Eye Candy QA (2005-2011)

Eye Candy QA (2005-2011)

All in-depth articles about my Apple career:

My longest job at Apple was about 7 years and there were many great reasons for it.

The unusual thing about my team is that my boss and other team members all worked out of home offices, while I worked out of Cupertino (and often at home).

How did I get on this team?

This is one of my favorite personal stories at Apple. When I first started on the Mail team, Scott Forstall was one level above the manager of the Mail team. Although we frequently butted heads, he was instrumental in my career.

I was wanting to flee the Aperture team. Most of my coworkers already had. I was desperate. I had always loved the Safari team. They had some of the smartest people at Apple and they had a sense of cohesiveness that is rare in a larger team.

I interviewed and loved everyone. Darin Adler, the manager of the Safari team called me (on the phone!) the next day to offer me the job. I was thrilled.

However, the next day he called me again. Darin told me that there was a problem. Oh good lord. He said that Scott had “vetoed” my hiring. At this point, Scott Forstall had moved several notches up the chain and Safari was under him. I asked what that meant and he said to talk to Scott.

I’ll write about this in a future post, but I feel like I had pissed Scott off before he moved up the chain. Hard to tell since we didn’t see each other anymore.

Anyways, I called Scott’s admin and she gave me 30 minutes in two weeks. WHAT? I wanted out of Aperture and now I have to wait two weeks to find out why I didn’t get a new job?

Finally, I met with Scott. He came in and sat down. He talked for 15 minutes straight. ‘This is what I think you’re good at’, it started. Flattering. ‘This is what I think you’re bad at’, he continued. Uh oh, I thought. But that turned into: damn, this guy has me down perfectly.

He said that for the reasons he laid out, I didn’t belong on the Safari team. He told me about John Louch’s team and the challenges he faced finding new people. All remote employees and he could be polarizing. But I knew John and we respected each other. Scott knew this and I immediately wanted it. My interview was a four way conference call at the end of which I had a new job.

What we worked on

When I worked on Mail and Aperture, those were my primary focus. With Mail at least, it was fair game to mess around with anything else, so that kept things interesting.

This new team had a huge variety of projects, many of which were very interesting. So I couldn’t really be bored.

  • Dock (and Dock Stacks)
  • Dashboard
  • Exposé (later Mission Control)
  • Screen Capture
  • Sidecar
  • LaunchPad
  • Menu Extras
  • App Switcher
  • More than I can’t remember

What we never shipped

One of the best parts of the team was that since we shipped some signature features, they allowed some experimentation to take place. Once we spent four months investigating a really cool project that they eventually decided not to ship. Other times this experimentation led to a major feature or a new product. More about this in a future post.

This was unusual because Apple was notorious for being cutthroat on new features. If something wasn’t proven regularly to be going somewhere, it would be cut. But here we were working on things that were less than 50/50.

Patents

The inventiveness and collaboration of the team led to a number of team patents. I was co-inventor on 18 filed patents and 8 were granted so far. Anyone involved in any way on coming up with a patentable idea has to be listed on a patent, so the number is somewhat irrelevant. I mention it only to say that the creativity of the team led to an incredible amount of productivity.

We got bonuses for filing patents and it was like bands that credit all members of the band for everything. Other teams would often give the patent only to the boss, so they received the full bonus amount. This sharing made me feel even more part of the team than I already felt.

My boss

John Louch was my boss, an Apple veteran going back to 1988. He was the original creator of the Dock. John always shared everything with us, even the “don’t share this with your team” stuff. We were people he trusted, so it was as it should be. It made you feel like you were part of something greater.

Hearing about what even unrelated teams are working on is a great motivating factor. Let’s say you are working on a release and you’re not as motivated because your features aren’t as interesting this time around. Hearing about exiting stuff elsewhere helps keep you excited and maybe help out indirectly with a project under wraps.

Although he was demanding, I could fight back and win (sometimes) with John and I ultimately blazed my own path. I was never asked for an accounting of what I was doing and what I did was usually appreciated by the team. I was able to contribute so much to other teams and this was appreciated by my team even though it took me away from my primary responsibilities.

Small teams

I strongly believe that small teams of highly productive people are the best. Steve Jobs was famous for saying this long before me. With a team of 4 people (later 6), I could keep tabs on what everyone was doing without stepping on anyone’s toes. I was later on a team of close to 15 and I honestly couldn’t tell you what most of them did. Our team had an incredibly high level of productivity.

It also helped that my team was very senior. I’m not saying everyone on your team needs to be senior but it helped to have an least one VERY senior member to help out younger team members.

The latest technology

When CoreAnimation came out, John rewrote the Dock over the weekend to use it. When Swift came out, many things were converted and new projects were always in Swift. I loved being on a team that embraced the newest technology. The Dock was one of the first fully native Swift apps on the system.

It sucks to learn about all the new Apple technology at a developer conference and then go back to your desk and use technology that is older than what developers are getting to use.

Springing

Yes, springing gets its own section. Spring-loaded folders are an old feature of the Finder, but was much liked by my boss, so you can do the following.

  • Drag a file over an app in the Dock and it springs open only the windows for that application
  • In the application windows mode, hovering over one window will bring it forwards
  • Springing also works in the App Switcher
  • Hovering over a Dock folder springs it open in the Finder
  • Hit the Exposé key on the keyboard or use a hot corner and hover and spring over any window for any application

It’s a hard feature to explain but try it for a while and you’ll see how much time and how many steps it can save.

The downsides

As great a time as I had, there were some big downsides.

  • My team was not only entirely remote, they rarely came into town, maybe once a year.
  • Most contact was by phone, which was never my favourite medium
  • Even using video conferencing was hard because we were all so talkative and you miss the cues on face-to-face conversation.
  • Screen sharing plus audio was sometimes a great way to fix the problem of wanting to show someone something right away, but it still wasn’t the same.
  • Internet connections for home users were just not up to snuff in those days.
  • Everyone lived in a loud household, with dogs, cats, kids, and other family members. Conference calls could be impossible to parse.

Stories

I have a number of good stories from my time on this team, but I decided to leave those for later. Except for one.

My boss put in a hot tub in his backyard. One day he called me up and said the following.

  • John: Hey cricket, can you hear anything?
  • Me: No, what am I supposed to hear?
  • John: Just listen and see if you hear anything at all.
  • Me: Nope.
  • John: That’s good cause I’m on a raft in my hot tub and about to go into a staff meeting.