What Apple Employees Say About The Company's Corporate Culture
The food, the fabled secrecy and the control.
We know it's intense -- a fantastic story in the New York Times recently described the extreme lengths Apple's engineers went to to get the iPhone ready for its 2007 launch.
But we wanted to hear what it was like from the employees themselves, and not just those picked to be at the center of its flagship projects.
What is it like in the cafeteria, walking the halls? Are staff really encouraged to let their creativity flow?
Luckily, there is a Quora thread devoted to answering this question. We put together some edited quotes from the more interesting answers. Some of their answers date back to the Steve Jobs era, and some of them are more recent.
Justin Maxwell, user interface designer: First rule of Apple, don't talk about Apple.
"If I was still at Apple, I would not be responding to this question, nor would I feel wronged for not being able to.
... The general idea is this: 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."
Anonymous employee as reported on Macrumors: The cafe is awesome.
"The Apple Campus itself is an amazing place, with the huge building surrounding a central Quad with grass and sidewalks and the amazing cafeteria: You get trays and silverware just exactly like in College, and go pick from a large handful of sushi, Mexican, make-your-own sandwich or salad, or countless other options, then check out at a register before sitting down inside or in their little Outdoor Cafe in the Quad. Even the food is running at 100% throttle, with the Cafeteria crowded and bustling, and even the Chefs dressed perfectly and clean-white smocks with black Apple hats on, doing their part to keep everyone fueled and running their war at 100% efficiency."
Read more of this account here.
"They desire and demand a collaborative atmosphere. Your work is peer-vetted -- we had to present our work to the team and take feedback.
Brandon Carson, contractor: "Your work is peer-vetted."
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."
Chad Little, former Apple designer: When Steve was alive, he got what he wanted.
"Apple is a pretty divided mix of typical corporate red tape and politics mixed in with startup level urgency when the direction comes from Steve. If you have a project that Steve is not involved in, it will take months of meetings to move things forward. If Steve wants it done, it's done faster than anyone thinks is humanly possible. The best way to get any cross departmental work done was to say its for Steve and you'd probably have it the same day."
Simon Woodside, program manager in Core OS: We terrified engineers into secrecy.
"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...
...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... They would then identify a specific engineer for me.
Next 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."
Anonymous: It's awful, but the food is nice.
"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. Culture here is strictly top down: any attempt to streamline, impact change, or even discuss a better way to do anything is strictly frowned upon when it comes from the bottom. Work longer/harder, don't complain or try to fix any of the myriad broken systems or processes, and don't forget that there are 10 people lined up outside to take your spot (your manager won't forget).
Work here at your own risk. On the upside, cafe food is pretty good and dress is casual."
Richard Francis, formerly of Intel, who worked on a project with Apple: "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."
"1. There is a fairly heavy corporate controlling hand governing a lot of what Apple locally can/can't 'do' as a business. That made for a fair degree of tension with some senior staff coming in from other parts of the technology industry.
2. 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. The store layouts are closely monitored for consistency - often Jobs would go along to the local ones on the West Coast of the US just to 'observe' them.
3. 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'."
Anonymous: "Everything, and I mean everything, is decided by the marketing team."
"Everything, and I mean everything, is decided by the marketing team at Apple, and 2 reviewers in east coast newspapers. I was shocked and flabbergasted at the role these reviewers had at Apple. As an engineer, I was told to tend to feature requests that were made by Mossberg and party. Scary, and makes me want to sell all my apple stock.
TC Dotson, position undisclosed: Apple is a walking contradiction.
"Apple is interesting. On one hand, you have 'Think Different' propaganda posters all over the wall (you have all seen these ad campaigns and know what they are about). On the other hand, Apple has the strictest rules of any place I have worked. Apple cares about its brand image above all else."