Why I left Apple (Apple Post-mortem, part 1 of some number)

Sharks 1, Wild 4 — fans 0…..
The good news coming out of the San Jose/Detroit game….

(hold that thought….)



It’s been enough time and life is settling down a bit that I feel ready to start this thread of postings. I plan on, more or less, to take a look at Apple from the outside and comment on some of the aspects of the company that I felt deserved some discussion.

And before you all start drooling, there’s going to be very little dirty laundry, since I was very happy there before I left, and the fact that I left shouldn’t mean I’m now pissed at them. And no, I’m not going to disclose anything or talk about unannounced products or any other secrets, so the rumor sites can go back to sleep. There will be, I repeat, will be no mentions of the iPhone, especially not that third configuration the rumor sites haven’t caught on to yet.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t discussion points. I think the first one, just to clear the air on some stuff, has to be why I left.

When a company announces that an executive has left the firm “to pursue other interests” or “to spend more time with their family”, I know what I think; and I bet most of you assume the same — because the reality is, that’s code for “we took away the key to the executive washroom and wished him a fond farewell, and then pushed him off the roof.”

Similarly, when an employee announces their leaving a company, and no, they don’t have a job, the natural assumption is that things really suck and that the employee cut and run, or that there was some big fight — but basically, people look at the company and wonder what’s up.

I know in my talks with folks, and in many of my interviews, the point came up, and I just want to bring this out in the open and make it clear what really happened here.

There really IS a lot less here than you might think, too.

Take the wayback machine back to last spring, when I got sick. To me, it was a hint I had to start taking a real close look at what I was doing; I couldn’t go on pretending that the hours and stress were manageable. My management and groups we dealt with were for the most part understandable about things had to change. If you look at my flickr photos, you’ll also see a big uptick in my photography, because when I got over this, I started scheduling time out during office hours to make up for the evenings and weekends.

Around the same time, I had the discussion with my doctor about me weight that ended with “we aren’t even going to talk about weight loss until you get the stress under control. It won’t happen.

Nature, of course, abhors a vacuum. There were empty spots in my calendar. People started trying to fill them up, of course, even though they were blocked. Some of the people who told me to make sure I took care of myself and took it easy started coming back to remind me that I was still expected to make the original dates on various projects (or else). One project I was dealing with that was having all sorts of problems, when I refused to commit to dates (because we had no way to evaluate what it’d take to finish the project) simply committed the team to dates without telling me, which my management then started holding me to.

So the message I was getting back was mutating into “do what you need to do, as long as the dates don’t change”. From a business standpoint, I see the reality of this — from my standpoint, all I did was start getting more and more pissed.

And in reality, things weren’t in bad shape. The team stepped up and was making things happen, and then we hit one of those project perfect storms: first, my dev lead’s wife got ill and he had to go on leave for a while, costing us a key player, and then we had a disk failure on the master database machine — that created a bit of a, well, the best way to explain it was that it was not a demo-reel day for anyone, anywhere in IS (starting with me), and our system was down for 13 hours.

So, prior to this little downtime, things weren’t doing badly; I’d actually lost four pounds, I felt things were more or less under control on the projects, I felt like I was balancing life and the stress better. And suddenly, that four pounds I lost was gone, and so were four more, and I shot past 375 and 380 and hit 384, and I could see 400 pounds down the street in the taxi, and headed my way. Over the next few weeks, I talked to my director multiple times about trying to get my situation under control; 12 pounds later, all I was getting back was “work harder, it’ll get better eventually”.

I didn’t like that answer. I really, really didn’t like it (it wasn’t until after the dust settled that I really understood that we were locked in and there really wasn’t any other answer; at the time, I was pissed because as I saw it, I’d put so much into Apple, and when I finally asked Apple to step up for me, it wouldn’t. In reality — it wasn’t that simple. of course).

My conflicts were starting to leak out onto the team, people knew I was stressed. I didn’t want my situations to screw things up worse, so I finally realized that I had to make a decision: I could (a) continue fighting for changes to my situation where it seemed that wasn’t in the cards, (b) I could go back down the rabbit hole and do the “work harder for now” thing, or (c) I could leave the project.

So, here I was, staring going back to the Good Old Days in the face, staring at another crazy holiday season in the face, staring at 400 pounds in the face. What only a few folks knew at that time (including my director) was that I had started exploring a few things within Apple, looking towards transitioning to a new opportunity sometime in the next few months. That’s one reason we were locked in here — it really is hard to justify making significant staffing changes when there’s an even bigger one coming to deal with.

