Twitter engineer calls out Elon Musk for technical BS in unusual career move

Bro do u even GraphQL?

Updated When Elon Musk promised to improve Twitter's technical performance at the weekend, it was one of the company's own engineers who rubbished the new CEO's claims. Then a stampede of software engineers rushed in to support their comrade.

The famed SpaceX and Tesla entrepreneur posted a tweet on Sunday "to apologize for Twitter being super slow in many countries. App is doing >1000 poorly batched RPCs just to render a home timeline!"

Soon after, Twitter software engineer Eric Frohnhoefer decided to embark on a bit of career roulette. "I have spent ~6yrs working on Twitter for Android and can say this is wrong," he posted.

Musk returned: "Then please correct me. What is the right number?"

But perhaps it was not the number of RPCs, or remote procedure calls, that was the issue at all.

Further on, Frohnhoefer pointed out that his team had "done a bunch of work to improve performance" and agreed there was "plenty of room for performance improvements on Android." However, he added: "I don't think the number of requests is the primary issue."

"I think there are three reasons the app is slow. First it's bloated with features that get little usage. Second, we have accumulated years of tech debt as we have traded velocity and features over perf. Third, we spend a lot of time waiting for network responses.

"Frankly we should probably prioritize some big rewrites to combat 10+ years of tech debt and make a call on deleting features aggressively."

Asked again about the "right number" of RPCs, Frohnhoefer replied flatly: "Zero. The apps don't make RPC calls."

Though it was pointed out that it might not be a good idea to criticize your boss on a public platform, Frohnhoefer did have his supporters.

Responding to Musk's original post, software engineer Ben Leib said: "As former tech lead for timelines infrastructure at Twitter, I can confidently say this man has no idea wtf he's talking about."

Sasha Solomon, staff software engineer and co-tech lead of the core API platform team at Twitter, waded in, referring to the dramatic number of job losses among the technical teams. "You did not just layoff almost all of infra and then make some sassy remark about how we do batching[?]"

"Like did you bother to even learn how GraphQL works[?]," she said, referring to the query language which provides an approach to requesting data over HTTP.

Software engineer legend Grady Booch even joined the debate, saying the discussion provided "more evidence that @elonmusk is profoundly incompetent when it comes to leading an organization built around a software-intensive web-centric system at global elastic scale."

As if being rinsed on your own site by your own employees was not enough, news arrived of a continuing exodus of advertisers and high-profile users from the prominent social media platform since Musk's $44 billion takeover.

Meanwhile, fellow engineers used the spat as an opportunity to share jokes about making up nonsense to hear their management repeating it. "At [defunct medtech firm] Theranos, the engineers HATED [former president and chief operating officer] Sunny Balwani and would make up words just to see if they could trick him into using it. So, they kept using the phrase 'crazing' until he confidently repeated it."

Engineering jokes are of course as old as engineering itself, or at least that's what El Reg was told by a person still wandering around the warehouse looking for a long weight. ®

Updated to add

In news that will surprise no one, the Tesla tycoon earlier today said Frohnhoefer was fired, and the engineer confirmed, tweeting what appears to be him locked out of his company-issued Mac.

Calling out your boss on his own platform is what we would call a high-risk maneuver. We'll leave it to readers to decide whether this ultimately all due to Musk dunking on his own team in public, or an escalation by a programmer defending his work.

Solomon also said she was fired after her response to Musk.

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