Watch Hardware (2016-2017)

Watch Hardware (2016-2017)

All in-depth articles about my Apple career:

Whenever someone that doesn’t work at Apple asks me what it’s like, I always say “it depends on the team”—and it’s one of the truest things I could say. Some are amazing and wonderful and, in my case, one turned out to be a nightmare, starting with the very first week.

After being separated from the SwiftUI team, I was desperate to find a job and it took me six weeks to find one. It was my first job in Hardware Engineering and it was primarily responsible for Watch hardware.

The team

What this team did was utterly fascinating to me and had many different sub-teams that did very different things.

  • There was a robotics team that built robots to test the Watch externally, rather than writing software scripts to simulate user interaction. For example, a robot may flip a watch and a camera could detect how fast the screen went on or perhaps test scrolling speed or the speed of ApplePay. There were robots that could mimic swimming, running, and other actions with data from their own motion capture studio. Pretty amazingly cool, eh?
  • There was a team that did what they called “scenario testing”—the idea was they would create real-world scenarios: wake up and do a morning jog using a timer, catch up on email, be alerted to an upcoming lunch, drive somewhere and get watch haptic directions, and so on. This team would run through these scenarios themselves, cycling through a large number. One guy even did open water swimming to test that feature. Pretty cool.
  • There was a factory team that would test the software on the equipment that was to be used in the factories to assemble hardware. Also pretty fascinating.
  • Other interesting stuff like they had an original Apple Watch display table, running demos, and taking temperature readings to make sure the case didn’t overheat and the watches didn’t malfunction

The teams were actually really great and I enjoyed working with all of them.

The struggle

It was pretty damn compelling. But there were downsides.

  • My manager was new to management and I generally stay away from that
  • It was in Hardware Engineering and I knew ONE person there, versus over a thousand in Software Engineering
  • I didn’t really know how Hardware Engineering worked. Would I like it?

The job

Even though the job was in Hardware Engineering, my job was to write software to support the team as they lacked a lot of software skills. Even though it was a hardware team, you always need software. For example, the robots ran using python scripts.

The hard sell

The manager knew I was struggling with the decision and increasingly upped the ante.

  • While AirPods were still under development, he gave me a pair. Pretty good bribe.
  • The original job was to work on the “scenario testing” team but he flattered me by saying my skill set might be too strong, so he moved me up one level in the hierarchy so I would be a peer to the robotics and scenario teams.
  • He promised I would be able to pick and choose EVERY project I would work on and I could decline any project or type of project I wanted. Essentially, he was trusting that I could see the needs that could be filled.
  • He knew that mentoring was a huge interest of mine and his team was very young, so it was an opportunity to help people out.
  • He told me that when I started, I should take a month or two just to learn things and not jump into any projects right away. Just learn the lay of the land and ease into it.
  • I made him promise that I would NEVER work on web projects. I make this demand of every job I take. 😉

Promises out the door

After spending a week doing my supposed learning things and not jumping into things, our intern left and I was assigned both of her web projects. See anything wrong with that yet? Two projects I didn’t choose using a technology I refused to use.

I was assigned more web projects later. I only got to choose one project I ever got to work on.

One good project

The scenario testing team had to produce this report to management weekly that took them FOUR hours to complete. It was taking data from multiple systems and copying and pasting bits into an email. It was excruciating.

I wrote them a really nice tool and I was essentially their hero. It created the report in seconds. That was the only project that I chose entirely on my own in well over a year on the team.

Pressure

More and more projects were assigned to me, with increasing pressure from my manager and even two levels up the chain. I worked on an AppleTV project where I was repeatedly reminded how important it was. I was continually nagged to get it done.

This is a good point to mention that I had never in my life written an AppleTV project and I was required to use developer tools that had not shipped yet. I had to work with legal and marketing and multiple engineering teams. It was a nightmare. I still can’t believe I finished it and it worked.

Health problems

The long hours, the fact that I was spending so much time on very frustrating web projects and other projects I didn’t choose wore on me terribly. I started having severe anxiety problems.

Selfish

I met with my boss at least weekly for a one-on-one and always complained about all the broken promises. One time he called me selfish. He told me I cared only about myself and not the team or the organization or Apple. I suppressed my FUCK YOU and, as I recall, I believe that’s the last time I saw him.

I went out on medical leave for a while before coming back for my final chapter.

I thought about leaving Apple and a lot of people asked me why I didn’t. Well, if you read about the rest of my career, you’ll see that this project was an anomaly. Aperture was kind of a half-disaster, but everything else I look back upon fondly.

I just had to find the right team again.

Steve Jobs

People also ask me how I ended up on this team in the first place. I’m reminded of one of my favorite quips from Steve Jobs.

My version is “What can I say, I picked the wrong manager”