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Ask HN: Why does no one talk about working or interviewing for Apple?
134 points by mmatey on Nov 24, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 91 comments
I find it interesting that people here talk about the interview process and working at companies such as Google and Microsoft, but I almost never hear about Apple.

Why is this? Is it the iPhone/Android debate? Or is it something else?

I interviewed with Apple last year, and I wasn't asked to sign an NDA. That said, I didn't actually see anything that would have required one.

I didn't apply to Apple - they found me. A year later, I'm still not sure how that happened, since I don't know anyone there. It could have been through a public talk about user experience that I gave (the position was for UX director of the Apple web site), it might have been through something I wrote, or it could have been as mundane as a LinkedIn search.

I went through a series of phone interviews in the usual ascending order. Everyone I spoke with was very sincere and conversational, there were no MS or Google-style "tests" to go through. We looked at work I'd done, I talked about my approach to UX, we got to know one another a bit.

Eventually, they flew me out to Cupertino (I live in NYC), and put me up at a nice hotel near the Apple campus. I spent a full day in an interview room, meeting various members of the team I would be working with, both above and below the position I was being considered for.

The only time we left the conference room where the interviews were happening was to take a stroll over to the cafe for lunch. I went with most of the team, and we talked about day to day life at Apple, what it's like working with tight security, the fancy Apple buses that take employees from SF and the East Bay to work, people's personal projects and hobbies, etc.

I got some insight into the way Apple works, and predictably, there was none of the corporate silliness that you'd find in a less confident company, none of the buzzwords or process for the sake of process. I could see that they all worked incredibly hard, but the fulfillment on everyone's faces made me want very much to be a part of it.

In the end, I didn't get the job - they ended up either not filling the position at all, changing their team structure, I'm not sure - they left me feeling very good about myself and the experience, probably the best way that I've ever not gotten a job.

The main impression I was left with was that I had just wandered back to a pre-dot com era where people worked incredibly hard to make great things, rather than to maximize profits or burn towards an IPO or whatever. It was one of the most human job interviews I'd ever been through.

My experiences were similar. I had several interviews with Apple:

1) Several phone interviews for an internship. They don't do fly outs for internships, if I remember correctly. I never finished this process because I took another position before the interviews were complete.

2) Phone interviews and fly out for a position about 1 year ago. The team had good things to say about me, but it wasn't a good fit for either myself or that team. I was referred to another part of Apple, where I started over.

3) Phone interviews and fly out for a different position just one week after #2. In a spat of horrible luck, I lost my contact lens at the hotel that morning. I decided that a makeshift eyepatch wouldn't look good, but having only 1 contact lens in gave me a splitting headache. As I struggled more than I should have, I felt them grow more cold. I was kindly told that the interviews were over about 3/4 of the way through.

Similar to jaysonelliot, I didn't sign an NDA and didn't leave the interview room except for lunch.

A few notable things about my interviews:

I was asked to code over the phone. That's much harder than white board coding, in my opinion. It was something fairly easy, though (atoi in c, or something like that).

I felt like I was judged on my Apple culture. When I revealed that I didn't know Objective C, that didn't seem to matter to much, but when I revealed that I didn't own an iPhone or a Mac, I did feel that my answers weren't what they were hoping.

The questions were very broad. Because I come from both a hardware and a software background, I was asked about everything from basic power dissipation to more traditional CS topics.

Honestly, I felt a much more happy and welcome atmosphere at Microsoft, which surprised me. It was kind of the opposite of the consumer perspectives of those companies.

I had an on-campus interview for an internship years ago that contrasts this a bit. It was about 30 minutes and there was no second interview. There were absolutely no technical questions. I was asked about whether I had experience with Apple products and development and the interviewer wasn't too offended when I said no. Absolutely no coding. The interviewer didn't seem to really care about the job description that was posted.

