What it's REALLY Like to Work For Apple

Working for Apple is the experience of a lifetime. Most everyone who has had that privilege looks back with affection on the experience — if one ignores the reason for leaving. But a recent article, without having interviewed any former Apple employees, looks only at the downsides from a few whiners. It was a one sided, deceptive picture.


The article I want to critique is: "Apple Employees Confess All The Worst Things About Working At Apple.". The methodology was as follows: "We sifted our archives, Quora, and Glassdoor to put together this compilation of quotes from former employees about the worst aspects of life inside the Cupertino, Calif., empire."

And then, despite the clickbait headline, the author suggests we may want to take those observations with a grain of salt. Just so he can get off the hook if need be.

Here's how it really goes.

Apple is a Hard Company to Work For

Working for Apple involves a lot of hard work. Sixty hour weeks are typical, and that's perhaps on the low side. That's because there are difficult challenges in Apple's markets, and things that are worth doing are hard to do. This places a mental and physical burden on people.

It's simply not wise to confuse the euphoria of working for a company one admires with the idea that the work will be constant fun, parties, and special privileges. In fact, the reason Apple is so successful is because the senior management knows that highly talented people, accustomed to hard work, self-motivated and ready to accept deferred gratification can contribute a lot to Apple's success.

And then there are the whiners.

In the spectrum of the population, there are always going to be whiners, people with a distorted notion of what it means to work hard in a team for a common goal and still put up with the irritations characteristic of that company.

The very first subheading in the Business Insider article relates to that. "Apple's secrecy is sometimes so strict it disrupts your family life." The discussion makes me think of my own Air Force career. How sympathetic would people be if a young Air Force Lieutenant whined that it was just too troublesome to lock up his classified documents each night and keep national security secrets from his own wife.

One of the great things about working on the federal sales team at Apple was that most of us were ex-military. I don't think there were any of us who disregarded the importance of keeping Apple's secrets, even if it meant some personal sacrifice. While I was doing that, my wife was away a lot, working on the Nathan B. Palmer, a U.S. Antarctic Program icebreaker in Antarctic waters. We survived.

Next, "Everything, and I mean everything, is decided by the marketing team at Apple." Of course it is! Can you imagine how Apple would utterly fail if every V.P. and Director got the idea that they could speak for Apple?

Very, very early in my job at Apple, I almost got fired myself for mentioning, on a list server, (before it shipped) that Mac OS X would have the terminal app. (It was up for debate back in 2000.) I had to quickly apologize to Phil Schiller and my boss had to go to bat for me. It's the province of the each product manager to decide what gets announced both before and after his/her product ships. It's a lesson I never forgot.

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Another headline was "Paranoid management, disrespect, constant tension, and long hours."

Having some fun at Macworld

This can depend greatly on one's boss. But, in general, yes, there is constant tension and long hours. It's actually a lot like graduate school. There's an endless barrage of tough classes, exams, take-home exams, grueling thesis work, and late-night hours. And yes, an occasional asshole professor. This is par for the course when trying to achieve something worthwhile.

One final entry. "Middle management asserted itself after Steve Jobs died." A former VP complained about how the engineering team could no longer dictate terms. I submit: that may not always work. When engineering has final say, and parts can't be obtained in sufficient quantity, the product ships late or is always in short supply.

These days, in global economic warfare with Samsung, Apple has to be very careful about how it designs and then manufactures products by the tens of millions. Products must be brilliant, but be shippable in mass quantities in a global market. On time. Consider: the current Mac Pro may be suffering from that effect.

Many a VP, some who were my acquaintance or boss's boss, ran afoul of Apple's executive team because they thought they could throw their weight around. They always found out they couldn't the hard way. It was always sad to see.

What About Today?

I worked for Apple from mid-2000 to late 2005. To find out if much had changed, I spoke, off the record, with a friend who's still there. The answer is that things are pretty much the same — except that things are generally better thanks to Apple's success. Success breeds a certain confidence leading forward that the right things were done. However, there are still the customary Apple irritations, things that every employee puts up with. I won't (and can't) go into detail about that because I don't have permission.

Another colleague I worked with back then says that people she knows now in Apple are just a bit more relaxed. When we worked at Apple under Steve Jobs, there was a certain tension that percolated down through the ranks. It was good — it drove people to excellence, but it could wear one down. Today, I'm told that Tim Cook has created a slightly more relaxed atmosphere. But that doesn't mean there isn't the usual Apple pressure to work hard and tackle some very tough work.

Whining is not the answer. The people who were quoted in this article, I am sure, certainly had their reasons for posting a rant. Frustration. Burn out. Disrupted family life. Insufficient industry experience. A rare but particularly bad supervisor. But every company has those issues.

When you work for Apple you're following a personal dream. You're working with a team that can literally change the world. If you're able to sustain the work and lose some sleep, it's the thrill of a lifetime. However, few last for a very long period of time, and find that it's eventually wise to move on.

In the end, an article like the one I've referenced is just a cherry pick of complaints. It doesn't do proper service or put in perspetive what working for Apple is all about for the vast majority of employees, and it disrespects their hard-won contributions.

It was just one more of those cynical articles that, with blinders, that casts an angry eye towards Apple for the sake of a headline. I was sad to see it paint itself as a relevant vision of Apple.