Why I passed up the chance to work at Apple
~ 21 February 2006 ~
I’ve oft quoted Michael Porter’s strategy maxim in recent months:
“The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.”
Never did I expect those words to hit so close to home.
Only recently was all of this — “this” being the chance to work at Apple — laid to rest, ending several months of talks and bringing a close to the toughest challenge, by far, of my career to date. Following is an account of how it started, and yes, how it ended.
For years I’ve literally dreamed of working at Apple. Who hasn’t? For a designer, it’s the holy grail of aesthetic accolade. Through a series of related events, a recruiter at Apple contacted a certain high-level person in the industry. This person then asked me if I wanted my name in the collective applicant hat, which eventually produced a call from the recruiter.
To ALA’s credit, this all happened shortly after “Good Designers Redesign, Great Designers Realign” was published; the article in which I extol the virtues of redesigning based on need rather than want, with a pinch of Apple iLife branding thrown in to support my arguments. The timing couldn’t have been better given the position they were looking to fill. (The article was mentioned on several occasions in our discussions.)
And what was the position for, you ask? Well, to protect Apple’s right to secrecy, I won’t disclose too many details. But suffice it say I would have been managing the design of a certain place within their site where they showcase a lot of product.
On the heels of a few successful phone conversations, I was flown out on a cold November evening. Interviews with several members of the team were to be held the next morning. And yet here I was in a lush hotel room, almost pinching myself to be certain this was really happening. “Am I really here in Cupertino? Am I really about to interview with Apple tomorrow? No way.” Yes way.
The following morning I endured 6.5 hours — yes, I said 6.5 hours — of interviews. Straight through. Even lunch was an interview. The only breaks I enjoyed were spent in the men’s room.
Interviewing with several members on a team isn’t unusual these days, especially at the likes of Google, Yahoo, and a host of other tech companies. Needless to say, however, fielding questions and selling yourself for nearly a full day is quite exhausting. But I thoroughly enjoyed it, and the team members were both fascinating and brilliant. Two of the designers I would have been working closely with were particularly savvy.
The interviews concluded, I returned home, and in the ensuing weeks Suzanne and I discussed it at length. And I mean at length. The pros. The cons. The once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The sacrifices.
Let it be said that the chance to work at Apple, the prestige that comes from doing so, and the challenge of working with a highly talented team was undeniably attractive. But regrettably, it was the other parts of the equation that weren’t, well, quite as attractive.
Weighing Pros and Cons
Amidst a sea of pros and cons, two factors weighed heavily on the decision we’d end up making: cost of living and flexibility of schedule.
Having grown up in the Bay Area and still in touch with family and friends, it came as no surprise that housing is ridiculously expensive. One can talk all day about the economics of supply and demand and how the market is merely working towards equilibrium, but when the same humble home I have now in Utah is priced at five times the cost in Cupertino — nearly a million dollar home — I’m left only to wonder where the buck will stop. Or in this case, where it doesn’t.
Further, housing in the area isn’t kind to a 6-member family. Being a sole provider of income for that same 6-member family isn’t a kind proposal either. On top of all this, we were considering scenarios which reduced commute time, limiting ourselves to homes closer to Apple headquarters, and therefore driving the overall cost of living even higher.
But enough about money. How about the intangible pros and cons? Flexibility of schedule? Time with family? Freedom to speak at conferences, author articles, and the like on the clock instead of off?
Knowing I’d have to dedicate myself 100% at Apple, this would have resulted in nearly a total reduction in blogging, conference speaking, and the like. I did the work-a-long-day-go-home-to-hours-of-side-work thing for years before going solo, and the daily grind took its toll on me physically and mentally. And the family, too. Needless to say, I’m done robbing hours from the wife and kids.
While work is going quite well and showing no signs of slowing, I don’t know that I’ll bring in more revenue freelancing this year than I would have at Apple. But increased time to be with family, pursue hobbies, and live a life a bit less hectic isn’t exactly something you can pin a dollar amount to.
Don’t get me wrong — Suzanne and I both agreed at the outset of making the leap to full-time freelancing that we’d probably be back on the clock at some point. It seems inevitable and probably welcomed if the right opportunity comes along. But we felt it was too early to resume a corporate lifestyle right now.
Also, it’s only fair to state that there was never a formal offer on the table. But it’s probably safe to say that was because we couldn’t come to an agreement on a few key terms of the deal, most notably those mentioned here. Call it a “mutual parting of ways” that occurred just a couple of weeks ago.
Funny thing is, I’m still not 100% certain I made the right decision by not making myself more available. I don’t know that I’ll ever be. Yet Suzanne and I said the very same thing back when we made the leap to full-time self-employment, and somehow it turned out to prove we were wiser than we thought.
Thus, with fingers crossed, I suppose all I can say is this: Here’s to low cost of living and flexibility of schedule.
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