I was asked about some problem solving I had to do at a previous internship and I talked about how setjmp/longjmp saved my skin once. The interviewer seemed more pleased in the fact that I was excited about the solution than the fact that I had one.

Unlike you, I found it refreshing. I got the impression that they cared more about passion than obscure technical answers. In the end, I took another offer instead but it was a difficult decision to make.

For the people working there, talking about it on a public forum is cause enough to get fired, and hiding behind an online alias is not going to give you enough protection. Apple is full of really smart people, who like their jobs well enough not to risk losing them so casually and for such little incentive.

As for the process of interviewing: for a lot of the more interesting jobs at Apple, interviewing involves signing an NDA. Hence, whether or not they end up getting hired, they’re contractually prevented from talking about the interview process.

Having worked there in the past myself but not anymore, I can speak only _somewhat_ freely about it all. The interview process can be intense, taking up to several weeks and with a minimum of 4 interviews, but usually 7 or 8. Often, for practicality reasons (travel to Cupertino), all those interviews are done in a single day, and if it's more than 8 it'll be done across two+ days. As for the specifics of an average interview itself, I can’t really say anything.

And as for working there, my own experience was largely fantastic, but it wasn't for me in the end. Apple's campus is by far the nicest I've seen of all the major companies (and I've seen all the ones in Silicon Valley), and though there is always a constant pressure, stress and a major (and insane) deadline to make, working there is incredibly satisfying. Unless, perhaps, you're at MobileMe. But maybe that was just me.

I don't recall signing an NDA (or any other paperwork) before my interview. And when I conducted interviews, I was never given any paperwork to make candidates sign.

The thing to remember about Apple is: it's really big. The interview process for an engineer working on Mac OS X could be completely different from that for an engineer working on iPhoto vs a product manager working on the iTunes store vs a finance person vs a supply chain person (et cetera). Generalizing is hard, and probably wrong.

Generally, we did a couple of rounds of phone screens, and brought someone in if we were convinced they had enough technical savvy. Once they were on campus, we'd evaluate competence (do they know what they're doing?) and personality/fit (can we work with this person?).

Given that our team was a bunch of generalists, we'd ask you about everything from pointers to dialog box design to HTML to database administration to shell scripting. We'd expect you to know a little bit about everything and be an expert on one or two things.

I left a few years ago, and once I left the reality-distortion/no-disclosure zone I was amazed at how paranoid we all were over computer accessories. When you're in the mix, it feels like the most important thing in the world. And yet, since leaving, I haven't been able to find a job that challenges or stimulates me anything near what Apple did.

Apparently, neurosis begets job satisfaction? People who take their jobs "way too seriously" tend to get a lot of enjoyment when they see success in said job.

You can interview for all kinds of positions involving classified weapons and intelligence without signing an NDA, but Apple requires you to sign one? What could possibly be so special about their interview process?

I guess they're worried about people gaming the system, but what stops someone from breaking the NDA to one individual going in for the interview and not online? Wouldn't that give the one individual a huge advantage?

(Though I got fingerprinted and background checked before I could even sit down for those interviews)

As I said below, it's about the secrecy of the products & plans they're working on. Keeping those secrets is worth anywhere between $200 and $300 million of free advertisement a year (a conservative estimate, these days), so it shouldn’t really be such a shock they’d like to keep secret things secret.

With the culture of secrecy they have, it's not out of this world for them to want to also establish the culture from the get go and get you to take it seriously. This alone may be reason enough.

"Unless, perhaps, you're at MobileMe" -- sounds like you've got some gossip to get off your chest. Anything you care to share?

Not at all. It was just difficult to find the same kind of satisfaction in your work when other parts of the product fail so spectacularly. The MobileMe launch was a widely known failure, and the effects of that (and the problems) went on for a long time. Still today, there are many (legitimate) complaints about MobileMe, and such things impact one's satisfaction quite a lot.

