We know Apple operates in a shroud of secrecy, partially to keep its fanboys hungry, but the latest inside look at the company from Fortune's Adam Lashinsky describes a intense culture more akin to an organization protecting life-or-death secrets. "We have cells, like a terrorist organization," says Jon Rubinstein, a former Apple senior hardware executive, in a 2000 Businessweek article. "Everything is on a need‑to‑know basis." Lashinky's tales from inside over a decade later confirms that the company is still living up to its shadowy reputation.
- New members can't be trusted. Employees often don't know for what they are being hired. And, orientation doesn't do much enlightening. "They wouldn't tell me what it was," former engineer told Lashinsky. "I knew it was related to the iPod, but not what the job was." During orientation, which always occurs on a Monday, there's not much corporate bonding, as many can't talk about their jobs. "Half the folks can't tell you what they're doing, because it's a secret project that they've gotten hired for." Bob Borchers, a product marketing executive continued. And that secrecy continues beyond orientation, as new additions have to earn their manager's trust before they get access to company secrets.
- There's an initiation. "People felt very quickly like you were part of something special," Lars Albright, who became director of partnerships and alliances in Apple's iAd mobile-advertising business, relayed to Lashinsky. As early as the first day, Apple indoctrinates its employees with Apple toys and free food. "There's only one free lunch at Apple, and it's on your first day," said a former employee. Perks, as we in the media industry know, are powerful bribes.
- Secret projects abound. Even high profile items, like the iPhone, are only seen by a few people in windowless rooms before the big reveal. But the company ensures that feeling of secrecy pervades the entire campus, all the time. "All companies have secrets, of course. The difference is that at Apple everything is a secret," writes Lashinsky. There are constant construction projects to build new secret rooms that have special locks and extra doors. Apple also makes its employees sign "extra-special agreements acknowledging that you were working on a super-secret project and you wouldn't talk about it to anyone -- not your wife, not your kids," explained a former senior executive. Sounds like Tinker, Tailor level of secrecy -- and they were fighting communism!
- There are penalties for defection. Anyone who breaks the rules gets fired. Apple makes that clear from day one. Even mentioning projects gets employees in trouble. "I've had friends who've been reprimanded for talking too much," said a former engineer. "It's best in general not to talk about work."
- Just in case, Apple has spies within. Like any organization trying to keep secrets, Apple has sophisticated methods to find moles. The lore goes that Apple has plainclothes secret agents hiding out in nearby bars, waiting to catch a blabbermouth spilling the company's million dollar secrets. True or not, it serves as a brilliant panopticon to muzzle its employees.
- No fun allowed. Unlike the laid back image we have of other Silicon Valley tech companies, Apple isn't a very fun place to work. "When you're on the campus, you never get the feeling that people are slacking off," an anonymous observer noted. Fear, not fun, drives the worker-bees. "You don't want to be the weak link. There is an intense desire to not let the company down," continued Lashinsky's source.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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