from Guide to the Job Hunt on Mar 26, 2023

Why (and why not) work at Apple

As of time of writing, I've spent just under a year at Apple as a full-time research scientist. I love the team, the work, and the culture within our group; needless to say, I'm very happy with my decision to come here for full-time. However, there are company-wide culture quirks that impact your day-to-day.

This post is written for anyone considering a job at Apple, especially for those with an avid interest in the working environment. To be specific, this post is written for anyone that would ask "How is it like at Apple?" To assess the environment, I organize this post around pros and cons, influenced by infrastructure, leadership, and culture.

As I discussed in How to make big decisions., discussions for major decisions should be broken up into a) criteria and b) rankings. For each of the major points below, I'll a) lead with the criteria and b) present information that will help you rank Apple for that criteria.

Long-term sustainability is the main pro.

The main pros make Apple a great place to work at long-term, sustainably. In short, you can be a healthy, productive, and reasonably intense-but-sane employee.

One clear but unmentioned pro is the team itself. I absolutely love to work with my teammates — they're fun to hangout with, brilliant people to brainstorm with, and very productive, capable individuals to learn from. My manager is furthermore both technically strong and open-minded; when provided with data, he's open to proposals for even risky ideas. In short, I'm very happy with my work and team. I didn't include these as pros above only because Apple is a massive company, and your mileage may vary depending on your team.

Company culture is the main con.

The cons for Apple revolve around company-wide culture: Top-down micromanagement, internal secrecy and distrust.

Con #1. Internal secrecy. One of the company's core tenets is to "surprise and delight". This makes sense externally, but the policy also applies internally. As a result, most everyone is in the dark even about what they themselves are working on. No one knows everything, and each person holds a critical part of the puzzle.

Con #2. Top-down culture. This isn't immediately obvious, as your skip skip skip level isn't immediately dictating your everyday todos.

Con #3. Recruitment is slow. In short, recruiting is not a well-documented process and team-specific. This makes the recruiting process fairly messy and slow, aggravating an already difficult job for recruiters.

Con #4. "Apple is the best". The executives believe strongly that Apple is the best. This is certainly good in some respects — that leaders project confidence in the company. However, it borders on elitism.

Join for the long haul, not for the culture.

With 20-20 hindsight, I would say that Apple is worth joining for sustainable intensity, health-promoting environment, and productivity — not necessarily for the company culture. You won't be able to learn much about Apple beyond your team, much less about how large companies work in general.

The culture is ideal for anyone ready to network or already with a large network within the company, not so much for a new graduate. Other technology companies are certainly more appealing in the short-term for new graduates, with bottom-up cultures, free food and swag, and flashier quickly-advancing products. Apple works at a slower, more regular pace.

In short, I'm enjoying my time at Apple, as it's well-suited for a long-term career. However, there are many obstacles ingrained in the company culture that make learning, growing, and thinking outside of the box difficult. If you do join, take the advice of senior leaders across the company: Learn how to network, and network like mad. You'll need your network to gather the information you need.

Why I joined Apple

Here's a brief addendum summarizing my own experiences at Apple.

In late 2021, I was looking for full-time opportunities, as my PhD was wrapping up the following spring. At the time, I had a number of compelling offers from various companies big and small — primarily in the self-driving and AR/VR spaces.

This made Apple a natural choice, among other factors. Now, almost a year later, I do miss parts of Tesla and Meta, but I'm still really happy with my decision overall.

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  1. There are coffee machines, but those are labeled "BYOB" — i.e., "Bring your own beans". In short, there are roadblocks to getting caffeinated daily. 

  2. This varies team to team. The MobileVision team I worked with was well-known for being productive and high-impact.