Well job satisfaction with a department really depends on if you're actually doing the work requested and the terms on which you left (or were terminated, right?) Not that I had a love affair with MMe at the end of my job, but that had to do with the policies that Apple employs in terms of mass communication of pre-release products, and not with the level of talent in the existing team.

Oh for sure, the teams I worked with at MMe were all super talented and fun, and I still miss them. The problems were largely with the infrastructure and lack of vision for (or understanding of, perhaps) the product itself. Mostly details I can’t go into, of course, but it was nothing to do with the level of talent in the teams.

Ok this is the answer I was looking for - but a bit unexpected. I can certainly understand an NDA for working there, but interviewing? ok...

As for comments farther down, it's a case of curiosity like I said - corporate/company culture, not their products. I think that's relative no matter what the company size is.

Imagine interviewing for a job position as baseband engineer in 2006. Apple had no iPhone in the market, why would they have needed a baseband engineer? Even a simple interview can sometimes reveal a lot about their product plans, hence the need for NDAs just for that early process.

I would think there would be some misdirection involved with the interview process anyhow.

... Apple interviewed a baseband engineer, nuclear physicist and a satellite communications engineer last month... This month they are asking for quotes for satellite launch... WTF is Apple up to?

I interviewed for Apple earlier this month. I didn't get the position, but I really enjoyed the challenging interview process and meeting the 7 people who interviewed me.

I had a phone interview with a manager, and then a three-hour process at Apple HQ in which I was interviewed by three pairs of employees from the team I was applying to work with. I was very impressed that they devoted so much employee time to talking with me. They were very friendly people, and asked an interesting variety of questions, ranging from puzzles to how I'd handle various theoretical work scenarios to technical questions of various kinds.

The gent who recommended me told me that he had to apply six times before getting hired, so I'm planning to keep applying, for other positions.

There. Now someone has posted about interviewing at Apple. Happy? :)

There were 3 basic periods at Apple: the beginnings (aka Steve I), the Dark Ages (roughly '85-'97), and Steve Returns.

During the Dark Ages, Apple leaked internal information badly. One of the first things that Steve did upon return was try to clamp down (and fire people if necessary). He even had one of those WW-II posters "Loose lips sink ships" tacked up. And there is a certain truth to that. Competition has heated up (esp in the mobile space). Anyone and everyone would love to know what Apple is working on now, and what they will announce next month. Witness the kerkuffle with gawker over the iphone 4 engineering test device.

So people at Apple learn to say nothing, or move on down the road.

I think the period names you are looking for are "A New Hope", "The Board Strikes Back", and "The Return of the Jobs".

The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith.

My first guess would be respect for the company. Secondarily, plenty of results in google reveal that the policy (if somewhat unofficially) is that you can say you work at Apple on your blog, etc, but not really blog /about/ Working At Apple. Even if there's no official policy on it, it's just better taste to say "The thoughts of John Doe" and not represent oneself as "John Doe of Apple."

"There's a PR department for that."

All that said, there are plenty of writers/bloggers who work at Apple. Randsinrepose.com is a personal favorite, and contains the writing work of Michael Lopp who may be an engineering manager at the fruit company. This policy of sorts goes much further back than iPhone/Android or any other blog-hyped non-competition.

Interesting, I never realised that Rands works at Apple...

Worked, according to WP: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rands

The first rule of working at Apple - No one talks about Apple.

Ok ya, I understand it's a secretive culture. But plenty of people talk about going to, and getting rejected, at other places also...

Second rule of Apple: one button and no more. If you need more, just use the on-screen buttons.

I actually understood the one-button mouse idea recently. It forces software developers to try not to hide all the useful features behind right-click menus, but figure out how to consistently lead a user to where they want to go.

User Story: My wifi wasn't working on my windows laptop the other day, I knew there was some nice "troubleshoot network" button, but I could not find it for the life of me every time i clicked on the wifi icon, causing me to go through the "network and sharing center" menu . 10 minutes later I finally realized right-clicking instantly brought up the troubleshoot menu.

