My Job Interview With Apple

5 weeks ago I was contacted by an Apple recruiter about a job opportunity working on the front-end of Siri. I love to my job at 500px and my life here in Toronto, but when the most valuable company in the history of economics asks if you’d like to chat, it’s not really a question. It’s a formality.

The Dream

For as long as I have been writing code, I have admired Apple. As a company, they are the yardstick by which all other products - both software and hardware - are judged.

Merlin Mann has said you should aspire to be good enough at what you do that people you admire would be interested in working with you. Being contacted by Apple about the prospect of working for them on their latest contribution to how society interacts with computers was one of the most exciting moments in my (young) career.

I didn’t know if I wanted to work for Apple, or if I was willing to pick my life up to do so, but I knew that the only way to find the answer to those questions was to go down to California and talk to them.

The Process

The recruiter contacted me after reading my article on why Objective-C is Hard to Learn, which had cruised to the top of Hacker News that week. Two telephone screenings and a few weeks later, I had a flight booked to visit with Apple in Cupertino.

I was asked all sorts of questions. Things that tested my hard skills, soft skills, all sorts of things. I was asked questions you only learn the answers to after years of experience. I was asked questions you only know the answer to if you paid close attention in algorithm design class at university. I was asked questions I knew the answer to off the top of my head and questions I couldn’t answer at all, even questions they knew I couldn’t possibly answer, but they wanted to see how I approached them.

The in-person interviews lasted 5 hours, including lunch with my would-be manager. I learnt a lot about the workings of Apple and everyone I spoke with was very helpful, despite not being able to answers all of my questions (at no point did they make me sign an NDA or any of that nonsense).

I met with fellow members of the team, including QA testers and other software engineers, managers, higher-ups, members of other teams, and even names you start to recognize from high-level org charts of the company.

The Result

It was raining in Cupertino the whole time I was there, so I spent a lot of time by myself in the hotel. This led to a lot of introspection, which was valuable. I asked questions of myself, like why I wanted to work for Apple. Being away from my life also illuminated the hard reality of what I would sacrifice to work there: leaving my wife for 16 months until she finished her degree and moved down to be with me; leaving my job where I have enormous flexibility and direct responsibility; stopping all personal projects, including this blog, Stack Overflow, and any future book deals; leaving Toronto, my friends, and all of the professional relationships I’ve built.

Apple is the first company I have ever interviewed with that decided not to hire me.

Why did they pass on me? Lack of technical chops. Not surprising, since I’m only 23 (24 tomorrow!) and have almost 11 months of full-time experience at “real companies” since graduating last May. Considering where I am in my career, I’m incredibly proud of what I was able to demonstrate to them.

Frankly, I was relieved. They had made a decision for me, lifting the burden of choosing what I have now over what I could have had with them. The recruiter offered to forward my resume to other teams working on iOS, but I declined. We agreed that I’d talk to him in a few years when I was more ripe and able to move my entire family down with me, but to me, working for Apple is no longer the illustrious dream it once was.

In my mind, Apple has always been a dream. Visiting them allowed me to see from a new perspective: Apple is just another company. A company which does amazing things, granted, but a company nevertheless. Apple is no longer some magical, secretive entity to me, and I think I’m a more whole adult for believing in one less fairy tale.

In my life, nothing has made me appreciate what I have, personally and professionally, more than facing the reality of giving it all up. This was a unique learning experience for me and I am convinced it will leave a visible impression on what I do with my life and who I do it with.

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