Apple has a strict code of secrecy that it expects all employees to live by. Anyone who breaks it is fired.
Unsurprisingly, employees rarely speak publicly about what it is like to work there.
Luckily, there are several Quora threads written by former and current employees devoted to answering questions about life inside the Fruit Company. We put some highlights together with info we got from our own sources, and reports elsewhere.
Their comments reveal how employees are prepared to pull all-nighters at a moment’s notice, how their trash is monitored by security, and how much they enjoy working with the best.
New interns get a box that contains the following hardcore message:
If Apple rejects your internship application, forget about trying again.
Apple has software that prevents would-be interns from applying twice. So if you’re rejected, that’s it.
According to Mac Consultant Frank Lazar: “Apple is such a golden opportunity for interns that it can be extremely choosy about who gets to play in their circular sandbox. They look for interns with amazing talent, and in their view, if you failed to show evidence of talent the first time around, a little experience somewhere else isn’t going to change anything.”
“We don’t waste time with the dumb.”
UX designer Luis Abreu had a grueling job interview process in a failed attempt to get into Apple. He described it on his blog:
“3 screening calls, 5 FaceTime interviews, a trip to Cupertino for 5 two-person interviews lasting a whole day and a lunch at the newest Café Macs.
In the end, I got a shallow no.”
During one interview he was told, “We don’t waste time with the dumb.”
Once you get in, “it’s a tough place to be if you’re more than 20 pounds overweight.”
Anonymous: “There are a lot more fit and good looking people at Apple, than otherwise. It’s actually pretty ridiculous. Almost everyone is really athletic: many people do triathlons, bike races, and marathon. It’s a tough place to be if you’re more than 20 pounds overweight, but then again, it can also be that extra push you need to get in shape. I know of people who’ve lost 60 pounds and are no longer pre-diabetic because they started going cycling with their coworkers over lunch.”
“Trash bins were monitored.”
– code names for every product – no one referred to products any other way
– team members who are also on “special” teams don’t tell their coworkers what they do
– black curtains and frosted windows
– trash bins were monitored
“Guys in the developer group had to show up for meetings at 4:00am.”
David Graham, former writer at Apple: “I remember when bleary-eyed guys in the developer group had to show up for meetings at 4:00am to allow for time-zone differences around the world. They had to do it every day, and I’m sure it disrupted their personal lives.”
“Apple employees don’t just use Macs — they use really buggy Macs, often with really buggy apps.”
Brent Royal-Gordon, code writer: “Internally, most devices are running test builds of all the software on them, often updating every couple of weeks with the very latest code from the engineering teams. So Apple employees don’t just use Macs—they use really buggy Macs, often with really buggy apps. People on the iOS teams often use really buggy iPhones, iPads, and Apple Watches, too. This ensures that the company catches a lot of bugs before anyone on the outside ever sees the software.”
Apple products are built in factories that run on … Microsoft Windows.
In 2014, CEO Tim Cook tweeted a photo of an Apple factory in Asia he had visited. The manufacturing line was run using screens that clearly showed Microsoft’s Windows operating system. That is no surprise: Certain industrial CNC milling programs only run on Windows.
In the stores, there is a lot of clapping.
Renee Morales, former Apple Store Specialist: “There will be a lot of clapping. As a new hire you’ll get ‘clapped in.’ At the end of every shift meeting there’s clapping. When someone quits, on their last day they get ‘clapped out’. Sometimes just for kicks to make a little kid feel good you’ll clap. ….there’s just a lot of clapping.”
You might get death threats from customers whose devices break down.
An Apple store worker told Business Insider: “I have had death threats before. I had someone, I can’t even remember why — it may have been an out-of-warranty fix — who told me that because we wouldn’t repair it for free that they would wait outside until I finished work to run me down with their car.”
You will have to learn Apple’s weird internal secret culture — quickly.
Wei Sun, Data Science / Software Engineering: “Almost everything will be at least slightly different from your previous job. If you’re an engineer, there are custom internal tools, unusual practices, and odd office culture norms — even more so than is typical at other companies. Questions should be asked as often as possible during your first month; don’t be afraid to ask.”
