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Bret Victor on working at Apple. (worrydream.com)
116 points by endergen on May 11, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 68 comments

The title really should be changed to reflect the actual message (or lack of one). Nowhere in the post does he say that he didn't have a good time working at Apple. Nowhere does he advise not working there (like the title suggests).

From what I infer, anyway, his actual message is that he can't show what he worked on at Apple - not that it's a bad place to work.

Well, he does seem to regret working there a lot.

From http://worrydream.com/#!/Freedom

"Are you free yet?

I declared my freedom on November 1. Apple has a depository where you drop off your soul for the duration of your employment. I went to retrieve it, and they gave it back to me scuffed, bruised, deflated, but hopefully still in working order."

That's what I also thought at first, but the second question of the FAQ on the site lends itself to the interpretation that working at Apple was a "mistake". But yeah, the title is somewhat editorializing...

Well, that, or it could also mean that the mistakes are the reasons none of his products are available on the market today, and therefore he can't show them off.

Actually he does. Re-read the last few lines of the post.

Hint: the word "mistake" usually implies something you shouldn't do

Read down further: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2536093

NYC guys edit your titles for you? Because I didn't strip off the "hint don't"?

I don't believe it was editorializing in any serious degree. My point stands and I do believe he looks to feel that way. I tried to capture the gist of the article in a title. For fun I'd love to hear some alternative titles.

Well, he does imply that it was a mistake. The impression for me was that he regrets the time spent there.

Exactly. Hence my now defunct '(Hint don't)' abbreviation of the tone/conclusion of the article.

Looks like there are more to this story. The Departure one is really creative :)



Great site, overall.

That departure one is excellent.

The post is almost content-free, we all know apple is secretive.

But that website is a work of art, although it does crawl in chrome on my current-gen mac mini.

If the guy doesn't like apple, I doubt he'd have much trouble finding work elsewhere.

EDIT: re-reading, I see that he has.

Just to provide a counter-point, from a usability point of view I found that article terrible.

On the 1920 pixels wide screen at work, more than half the horizontal width became buttons (previous and next). As soon as the mouse pointer was outside the white background for the linked-to article, a click lead to navigating away from the article.

It took me at least two or three times of wondering where the fsck the article I was reading went, before I realized what was going on. Apparantly randomly clicking on what looks like (and ought to be) passive whitespace is a bad habit, on today's web.

>On the 1920 pixels wide screen at work, more than half the horizontal width became buttons (previous and next)

I think my adoration may have been influenced by the fact that my monitors are in portrait orientation.

And I use a trackball. I'm a sucker for contrarianism. Maybe I should start using visual studio?

Please, a little consideration. I just finished breakfast, and it was tasty. I'd prefer to keep it down.

Who cares about the usability of this site. It's not done to be user friendly but rather to be explorable.

I do. That site is so bad, I ignored the content and moved on.

That is your loss for sure.

It's probably one of the most interesting sites by any single person out there.

Agreed. His website should be cause for Serious Hiring of the creator. It is innovative, inventive, and probably 5 years ahead of its time...

It crawls on my current-gen Macbook Pro (Chrome).

Huh, really? It was pretty snappy on mine (2.4GHz i5 MBP, Ubuntu Linux).

Perhaps he worked on his site when he worked there? I don't know, whenever I see concept work like this I think that it is an impressive hobby, but often I feel that perhaps the efforts could've been spent elsewhere, at least for the reasons you specify. I mean it has great texture, but it works like crap on my Chrome here as well.

It performs swimmingly in Firefox.

Man signs contract containing NDA before starting work then seems to object to the fact that he's being held to an NDA.

If he made a mistake surely it reflects on him rather than Apple?

If you don't like the terms, don't sign the contract. If he's good enough to get a job at Apple I suspect it wasn't his only option.

I'd guess he expected a 99% failure rate in exchange for a few highly polished gems that might be featured in a MacWorld keynote, or at the very least make it into a shipping product he could show off to his family and or friends.

I think anyone should be allowed to feel disappointed at a 100% failure rate over three years, no matter how many NDAs they signed.

He was working in highly conceptual R&D, he could have worked there for decades and never had anything reach the public in any recognisable form, let alone make a MacWorld keynote.

