Whereas most high-tech companies like to welcome the world in and show everyone what life is like behind the scenes, Apple, as is typically the case, tends to operate a little bit differently. Much like its products, life at Apple is somewhat shrouded in secrecy. Not only will you have little luck getting current employees to talk about what they’re working on or what life at the company is like, convincing former employees to provide any insight as to what life is like inside the mothership is equally as challenging.
Recently, BusinessInsider pointed us to a Quora thread dedicated to addressing the often-asked but seldom answered question: What is it really like to work at Apple?
Being a part of something special
Kicking the thread off, Justin Maxwell writes that Apple’s emphasis on security and product secrecy is unparalleled.
The measures that Apple takes to protect its creative and intellectual environment are unparalleled in the valley, and it’s been a disappointing experience since leaving there. Apple’s security policy extends to blogs, to speaking engagements, to what we talk about with our spouses. Most people get it and respect it. The ones who don’t — the ones who need to put Apple under their name so they can get a speaking gig at SxSW — are kindly ushered to move on.
While that may sound harsh, Maxwell makes a point of noting that Apple’s stringent rules stem from the widely shared notion that when you work at Apple, you’re part of something much bigger than yourself.
You are part of something much bigger than you. The ideas you talk about in the hall, the neat tricks you figured out in CSS, the new unibody machining technique, that’s part of your job, something you are paid to do for Apple’s success, not something you need to blog about to satisfy your ego. Don’t f*** it up for everyone.
Echoing this sentiment, Chad Little writes:
Apple is one of those companies where people work on an almost religious level of commitment. There are probably a handful of large companies that can command this, such as Disney or Google. Most workers, no matter how simple their job might be, truly feel they are changing the world with whatever they are doing. That’s not a bad thing, it can just make you blind on the next point: Company Benefits. Pretty lacking here, in my opinion
No time for weekends
Moving along, during a 2014 episode of the Debug Podcast, former Apple managers Don Melton and Nitin Ganatra sat down to discuss the hectic schedule that comes with being a manager at Apple.
In one of the more particularly interesting excerpts, Melton and Ganatra discussed how their typical work often began on Sunday.
Melton: Because it’s, you know, the exec meeting the next day. So you had your phone out there, you were sitting in front of your computer. It didn’t matter if your favorite show was on.
This was especially worse after The Sopranos ended because for a while there you could count on the hour that The Sopranos was on that Scott [Forstall] wouldn’t bug you ’cause he was watching The Sopranos. And that was your reprieve. You could go to the bathroom, you could have a conversation with your family, you know, whatever.
And Scott was a late-night kind of guy. He was not a morning guy at all. he was a late night guy. You were basically on until, like, 2 o’clock in the morning. How many times were you fielding emails from him at 1:30 or 2:00?
Ganatra: You know, that’s the interesting thing. Maybe we can piece together the way Scott actually worked on Sunday from this. But I remember my emails from Scott started at about 11:00 am on Sunday. And if they didn’t start at 11:00 on Sunday, then I always kind of felt he must be doing something fun today…
Following that, the two go on to discuss the work ethic needed to not only thrive at Apple, but to survive.
Melton: And by the way, when you hear the so called apocryphal stories about Tim Cook coming to work at the wee hours and staying late, it’s not just some PR person telling you stories to make you think that Apple executives work really hard like that. They really do that. I mean, these people are nuts. They’re just, they are there all the time. I know that for Bertrand, certainly when he was there, you would never know what time of the day or night you would get email from that man.
Ganatra: I mean, he didn’t really make it a secret, either, that I don’t think he slept more than three or four hours a night, right?
Melton: And neither did Steve.
Ganatra: You get an email forwarded to you that’s not to you. It’s from Scott, but it’s a forward from Steve and it’s just coming at this crazy hour, right? You just know that there’s this firehose of emails that are just going out at 2:45 in the morning and there are VPs or executive VPs who are scrambling to get answers. And that was just week after week, month after month, over the years.
