What It's Like to Work at Apple

apple jobsI started working at Apple during the dot-com boom in 1998, and I left the company in 2007. As much as I loved working at Apple, by 2007 I determined that I now had the financial freedom and opportunity to leave the company and begin working on my own projects.

That was because Apple had been very good to me via the stock market. In the time I worked there, the stock price had gone from less than $10 per share (adjusted for splits) in 1998, to $100-plus per share when I left in 2007 -- and it now hovers around $300 per share. And since I still own shares that I bought for less than $10 per share, my investments in Apple have paid off handsomely.

A culture of fandom

At Apple, it's never, "How long did you work for the company?" but rather, "How many times did you work at Apple?" The Apple attitude seems to infect everyone who works closely with the technology -- and, even after leaving the company, we all say that we still "bleed six colors," in reference to the original six-color Apple logo.

While at Apple, I, like many other employees, moved between several different divisions and jobs. I started at the company as a software engineer in the WebObjects (Web application) consulting division. I then became an inbound marketer for their K-12 school division, where we sold a suite of hardware, called the Apple Learning Hub, to school districts as part of the company's one-to-one initiative to provide one laptop to each student in a district.

I last worked as an engineer at the Apple Online Store -- which was, by far, the most important experience of my time at Apple, since the online store was earning millions of dollars in revenue every day. We would take the store offline before Steve Jobs took the stage to give a keynote speech and update the database with the new products he was introducing. It was always a great learning experience to bring the store back online under the onslaught of Apple fans checking out the new products.

A great working environment

Apple's HR department takes good care of its employees. In my eight years at the company I never once had, or heard of anyone having, pay issues or other administration problems. Working at Apple was mostly a positive experience, with just a few less-than-ideal elements to the job. Here are some highlights:

Can We Talk: At Apple, you could raise issues that weren't appropriate to bring up with your manager to a higher level by posting it to the Can We Talk section of the internal HR website. For example, in spring 2001, the Apple federal office in Reston, Va., was remodeled to look more like the main campus in Cupertino, Calif. The architect in charge of the remodel removed the large American flag hanging on the lobby wall, since it didn't fit into Apple's design. Immediately after the 9/11 attacks, Apple promoted a video on their HR website as they unrolled a huge American flag at 1 Infinite Loop. A quick post to the Can We Talk section pointing out the irony immediately fixed the problem, and the American flag was replaced in the Reston office lobby.

Health insurance: The health benefits are very good at Apple. A couple of people in my office had to deal with life-threatening diseases, either directly or for their dependents, and their total out-of-pocket expenses were less than $1,000 for co-pays and prescriptions.

Career path: My biggest complaint about working at Apple was that there was no career path. While working at a field office, in Virginia, or from home in Southern California (all of which I did), may not be the fast track up the corporate ladder, I noticed no difference when I was working at the main headquarters in Cupertino, Calif. This fact is by no means a "dirty little secret," however. It's simply the way Apple works, as our HR rep correctly pointed out.

Secrecy: Apple's secrecy is comparable to the U.S. government's in terms of "need to know" and compartmentalization. That sometimes resulted in duplicated efforts within the company. While this secrecy is a necessity to keep Apple ultra-competitive, it would have been more effective if open projects could have been presented to the secret teams to see if there was a fit worth bringing the open projects into the mix.

Blogging: As an Apple employee, you definitely get the feeling that blogging about the company is frowned upon. It goes to the extent that if you have a personal blog about an unrelated topic, you don't even want to mention that you work for Apple.

Military service: While Apple does not employ many military veterans, they've gone above and beyond what is required. Reservists called up to active duty are put into a military-leave status and they remain Apple employees while Apple makes up the salary difference between their military pay and their Apple pay until they return.

Toys: It almost goes without saying that working at Apple allows you to use many of their latest products on a daily basis. Apple employee discounts usually fall in the 15 to 25 percent range, making it easy to buy the latest "gotta have" Apple product for friends and family. Over the past five years, Apple has frequently given every employee a gift ranging from the iPod shuffle to the iPhone. Also, before Apple recycles a computer, they give employees the opportunity to take it home. I've probably brought home more than a dozen computers over the years.

Caffe Macs: The corporate cafeteria, Caffe Macs, is the place to eat on campus. The food quality and variety are excellent, whether you're looking for pizza and pasta or sushi and salad. What can't be beat is the level of excitement and electricity in the cafe. On a daily basis, you'll see at least one of Apple's top executives in Caffe Macs, including Apple's CEO, Steve Jobs himself, who seems to show up there once a week.

Overall, there seem to be no end to the great things about working at Apple. Steve Jobs takes tremendous pride that Apple is a California company that creates great products. When working at Apple, you definitely feel like you're a part of a group of people who will make a serious dent in the universe. It's a fantastic place to work, and I hope to return one day.

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