If you want public recognition it's not a great area to work in regardless of the company.

Hate to say it: thats not even an Apple problem. Almost every corporate research division works like this. A lot of ideas go there to die.

True that. It’s not like the web is full of prototypes and ideas from other high profile companies except Apple.

Haters are going to hate…

If only someone had warned him of their secretive culture before he started.

Is a warning even necessary? I am fairly certain every company works this way.

Nah, Microsoft wasn't like that. I've always joked that if you wanted to do corporate espionage, you should either ride one of the local commute lines (the 245) or just sit around pretending to drink coffee at the Redmond Town Center Borders.

I certainly used to regularly chat about bug burndown rates, joke about ship dates, and play that old game of "how many release candidates" with other managers. And I overheard more new feature discussions in public from folks on other teams than I can possibly imagine.

But, it was part of the culture. Love it or hate it, most members of the dev organization who are successful long-term at MSFT talk about their work all the time, everywhere they go. I've overheard heated arguments in public about Windows servicing patching strategies, and been in ones about such nits as whether the VS solution explorer should be on the left or the right in the default profile.

Umm.. no they don't

Many companies encourage people to talk about their work. See, for example, Microsoft, Facebook, Google, Twitter etc.

Obviously they have some restrictions - but nothing like Apple.

Google certainly doesn't encourage people to talk about their work--it's one of the things that puts me off the thought of working there.

There are 25,000 Google employees, how many of them do you think are attending IO (total attendance 5000), let alone speaking there.

That's a stage managed corporate event announcing new products and initiatives, it's no more a display of openness than Steve Jobs' keynotes.

Not really a representative sample of corporate culture. It's almost three years since my last job, and maybe I can talk about what I did there or get a job in a similar industry as of November.

Talking about your work is one thing; talking about what you’re working on, that’s something else entirely.

I believe it is typical of engineering R&D firms that you can't talk about the details of what you do, or the products that are coming out.

Some of what can be produced is patents (describing the mechanisms), papers at conferences, and white papers.

Essentially, any special technology - anything providing competitive advantage - is kept under lock and key.

At least this is what I understand from talking and reading. Please feel to correct me with facts if I am wrong. :-)

I'm sure for someone in this position it could get pretty frustrating to work at a place like Apple. On the one hand, you could invent something that could end up being used on a device used by hundreds of millions of people. On the other hand, that bar, purposely, is insanely high, so the likelihood that will happen is low. Corporate security aside, that just seems like the nature of the game at a company that values (and delivers) on a world class user experience.

This dude is a bit more than a designer: http://worrydream.com/VisualizingEdgeWeights/

On the other hand, I can point to portions of Mac OS X and iOS that are shipping today and say: I made that.

Not only was the experience of working at Apple incredibly valuable from a technical standpoint, but from a business standpoint it's something instantly recognizable to others.

The document linked below is easily the least important page on the whole site.

But without it, I would have never read the rest of it, so thank you. I think I just spend about 50 minutes getting schooled by Mr. Victor. Amazing concepts.

(everything I just typed feels trite after the sweeping visions imparted in the literature on that site. Seriously. I'm going to bed.)

Exactly. I'm a huge fan. He's tackling complex problems and trying his best to do something about it. Working at Apple you'd think would be a good approach. But his work for Al Gore is likely a better starting point to evangelizing his points. Especially when he's unconstrained by NDAs.

Honestly, it sounds like a pretty interesting job, but reminds me of the adage about choosing between doing something awesome and being to tell no one, and doing something (more) mainstream and telling everyone.

Sounds like he'd prefer the latter. And maybe he's right, at least from a portfolio perspective.

This is just the nature of the business. I have nothing in my portfolio from 2007 until now. None of my work is as interesting or potentially valuable as anything I might have done at Apple - mostly UIs for games then UIs for banks. But all of it is under NDA.

Somehow it comes as no surprise to me that he's been 'Inventing shit'. Carry on; get a job, create one for yourself. That apple stamp of approval on your resume helps and we know Apple is run like a death star.

I'll bite. Define the workings of the death star. Or rather, define how you see the workings of the death star in a way that helps me comprehend your definition of how Apple is run.