I decided that I simply wasn’t going back down the rabbit hole. I didn’t feel I’d succeed, perhaps not survive (seriously). And I didn’t think it was good for the team to try. Neither was trying to restructure things to make it more livable for me; it was beyond that. So that made the decision easy. I went to LA for the weekend to visit my family and think it over, came back, and handed in my resignation. Effectively, I decided it was better to leave NOW than stick around and then leave in a few months anyway, where that time in between was going to be painful for myself and probably for people around me as things played out.

We ended up agreeing on an 8 week term period, which allowed me to work more or less on my terms and focus on training and transition rather than other things, and it made the business happy (well, happier), because I’d be around for one last product announcement where things were going to get crazy — our volume that one final week (the week he announced the iTV) matched our volume for all of December the previous holiday, and December was always the insane month. And I’m happy to say that week was almost painless, once we got there, and things worked out quite well. I also ended up doing almost 60 hours of training, and the week before I left, my dev lead returned from lead and stepped in and started taking over things again, so we got continuity there, so all in all it ended a lot better than it started.

My goal for Apple in leaving was for two things to happen: the project to continue successfully without me, and my team to be able to carry it forward without major problems. I’m happy that, five weeks later, that seems to have happened, and that the fall release of the project was supposed to have gone live this weekend (and seems to have) — with a nifty new ajaxy user interface redesign and some interesting new stuff under the hood. By making the decision to leave, it forced a deadline on all of us to make the training happen, bring on the new teams that needed to get involved on the support side, and get the documentation and other stuff that we needed done finished.

My goal for me in leaving was to simply to get a clean break, make a fresh start, get away and figure out what I wanted to do next, and start focussing on the changes I needed to make for myself; it was a “stay around and be miserable for a while for the project, or get it over with”. After years of the first option and putting Apple’s interests ahead of mine (willingly!), I chose the latter. What that choice cost me, ultimately, was any real chance at staying at Apple, since the timing of my leaving really precluded any ability to go find or work to have a new situation for me created. That was, ultimately, a tradeoff I made willingly.

In the eight weeks I was doing the final transition, I went back down the rabbit hole, at least a bit, and put in some more serious hours, but I also lost four pounds along the way. On the last day, I handed in my badge (a weird feeling), then two days later, laurie and I piled into the car and drove north for two weeks of getting away from it all, my first true vacation in a decade without some kind of pager attached. We had a great time on that trip (more on that later, as I catch up on my blog-writing and photos) — and I lost another six pounds. And I’m happy to note that I’ve continued to lose; five weeks after I left Apple, I’m down right around ten pounds, or about 14 pounds from my high.

With two weeks before I start my next opportunity, I’m hoping to make that 20. Of course, I have a ways to go.

At 384 and age 48, I had 100 pounds to take off to get back to what I weighed at 30. My best guess is that the weight I need to shoot for is between 220 and 250; with my build, that won’t be buff, but it’ll be at least a good first approximation (as a sophomore in high school, I wrestled (badly) at a “make weight” around 145, and I left high school in decent shape around 170-180, and I’ve been putting on weight ever since….). At 48, I’ve been lucky: no sign of diabetes, no sign of heart disease, no sign of high blood pressure (until the last year, when my doctor started “tsk”ing at me) — mostly just the discomfort of hauling a couple of five year old’s around all the time and sore, grumpy knees. I am not stupid, though, and I can read the stats as well as anyone. That I’ve been avoiding problems to date doesn’t make me believe I always will.

Catching pneumonia was, to me, my “two minute warning” — and a rather mild one at that. I’m one of those people who at least once a year sits down and tries to figure out things like “what are my priorities for the next year” and “where do I want to be in 3 years, and 5″ — and so as I was recovering from this, I was doing some serious thought on the whole “what now?” thing.

And I kept coming back to this meme: What do I want to be in five years? 100 pounds lighter, or none of the rest matters. I kept having the discussion that if I didn’t get my ass in gear, five years from now, I’d be diabetic, or in a scooter, or in a hospital, or I’d be dead. There’s not a lot of personal upside to ANY of those options — and there aren’t a lot of options (other than being really damn lucky) that avoids all of them. I just didn’t want to depend on luck any more.

So once I make THAT decision, everything else becomes easy. I tried to make it work at Apple — but Apple needed to go in specific directions, and I couldn’t. The worst I’ll ever say about it was that it was an amicable divorce. And now, of course, I have no excuses — which is fine by me. I know what I need to do, I believe I’ve got a new opportunity that is compatible with that, and it’s with people that understand where I’m coming from there.

So ultimately, it really was about it being time for a change. Do I wish I could have done this AND stay at Apple? Yes.

