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Apple Employee Silenced by Self

November 8th, 2005

I’m disappointed to see that Buzz Andersen has decided not to go through with a CocoaRadio interview he was slated for.

He’s entitled to make his own choices, but I just think this is ridiculous. Apple is not an oppressive authoritarian regime. It’s a company. A place you work for. A place that pays you to be there for part of your life.

California has some of the best laws in the country, by my understanding, for protecting the rights of employees to pursue endeavors freely outside of their employer’s control.

There only real restrictions on Buzz’s right to participate in a friendly developer community interview are that he:

  1. Can’t do it at work, or via work’s equipment.
  2. Can’t discuss information covered explicitly or implicitly by his NDA with Apple.
  3. Can’t directly compete with Apple.

He also has the right to just plain not feel like doing it anymore because he’ll feel embarrassed, uncomfortable at work, whatever. These are all legitimate reasons for not wanting to do an interview – just wish he’d decided so before agreeing to do the show.

The way it has been presented on his blog make it sound like Apple employees are prevented from having public lives. This is obviously not true: just look at all the Apple employee blogs! It’s too bad Buzz is letting the flawed notion get to him as strongly as it apparently is.

For some historical perspective, the spirit of CocoaRadio is very much in line with the old “Factory Floor” articles done by MacTech, which *frequently* featured Apple insiders. These interviews spanned the ranks from Nick Kledzik down in the ditches working on Interfacer to Avie Tevanian shortly after he was brought in with NeXT.

This google search for MacTech “Factory Floor” articles featuring the phrase “at apple” yields a large number of these articles. While we’re suffering a drought of public representation from current Apple employees, at least we can still go back and browse these interesting developers from the past.

12 Responses to “Apple Employee Silenced by Self”

  1. Buzz Andersen Says:

    I appreciate your criticisms, but rest assured I have my reasons. I’ll try to do a post later tonight addressing this.

  2. Mark Grimes Says:

    I’ve been in a position where I’ve released BSD-licensed software on my own time on my resources and my company has given me grief about it. I’ve pondered the idea of doing shareware, in a non-competitive env to the InfoSec industry I work in… but the question I don’t think is so much that I work in California where there are increased labor laws to protect the employee… The question really is, even if you were expected to WIN a case, do you have the money to fight “the machine”. Just because you’ll win doesn’t mean they won’t get a house out of you in legal fees.

  3. Justin Williams Says:

    It’s a trend I have found amongst many of my Apple-employeed friends: they are VERY wary to say anything related to Apple or the Mac.

    Me: “Wow the new iMac is neat.”
    Apple Employee: “No Comment.”

    It’s somewhat annoying.

  4. Justin Williams Says:

    Just as I was closing this tab I thought it’d be a lot funnier if you put the title of the article in code:

    [appleEmployee silencedBy:self];

    Im a geek.

  5. Daniel Jalkut Says:

    Good points, Mark. I guess it depends on whether a person feels particular up to the fight or not. I guess that’s what gets me about this is it feels like whatever the reasons behind the decision, it’s just downright unfair to Buzz.

    Buzz: having you here “in the flesh” makes me a little embarrassed about the provocative tone of my statements. I am especially regretful of the implication that your choice is “ridiculous.” That’s clearly a simplistic summation. I think a lot of that is just misplaced anger towards whatever forces caused you to make this decision. I’ll look forward to reading more about your rationale later on.

    Justin: I definitely appreciate the “silent to the point of annoyance” factor of corporate secrecy. In my time at Apple I was always very mum about unreleased products. Once they’re out the door, though: let’s spread the word! Apple’s own employees are some of their best viral advertisers. In this case, though, I’m just having a lot of trouble accepting the idea that an audio interview is somehow different from a blog entry, or forum posting, or newsgroup article. It’s all “that person from Apple” getting their opinions heard.

    [Late addition – haha! I can edit comments … yeah Justin that is a funny, and very geeky way of putting it :) ]

  6. Mark Grimes Says:

    I think most people won’t put up the fight, especially if you have a spouse and kids. That is unless you have Grandma’s inheritance to sit on and live during your pro-bono / EFF supported case. Problem is there are people that know your situation that are leading the lawyers — cease and desist letters and lawsuits are usually a little more then just scare tactics. In the case of software dispute I’ve almost always seen the end goal to be to bleed the victim dry such that they are not financially in a position to compete at all – win or lose. Or delay just long enough to where they can get their version out first but that’s usually a company versus company battle.

    I suppose if I worked for Apple and wanted to release stuff without the grief, I’d go down to the county clerk and pay the $10 for a company name, and write and/or sell software under that name… It may not give you ‘name recognition’ as an individual, but hey, you can’t have everything. You don’t need to spend the grand on the LLC unless you are in a services industry (then you need indemnification agreements etc). A proper EULA disclaimer that if your s/w impregnates your cat or causes your skin to peel off, it’s not your bag should be enough.

