Design Con 2015

After Jobs, Ex-Apple Engineers Find Life

Jessica Lipsky, Rick Merritt, and Junko Yoshida, EETimes

July 15, 2014

Jessica Lipsky, Rick Merritt, and Junko Yoshida, EETimesJuly 15, 2014

Telling the whole world that you used to be big at Apple adds cachet, whether you're applying for a new job or looking for investment money.

In press releases, executives' bios, and investment pitches for Kickstarter or Indiegogo projects, aspirants who can do so never fail to mention the magic phrase "ex-Apple engineer."

Is all this self-congratulation the result of Apple instilling into its engineers some special design regimen or supreme marketing lessons? Or does the public think ex-Apple engineers still operate under the spell of the late Steve Jobs?

Richard Doherty, research director of Envisioneering Group, doesn't take lightly the significant psychological influence Apple has had over its employees. "Each of these engineers not just survived, but thrived in the world's most demanding, fast-turn technology company on the planet," he said. "They saw dreams become products, no's become 'Ship it,' and then did it all over again in the house that Jobs built."

He sees time served at Apple as more than a badge of honor. "It's a certification of engineering tenacity, resiliency, and satisfaction in a design and job well done."

Doherty's analysis certainly validates the mystique of former Apple engineers -- which clearly sets them apart from any other Silicon Valley crew.

However, we suspect that ex-Apple engineers are viewed as attractive, valuable, and a rare commodity largely because they're mysterious. So little is known about them.

Apple is famous for keeping a tight lid on its projects and the individual engineers involved in them, even after the products are launched. The company typically keeps a tight leash on the chosen few who are allowed to speak publicly.

For reporters covering Apple, this is pure agony. Many of the brilliant engineering ideas, decisions, and processes applied to projects at Apple are treated like state secrets. Often, the speculative nature of reports on Apple only helps advance the hype and blow a product's significance out of proportion.

Steve Jobs, even today, gets credit for whatever success Apple engineers are creating.

Steve Jobs.
Steve Jobs.

Anonymous Apple engineers, ergo, seem almost pre-ordained to become stars when they quit, switch jobs, or take on new engineering projects.

Well-known Apple alumni like Steve Perlman and Tony Fadell have proven this true by morphing into successful serial entrepreneurs. Others leaped into higher-ranking positions at big companies. After he quit Apple, Andy Rubin co-founded Danger (later acquired by Microsoft). He now works at Google as Mr. Android.

But we believe that a lot of former Apple engineers haven't been equally anointed. They're going through the struggle of starting their own projects, just like any other entrepreneur in the world.

Following are the thumbnails of some ex-Apple engineers we've come across in recent years. Many were indeed brought up at Apple as world-class experts -- by developing software, figuring out display technology, embedding cameras into Apple products, or more broadly managing the supply chain and manufacturing of Apple products. Their experience puts a face on the largely anonymous product development processes at Apple.

The list here is random. But what these engineers are doing today, or what they're seeking to do, offers a taste of what they learned at Apple.

To read more about the life of some of the enginners who are alumni of Apple and Steve Jobs (and to leave a comment), click here to go to Page 2 of this story on EETimes. 

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