her take the blame for unpopular decisions she had not made.

Her position was therefore untenable, even ignoring the vile racism and misogyny directed her way by the worst of the reddit community.

The change.org petition got to 213,446 supporters when it was stopped shortly after her departure. Not need to exaggerate the facts to express an opinion.

"Resigned" is how executives get fired.

So, I used to work at a company where the VP of Engineering actually declined to take the resignation option. I'm not naming the company or any of the people involved, partially for their privacy, and partially in case I misremembered some of the details (this was five and a half years ago).

A little background: at this company, "engineering" included not just development and QA, but also customer support, IT, and shipping & receiving (but not documentation or product management, both of which were under marketing). Also, for some reason, the operations people of our offshore office also reported to the VP of Engineering instead of our corporate management. He had a lot of power just based on of how much of the company reported to him.

The VP basically turned the technical side of the company into his own personal fiefdom. He took the idea of acting as a filter (which is a good thing) and took that to such an extreme that he was acting as a brick wall (which is a bad thing). It was almost impossible for product management or sales to find out what we were doing, and we were mostly kept in the dark and drip-fed small details about the business side of things. Worse, he would start projects without the rest of the company's knowledge and tell us the order to create them came directly from the board (in reality, he was trying to impress the board). At one point, he conceived a project, sold it to a customer, and then started development all without sales, marketing (including product management), or the CEO knowing about it.

Eventually, the CEO had enough and asked him to resign. He gave the VP a month to announce his resignation and leave. Guess what? The VP just sat on it and acted like it was business as normal. A month later, the CEO had him walked out first thing in the morning and had one of his most loyal executives distribute the new org chart containing a massive amount of changes to prevent so much of the company from being centralized under a single VP ever again.

(In case you're wondering, the company has since had a successful exit, by the way.)

Well, "resigned by mutual agreement" which isn't quite the same thing.

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