Remembering Apple: The Start Date

April 16th, 2006

Next month I will observe the 10th anniversary of my start date at Apple Computer: May 13, 1996. Now, this statement on its own is misleading, and doesn’t adequately reflect the amount of time I spent at Apple. For one thing, I don’t work there anymore, and haven’t since August of 2002. For another, I started as a contractor almost 2 years prior to that date. But that start date is important. It’s burned into my brain forever, alongside my Apple employee number. Why? It’s the day, the pivotal fork in the road where my life changed forever.

You’ll find that Apple employees past and present “just happen” to know the exact date of their hire. I’m sure the phenomenon applies to employees of other companies as well, but I bet if you take a group of 10 people, 5 of whom are Apple veterans, and ask if they know off the top of their head the exact start date for any of their past jobs, the Apple employees will beat out the others with frightening regularity.

One reason for this obsession with the date of hire is pride. The day you start at Apple, be it as an administrative assistant or the CFO, you’re joining a proud legacy, and you know it. I still remember the thrill of receiving that offer letter. I grinned wide, stared down at the relatively meager salary I’d be earning, and signed away my agreement to start in two weeks.

I wanted two weeks because I needed to emphasize the start of something incredible and new. I needed a rite of passage. I had been Daniel Jalkut, relatively bright student turned Apple QA contractor. Now I was Daniel Jalkut, Apple employee and engineer. I was part of the family, and I felt that everywhere I went people would just sense that I was different.

I traveled to Mexico during that two week pre-employment vacation, and suddenly I wanted to relate to everything Apple wherever I went. In Tijuana, where I walked across the border prepared to catch a bus further south, I spotted a night club with an old Apple-II era logo as its marquee. I was tempted to barge into the night club and announce myself: “Soy empleado de Apple. ¿Como están?” The fact that a group of Tijuana drunks would be totally disinterested in this fact didn’t compromise my feeling of kinship with them.

Getting My Feet Wet

My first manager at Apple was an extremely kind yet gruff guy who seemed to respect my youthful ambition to always do my best. Afraid that I would be fired when they found out what a fraud I was (a common fear among all people, I found out later), I kept copious notes for the first month, detailing every minute of time I put into the bugs that were assigned to me. When the first month expired, my manager checked in with me on my progress. I reviewed my notes with some dismay: I had only fixed 4 bugs (albeit some hard ones) in the first month I was there. The time had been spent on necessary tasks like becoming familiar with the sources, organizing my office, etc. I nervously admitted this during our meeting, to which he replied something along the lines of “Geez, leave some for the other guys to do!” He had expected a much longer break-in period before I touched the sources at all.

He was always straight with his employees, and never sugar-coated even bad news from further up the management chain. His first act of shocking managerial honesty came in the meeting where I learned I was being hired:

“They told me to negotiate salary with you. I am allowed to pay you as low as $X or as high $Y. Which do you want?”

$Y was about $15,000 higher than $X, and each was a lot more than I’d ever made before. I laughed nervously and said confidently, “I’ll take $Y.” During that first meeting I wondered if it was a manager trick to get me to take a low number, but over the following few years I learned it was just his style.

Give it to the New Guy

A funny piece of trivia about my first job at Apple is that I was technically hired to work on PowerTalk/AOCE, a technology which had just been essentially cancelled, and the former team laid off. Apparently Apple had to keep the sources “at the ready” and have somebody prepared to do a quick bug fix if one of the important clients of the software ran into an emergency. So they gave my manager permission to hire a general integration engineer whose top priority would be maintaining PowerTalk. This didn’t exactly thrill me, but the fact is PowerTalk opened the door to my permanent employment at Apple.

On my first day, I received three CD-R discs which had been rescued from the disbanded PowerTalk team. The PowerTalk source repository, as it was, lay in my hands. My responsibilities were simply to make it build. Anybody who complains about Xcode or UNIX makefiles should count their blessings. The PowerTalk build was fueled by a complex MPW script that, among other things, relied on the computer’s hard disk being named exactly the same as the PowerTalk build engineer’s disk had been named. Fortunately, I never had to actually fix anything in it.

My life changed forever on May 13, 1996 (a week before my birthday). Nothing I’ve achieved professionally would have been possible were it not for the encouragement, camaraderie, and pride that my coworkers and the company itself shared with me. It says something important that Apple still wielded such magic powers 20 years after its founding. And it says something even more that today those powers are as strong as ever.

Stay tuned for more “Remembering Apple” articles as I reflect on the past and indulge in nostalgia. From here on out all reflections on the past will be tagged “folklore,” in honor of Andy Hertzfeld’s folklore.org project.

14 Responses to “Remembering Apple: The Start Date”

  1. Ron Says:

    Hi, I loved reading your story. I’m currently trying to apply to Apple as well. If there are any tips you could give, I’d truely appreciate it. I also look forward to more “Remembering Apple” stories.

    thanks,

    -Ron

  2. Michael Tsai - Blog - Remembering Apple Says:

    […] Daniel Jalkut: […]

  3. Stripes Says:

    Ron, be reasonably enthusiastic about the company. Don’t be humble about the things you are good at. Don’t overstate the things you are bad at. If you don’t know the answer for an interview question don’t be afraid to guess, but unless you think it is a good guess equivocate a bit “it has been a while since I coded deletion in a red-black tree, so I would skim my algorithms book if I were in my office, but off the top of my head I would do it this way…”

    Think of some questions to ask ahead of time. Preferably things you are really interested in.