Do I think Apple should have done more to create a situation that would have let me stay with the company? In all honesty, yes — my existing management did what they could, but I was honestly a little disappointed that when my intention to leave went public internally, there wasn’t much interest (that I ever saw) of the “let’s find a place for you” around the company, especially given my tenure and various contributions over the year to the company and it’s bottom line. however,

Does that bother me? Not at all; I honestly think a completely fresh start is the best possible option for me now, and I’m glad I made the choice; I am also still very much a fan of the company, a user of their products and a believer in what they’re doing.

But it was time to join the real world, and see how it works.

The one big change I’m going to have to make is get an iPod interface installed in the car, since I’m now going to have a bit of a commute. time to get used to listening to audiobooks….

But you know? I can live with that.

This entry was posted in Computers and Technology.
  • http://www.netcropolis.org W. Ian Blanton

    dlf: Go check out “The Hacker’s Diet”. I quail in fear at seeing the words “is the only practical solution liposuction?” Liposuction is a surgical procedure, not a solution.
    In particular, “The Hacker’s Diet” touches on the “Yo-Yo effect”, it’s an interesting answer that he comes up with.

  • dlf

    if it doesnt seem too off-topic to continue the health aspect (as opposed to the apple aspect) … i have a question about how you will lose the weight.
    a couple of years ago, i had two stressful events (personal & financial) – the result of which was gorging on junk food for a whole winter.
    i used to have a slender build (but then it is also true i was leading a life where the calories were either burned off by adrenilin (running a company will do that :-) or denied by a diet of one small meal a day (post-bubble poverty will do that :-) …..
    suddenly i put on 50+ pounds – and now i cant even imagine how to take it off!
    in years past, i would enjoy excercisung at the gym for a bit of muscle gain … but doing cardio (to keep the last 5 pounds off) was an excercise in vanity (literally) and it was difficult to keep motivated when i was already 99% where i wanted my body to be.
    now of course, the differntial is nearly 60 pounds – and the motivation is an order of magintude SMALLER! (even though i am now at the opposite end of the scale, 1% towards my ideal body shape).
    except for the embarrassement i have when i want to flirt with a pretty girl (or the shame i feel when one flirts with me – i keep thinking that she must be crazy – i cant imagine letting anyone see the girth under the toga-like robes i now call a wardrobe) – except for the vanity aspect, i just dont give a damn about being fat!
    yes, i know that psychologically, the indifference to my appearance is probably a sub-concious plan to sabotage any chance of success, to relieve me from responsibility of success (or at the least the possibility of needing to try) — etc etc.
    but at some level, it is just a big relief not to have to worry about the pressure of being attractive any more — i can just let myself go, and not feel guilty (in the moral sense) about it (whereas the shame is an only a psychological, external factor that is sinply based on vanity).
    on the other hand, i know that if things are not stopped now, it will not be long before i am hundred pounds over weight! … and at some level, i would really like to try and have a shot at being normal again.
    so i have to wonder … (and this is the first time i have seen the subject of obeisity come up on a mac related site, so the thought has just seized me now) … is there any realistic hope of diet ever working in the long term? (ie the yo-yo effect)
    is the only practical solution liposuction?
    is there an inflection point that occurs (only?) with surgery (ie gratification/motivation that obtains from an instant result) that allows one to sustain momemntum in a way that dieting makes difficult? (ie which requires a huge effort just to get the first wave of results).
    if there is an instant plateau-like benefit from surgery (like a get-of-jail-card), then why hasnt your general physian recommended that route? …
    is it because the fat is only a symptom? ie in the absense of a condusive environment (the stress), will surgey lead to just as much of a yo-yo effect as mega diets?
    rather off-topic, mac-wise, i know … but since you brought it up, i thought i would take this first opportunity (for me) and ask a question from someone who might be heading in the same direction as you.
    thanx for the feedback (and best of luck in your post-apple life!).
    cheers: dlf

  • howlongtoretire

    Google the word “Byetta” and you will see what it is doing for weight loss. The company, Amylin, is testing a version of it specifically for weight loss (Byetta is officially for type 2 Diabetes).
    Good luck to you in your career and your health.
    howlong

  • http://writerway.blogspot.com Karen Anderson

    Chuck, you are giving me flashbacks! “Do what you need to do…but make all the deadlines” is such a familiar tune.
    I’m down one dress size since departing Apple — as I now have time to attend “power yoga” classes three nights a week. And these days my energy comes from my muscles instead of from the adrenaline surges. Enjoy your new gig and don’t let the work get out of control.