    The key to working with an oppressive (pardon, secretive :)) organization is to not cross the streams. What they don’t know won’t hurt them — so long as you truly are not willfully breaking NDA or competing then anything they find out afterwords (if at all) is less of a big deal then foreplay. Many companies other then Apple are quite risk aversive. They are more afraid of what you MIGHT say and not as worried about what you said after the fact once they discovered you did nothing wrong. They might say tell us first if you do this again… but at least it wouldn’t be over before it started and you’ll have gotten your fill. The fact this is pretty much an impromptu interview that is not scripted, Public Relations and Apple Legal have NO idea what you might say. It’s different when presenting at a venue (albeit a pain in the ass).

    A good thing to take, especially if you speak at conference venues, is media training. Teaches you how to answer interview questions such as not to fall victim to the dreaded “sound-byte” phenomenon. Some of it is common sense, but some reporters are looking for a story they have already written in their head and are angling their questions such that you bumble down the path… others are just ignorant to technology — those you should get a proof of before anything is released. But I digress.

    Hope any of this info is helpful.

    Good luck to you Buzz – I was really looking forward to hearing the show as I am a steady reader of your weblog, but it’s best not to get the employer excited — We understand.

  7. Sci-Fi Hi-Fi » Blog Archive » Omerta Says:

    […] Sheesh–sometimes I forget how many people actually read this stuff. Now that Robert Scoble and Daniel Jalkut have taken notice of my decision not to go ahead with my CocoaRadio interview, I feel compelled to offer some further context. […]

  8. Buzz Andersen Says:

    Daniel,
    No big deal–I understand. If I had provided some more context up front (rather than reacting as hastily as I did), I probably would have caused a lot less consternation.

    Mark,
    Thanks for your advice. You’re absolutely right about the not crossing streams part. That’s what I was trying to get away with here, but it turns out a lot more people read my weblog these days than I thought.

  9. Erik J. Barzeski Says:

    Apple technically doesn’t have a policy re: blogging, which is why it largely depends on your manager whether you’re even allowed to do it. Look at the Mac Geniuses and other retail employees who have been fired (or nearly so). It’s pretty ridiculous.

    Because Buzz, as a developer, would be talking about Mac OS X, that would violate one of the policies Apple does have, and that’s “talking to the press.” Basically, you cannot talk to the press about anything. This is particularly true of retail employees (who are strictly told to refer any and all questions from any member of the press to the PR department).

    While it’s true that people don’t always get caught – or even fired – for “talking to the press,” Apple would have every right to terminate Buzz for doing so if they so wished. Right or wrong, that’s their policy. Disregarding that policy, even if you feel the the spirit of the policy should allow for indie comments on shows like CocoaRadio, shows a disregard for your own employment. Again, right or wrong, good or bad…

  10. Scott Ellsworth Says:

    I might have phrased the withdrawal a bit differently, something like ‘I am going to have to cancel, as there is a process at Apple about talking to the press, and I have not done it.’ This cuts down on the conspiracy theory element. That said, I kinda think Buzz made the right call – it may be easier to get forgiveness than permission, but the cost of _not_ getting permission is generally lower than not getting forgiven.

    Talking to the press is dangerous – you run a real risk of being taken out of context, and you run the risk of an in context comment having more impact than you expected. Not because the press is evil, but because reporters have different aims and contexts than you do.

    I recall some years back when an Apple engineer made an intemperate comment on java-dev, which made it to Mac the Knife. Said engineer felt the comment was taken out of context, and the response was excessive. No way to respond, though, to ‘Apple engineer says testing of the Thingie Feature bites!”, as Mac the Knife was not interested in another discussion.

    For that matter, we lost a very good client once when one of our partners made a conjecture about the overall future of the web services business, which our client took as a revelation of their next quarter financial outlook. They never worked with us again, even though we really did not mean to even imply anything about that client’s financial status.

    Further, you never know what story is in someone’s head. True of all people, but reporters write those stories down. That is their job. Something innocent like ‘I found out about the Intel transition when everyone else did’ could be spun up one side and down the other according to someone’s existing biases. A minor comment, but one that could get high level attention, even if it is not the purpose of the interview.

    So, the risk for Buzz is high. I do not blame him for wanting at least a bit of protection – something like a notice of intent that his manager has seen and approved. Even if it then does spin out of control, he will have some support, most like.

    Scott

  11. Daniel Jalkut Says:

    Lots of good points from everybody involved. In the spirit of Buzz’s original rescinsion (is that word?), I hereby rescind my criticisms!

  12. Red Sweater Blog - Saying Goodbye To Apple Says:

    […] was relieved that Buzz didn’t hold any personal grudges against me. After my public critique of his decision to bow out of an interview with Cocoa Radio, he would have been entitled to. He was […]

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