Melton: It’s a stressful job, there’s a lot of responsibility, and you always have to be on. I mean, it’s not that it’s not fun, it’s not that it’s not fulfilling, it’s not that you don’t get to work around all these brilliant people. The bad side effect is they’re all like workaholic, psychotic brilliant people.
And I’ve also tried to explain to people by using analogy, ’cause they ask, “What’s it like being around Steve and Avie [Tevanian] and Bertrand [Serlet] and Scott and Phil and Tim ?”
And I said it’s a lot like working in a nuclear power plant but you don’t get one of those protective suits. It’s a lot of radiation and you either learn to survive it or you die. Because they’re not mean people, they’re not spiteful people, they’re not trying to trip you up, They’re just very intense and, you know, things emanate from them, right?
Ganatra: Right, they’re intense. They’re looking for the answers, you have the answer, and you cannot get the answer to them soon enough.
Melton: That is the best description of that I think I have ever heard, Nitin. That is just so true. That’s exactly it.
An Apple horror story
Another excerpt worth highlighting comes from a recent blog post penned by Ben Farrell, a fellow who spent almost two years working for Apple Australia as a Customer Experience Program Manager. If you have any doubt about how Farrell viewed his time at Apple, his opening sentence all but gives it away: “I’ve just escaped the Apple institution.”
Farrell, in a post titled, “WHAT REALLY GOES ON AT APPLE”, relayed more than a few pointed remarks about his former employer, calling the work environment nothing more than a “sheltered workshop.”
“The common language spoken being passive aggression,” Farrell writes, “sarcasm and Kool-Aid fuelled stories of ‘success’ designed to manipulate and intimidate naive workers who have never experienced corporate life outside the Apple walls.”
As for specifics, Farrell cites arduous 16-hour work days and a decidedly non-collaborative work environment as just two examples which highlight what he calls a toxic experience.
Sickness, family emergencies, and even weddings are given no respect at Apple. When I started my role I missed one business trip as my wife was pregnant, fell down the stairs and had to be hospitalised – this was listed as a ‘performance issue’ on my record and brought up during a one on one with management as a major ‘miss’ on my behalf.
Secrecy can sometimes get in the way
Next up, we have Simon Woodside who worked at Apple in the early 2000s. Woodside has an interesting story detailing how Apple’s penchant for secrecy could sometimes make for a trying and challenging work environment.
Having all these secrets was difficult from my perspective. I couldn’t really engage in idle banter with my colleagues for fear of slipping something out.
The best example I can give was something of a side-project that I worked on in 2001, called Marklar. This was actually the beginning of the effort to port OS X back to the intel platform (openstep was intel-based). My job was to bring this effort out of the kernel and into the higher level groups, like graphics, quicktime, user-interface frameworks, finder, etc. and get a functioning demo running on a PC. The process I had to go through was rather interesting.
Each time we moved forward we would discover some part of the system that needed some changes. My job was to find the right person to make those changes — but to do it without revealing Marklar to anyone else. So I would go to the director of their group and inform them about Marklar, asking them to talk to either Bertrand or Avi if they needed confirmation. They would then identify a specific engineer for me.
An oasis of creativity?
Richard Francis, meanwhile, had some interesting takes on Apple’s brand and its reputation for unbridled creativity.
The atmosphere is not as zanily creative as you might imagine. It’s very structured, very process driven – and that ties in with the comments from the ex-employees about launches coming together as a ‘puzzle’.
Another horror story, kind of
This one from Andrew Guan is worth highlighting if only because its one part amusing and one part terrifying.
I don’t know what’s the internal culture like in the states, in China, it’s pretty insane.
Imagine, on the quarter meeting, manager stand on the table and shouting “WHO ARE YOU!” All the employees raise their hands over the head and answer “WE ARE APPLE!”
At that moment, it remind me of Apple’s 1984 commercial…
Make sure to hit the source link below for even more stories about what life is like inside the mothership.