After this yelling disaster, they gave us iPod Nanos
January 30, 2020 3:51 AM   Subscribe

Apple Computer released Aperture 1.0 in late 2005. The $499 photo management tool pioneered a nondestructive, RAW-based workflow for Macs. But reviews noted the program’s shortcomings. The “clusterfuck” led to Apple’s development team breaking up. “The short version is that a tremendous amount of shit hit the fan. One of the best projects ever quickly turned into a nightmare.”

What went wrong? Chris “cricket” Hynes was a quality assurance engineer for Aperture. He relates his experiences as the development cycle ran into problems.
So they tried cutting finished features, yelling at people, and working people to the point of nervous breakdowns. Then they came upon a brilliant idea: let’s steal over a hundred engineers from other teams and then the project will magically get done on time.
Via Daring Fireball
posted by Monochrome (56 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
If you don't like reading things from people who say "today's politically correct climate" then give Hynes' essay a miss.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:02 AM on January 30 [45 favorites]


Sounds like the development team fell for the mythical man-month fallacy. Like so many behind-schedule development projects do.
posted by ensign_ricky at 5:23 AM on January 30 [9 favorites]


Yah, the old "If one woman can make a baby in nine months, then nine women should be able to make a baby in one month" error.
posted by nushustu at 5:31 AM on January 30 [21 favorites]


Silicon valley culture is so ridiculously, pointlessly abusive.
posted by PMdixon at 5:41 AM on January 30 [22 favorites]


John Gruber: "the whole thing is just a delight to read"

Are you f*cking kidding me? Managers screaming at people? Employees having panic attacks? Expecting employees to work 7 days a week for six months straight?

This is an abusive corporate culture run rampant & celebrating it is just jaw dropping. Hey John: how many employees should Apple chew through and burn out to get a product out the door?
posted by pharm at 5:43 AM on January 30 [37 favorites]


yeah pharm, that's really fucking gross. had to @ him on twitter about this one. disgusting. tech industry is so broken. we must do better.
posted by lazaruslong at 5:57 AM on January 30 [5 favorites]


A company like this needs to be made to suffer before it will change. If a red-faced manager screaming abuse resulted In 50 top engineers walking out the door on the spot, I bet it would get noticed.
posted by thelonius at 5:59 AM on January 30 [4 favorites]


I'm very patiently waiting this sort of behind the scenes look of Niantic's development cycle of Pokemon GO.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:45 AM on January 30 [14 favorites]


Gruber has always enjoyed pointing and laughing at other's pain. He's a product of old school internet troll-for-the-lulz cultures, and all the unexamined bias and privilege that embodies. I can't take him in anything but the smallest of doses.
posted by bonehead at 6:47 AM on January 30 [8 favorites]


That essay is a master class in Stockholm Syndrome. And also terrible writing.
posted by grumpybear69 at 6:53 AM on January 30 [7 favorites]


Apple is the worst.
I’ve found it hard to go back to work after quitting Apple because of an abusive manager. Just reading job ads triggers PTSD so I’ve remained in stay at home dad mode longer than needed. It’s been years now. This is after long successful gigs at other tech companies before.

I’m finally going back to work at a different big tech co next week, but just part time and remote so I can ease into it.
posted by w0mbat at 6:59 AM on January 30 [25 favorites]


Yah, the old "If one woman can make a baby in nine months, then nine women should be able to make a baby in one month" error.

That's always been the problem with the tech industry - too many people working in it who don't know how babies are made.
posted by Cardinal Fang at 7:01 AM on January 30 [30 favorites]


Also: any man sets a hard ship date for software that is "mostly a series of demos" spends a night in the box
posted by thelonius at 7:06 AM on January 30 [16 favorites]


The Hynes essay is really jarring. Many offhand mentions of nervous breakdowns, anxiety attacks, and ongoing health problems caused by the work environment, but with such a weird, jokey tone throughout.
posted by jcreigh at 7:16 AM on January 30 [3 favorites]


I faced a similar problem at work once.
I prepared a demo to clients about the sort of thing that could be done. The problem was that my demo was a series of "painted" screens with no logic behind them.
They liked what they saw, and couldn't understand that it would take a good six months for a team of very good people to actually produce it.
posted by Burn_IT at 7:17 AM on January 30 [7 favorites]


Also, no one ever counts transaction costs. Have one person on a project, add nine and what happens? You don't get ten people working, you get your most experienced person running around trying to get the 9 newbies on track and keeping them from making too many mistakes. It's not uncommon to see a productivity dip after staffing up, in the short term. The short term can be months or even a year depending on the complexity of the project. A year before someone reaches their full potential on a project is not at all uncommon in science, for example.

