Former Twitter employee Claire Diaz-Ortiz
She has one of those single-name Twitter handles that signals either an early adopter or — in this case — an early Twitter employee.
@Claire, or Claire Diaz-Ortiz as she's known IRL, started as an intern with Twitter way back in 2008 and was using the service as early as 2006 — back when people still used SMS to Tweet, and the hashtag #4040 was commonplace for DMs. Now, six years on, having written a book, guided a pope to his Twitterification and helped in the live-tweeting of a birth, Twitter's head of social innovation is hanging up her blue wings and moving on.
— Claire Díaz-Ortiz (@Claire) December 3, 2014
Mash managed to catch the 32-year old mother of two, who now lives in Buenos Aires, on the way out of Twitter's virtual door for her first public exit interview.
Her answers to my emailed questions offers some rare insight into a company that's only really opened up since it launched its IPO a year ago. Diaz-Ortiz has seen much from the inside: the ups (explosive growth), the downs (post IPO pressures), Ellen's celeb selfie, the miracle on the Hudsontweet, and everything in between.
Diaz-Ortiz, who gave her newborn daughter a Twitter handle (@lucia) at birth (her foster son has one, too), peppered her responses with, naturally, all the necessary Twitter handles.
When did you start at Twitter?
2009 [as a full employee; Diaz-Ortiz interned with Twitter in 2008, and joined Twitter as a user in 2006].
What brought you there? What did you study in school, and what was your background?
I studied anthropology in undergrad and grad school at Stanford, and then ended up traveling the world for a few years writing and consulting. At some point in my journey I started blogging, and the folks at Blogger found my travel blog and promoted it, and it became very popular.
When the Blogger folks [led by Ev Williams] started Twitter, Adam Rugel (@adam) told me I had to join. I did. At the time, I was living in an orphanage in Kenya, and I remember loading Twitter one night and seeing I'd been put on the homepage so I had a ton of followers. I'd love to prove it, but I think I'm one of the first people ever to tweet from that country. When I left Kenya, the Skoll Foundation sent me to Oxford University to do an MBA.
Biz Stone was a teaching fellow at Oxford, so when he came over to give a talk to my MBA class Adam told me to show him around. I was not a good tour guide. The day I met him in person for the first time was the day it was reported that Facebook wanted to buy Twitter, so I remember he was being trailed by some journalists as we grabbed coffee. That night over drinks, he told me about his vision for how the company could be used to make the world a better place and execute wide-scale positive change. I couldn't agree more, and told me I should come aboard.
What was your job and official title at Twitter? Who hired you? Was it an unusual interview process?
My role changed a bunch. Too many business cards to count (And in the beginning we didn't have any business cards for years. It was like a thing).
Initially [my role] was called Corporate Social Innovation, as per Biz, who hired me. (Yes, it sounds like there's a noun missing. There was.)
I came on as an intern to write a thesis for Oxford about Twitter in the last few months of my MBA, and when it got time for my internship to end and for me to get a real job there, I went through a few interviews, but I'd been working there so it was quite informal. I had Burmese food with Del Harvey, tea with @yukarim, and then Evan Williams and I sat on a couch as he looked at my resume, which he'd printed on the back of some recycled paper. He was only wearing socks [on his feet].
How many employees were there back then?
What was the office like?
Sometime in the first few months I was there, Ev's first child was born and his wife and son came into the office during a Friday teatime. Jason Goldman said he was jealous of the baby's Lululemon sweatpants. An engineer, I forget who, looked around at the motley crew and the empty beer bottles and the sagging couches and said to the baby, "One day, all this will be yours."
What about the atmosphere? Were there many women on staff?
Nope. I remember Jillian (@jillyface), who had been there a few months, told me how there was one hairdryer that all the girls used. There were only two bathroom stalls, and the men always used the women's.
What were some of the strangest things that ever happened while you were there?