“Furthermore, since secrecy is so important at Apple, different teams’ cultures had a chance to become incredibly different from each other. When working in cross-functional projects, take the time to learn about the other teams’ preferred communication styles and other peculiarities. This will save you a lot of time.”
Apple controls what you talk about with your spouse.
Justin Maxwell was a user interface designer:
“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.”
“If I was still at Apple, I would not be responding to this question, nor would I feel wronged for not being able to.”
Apple makes grammar and punctuation changes in its internal documents in order to track leaks.
After Business Insider obtained a couple of leaked memos from retail chief Angela Ahrendts, the company began making changes to its internal communications to help it figure out where the leaks came from. It now sends differently worded memos to different sections of the company in hopes of tracking leaks back to the source when those memos are quoted in the media.
“It’s not the place for children.”
Anonymous: “It’s an older demographic working there, not the 24-year old MBAs, most seem to be late 30’s to 40’s, super smart but with real life experience, too. There aren’t any Nerf guns or any of that crap, just people past all that and at the top of their game. It’s not the place for children.”
“I’ve been in meetings at 4pm where a dozen people decide we are going to all work all night that night.”
Anonymous: “Apple comes first. Not to say you can’t have some personal life or even a pretty normal one, but when stuff gets crazy, work comes first ahead of all else. I’ve been in meetings at 4pm where a dozen people decide we are going to all work all night that night in the office on a problem. No discussion about ‘hey, I have to pick up my kids’ or ‘let me call home first’ – everyone nods and agrees, no hesitation.”
“You are in the office every day unless you are sick or dead.”
Anonymous: “No work from home. The company culture wants everyone face to face every day and they are very up-front and clear about it. You are in the office every day unless you are sick or dead. Nobody watches what time you are in every day but telecommute is something they very vocally say is not and will not be part of the culture.”
They will email you in hospital.
Former Apple employee Ben Farrell wrote a lengthy, detailed blog post explaining the reasons he quit the company:
“In recent weeks I contracted a nasty incapacitating mosquito born virus and was hospitalised for a short time. However, rather than receiving support, I was emailed a presentation to my hospital bed with a note that it needed to be completed ‘urgently’. Even on the very morning of my wedding I was still being harassed by phone and email to send a report someone had lost.”
Sunday is a work day.
Don Melton was the former director of internet technologies. He did a podcast in which he described Apple’s insane work schedule:
“Sunday is a work night for everybody at Apple because it’s 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.”
Some hiring managers discriminate against older employees.
There is a great story about JK Scheinberg in the New York Times:
Scheinberg was “the engineer at Apple who led the effort that moved the Mac to Intel processors. A little restless after retiring in 2008, at 54, he figured he’d be a great fit for a position at an Apple store Genius Bar, despite being twice as old as anyone else at the group interview. ‘On the way out, all three of the interviewers singled me out and said, “We’ll be in touch,”‘ he said. ‘I never heard back.’”
“I’d scare the engineer by telling them how bad things would be if anyone inside or outside knew what I was going to ask them to do.”
Simon Woodside, program manager in Core OS: “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.”
“… I’d scare the engineer by telling them how bad things would be if anyone inside or outside knew what I was going to ask them to do. They would verify with their director, and hopefully be able to fix the relevant problem. We’d slip them some PC hardware if needed or preferably use Virtual PC or the like to be more inconspicuous. They certainly couldn’t tell their co-workers about this work.”
“Personally, I didn’t talk either … my close friends and family knew I was working on some secret project but they didn’t find out what until Steve himself made the announcement. Apple had total control of the message. The secrecy paid off big time for the company.”
There is a serious risk of burnout.
Steve Fenwick, hardware engineer: “You don’t work at Apple unless you are seriously motivated to work there. The ones who are there for a check, or stock, are the ones who burn out first and fastest.”
You will meet a LOT of different people with very different backgrounds.