Staffed-up projects also often suffer from coordination and orientation problems: they don't work together perfectly nor do they always do what they should be doing, but their own (unhelpful) vision of the project. 1+9 = 7-8, at best . You're always going to lose some fraction to overlap and inefficiency.

Managers start talking about "non-linear effects" but that just means they don't understand what's happening.
posted by bonehead at 7:17 AM on January 30 [17 favorites]


A company like this needs to be made to suffer before it will change. If a red-faced manager screaming abuse resulted In 50 top engineers walking out the door on the spot, I bet it would get noticed.

Even better if it resulted in the manager losing their stock options.
posted by Gelatin at 7:18 AM on January 30 [5 favorites]


Also, no one ever counts transaction costs

I've found I can get a teeny bit more attention paid I if I talk about context switches instead. Not much but a little.
posted by PMdixon at 7:20 AM on January 30 [11 favorites]


I get the impression that this kind of horrifying behavior is typical in software development. If it is, why should it be so when it isn't the case for many other industries where new products are pushed out on deadline?

And also:
"...the first volley from management was to cut features that were actually finished and worked well. The result was merely to give the illusion of progress."
What would be the benefit from doing this and how could it be perceived as progress?
posted by theory at 7:25 AM on January 30 [2 favorites]


This sort of atmosphere is very specific to environments where gargantuan sums of money are on the line. So: the entertainment industry, finance, video games, Apple, Google, Facebook, etc. Also startups with unicorn dreams. The vast majority of tech jobs are very much not like this, but they are also far more mundane in their aspirations.
posted by grumpybear69 at 7:28 AM on January 30 [4 favorites]


It's very rare to read a story like this from Apple. Apple engineering is one of the tightest-lipped organizations around. I regularly tease friends who take jobs there "don't disappear!" But they inevitably do, more than any other tech company they don't tolerate their employees talking about anything at all about work. I don't mean leaking secrets; I mean just going to a conference and acknowledging they work at Apple. Even that's not allowed.
posted by Nelson at 7:39 AM on January 30 [9 favorites]


"I prepared a demo to clients about the sort of thing that could be done. The problem was that my demo was a series of "painted" screens with no logic behind them."

This happens depressingly often, so the way some designers handle it is to delilberately make those painted UI screens look unfinished and rough.
posted by storybored at 7:41 AM on January 30 [11 favorites]


It’s my (worthless) opinion that Stockholm Syndrome lies underneath most modern cultural American dysfunction, be it social, political, or anything else. This tale is just another example.
posted by aramaic at 7:50 AM on January 30 [4 favorites]


If it is, why should it be so when it isn't the case for many other industries where new products are pushed out on deadline?

Because software development is littered with stories of "heroic" programmers working themselves to the bone to accomplish feats...that in hindsight could have been achieved faster and with less pain if there had been proper management. There's an assessment that I've seen that notes that the negative work generated by the original Mac team delayed the project by a year.
posted by NoxAeternum at 7:51 AM on January 30 [9 favorites]


I worked at Apple around that time. My immediate manager and everyone else on the team had worked together at other companies before Apple, and we ran our group how we saw fit, more or less.

I remember my manager saying "No" to lots of feature requests that encroached too close to deadlines. Of course, there were times Apple upper management wouldn't take "no" for an answer, in which case he insisted on cash. No, really! While other teams were working nights in exchange for free dinners at the cafeteria, everyone on our group was at least getting five-digit bonuses.

Part of the reason this worked was because I think upper management understood that my manager would probably enjoy telling them all to go to hell and quitting a month before the ship date, taking most of the team with him. I think a manager more loyal to the corp, or more eager for promotion, would have been pushed a lot harder at crunch time.
posted by ryanrs at 7:52 AM on January 30 [23 favorites]


When Jobs died I'm surprised Apple didn't seal their engineers alive in his tomb.
posted by Jessica Savitch's Coke Spoon at 7:52 AM on January 30 [36 favorites]


When Jobs died I'm surprised Apple didn't seal their engineers alive in his tomb.

