My First Week at Apple

Corporate Culture Shock

I recently reflected back on my first week at Apple. It was a rough week; it was a rough few weeks. A variety of factors were at play; namely, I was three time zones away from my family, I was working in a different field than I had for the past 8 years, and I was working on the Watch just before the first announce.

I delayed flying out to California until the day before my first day on the job. I had worked out a plan where I would come out to California by myself and start looking for housing. My wife and son would visit for two weeks as part of this search, and they would move out once we locked down a place. I knew I would be away for much longer than ever before, and I certainly didn’t like that thought of leaving them. So, my flight was scheduled to leave in the early afternoon and arrive in the early evening in SFO.

Too bad the weather likes to do stuff. A storm came through the midwest and distributed all flights. My first flight of two was canceled, and I was routed to Dallas. I hung out in the airport for 6 hours or more. I don’t quite remember. I watched some World Cup soccer where the US ties Portugal in group play. The plane kept getting delayed, until finally, we left.

West Coast

I arrived at SFO at 1am. I got my rental car, and I drove on the 101 to my housing. I didn’t get there until 2:30am, and everything already felt strange and out of place. It was a bit of culture shock as well as the temporary housing. I went to sleep as quickly as I could because I knew I had to be up early. Only the first day at Apple are you required to come in before 9am.

I had to be there at 8:45am, and I was plenty exhausted. I think the temporary housing had some food, so I was in luck for breakfast. I survived the traffic, and I was a few minutes late. I did the whole orientation, and I was thoroughly indoctrinated. Then I spent the afternoon setting up my computer. I had to wait until I was disclosed on my project. Nobody could tell me what I was working on.

I went home still not knowing. I knew I wasn’t working on anything with the camera. The next morning I found out I was working on the Watch, and I was working on Wrist Detection. I went from 3D signal processing using machine learning to a 1D signal with extremely limited resources.

A view of San Jose from the mountains

Family

I’ve move around a lot, and I have felt lonely and isolated because of not being around friends, but not like this. I had lived in a France with a 7 hour time difference to my friends in Houston, but I wasn’t alone. This time, I was alone. I dreaded 9pm every night because for certain, everyone on the east coast was sleeping.

I had to adjust and keep myself occupied. I watched the World Cup games, and that helped. At least I had a schedule during the day when they were on. I also went out to look at houses, but I was further disappointed by how much houses cost to rent or own.

I dearly missed my wife and son. I called them often, and I wanted to see them all the time. I knew sacrifices had to be made some times, but I didn’t want this. They came three weeks later, and I went back there, but I was certainly hit with a wave of loneliness unique to other times in my life.

New Company, New Field

Wrist detection is technically a biometric. So you could argue I was not outside of my field because my previous research was in biometrics. The feature was difficult because the signal path was very limited, and I could not get anything other information to make the decision.

The other difficulty of the new company was the standard of quality. In the field of biometrics up until the past few years, the standard metric was the false reject rate at 0.1% false accept rate. For wrist detection, the goal was to have 0 false off wrists, but not at 0.1% false on wrist detections. The aim was 0. The aim was perfection.

This culture was shocking to me especially coming from a startup that failed to drive so hard at quality. The other component of culture was the breakneck speed to fix the problems and make the magic.

For the first Watch, we hadn’t hit the stride like more mature products like the phone. That meant, we were solving problems that are normally fixed and locked down months earlier.

At the start of this project, I had to meet people. I didn’t know anyone, and knowing people is key to solving problems at Apple. So I got to know all those depending on the feature.

Keeping focused

Some days, I struggled to keep focused. In general, I’ve struggled with staying focused. My mind wanders. However, this project in its infancy was boring with a lot of time on my hands, especially in the first two weeks.

So I kept focused by remembering that Apple has delivered on some huge projects over a number of years. The idea was everyone holds hands and runs to the cliff together.

I had to withhold judgement. I had to wait and gather more information before making a judgement. This value has been key in all of my life, but cultivating humility did more for staying focused than anything else.

Concept prior to investigation can keep a man in everlasting ignorance

California

The adjustment has been interesting because to me, working at Apple isn’t another job. It is a subculture in the Silicon Valley culture in the California culture, which was all foreign to me. Ultimately, working at Apple has felt like finishing school for producing quality engineering products, and those first weeks made a huge impression on my character at work and home.

California or rather Silicon Valley is a place where people driven to find new and big success. This drive, this energy is not something that can be easily reproduced elsewhere.

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