A former Apple engineer’s blog post has been making waves in the tech community. No, he didn’t divulge information about an upcoming Apple product. Rather, he revealed an interesting tidbit about the company’s managerial style: it’s best and brightest engineers are bounced from project to project, startup style.
“Apple doesn’t build large teams to work on every product they make,” former Apple employee Sachin Agarwal wrote. “Instead, they hire very few, but very intelligent people who can work on different projects and move around as needed.”
This stands in stark contrast to many other firms who build teams that focus on one project for years. And it also may represent a new management trend, according to Shane Greenstein, a professor of management and strategy.
“I can remember when the managerial fad of the moment was to let engineering teams stay on projects for long periods,” he said. “The justification went like this: when there are many things to learn, the employees who stay on the project longer know all the relevant material. That confers advantages over startups and others where the engineers are just getting down their learning curves.”
Instead, Apple appears to be embracing the startup mentality with its new approach. Agarwal feels this keeps the company nimble, a necessity in fast-paced high-tech industries.
Greenstein thinks Apple may have a different motive. “I would guess that Apple does this out of necessity and real paranoia about losing talent,” he said. “The management is worried that their best designers, product engineers, and other rare talent will get bored and/or will become targets for raiding by other firms, who would certainly pay as well or better. Moving a talented engineer around inside the firm is a way to prevent talented employees from being tempted to leave. It replicates what they would get by moving across many startups, more or less.”
Still, the startup approach may not be appropriate for other industries, or even for other positions within Apple. “I would guess that Apple has this project for its most talented engineers,” Greenstein said. “You would not want to have this type of policy for everyone, particularly at the managerial level. It would destroy institutional memory.”
Photo by eternaltedium.