What do you think the Cupertino torus is?
posted by NoxAeternum at 7:53 AM on January 30 [21 favorites]


This sort of atmosphere is very specific to environments where gargantuan sums of money are on the line. So: the entertainment industry, finance, video games, Apple, Google, Facebook, etc. Also startups with unicorn dreams.

One of these industries has strong unions. While this stuff (and far worse) can happen in entertainment, it's definitely not seen as normal in my experience and that of the people I've worked with.
posted by theory at 7:53 AM on January 30 [8 favorites]


It's kind of interesting reading this after I tried to watch the "Steve Jobs" movie last night and couldn't get through the first 45 minutes, largely due to my disinterest in watching the Jobs character abuse and humiliate his colleagues.

Here's the thing: I happen to know someone who had first-hand experience working closely with Jobs during that exact same time frame and was a key part of the Macintosh launch. I asked him about his experiences with Job's managerial style.

While he admitted that it was difficult at times, he also was grateful for the experience and had no regrets. He also admitted it was complicated to explain, but that being pushed to do the greatest work of his career was incredibly fulfilling.

If you assume that working for Jobs was in some ways unique (which I still think is debatable), the larger issue is that others in the company obviously mimicked his behavior on a superficial level and disasters like this were the result.
posted by jeremias at 8:04 AM on January 30 [5 favorites]


others in the company obviously mimicked his behavior

Mimicking the way Steve did things is still a HUGE culture driver at Apple, to the point that they internally teach classes about it.
posted by hanov3r at 8:09 AM on January 30


Mimicking the way Steve did things is still a HUGE culture driver at Apple, to the point that they internally teach classes about it.

Do they teach you how to disavow your own child?
posted by NoxAeternum at 8:14 AM on January 30 [2 favorites]


What do you think the Cupertino torus is?

Less than 10% of the Apple office space in the Bay Area?

Here’s a counterpoint: neither I, nor anyone I have ever talked to, has had any experience remotely similar to this here at Apple, and I include those of us who worked directly with Steve in that.

Although, I work for Jeff in Eddy’s org, and this story would have been a lot shorter over here as the project got cancelled after the first demo.
posted by sideshow at 8:17 AM on January 30 [2 favorites]


Was younger Steve Jobs more abusive than older Steve Jobs?
posted by clawsoon at 9:02 AM on January 30


This sort of atmosphere is very specific to environments where gargantuan sums of money are on the line. So: the entertainment industry, finance, video games, Apple, Google, Facebook, etc

Google is not like that. There is no shouting and abuse.
In fact most of that list are not like that. Actors get treated well, once they’re hired, it’s the hiring process that’s abusive.
posted by w0mbat at 9:08 AM on January 30 [2 favorites]


Management knew that pretty much everyone was unhappy and tried ridiculous things to appease us— rather than being better managers. This practice is not unique to this project or even Apple. What made it different was so much of it, and the effect was cumulative, especially after months of yelling.

One day they gave away gift bags to everyone to cheer us up or something. I went back to my office and started unpacking it. Some of it was cheap crackerjack style toys. Most of it was just awful candy.
I wonder if bad managers know that they're bad managers, or if they really think that dollar-store gifts for three-year-olds are truly the best way to get the most out of highly-motivated professionals.
posted by clawsoon at 9:11 AM on January 30 [1 favorite]


Actors get treated well

Oh really.
posted by grumpybear69 at 9:14 AM on January 30 [1 favorite]


it’s the hiring process that’s abusive

Well, and the promotion process (at least at Google) is just hilariously dysfunctional. Like dark comedy bad.

Money's good though.

I wonder if bad managers know that they're bad managers

IME, they do not. Indeed, that sort of willful blindness is almost a prerequisite for being a bad manager. Good ones can fuck up, but then they realize it and try to fix things. Bad ones refuse to admit any mistakes were made and just double down.

