Thursday, January 30, 2020 [Tweets] [Favorites]

Behind the Scenes on Apple’s Aperture Team

Chris “cricket” Hynes (via John Gruber):

There were several unique things about how the team worked which differed from Apple practice. Even before writing any code for feature, a software engineer and a QA engineering would collaborate on a document detailing a test plan. Both parties learned a lot, and it created a great relationship.

[…]

We had a reasonable number of QA engineers, which is very rare in any software product. Since this was a professional product, they knew the quality had to be high.

[…]

So we went to IL1, right across from the executive suite. Given how close Steve (Jobs) was to our offices, I saw him only once in our area. It was clear that Pro Apps were not his thing and Aperture was not on his radar.

[…]

They seriously yelled at us for writing bugs. ‘This bug should never have been written!’ they shouted. They argued that we shouldn’t write bugs on incomplete features. But that’s what the engineers wanted, and we felt we worked for them on a day-to-day basis. […] I was considered a risk to the project because of the number of bugs I filed.

[…]

So they tried cutting finished features, yelling at people, and working people to the point of nervous breakdowns. Then they came upon a brilliant idea: let’s steal over a hundred engineers from other teams and then the project will magically get done on time.

Cabel Sasser:

Although @gruber described this as a “delight to read”, I felt like I was reading a slow-motion car crash!! These recollections make me extremely thankful of the life I have and the company I work for, as this team’s environment is my precise idea of hell.

Buzz Andersen:

I worked in Apple Pro Apps at the time this was going on and can confirm that it was a fairly miserable place.

Andrew Abernathy:

As someone who loved Aperture (and still uses it — can’t find anything with comparable workflow), I extra-hate reading about the horribleness the team was put through.

Nick Heer:

I miss Aperture greatly. It is perhaps the piece of software I would choose to resurrect if I could make such a decision. The earliest versions may have been slow and buggy, but I remember running Aperture 1.5 (or thereabouts) on a Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro with a spinning hard disk and it was fast. And it wasn’t just the speed with which Aperture rendered photos or adjustments; it was everything about the app — every interaction, every UI component, every menu, and every panel. Every action felt deliberate and precise. The whole app also looked and felt damn near perfect.

Another post from Hynes:

It’s a sad thought to be certain that your best days are behind you. The sheer size of Apple has been difficult to adjust to. Teams are too big, organizations are too big, and sometimes even the products are too vast for my brain to comprehend. Things that used to be personal are now impersonal. Apple did not scale well.

In the first 12 years or so, I was fortunate to be given the freedom to influence products to a degree far exceeded my position, a testament to the Apple management I worked under. As the company got bigger, my influence declined from a very high point to effectively zero.

Previously:

7 Comments

From the main story and corroborations on Twitter, Apple management/bureaucracy has been grossly dysfunctional for a lot longer than expected.

So the “first 12 years” where he was happy at Apple would be 1999-2011.

I wonder what changed at Apple in 2011?

@Ben 2011 was the year Apple lost both Steve Jobs and Bertrand Serlet, followed by Scott Forstall (who he liked working with) in 2012. And 2012 was when Apple changed to the annual release schedule.

My sarcasm must have been a bit too obtuse :)

I’ve always kinda had the impression that the people who joined Apple pre-iPhone did it because they really believed in the products and the vision. I wonder how many of those people are still at Apple? And how many new (post-iPhone) people really care as much vs just there for the stable job and benefits of working at the worlds most valuable company? It sure does seem like Apple has lost a lot of great people in the past decade.

> One person had a nervous breakdown. One person cried in one of our offices, and I
> remember it vividly. She thought she was going to get one Saturday off and she was
> going to see her kids, but now they were forcing her to work.

Holy crap, just devastating.

It sounds very similar to the stories out of videogame companies. I think there's something about these companies, famous companies where people aspire to work at, which shifts power away from regular employees to managers, which allows them to get away with despicable behavior.

> They seriously gave away identical bags to everyone and only half the people got
> iPods. When asked, they said it wasn’t a mistake and wouldn’t explain further.

I've actually been in meetings where similar decisions were taken. The reasoning goes something like "we want to reward the people who are especially valuable to the company. But we do understand that rewarding some people will have a terrible effect on everybody who doesn't get rewarded. So we will just do it secretly." Which, great plan, guys. How is it a reward if people don't know that they were rewarded. But then, inevitable, everybody figures it out anyways, because surprise, they talk to each other, at which point you basically end up in a situation where you have to acknowledge that it wasn't a mistake, but you also can't tell people why you did it, because that's like telling the non-rewarded people "we don't really value your work."

By the way, this is the point where I should note that, in my experience, most people in people management positions have never read a single book about organizational psychology. They're making it up as they go, and the outcomes reflect that.

> I was considered a risk to the project because of the number of bugs I filed.

That's hilarious.

I agree with Cabel. I found the article incredibly depressing. Just reading about working conditions like that gave me the shakes. I can’t imagine working a second day for a manager who yelled at me.

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