The things I've read all point to Apple being pretty much a great place to work, except that because of its secrecy not a lot (if anything in many projects) can be shared outside their walls. This is, if you think about it, one of the main reasons why they enter a market and lead it. One might disagree with their methods and the extreme secrecy, but it's also working out pretty darn well if we look at the numbers.

Hence, like the death star. It would have rocked the empire (market) if the rebels hadn't stolen the plans.

How long are such NDAs legally enforceable? If I sign the NDA and work at Apple for month am I prohibited from ever discussing ideas developed under NDA during that month? Has there been any meaningful test of this in court? What if Apple releases a product that incorporates aspects of the ideas but not all of them? Is Bret still unable to speak of his work (even if he limits it to the aspects publicly disclosed by Apple)?

I dont see the big deal. Apple is Apple. Hopefully he learned a ton and will take it with him to his next startup where he will be able to blog about it.

From the FAQ at the bottom of the article:

  Q - Oh, okay, I thought you had made some sort of mistake.
  A - Yes, exactly.
The ``yes, exactly [[i've made some sort of mistake]]'' doesn't refer to the empty box itself...

Please change the title. No way does Bret state that you shouldn't work there. Just that he can't show you anything.

Q - But that box is empty! It's an empty box!

A - Yes, exactly.

Q - Oh, okay, I thought you had made some sort of mistake.

A - Yes, exactly.

I'm not sure how so many people are missing this. Not reading through or simply not getting it?

When something is left up to interpretation, no matter how obvious, many will simply not get it.

That's not saying don't work at apple.

That might be saying. It was a mistake that I worked for apple.

Or it was a mistake that I worked for a place where I wasn't allowed to show what I did

Or so many other things.

But no where does he advice people against working for apple.

I'm surprised how many people are strongly against my conclusion in my title. He is saying pretty clearly that it was a mistake.

It would be awesome if Bret wasn't using so many CSS3 effects on his site, causing my iOS browser to crash repeatedly.

I don't get why you mentioned Bret at all, I think you must have meant that you wished your browser wasn't so crash-prone.

It would be awesome if your iOS browser didn't crash when it's trying to display something that should be well within its capabilities.

Though it appears the content is loaded in a frame anyway, so here's a link to the content which should be ok: http://worrydream.com/Apple/

iPhone 4, iOS 4.3 - Site works great (well, besides the slow, initial load time...) In fact, compared to my desktop browser, I prefer the transitions on my phone! Much, much smoother!

*Edit - Commented too soon. Just crashed it playing around with the horizontal scroll area at the top. Navigating around seems to take its toll on the browser. Oh well.

Maybe it's personal flavor of sweet, sweet revenge?

Anyway, it displays just fine on Android 2.3's stock browser.

Not sure what you mean. It works just fine on my iPhone. Maybe you need to update your iOS version on your device?

yes, because that's the fault of the site and not the browser.

Just use a different browser engine on your device?

... oh wait.

http://worrydream.com/Apple/ for javascript impaired people.

Didn't read due to crap web design.

Why, the beautiful all-black page I get loading it without js enabled is quite elegant. I might well not have read the page, but I certainly appreciated it.

It's just the hash-bang links that break with JavaScript disabled. If you visit the home page with JavaScript disabled (or IE-enabled, heh...), you're actually good to go: http://worrydream.com/Apple/

Personally, I think it's a gorgeous site; An amazing example of interactive front-end web development. It amazes me to think that just a few years ago, the only real option for this interactivity would have been Flash.

It's less broken, say, than Twitter, where many legacy non-#! links became redirects to #! links.

But the whole thing is like the thinking that "This site works best with IE 5.0" -and, naturally, is crippled for everyone else- is a reasonable approach to web design. And at least those sites warned us about what the pain they caused and why - this UI is more like visiting a Flash-only webpage in 1998.

Have these guys never heard of the noscript tag? No, wait: weirdly enough, Bret Victor actually uses the noscript tag to govern which CSS file is loaded. That is, no doubt, why the featureless black webpage I am presented with is so uniquely appealing a featureless black webpage.

Telling NotScripts to temporarily allow Javascript to look at the site shows a website with very nice graphic design and awful usability. Which is very much what I expected.

Javascript often offers the same usability experience as Flash. That's why I disable it by default.

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