In fact, were I to ever become high enough to manage managers (will never happen!) I think that would be one of my secret tests -- if you cannot admit a fuckup and work to fix it, you cannot be in my product area.
posted by aramaic at 9:18 AM on January 30 [2 favorites]


And yet eventually Aperture turned into a decent library manager/editor, and some of us were disappointed when Apple dropped it in favour of the on-going "well, at least I didn't pay for it" that is Photos. I'm going to hope that this coincided with more humane development and management practices.
posted by YoungStencil at 9:56 AM on January 30 [1 favorite]


Google is not like that.

No, Google is abusive in the opposite direction, by and large.
posted by PMdixon at 10:22 AM on January 30 [1 favorite]


One of these industries has strong unions. While this stuff (and far worse) can happen in entertainment, it's definitely not seen as normal in my experience and that of the people I've worked with.

Which sub-section of entertainment is that? Film and TV? Sounds you’re describing on-set which does have strong unions but is not software-driven. I’m in post-production which is driven by custom software. Arbitrary deadlines, use of metrics, under- or over- ticketing, throwing people at problems, crunch for big deliveries, etc. This is normal in my experience and for the hundreds, and possibly, thousands of people I’ve worked with.
posted by lemon_icing at 10:40 AM on January 30 [3 favorites]


Gruber told me he has now changed "delightful" to "enthralling" and likened his original intent to enjoying The Irishman. I just...sigh. link
posted by lazaruslong at 10:45 AM on January 30 [1 favorite]


Actors get treated well, once they’re hired.

Haha! What? On the set of “Titanic”, James Cameron referred to Kate Winslet as Kate Weighs-a-Lot .

it’s the hiring process that’s abusive.

I walked out of my Google interview half-way through. No regrets. My take was that if that’s how they treat you when you don’t work for them, it’ll be worse once inside.
posted by lemon_icing at 11:01 AM on January 30 [5 favorites]


I walked out of my Google interview half-way through.

Why? What did they do?
posted by valkane at 11:08 AM on January 30 [2 favorites]


lemon_icing: Yeah I'm a producer/director doing mainly documentary projects, often working with union crew, and I have a lot of friends who work on the narrative side of things in film & TV, which is heavily unionized. We've all had to deal with unreasonable expectations in production and in post, but the downright abusive behavior described in the article is pretty rare and absolutely not tolerated when it happens.

One thing my industry seems to have in common with software development, though, is that for all the high hopes and time & effort invested, there are no qualms about releasing a crap product in the end.
posted by theory at 11:45 AM on January 30 [1 favorite]


lemon_icing: Which sub-section of entertainment is that? Film and TV? Sounds you’re describing on-set which does have strong unions but is not software-driven. I’m in post-production which is driven by custom software. Arbitrary deadlines, use of metrics, under- or over- ticketing, throwing people at problems, crunch for big deliveries, etc. This is normal in my experience and for the hundreds, and possibly, thousands of people I’ve worked with.

In my experience, VFX is the worst, 3D animation is in the middle, and 2D animation is almost like a normal workplace.
posted by clawsoon at 11:58 AM on January 30 [2 favorites]


It often feels like software engineering has more in common with writing the constitution of a country or the bylaws of an organization than it does with constructing a building or designing a thing. Like, the product is literally a collection of procedures rather than an actual object, and just as no one has ever figured out how to develop a social process that isn't full of issues and/or exploits, the same is true for software. The social process for developing that social process is even more ambiguous, but for sure the managers in this story got it pretty wrong.
posted by Wobbuffet at 12:56 PM on January 30 [5 favorites]


Part of the reason this worked was because I think upper management understood that my manager would probably enjoy telling them all to go to hell and quitting a month before the ship date, taking most of the team with him.

Almost like a union.....
posted by fshgrl at 4:27 PM on January 30 [8 favorites]


clawsoon, I view the difference as vendor vs. producing their own IP. Pixar is 3D and rarely does crunch; when it does, the units are in day or weeks. Post-production does not control for example, a reshoot or new sequence being added and yet the due date remains unchanged. HELLO CRUNCH! Breaking it down by type isn’t the way to look at it. Using Pixar again, they’ve pushed back a year when they decided to go back to story.
posted by lemon_icing at 5:04 PM on January 30 [1 favorite]


From the piece:

There was a lot of crying on the project, too. One person had a nervous breakdown. One person cried in one of our offices, and I remember it vividly. She thought she was going to get one Saturday off and she was going to see her kids, but now they were forcing her to work.

