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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.

This culture changed when Jobs returned to Apple, and many employees from this period tell a different story. "We were asked to just sort of disappear," says Robert Bowdidge, developer tools engineer, when selected for a new project. "The phrase I often use to describe it was 'make people think you've picked up a drug habit and aren't coming in regularly.' I wasn't even allowed to tell my manager; all he knew is that I'd been borrowed for a secret project."

This secrecy doesn't just affect employees, but also their friends and spouses. Kim Scheinberg, an angel investor, tells a story about how her partner (JK) was involved with the project to port Mac OS X from the IBM PC platform to Intel. She recalls the day that "I am to forget everything I know, and he will not be allowed to speak to me about it again until it is publicly announced."

Think different

The culture at Apple isn't typical of a computer company. "In my opinion this is different from any other company I've witnessed," says Lashinsky. "It's more like a security agency, and I have had people as I've gone around talking about this comparison — I've met a former employee of the NSA who said that it sounded a lot to him like the way the NSA operates."

There are real upsides to this internal communication: many Apple employees have talked about the lack of internal politics.

"There's not a lot of politics at Apple because you don't have any information with which to play politics," says Lashinsky. "So instead you go to work and you work. And that's the — in a short version — the way of life at Apple."

That's not to say that nobody knows what other people are doing, though. One famous example of Apple culture is the DRI (Directly Responsible Individual). Lashinsky explains: "You go to a meeting at Apple, there will be a list of items on the agenda. Next to the action item is a name. The name is the DRI, the one person who is responsible for getting that done — not the several people, not the two in a box executive management that other companies have. The one person."

Despite this secret culture, there is a surprisingly large number of photographs of the inside of Apple offices. Apple Gazette has a great collection of Apple HQ photography.

Startup culture

Apple keeps its teams small, and according to many people it enables small teams to have a remarkable degree of independence. Apple is capable of acting like a small start-up company when it feels that is appropriate. They will create small spaces where teams are protected from the mechanics of the business.


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