Rodrigo Estrada Gil, former maps engineer: “In my office there is a sports photographer, a documentary filmmaker, a pole dancer, a folk musician, engineers, translators, QA testers, a nurse, a forklift driver, advertising creatives, videogame testers, a trance producer, marketing people, a screenwriter, a documentary producer, ex-housewives, a Pink Floyd cover band singer, a pole dancer, a biologist, a theoretical physicist, a costumier, etc.”
“On a regular basis you either get positive feedback or are told to stop doing stupid s–t.”
Andrew Borovsky, a former Apple designer: Every week, the highest-level execs review every aspect of Apple’s business, Fortune reported:
“From a design perspective, having every junior- level designer getting direct executive-level feedback is killer,” says Andrew Borovsky, a former Apple designer who now runs 80/20, a New York design shop. “On a regular basis you either get positive feedback or are told to stop doing stupid s–t.”
Borovsky now works at CADRE.
Folks who work in Apple’s stores are so poorly paid they often cannot afford to buy the products they sell.
An anonymous store worker told Business Insider: “I had a friend who worked there who absolutely loved the products and would go into his overdraft, go into debt, to buy the latest Apple product. It is crazy. One of the managers had to leave because his landlord wouldn’t renew his lease. He had to leave the store because he couldn’t afford to even move into a new studio flat on an Apple Manager salary. I think he went back to live with his parents. He was in his late 30s. Maybe 40.”
Ariel Maislos: Stay paranoid and keep running.
The former CEO of Flash memory company Anobit, which was acquired by Apple, told ZDNet:
“They say that Intel is full of paranoids, but at Apple, ‘they’ really are after you.”
“At Apple, you have to run ahead just to stay in place, and there are very high expectations of everyone. Apple expects everything you do to be amazing.”
“Paranoid management, disrespect, constant tension, and long hours.”
Anonymous: “Generally speaking it is a pressure cooker and all communication is one directional (guess which way that is).”
“… Paranoid management, disrespect, constant tension, and long hours sum up most of the real culture in operations … Most of the people in SDM (supply demand management) see it as something they need to suck up for a few painful years after b-school so they can move on to a better gig with the Apple brand on their resume. Like the investment banking of tech.”
“… Work here at your own risk. On the upside, cafe food is pretty good and dress is casual.”
Andrew Guan, Apple China: It can be like a cult.
“I don’t know what the internal culture is like in the States, [but] 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!’”
Austin Meyer: Working at Apple is like being at war. A fun war.
Meyer told this story, as published on Macrumors: “Being at Apple is almost like what I imagine it would be like to be inside of Boeing during World-War 2: Everything is running at 100% throttle, with knowledge that we are running at 100% of our abilities, and that is enough to guarantee the best product, and guarantee success in the final outcome, but nothing less than a 100% delivery is acceptable. Apple is fighting a War against Microsoft, with a clearly FAR superior product, but with the very clear knowledge that it is a FUN war to fight, that they are clearly WINNING, but that they can NOT slip up even the slightest bit if they want to have ultimate success.”
Brandon Carson, contractor: “Your work is peer-vetted.”
“They desire and demand a collaborative atmosphere. Your work is peer-vetted — we had to present our work to the team and take feedback.”
“At first I found this a bit disruptive, cause I’m used to working on my own projects in a silo, but at the end of the day, the collaboration ensured a better product. And the work didn’t progress too far without checks and balances.”
“More companies need to operate like that internally.”
“All the maple surfaces in all the retail stores are harvested at one particular time of the year in Canada so they all look the same.”
Richard Francis, formerly of Intel, who worked on a project with Apple says on Quora:
“The brand is guarded with a zeal that borders on zealous obsession. For instance – I heard (unconfirmed) that all the maple surfaces in all the retail stores are harvested at one particular time of the year in Canada so they all look the same.”
Back when Tim Cook was only the COO, he gave this explanation for Apple’s secrecy:
“Well, that is a part of the magic of Apple. And I don’t want to let anybody know our magic because I don’t want anybody copying it,” Fortune reported.
Apple used to sell this T-shirt at its HQ campus store.
This article was first published on Business Insider.
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