I read with a chuckle Think Secret's "Leopard downloads prompt Apple retail firings" and the comments which show that people really do not have any idea how tight a leash Apple keeps on its employees. In fact one of the best descriptions that was used internally for Apple's management style was "Mushroom management." That meant being kept in the dark and continually having manure dumped on you. Apple has that down to science, just ask any field employee who has been with the company more than a year or two.
Having some employees fired for downloading a developer release is just the tip of the iceberg. I can still remember back when Apple used to distribute literature at product roll outs which we often had at the field offices.
Normally the literature would be delivered at the last moment with dire warnings that anyone who would opened the boxes before the keynote ended would be fired on the spot. Of course that meant if you were answering questions at the end of the keynote, you had to base your answers on the same stuff heard by the people who were asking the questions. That made it a little challenging to provide any real enlightenment.
I can remember there being upgrades of OS X that got to customers well before even well connected Apple employees managed to get a copy. It was not unusual for our System Engineers to go to a customer to get a copy of our own software.
Even better are the draconian regulations for demonstrating operating system releases. Who can do it and what can be said are very carefully monitored.
To understand how Apple functions, you have to get over any assumptions that Apple employees are trusted at all. During my nearly twenty years at Apple, it was clear that as time went on any product problems or even solutions to serious issues were often kept from field sales employees. That was not the case in early years at Apple.
Once Steve came back things changed, it seemed that we could never find out about critical issues from the company until they exploded publicly. We would only learn about problems by being beaten to a pulp by a customer, and after couple of people at Apple denied the existence of the problem. It almost goes without saying that we would then find out that the problem was well known in Cupertino, but being kept a secret so as not to cause any customer ripples.
Actually I had my son who at the time was a Computer Science student in college sign up for the Apple Student Developer program. He would get the disks before we did, and I would take them to the office for our team.
Usually we got the stuff we needed eventually, but when you have a customer with a critical problem and a new OS release can fix the issue, waiting five or six days can seem like forever.
A good example of the company paranoia was when we participated in the 2001 FOSE (Federal Office Systems Expo) in Washington, a reporter named Dan Carney did an article for Federal Computer Week. The article "Not making a federal case," had this to say.
Microsoft Corp.'s Bill Gates and Dell Computer Corp.'s Michael Dell are known to visit their federal customers to discuss the issues important to them. That has contributed to the success of both companies' products in the market. But Apple seems to view federal customers somewhat askance.
Apple's federal team is dedicated to its task, but it appears it is not receiving the necessary support from the corporate headquarters in Cupertino, Calif. To the obvious frustration of the federal team members, they were prohibited from speaking for this story.
Instead, the company issued a statement describing the commitment of its federal sales force and the popularity of its products in the market.
The reason no federal people were permitted to speak? Apple has approved spokespeople only for its core businesses: the consumer, commercial and education markets, according to the company.
Well some folks from corporate PR absolutely flipped out over that comment and demanded to know which members of my team let the reporter know that people were frustrated. Had a name been given, I'm sure the person would have been on the carpet and likely fired.
Carney had wanted to talk about the federal market and Apple after much arm twisting gave him a generic written statement about how wonderful Apple products are.
Actually the reporter was the most frustrated person around since he had spent nearly two months begging to talk to someone about Apple products. I remember his pleading emails to us asking for help in getting someone to return his phone calls. He even told me that he believed they deliberately were calling him late at night so they wouldn't have to talk to him.
Now ordinarily I wouldn't believe that, but being an Apple employee I've seen that tactic used on a regular basis by Cupertino employees who didn't want to talk to a real person. In fact one night I was working late in my home office. That, in case you haven't figured it out, happens a lot with dedicated Apple employees. My phone rang, and I answered it thinking that it was wife calling from upstairs to tell me that I should give it up for the night. It was someone from corporate hoping to leave me a message so they could dodge the real issue. They were nearly speechless when I answered the phone. I don't think it was the time that one of our contracts people called me and accused me of sending a photocopy of a contract instead of an original to headquarters. Apparently they had spit on the signature and were concerned that it didn't smear.
If you get the feeling that Apple is a world unto itself, you're absolutely right. When you're inside the Apple culture it even looks kind of normal, but once outside of it, you realize how whacky and counterproductive much of it is.
Giving Apple employees the tools, all the information, and the trust to do their jobs correctly should be a priority. It isn't. Now executive compensation, that's a top priority, but I guess most folks have figured that out by now.
One of the most frustrating things that we had to endure was Cupertino sending seed units to the press. We were absolutely forbidden to help them understand the products if they ran into problems. The corporate folks were convinced that we would screw up the product review. Of course the opposite often happened. The reviewer would have problems getting the Mac connected to their network or trouble configuring Outlook. Calling back to California for help would be playing time zone roulette which rarely worked. The result was that many reviews could have been even better with a little field hand holding that was forbidden. The corporate view was that it was much better to let the reviewer figure out it himself as opposed to the risk that the field might say something that actually got printed after contact with the press.
All of this is somewhat interesting as an aside on the culture of Apple. Secrecy within Apple even prompted a recent front page WSJ article, " At Apple, Secrecy Complicates Life But Maintains Buzz."
Yet the real challenges as some of the comments on "Think Secret" indicate is that Apple won't work with the users until they release a product. The result is that there are bugs that show up almost immediately in a new release.
I am one of the people who believe that if Apple is to be taken seriously, they're going to have to start doing widespread public betas of OS X. If they don't, people are continually be frustrated with paying money for a product that faces a raft of updates in the first few months.
I don't how anyone at Apple could seriously think a public beta of Leopard is going to spill the beans to Microsoft which is having a hard enough time getting anything out the door, much less something which stuff that Apple is showing.
Apple also needs to take seriously customer support not just at the AppleCare level but at the level of every single Apple employee. Apple has so few employees that people (outside of California) almost freak out when they find out that you are an Apple employee. They immediately expect you to be able to help them with their Mac problems. That's pretty hard to do when your company is following the rules mushroom management.
One of the more interesting facts about Apple employees is that they often get so frustrated waiting for new hardware which they can use for demonstrations to customers, that they end up buying Apple hardware out of their pocket. That's one of the reasons I have basement full of Macs.
I have talked to a number of employees this year who had bought their own MacBook Pros or MacBooks because they were tired of waiting for the company to refresh their systems. I can remember one particular system engineer who has been with Apple almost from the beginning. He practically begged me to get him a boxed set of Final Cut Pro complete with documentation so he could demonstrate it to customers. In following what has to be the most counterproductive set of guidelines around, that request for one copy of Final Cut Pro which had an internal cost of almost nothing had to go all the way up to Phil Schiller for approval. Even funnier almost all requests like that were turned down.
Ask an Apple employee where they get their Apple news, and a surprising number of them will say Macsurfer. I can remember finding out about many a product that had been released on Macsurfer before we got any information internally.
If you're going to use Apple products, know that your best informed resource might well be someone other than an Apple employee.
There's some more interesting commentary on Apple's culture at "Hidden Dimensions - Apple, The Cluetrain and The Money," by John Martellaro, another former Apple employee.