    For the most part, like any other interview I’ve ever had, except longer.

  4. John C. Randolph Says:

    I know when I started at Apple, but I thought I remembered it just because it was the first working day of 2002 (January 2.)

    -jcr

  5. alexr Says:

    I recall the date I started my first contract at Apple (5/31/88), but I don’t recall the much later hire date, probably because they later moved it.

  6. Daniel Jalkut Says:

    Alex: I only learned recently about that “moving the start date” trick. That’s so weird!

    For everybody else: what he’s alluding to is practice Apple apparently has of “filling the gap” when you leave and come back to the company. So your start date gets moved up such that your total service to the company is the time from your start date to the present.

    Seems weird and historically inaccurate, but what are ya gonna do?

  7. Jeff LaMarche Says:

    *sigh* I never worked at Apple, so I have no hire date. I interviewed when I lived in the Bay Area and had an offer in 1999 to come into an entry-level QA position (which I was told by the recruiter was a fairly common practice – spend a year in QA then transfer into software engineering). The only problem was that the salary offered was a good $30k lower than what I was making as an HR software developer (this was the height of the dot-com boom). Had I been younger and without kids, I probably would have taken the job anyway. Turning it down was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. But though I have no hire date to remember, I do vividly remember the date that I turned down the offer from Apple because it happened to coincide with my 29th birthday. :(

    Seems weird and historically inaccurate, but what are ya gonna do?

    Actually, it’s a fairly common practice in enterprise HR systems. All older HR systems, and even most modern ones like PeopleSoft and SAP calculate length of service using a simple bit of date math (start date subtracted from current date) when calculating tenure, which means that you have to adjust the start date when you have non-consecutive tenures (aka “broken service”) or else people get credit (seniority, pension, etc) for the time when they were gone. This leads to unusual concepts in HR systems such as “original hire date”.

  8. Bobby Kinstle Says:

    I don’t remember my exact start date or end date. I started as a contractor in June 1997 and became permanent in April 1998. I *think* it was april 10th. We can all probably remember so easily because our start date was printed on the back of our badges. I quit in april 2004. I remember going to department ceremony to give me my 5 year plaque. They asked me to say a few words so I stood up and said “Wow, 5 years. I quit. Screw you guys, I’m moving to Oregon.”

    And I did.

    Quitting Apple was the greatest moment of my life, much like I felt on the first day. Over the next 3 months, I decompressed and ended up feeling like someone added 20 years to the end of my life. I’m now much happier. Thankful for the experience I gained, and certainly willing to exploit the presitge of having Apple on my resume, but all the kings horses, and all the kings men could not drag me back to Apple again.

  9. Daniel Jalkut Says:

    Jeff: thanks for the info about the HR practices. Makes sense in a weird way.

    Bobby: Sounds like you had a much more grueling experience at Apple than I did. It was both the hardest and easiest job I’ve ever had. But most of the hard work for me was “fun” in the sense that it was in the form of hardcore dedicated all-nighters with really smart coworkers. When you get 3 or 4 people together who all scratch their head in perplexion over something for 10 hours, it makes the victory all that much sweeter :)

  10. Blake Seely Says:

    I very clearly remember my PeopleSoft start date – September 7th, 1999.

    (And incidentally, I used to see see the name “Jeff LaMarche – from the comment above – quite often while I worked at PS. I always wondered if the name I saw in MacTech, cocoa-dev, etc. was the same. I guess now I know :)

  11. Bobby Kinstle Says:

    Reliability was a real meat grinder. We were expected to put in 20+ hours of overtime every week, even during the christmas shutdown. I worked 47 consecutive days on Kihei. Over time as our staff shrank and shrank, the work load just got worse until we were literally expected to do the work of five people. Anyone who failed to consistantly deliver this herculean task was labelled “lost the faith” and summarily terminated. After seeing that happen to several really good people, and no really bad people while simultaniously fighting a nasty case of burnout myself, I decided to cash out and quit while I still could.

    Now don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of tremendously talanted people at Apple. I learned an incredible amount of useful skills there. That’s my sense of balance. Apple treated us like dogs, but they paid a whole bunch of money teaching me new skills that I would some day use to make some other company more successful. I use those skills every day to make my current company successful (and me along with it). The stress level at Apple is like the stress level of carrying a full load at a university. Now in comparison, the stresses of a normal job feels like I’m on vacation almost all the time.

  12. Mrs. Steven Dorchester Says:

    My husband is looking for a job at Apple. They have contacted him and would like to interview him in a few weeks, judging from what we have read the pay is (or was) out of proportion to other tech companies. How dos the compensation compared to Google, Adobe and IBM? Any insight you can provide will be appreciated.

    Thanks

  13. Daniel Jalkut Says:

    Mrs. Dorchester: It’s been many years since I worked there so I couldn’t really guess with much accuracy. But during my years there the feeling was always that Apple’s pay was “just average.” Not too bad and not through the roof. For a lot of jobs at Apple I think part of the compensation package is just knowing that you’re working on something amazing.

  14. Frank Johnson Says:

    I remember the start date because it was in HRWeb everytime I look at MyPage. I feel terrible for the other people looking for a job at Apple. However, as there are always exceptions to the rule, I am glad you enjoy your time.

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