Regarding fake projects and loyalty tests
I meant to write this article a few weeks ago when I was on a roll here. In the meantime, life intruded with several distractions—some serious, like another illness for our 15-year-old Labrador Retriever, Penny. That situation caused me to completely unplug from the Internet for a few weeks to focus on her recovery. Penny is much better now and I’m trying to get back to that original thought.
Like me, many of you probably read Jacqui Cheng’s article on Ars Technica, “Does Apple really assign engineers to ‘fake’ projects as a loyalty test?” Her article was a response—a refutation, really—of a meme that wouldn’t seem to die.
Once you get past the overly dramatic headline, it’s a well-written, thoughtful piece with actual research, sprinkled with quotes from real people who know what they’re talking about, including a tweet from my friend Daniel Jalkut. Props to Ms. Cheng for being an honest-to-God journalist and doing the hard work on this one.
The conclusion to the article is, of course, “no,” Apple doesn’t do that.
And I can also confirm that’s the case. As a manager and then director at Apple for over 10 years, I never once assigned anyone to a fake project. And loyalty tests? I never heard of either practice there.
So, how do silly ideas like this stay alive? It’s because many don’t understand—even at a basic level—how Apple works.
A qualification for that understanding doesn’t require employment at Cupertino. I doubt very seriously if John Gruber, Jim Dalrymple or Horace Dediu—none of whom have ever worked for Apple—fell for that original story.
I picked those three folks as examples because all of them—as far as I’m concerned—have a good track record of discerning Apple’s motives and interpreting the company’s actions. There are certainly other people out there like those three, but sadly it’s a small number compared to the legion employed as media gas bags.
Anyway, here’s a lesson for the gas bag army—not that they’ll really take it.
As I’ve mentioned here before:
… at Apple, we defied business orthodoxy by being a functional rather than divisional organization. Meaning we were organized by product focus like a much smaller company, rather than in discrete business units like some the size of IBM or General Motors. It certainly staved off the complexity of duplication that continues to plague other companies.
This isn’t some insider scoop I gave away with that post. It’s been obvious to people on the outside for years.
Clearly, duplication of effort is not big in Cupertino. Even with two operating systems—iOS and OS X—the idea is to share technologies that make sense and keep those technologies from diverging too much. Otherwise it becomes really complicated to coordinate releases. It’s not perfect, but anyone who’s attended an Apple developer conference knows the company takes reducing even that kind of duplication seriously.
Which makes the idea of fake projects so ludicrous. That’s not even duplicated effort. That’s completely superfluous work. When you have a focus on efficiency like Apple, why would you waste time and resources doing that?
Apple is also known for having very high standards when it comes to hiring. And it’s clear that those candidates who make it through the interview process, are offered a job, and finally accept employment—well, those folks really want to be at Apple.
It’s also common knowledge that Apple keeps what they’re working on a secret until it’s unveiled to the public. There are very explicit rules for employees—told to them on their first day of their employment or later disclosure on a specific project—about what they can say regarding that project and to whom they can say it. And it’s very clear to everyone what happens if those rules are broken. Such a policy is probably not that much different from what other technology companies have these days. This is old news.
Now, if Apple is going to screen candidates so thoroughly and then explain the rules to them so carefully after they’re hired, what is the point of an additional loyalty test?
None. It’s a stupid idea. Not only stupid, it’s insulting to the person you just hired. And basically an excellent way to demotivate the person you invested so much time in finding.
So much of what is written about Apple these days is just horseshit meant to draw flies. And it makes me sad that somebody had to clean up after that particular pile.