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This is really interesting to me – self-organizing passion keeps things juiced more than the strategy or leadership?

Puts the whole "biggest startup in the world" business into perspective, I suppose.

I'd love to hear stories from your experience that illustrate how this motivation works. Others have told me that Apple is very big company but somehow this doesn't poison the end-product. I was crediting this to leadership and smart planning, so I'm fascinated to hear the real deal.

It largely depends on which group you're in. There are people working on stuff that's just sort of ticking along (there's a lot of technology in OS X, some of it sort of hidden -- like the latent semantic analysis framework, which is solely used for Parental Controls), or are inherently sort of gross (QuickTime for Windows, I'm looking at you), and I imagine that their experience would be different from e.g. the people working on iOS or hardware engineering on the Macbook Air or XCode.

I worked at the iTunes Store on video, and it was wild; I started about a year after the store launched, and there were maybe a dozen engineers on the team; by the time I left there had to have been a hundred (10x growth in five years.) What was really motivating was watching the broadcasts of the keynotes -- or being invited to attend -- and seeing the stuff you'd been working on presented by Steve. There was also, I have to admit, a certain charge that came from knowing stuff about future products that wasn't widely disseminated; Apple keeps their teams very segregated, and you often just know a code number or name of something that's passed over the transom, and you don't find out what it is until the rest of the world does.

But that said, siloing can have an adverse effect if you're not working on a hot product; once something is established, executive attention can wander onto something newer and cooler, and big company politics with all that that entails can come into play.

All taken with all, though, it was a fantastic place to work. I recommend it unreservedly.

EDIT: Cleaned up a couple of clunky sentences.

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