> It forces software developers to try not to hide all the useful features

except that in the Mac you can option-click, which is even more complicated than a right click. There is always a way to make features obscure, if you want to.

>except that in the Mac you can option-click, which is even >more complicated than a right click. There is always a way >to make features obscure, if you want to.

Emm, I think you missed his point. This is EXACTLY why the single button mouse forced software developers to make it work with a single click --because it made the "right click" equivalent more difficult for the user.

Yeah! Gimp sucks for precisely the reason that they fall headlong into that trap.

Certainly, you must mean the on-screen button.

Probably because most of the people working there would like to keep their jobs.

Freedom, yeah baby!

I believe that they've got somewhat strictest policies on talking about internal stuff.

Well, at least that's what some bloggers write about [1] and I haven't heard about any counter-proofs.

[1] http://gizmodo.com/5427058/apple-gestapo-how-apple-hunts-dow...

I agree. I have close, personal friends who went to work at Apple. The last time I talked to one of them, they started getting visibly nervous just talking about the breakfast they had at the on-campus cafe.

Not what it cost, or what it was, but even that it existed.

I quickly changed the topic.

Sounds like your friend suffers from bizarre paranoia or acute social anxiety. (See how I can just make stuff up too?)

Having been invited multiple times by friends to Infinite Loop for lunch and dinner, and debated the quality of the food vs Google's with them (Google still wins on that front), I can safely say that nobody at Apple gives a shit if employees talk about the cafe.

The Gizmodo article is pretty much bullshit as well, my friends tell me. Unless there are groups at Apple that are more secretive than the UI team/iPhone/iPad are and actually enforce those rules on their own.

"(See how I can just make stuff up too?)"

Unfortunately, I didn't make up my post. Your reply is just as interesting without peppering in a baseless accusation.

My apologies!

Your friend's reaction was just plain absurd, unless he/she was playing a joke on you.

Gizmodo isn't really an impartial source, though... :-/

This is a really interesting question, and got me thinking - maybe google's brutal interview process has a secondary purpose - to increase the allure of working at google?

This reminds me of a business case I read once about the difference between Mac Donalds and Burger King. That Mac Donalds uses a batch processing method that is faster but requires a higher skill level, whereas BK uses an assembly line, and that this affects their advertising. MacD's ads often double as recruiting ads, whereas BK tends to emphasize "have it your way" (easier to customize when you make burgers one at a time).

Maybe Google wants to interview more people than necessary, and subject them to an interview that leaves them thinking "man, you need to be at the top of your game to work there!" as a way of increasing the prestige of working there (and perhaps getting more top applicants?)

The thing is, I don't really see why this strategy would apply more to google than apple (unlike the MD vs BK thing...)

One thing is sure - devs are all aware of google's notorious interview process, but we (well, I should really just speak for myself, so I) never really hear these stories about apple.

Anthropologists have noted for a long time that social groups with high barriers to entry engender greater loyalty. This behaviour occurs throughout many cultures -- from tribal rites of passage through to frat boy hazing, the nastier the experience, the stronger the bond.

I expect that brutal interviewing is no different.

When Glyph Lefkowitz (of the Twisted project) was hired, he posted unboxing pics of his job offer to his blog (which has since been closed down). He praised the usability of the letter.

Second-hand mention in: http://www.geek.com/articles/apple/unboxing-an-apple-job-off...

I worked at Apple EMEIA for a year and, truth be told, the interview process there depends.

It depends on where you want to work. If it's in Cupertino I'm told it's a completely different story to the EMEIA office. Having worked there, I can vouch for there really being a culture of absolute secrecy. It's quite common for one team to not know what's going on in the other corner of the room with another team. Secrecy has gotten even more prevalent in the EMEIA office (the office being made up of project managers alone, it was formerly less secretive than Apple World Wide/Cupertino) since the Gizmodo iPhone 4 affair. As regards fear related to Apple's security paranoia? It was moreover regarded as an irritation.

