I worked for Apple from May of 2007 until last fall, when I left them to work for Tim League here at the Alamo Drafthouse.
Working for Apple, regardless of the department or division, everyone felt like they were really working for Steve and his glorious revolution of touch technology and apps and iThings. Secrecy was of highest importance, and precision of language was held above almost everything when interacting with “outsiders”. There was an aura of great pride that you had, just going to work.
The comparisons to totalitarian regimes and populist revolutions were never lost on those of us on the inside, trust me.
I started working for Apple right before the iPhone launched, and it changed the company more rapidly on the inside than was anticipated by a longshot. Where once Apple was on life support, it rapidly leveraged its position as a recovering titan. People who’d been with them for ten years were thrilled that their decade of employee purchase plan stock meant they would retire a millionaire. Seeing the rise of the planet of the Apple (ahem) was inspiring and moving. The company was changing the world, and you were along for the ride.
I have to be careful about how I phrase this, because the NDAs I signed when I was hired were really long, and I don’t know what I’m allowed to talk about even though I don’t work for them anymore.
I’m not joking.
When Steve was pissed off about something, it got fixed at a pace I’ve never seen then or since in my professional life. I guess some people reacted that fast out of fear, but more directly, you would get used to refusing to accept anything but flawless execution.
In 2005, Steve summed up a lot of things, including the work ethic he propagated across the company, by saying, “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”
Mistakes were fine as long as they led to a great overall result after polishing, which is why every new OS from the company needs a couple of updates before it works perfectly (zing!).
On occasion, among the various things I did for the company, I’d have email chains forwarded to me. Inside, I’d find a problem that needed fixing with great urgency. A number of the most public faces of the company would be copied on these chains. I didn’t directly interface with them, but I got a very clear idea of what the result needed to look like and found my way there somehow. Calling anyone all over the world and being able to say “I’m with Apple” or having “apple.com” at the end of your email address were great tools to have at hand. Sometimes, they were the only thing I had at my disposal other than my wits.
I can honestly say there are things that I did for Apple that I could write about here in black and white that you wouldn’t believe. When I think back on them, some of them are hilariously unbelievable. Others would make it seem as if I were overstating my role with the company. I suppose I feel much like some of the animators at Pixar must feel. Their contributions are vital to producing the great end product in astounding ways, but most people will never know anything about the process that went into the result.
I was under so much stress that I started talking in my sleep. These weren’t just random words and mumblings, but as my wife tells me, it was like I was rehearsing the next day’s meetings and phone calls. My brain never stopped working, even though the rest of my body did.
Most of my workmates lived their jobs and their families often would get the short end of the stick. It was a crusade and an addiction all at once.
The first time Steve took a leave of absence, there were some people who’d been there longer than me who were muttering about how they were “never gonna get their Steve Jobs signature now”.
When you work for them for five years, you get a really nice framed letter of recognition. It’s a thing of beauty. At the bottom is the signature of the CEO. These lame-asses were more concerned with getting the autograph than with why they were there in the first place. I put these people on par with entitled autograph hounds at conventions. The quality of a personal interaction dictates what I get out of things. I couldn’t care less about a scribble on piece of paper.
Steve’s resignation likely doesn’t bode well for his health. This isn’t a surprise, even though the announcement came without warning. That’s the fragility of life for you. Honestly, Wall Street dudes with more money than God have been calling for him to step down since he got sick the first time.
The phrasing of his statement in the letter doesn’t lead me to be optimistic, but you know…he’s technically been promoted on Apple’s Board to Chairman, and he’s still on Disney’s Board too.
His replacement as CEO (Tim Cook, ascending from COO) is every bit the right guy to keep the Apple train on the tracks. Steve has charted a course pretty far into the future for things to really go off the rails any time soon. Rest easy, Apple nerds.
This time had to come eventually, it’s just weird to actually see it happen.
The thing I missed most after leaving was seeing the keynotes live.
I still do.