From Mark Di Stefano and Wayne Ma’s “Apple Was the Most Secretive Company in Tech. Then…” ($) posted Thursday by The Information:
There was a time when employees at Apple—long one of Silicon Valley’s most secretive companies—wouldn’t dare to speak openly about their employer in public without permission. Often they were too spooked to talk to colleagues in other parts of the company, if they could even figure out who they were.
But in the past few weeks the doors to the Apple kingdom have been partially cracked open with the help of an unlikely tool: Slack.
The popular messaging tool became a hit at the 160,000-person company during the pandemic, when many employees were forced to work from home. And in recent months, Slack has become a virtual town square…
Apple’s notoriously secretive culture limited such opportunities for grassroots organization. Employees are forced to sign multiple agreements pledging they won’t tell anyone about their work, including spouses and even other Apple colleagues. The company is heavily siloed, with physical access to different departments restricted to people authorized to be there. One former Apple procurement manager said the company’s internal employee directory was so difficult to navigate that he was unable to use its functions to, for example, learn who was in charge of iPad marketing in Latin America.
“Historically, Apple’s employment culture was like being part of a fiercely loyal, secretive club,” said Margaret O’Mara, a professor of history at the University of Washington who has extensively studied the tech industry. “It’s always cultivated this idea that ‘If you work here, you’re cool, you’re thinking different…you’re both a capitalist and a rebel.’
“It’s hard to hold on to that cohesive culture when you’re no longer a few thousand employees,” she said.
My take: Unpredictable things happen when employees are free to talk among themselves. On second thought, the things that happen are quite predictable.