Going back to the interview process at Apple EMEIA (I can't say for Apple WW), it depends entirely upon who interviews you, which team, for what role, and what level. There is no set pattern. There may be an NDA for the interview process, there may not. It depends on the role and the person you are seeing. I know some who've had only two interviews, some who've had nine. It depends.

Whether it's intentional or coincidence, it's interesting how it parallels their products. There are approximately three people who work for Apple. They are the shiny, slick interface. Everything else is an implementation detail.

Jonathan Ive is like OS X. Nobody knows how OS X actually works, but they know the name and that it is why their screen shows such pretty things.

What makes you say nobody knows how OS X actually works? The developer documents aren't a big batch of jokes, they describe how the system works. Also take a look at "Mac OS X Internals" by Amit Singh, there's more about the inner workings of OS X there than you could ever possibly care to know.

When I say nobody, I mean no normal people. By posting here, you automatically exclude yourself from that group. Your mom doesn't know how OS X works.

Normal people aren't supposed to know OS internals, that's the whole point of UI abstractions! They have more important matters to deal with when they use a computer. OS X isn't any different from other OSs in this regard: your mom doesn't know what the registry is.

The man in the black turtleneck will find you if you talk

I interviewed for Apple a few months ago. I didn't get to the NDA signing part (I backed out because another opportunity came up during the process) but still wouldn't talk about the interviews I went through because I still hope to go back and try again someday (in the slim chance that our current venture doesn't work out).

There's folklore.org but that's like 25 years ago.

I blogged about my experiences both in Apple Retail, and in "corporate" Apple for a number of years. Eventually I took it all down, though not due to any pressure from the company. I took it down because I was inundated with emails from 15 year olds who wanted to know how to get a job in an AppleStore. But I worked for Apple for 6 years in Retail and AppleCare, and interfaced extensively with hardware engineering. I'm not sure I'd have anything interesting to say, but if you have any questions, I'll try my best to answer them.


This comment probably has one of the highest upvote-to-character-length ratios in HN history.


The NDA comments across this thread are interesting, in the company I work for we NDA on just about every single external interaction. We're an IP black hole - anything you do using company resources (including sitting interviews) is considered our IP and is controlled as such.

We often get PHD students in to do research for us, and we compensate the hell out of them - because nothing they do ever leaves the walls. They sign a series of NDA and IP related contracts up front and don't get to use any external assets internally or vice versa.

The structure of the business itself is a mess of interwoven black box systems / IP and our own work, so it gets pretty aggressive / tight lipped whenever anyone is dealing with other people / companies, even internal branches.

If you go to Apple, you might be surprised to find out that you've already agreed to some form of NDA with them. Especially, for example, if you're a part of any Apple Developer program. They might not always feel compelled to remind you of this, however.

I wouldn't know, though; I don't think I recall ever having been to Apple. No, not in a million years. I do find this Apple sweatshirt which I must've found at a thrift store to be especially comfy, however.

but i think the author's got a point, you never hear about any stalwarts of software dev defecting to apple, do you?

no never. not jordan hubbard, not dominic giampolo. no-one.

I was thinking about Ivan Krstić, but he did not really defect to Apple.


Tsk, young people today. No idea of history (where history == about ten years ago)

It could be that it's not as common currently? I may have just missed it, but I haven't noticed any high-profile moves to Apple in the past 2-3 years, contrary to the situation with people moving around between Microsoft, Google, and Facebook.

Regarding NDA's - Don't most companies sign some sort of an NDA with potential hires/ employees??Still, interview questions of most companies are available if you google well enough. But yeah, the difference is humongous- Apple doesnt seem to have the faintest thing similar to mini-microsoft :-)

i have a friend that works at apple, and other than providing a vague job description and saying they like it, they don't discuss details.

i think it's the culture, your work speaks for itself. he puts in long hours (on par with goog really) and has a great salary and perks.

