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What it's really like to work for Apple: Surprising tales from inside Cupertino

Lou Hattersley | March 9, 2015
Apple is renowned for its secrecy, so much so that even with more than 90,000 employees there isn't much information on what it's really like to work for Apple. But in this feature we dig up the rumours, the stories from ex-employees and the research, to illustrate what makes Cupertino and its employees tick.

What's it really like to work for Apple?

The work culture at Cupertino isn't like that of other companies. Apple is famously secretive (more so, even, than most tech companies), and employees are expected to do the best work of their lives. Apple is very effective at keeping secrets, and that includes what it's like to work there.

Even so, there are many sources of great information about what it's like to work for Apple. In this article we're going to look at what ex-employees, their friends and family, and people who've researched the company have to say about what it's like to be an Apple employee.

110 percent of your energy

Fortune magazine senior editor Adam Lashinsky is the author of Inside Apple, and he's spent a lot of time chatting to Apple employees and former employees. His presentation to Stanford, titled Keeping Company Secrets, tells us a lot about Apple's work culture.

"I liken Apple employees to horses fitted with blinders," says Lashinsky. "You don't look left, you don't look right, you look forward, and you charge forward with 110 percent of your energy."

How to keep a secret

One thing that separates Apple from other firms is its culture of secrecy. Most technology companies have trained employees to keep secrets, but Cupertino takes this further than most. "Part of the corporate culture and the way of doing business — and again, [this is] anathema to the way business is run — is that Apple keeps secrets from itself," says Lashinsky.

"They keep secrets from their own employees. If you and I work at Apple, but we're not on the same exec team, your business is none of my business and my business is none of your business."

We've heard from multiple sources that Apple engineers, even senior engineers, have no idea what a final Apple product will look like until it is launched. The people who work on the software have no idea what the hardware is like, and the hardware guys have no idea of the software. Says Lashinsky: "They weren't on the UI team, and that was none of their business."

Internal culture: from openness to secrecy

This policy of absolute secrecy, oddly enough, was preceded by a surprisingly open internal culture in the beginning.

Ken Rosen, a partner at Performance Works, explains on Quora: "In the early days, everything was open to everyone. There was even a binder in the CFO's office with everyone's salary. We were told we could go check it out any time. Few cared to. Steve told us, 'Inside NeXT, everything is open. Outside NeXT, we say nothing.' In wonderful Steve fashion, he added, 'This will continue until the first leak. As soon as we prove we can't keep a secret, we go back to being like every other company.' No one wanted to be the one to kill the open goose."


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