The Twitter profile page belonging to Elon Musk is seen on an Apple iPhone mobile phone.
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New Twitter owner Elon Musk has pulled more than 50 of his confidants Tesla employees, mostly software engineers from the Autopilot team, into his Twitter takeover, CNBC has learned.
Musk, who is the CEO of carmaker Tesla and reusable rocket maker SpaceX, completed the $44 billion acquisition of Twitter on Oct. 28 and immediately made a name for himself there. He fired the company̵[ads1]7;s CEO, CFO, policy and legal team leaders at once, and has also dissolved Twitter’s board of directors.
According to internal records seen by CNBC, employees from Musk’s other companies are now authorized to work at Twitter, including more than 50 from Tesla, two from the Boring Company (which builds underground tunnels) and one from Neuralink (which develops a brain-computer interface ).
Some of Musk’s friends, advisers and supporters, including the head of his family office Jared Birchall, angel investor Jason Calacanis, and founding PayPal COO and venture capitalist David Sacks, are also involved. So are two people who share Musk’s last name, James and Andrew Musk, who have worked at Palantir and Neuralink, respectively.
Among the dozens that Elon Musk recruited specifically from Tesla are: Director of Software Development Ashok Elluswamy, Director of Autopilot and TeslaBot Engineering Milan Kovac, Senior Director of Software Engineering Maha Virduhagiri, Senior Staff Technical Program Manager Pete Scheutzow, and Jake Nocon, who is a part of Tesla’s surveillance unit, as senior manager of security intelligence.
Nocon previously worked for Uber and Nisos, a security company that had a multimillion-dollar contract with Tesla to identify insider threats and monitor critics of the company.
On Twitter, Musk relies on his lieutenants and loyalists to decide who and what to cut or keep on the social network.
He also pushes them to learn everything they can about Twitter as quickly as possible, from source code to content moderation and privacy requirements, so he can redesign the platform.
Musk has called himself a free speech absolute, but must balance his desires with laws and business realities. He said in an open letter to advertisers last week when he took over the company, “Twitter obviously cannot become a free-for-all hell, where anything can be said without consequence.”
It’s not immediately clear how Tesla employees are expected to share their schedules between the automaker and Twitter.
Typically, when Tesla employees work for other Elon Musk ventures, usually SpaceX or the Boring Company, they may be paid by the other venture as a consultant. Some of Musk’s employees have full-time roles in more than one of his businesses. For example, Tesla’s Vice President of Materials Charlie Kuehmann is also the Vice President of SpaceX at the same time.
Other times, two Tesla employees told CNBC, Tesla workers are pushed to help with projects at his other companies without extra pay because it’s good for their careers or because the work is seen as helping with a transaction or a project with related parties.
Tesla is facing more serious scrutiny than ever before over the technology built and maintained by the Autopilot team, namely its driver assistance systems, marketed as Autopilot, FSD and FSD Beta.
The SEC, DOJ and California DMV are all investigating whether Tesla or Musk broke laws and misled consumers about Tesla’s driver assistance systems, which are still in development and do not make the company’s cars self-driving.
Meanwhile, the federal vehicle safety authority, NHTSA, continues to investigate whether Tesla’s driver assistance systems may have contained defects that contributed to or caused crashes. The way Tesla promoted these systems on social media, including Twitter, is part of the scope of at least one NHTSA investigation.
Code reviews and 12-hour shifts
Several Twitter employees told CNBC over the weekend that Tesla employees now on Twitter have been involved in code review on the social network, even though their skills from working with Autopilot and other Tesla software and hardware do not directly overlap with the languages and systems that used to build and maintain the social network. Those employees asked not to be named because they are not authorized to speak to the press about internal matters and feared retaliation.
For example, most engineers at car companies, even the tech giant Tesla, do not have experience designing and operating search engines and platforms that are widely accessible to the public.
Twitter has multiple codebases with millions of lines of code in each, and countless 10 or even 100 queries per second (QPS) systems underpinning it. At Tesla, Python is one of the preferred scripting languages, and at Twitter, programmers have used Scala a lot.
Twitter also has more exposure to international regulations around hate speech and privacy, for example, in particular the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation.
Twitter employees who were there before Musk took over have been asked to show their teams all kinds of technical documentation, to justify their work and their teams’ work, and explain their value to the company. The threat of dismissal looms if they fail to impress.
The employees said they are worried about being fired without reason or warning, rather than being laid off with back pay. Some are worried they won’t be able to reap the rewards of stock options scheduled to vest in the first week of November, according to documents seen by CNBC.
Meanwhile, Twitter employees said they haven’t received specific plans from Musk and his team yet, and are largely in the dark about possible job cuts within their groups, budgets and long-term strategies.
However, Musk has set almost impossible deadlines for some things to do.
An immediate project is to redesign the company’s subscription software, called Twitter Blue, and the company’s verification system (sometimes known as “blue checks” for the way they are designated on the service). Employees say Musk wants that work done by the first week of November. The Verge previously reported that Musk wants to charge $20 per user per month, and only provide verification badges to the accounts of users who are paid subscribers, and will remove verification from accounts that don’t pay for Twitter Blue.
Executives at Twitter have instructed some employees to work 12-hour shifts, seven days a week, to meet Musk’s aggressive deadlines, according to internal communications. The sprint orders have come without any discussion of overtime pay or compensatory time, or of job security. Completing the tasks by the early November deadline is seen as a make-or-break affair for their careers at Twitter.
In an atmosphere of fear and distrust, many Twitter employees have stopped communicating with each other on internal systems about workplace issues. Some of Twitter’s Slack channels have gone almost silent, several employees told CNBC.
Meanwhile, Musk and his inner circle have been rummaging through archived messages in the systems, apparently looking for people to fire and budgets or projects to cut.
On Sunday night, in a display of his unfettered access to internal company information, CEO Elon Musk (who calls himself Chief Twit, but officially the CEO and sole director) post a screenshot to his 112 million listed followers on Twitter.
The screenshot depicted comments from Twitter’s head of security and integrity, Yoel Roth, in May 2022. At the time, Musk was trying to get out of the deal to buy Twitter for $54.20 per share.
In court and publicly, Musk had loudly accused Twitter of falsifying metrics, specifically downplaying the amount of spam, fake accounts and malicious bots found on the platform.
In the internal messages that Musk made public, Roth wrote disparagingly about a person involved in the business named Amir, and also noted that if Amir continued to “BS” him or others about goals and key results, Twitter would “literally do what Elon accuses us to do it.”
Musk alleged in a tweet that “Wachtell & the Twitter board have deliberately hidden this evidence from the court.” He also appeared to threaten further legal action, writing: “Stay tuned, more to come…”
Representatives for Twitter, Tesla and the law firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz have not yet responded to requests for comment.