The first rule of interviewing at apple is that you do not talk about interviewing at apple.

Sounds like a cult tbh - and I'm a mac fan.

It's simple.

If you want the job,

And you're smart,

You'll keep your goddamn mouth shut.

The first rule of Fight Club?

"No smoking."

that's the second rule

Fear is a man's best friend.

"Fear is a dictator's best friend"

FTFY :-)

It's probably not nice to refer to Steve in that way ... ;)

Hey - maybe his dog is named Fear. ;)

The phrase is a reference to a John Cale song.

I'm earwormed with the Billy Bragg song, myself.

I interviewed at Apple for a product manager role. I have an MBA, and they were an on-campus recruiter. I interviewed on campus, then they called me to tell me I was going to have a 2nd round interview in Cupertino. 2 weeks later, I haven't heard anything and I am scheduled to be in Mountain View for a GOOG interview. I email them, telling them that I'd be happy to come in and save myself the time and them the travel expense...

They email me a week later (post my interview) and tell me "that should work..." They really have a crappy set of recruiters working there. Ultimately, I needed to accept another job (ended up being at AMZN), and Apple never actually got back to me. I've heard some similar stories about recruiter ineptitude there.

So they treat engineers and designers better than MBAs?

Oh noes!

Remember the Oompa Loompas?

Same concept.

We all talk about how Megan Fox is hot, but then return to designing a descript schemantic intended to woo the girl next door.

And I dont mean to say that apple is out of one's league.

There's enough talk here about Apple, maybe not about working or interviewing there, but honestly there's just way too much talk about big companies on HN already; we don't need more.

What's the point of this meta thread anyway? Are you planning to work at Apple? If so, why don't you just ask specific direct questions about that?

Flagged for zero content.

Sounds like personal preference. This site is for natural selection. If people are interested in it then it will get voted up. Voted Up because I've often wondered it myself

This site is not completely for natural selection. I think PG would agree or there would be no moderation.

Well-Kept Gardens Die By Pacifism.


It's kinda interesting, though, that when this site was founded almost 4 years ago, everything was about "What's it like to work for a startup?" And now, everything is apparently "What's it like to work for Google/Facebook/Apple?"

I wonder if that's a symptom of HN's widening userbase, or if it's a sign of the times. Back in 2007, the startup market was very glutted, and a lot of people (including myself) were founding companies who probably should not have been. Now, it seems like every top developer's dream is to work for one of the Big 3. I wonder if that's a sign that it's time to start founding companies again.

Don't forget that some of the original Hacker News user base is getting older and deciding to try out new things. Working for a large technology company, even if you ultimately want to strike out on your own, is a good experience and can teach you a lot of thing you're not going to learn at a startup or small business (simply because you'll never encounter them)

> Don't forget that some of the original Hacker News user base is getting older and deciding to try out new things.

I think for the most part that it is because they're simply leaving.

> Flagged for zero content.

The question itself may not present any content but the discussion it has started has already created some.

Also, the thread currently has 70 points. Clearly, some people are interested in it, which I think, invalidates your assumption that the thread is pointless.

I really cannot see why you needed to flag it.

the thread currently has 70 points

Also known as the 10% effect. See point 1: http://mattmaroon.com/2010/11/23/i-quit-hacker-news/

That's exactly the reason I flagged it. I don't want such stuff on the front page. It's extremely boring.

I get your point but, who gets to decide if a thread is boring or not? What gets stuff on front page is the collective opinion of the community. Saying that something on front page is boring is merely a personal opinion.

Lack of the ability to downvote definitely cripples the way to represent the opinion of the community about a specific thread. Considering that, your argument makes sense but my point is, flagging the thread will make absolutely no difference as long as there are a significant number of people who show interest in it.

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