One day, someone knocked on the door of the office and @francescawent to answer it. It was a user, and she was having trouble uploading her profile picture. The profile picture in question was a bikini shot. Francesca, who had her MBA, was I guess doing the door answering in those days.
One day, I fainted while talking to @Biz. He thought I was being dramatic to try to make a point. (I wasn't.)
On my first day, I was talking with Kevin Thau (@kevinthau) and he asked for my Twitter handle and followed me. I had my account set up to automatically say something to folks who followed me. He told me it was spammy. It was. I turned it off.
I showed up with a PC. That was a no-no.
What was it like to work with Jack and Biz back then? Have you worked much with Dick Costolo?
On my first day, I sat at lunch with Ev and Biz. Ev didn't know I was starting that day and said something to that effect to Biz. I said, "It'll be good, I promise." It was just about the time that things were getting too big for everyone to know everything about every new employee.
Biz, in general, was a riot to work with. Non-stop laughs. He was also super awesome when I wrote a book about Twitter. Although I credit Biz with getting me to Twitter in the early days, honestly I've been really lucky to have worked with great bosses at Twitter — from Ev to Biz to Dick to everyone else, it was a great lot. And they are all extremely funny (in very different ways), which seems unusual.
— Claire Díaz-Ortiz (@Claire) December 13, 2012
How did the company change for you once he took over?
The day Dick became CEO we got a company email saying to come to an all-hands meeting. In the elevator up (we were on a few floors by then), some engineers were speculating that we were going to be bought out and they were joking how great that was because they could pay off some loans. At least, I think it was a joke. (We were not bought out.)
What did the IPO feel like from the inside?
It was an exciting time, but quite constrained. At least [compared to] stories I've heard from Silicon Valley. People were super focused on the long-term. There were cupcakes, and people in the office super early that day, but it was pretty low-key. @katies had a tweet that said something like "Back to Work" after the opening bell. It was really like that.
What's the biggest misconception about working at Twitter?
That employees spend a lot of time thinking "How do we compete with Facebook?"
Any tips for getting a job there?
Realize these companies are smaller than you think, especially once you think about the core breakdowns of tech companies in terms of employee numbers. (i.e. generally 50% of companies are engineers, 30% are in sales, etc.) This will help you immensely in understanding why the dreamed-of position that you think should exist in Business Development, say, doesn't actually exist, or why only one person does the job of 25. Yukari (@yukarim) was the first person who helped me understand this early on, when I had things I wanted to do and she had to teach me that Twitter wasn't big enough yet.
It's still not. When people ask me for informational interviews about wanting to work at Twitter, they often say something like, "So how big is the team that does ___?" Oftentimes the answer is, "Uh, nonexistent?"
You share a lot on Twitter (like the birth of your child). Did you ever want to pull back from Twitter and share less?
To reiterate my labor pains: BLERGH!!!! #inlabor— Claire Díaz-Ortiz (@Claire) April 5, 2014
By now, I'm used to it. I do care immensely about spending time offline, though, and spend at least 24 hours offline each week. So, while I share a bunch when I'm here, I try not to be here 24/7. (I track my time online with RescueTime and Moment.) My word of the year for 2015 is going to be #BanBusy. That's kind of my (attempted) mantra.
Do other Twitter employees agree with your "share everything" nature?
No, probably not ;) Although others may not be live-tweeting their labors, the whole tweeting your resignation thing is gaining steam. @chloes did a great one.
Do you feel like you were the last of an early generation of Twitter employees? If so, did that mean you viewed the company differently?
Maybe, yeah. There was a "Senior Citizens" group at Twitter that started a few years ago by Alex M, where we could hang out and swap old timer stories on Friday nights. It got harder and harder to find someone to organize, because the early generation is moving on to other stuff. It happens. There's a life cycle at every job, even the great ones ;)
And startup years are dog years, after all.
What will you do now?
Tags: BUSINESS, CLAIRE DIAZ-ORTIZ, Twitter