I've worked in and around technology for my entire career. Even as a young woman, it did not escape my attention that the perks on campuses included things that replicated the parent-child relationship, where the employer is the parent and the employee is the child: free snacks, free recess and playgrounds (i.e. on-site gyms and basketball courts), free hot meals enjoyed on-site, laundry service. At one place, the CEO paid for beauticians to come in and cut everyone's hair gratis every six weeks. At another, we could get check-ups and free flu shots. It was a lot like having a mom who took care of boring domestic shit & in return all you had to do was finish your chores on time for your allowance.

But you'd never catch a tech employer making it easier for their child-employees to become adults and parents themselves. It's never in a tech company's best interest to reduce any friction in the process of becoming a parent or being a parent. Because most tech companies correctly know that having kids will reconfigure an employee's emotional orientation away from the company, and that's not good for business.

You can't explicitly fire people for being parents. But you can make it really unpleasant for them. To drive working parents to tears because they have to explicitly prioritize a silly photo app over their kids? Such a great illustration of the real values powering tech companies.
posted by sobell at 5:25 PM on January 30 [12 favorites]


ensign_ricky: "Sounds like the development team fell for the mythical man-month fallacy. Like so many behind-schedule development projects do."

To be fair, that book had only been out for 35 years at that point.
posted by octothorpe at 5:37 PM on January 30 [8 favorites]


Silicon valley culture is so ridiculously, pointlessly abusive.

It's in the corporate DNA
posted by Apocryphon at 8:05 PM on January 30


Almost like a union.....

I would have totally joined a union! But I never heard any mention of union organizing at Apple (early-2000s). And I was a known troublemaker, so I would hope any nascent union org would have at least given me a leaflet or something.
posted by ryanrs at 8:47 PM on January 30


I walked out of my Google interview half-way through.

I had one scheduled and cancelled it a few days before because I was having a panic attack over it. The promise of free lunches just aren't worth going through that abuse.
posted by octothorpe at 4:09 AM on January 31 [1 favorite]


At one place, the CEO paid for beauticians to come in and cut everyone's hair gratis every six weeks.

And I bet they didn't offer the bald employees a free polish.
posted by Cardinal Fang at 12:24 PM on January 31


> You can't explicitly fire people for being parents. But you can make it really unpleasant for them.

Infinite Loop is literally adjacent to a middle school, and a number of folks bring their family to dinner in the cafe it seems. The greater challenge to family life in SV has to be the cost of child care, and that's squarely on the cost of housing. That is a hotly debated topic locally and megacorps trying to influence the local polity might be counter-productive.

> campuses included things that replicated the parent-child relationship, where the employer is the parent and the employee is the child

Apple in particular is known to be stingy on fringe benefits. All of the things you mention do exist, but are paid for out of pocket. No free lunches, not even free apples! The gym: not free. The wellness center: not free. The hair stylists: not free. Highly paid parents can use these services to buy time, no different than paying more to live near the office and cut commute times. If you want to call all this mothering, it's only because culture has programmed us to think that domestic tasks are unpaid and gendered, and outsourcing say laundry seems like progress to me.

The basketball courts and soccer fields are certainly unusual versus the rest of corporate America, but if they give folks an excuse to stay off the roads at rush hour I won't complain. And for some I imagine they're a welcome break. Apple suppliers are largely in APAC, and they have employees there too. So they probably get some 6/7pm meetings as folks in China roll into work. Getting in daily exercise done during the gap seems like a timesaver, unless folks are taking conf calls in the car or shuttle. And the Apple watches running around are probably collecting good data for them.
posted by pwnguin at 2:14 PM on February 2 [1 favorite]


A thing can be a "delight to read" even if it describes bad or painful events. It's weird to conflate the two.

If, for example, you have also spent 30 years in tech, and have been on your share of death marches, reading a well-written account of a high-profile project at Apple can still be delightful. I, for one, was delighted, even thought (like all such marches) it sounds dreadful.
posted by uberchet at 1:54 PM on February 3 [1 favorite]


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