I’ve been fortunate enough to work both in “Hollywood” at a movie studio as well as Apple corporate in Cupertino. I find that people (not familiar with either) approach asking me about both in the same way, as though I’ve been to the moon. Sharing with people that I’ve worked at Apple usually goes something like this:
Them “Which store?”
Me: “Oh, well I did work retail in Santa Monica, but I also worked at Corporate for two years.”
T: “Oh, as in Cupertino?”
M: “Yup! I was at iTunes, I worked on the movies team.”
Then a pause. In fact, always a pause and then a genuinely curious voice, “What was it like?”
I give them a variety of answers pending on what sort of angle I think they’re really trying to get at. I share about the beer bashes, the concerts, and also the 1000’s of emails I had to sort through each week, attending 15-20 meetings each week on top of running 7 of my own. After another thoughtful pause, they always ask, “Did you ever meet Steve?”
I can’t say I ever met Steve personally, although I worked with many people who did know him. I even met a few who had a semblance of a relationship with him outside of work. It was these people that the rest of us, trying to act nonchalantly, would ask for Steve stories they had. They would circulate, some probably turning more into fiction each time they were told. For example, supposedly Steve personally hired and fired 3 sushi chefs for Cafe Macs (yes, we had sushi in our cafeteria). In fact, the sushi line is where one of my “Steve sightings” took place.
It’s widely known on campus that you avoid Cafe Macs on Mondays at lunch time around noon if at all possible. This is when new hires get out of training and their boss or team comes to meet them for their first lunch at IL4 (aka Infinite Loop 4 aka Cafe Macs / Town Hall). Overwhelmed with meetings and work one Monday, I forgot this basic rule of thumb and wandered over to main campus for food.
The place was a mad house but the sushi line seemed fairly short. I put in my order and waited patiently. My back was facing the the massive busy crowd behind me, but I suddenly felt this weird energy and shift in the crowd. I turned around just in time to see the sea of people parting for Steve. He was in his Apple uniform as he approached the sushi line. Cue me internally freaking out and trying to just act cool. He simply nodded at the Sushi chef, whom bowed in return, and all of five seconds later he was already gone and headed towards the Vegan line (yes, we also had a Vegan line!) I always have enjoyed the fact that he simply “singled” to the Sushi Chef and the Chef knew what he wanted.
I saw him a few other times at tables eating lunch outside Cafe Macs. I give him props for even standing in the pizza line which was always a 15-20 minute wait and something even I never did. He would always pay for his food too.
My other Steve story happened right after he came back from sick leave after his liver transplant. I was sitting outside of IL1, finishing a phone conversation with my old boss before walking back to my building. I had been at iTunes at least a year at this point in time and knew enough people to see recognize people all over campus. I was deep in conversation and looked up as someone was walking by. My head did the quick check to see if I recognized who it was and if I should acknowledge. My brain said, “Yup! You know him!” and was quickly sending the words to say “Hi [name!] to my lips.
The man walking by me looked at me and smiled and it was then I realized it wasn’t just some engineer from my team, but it was Steve Jobs. His walk looked like it was taking him effort, his shoulder blades were sticking out of his turtle neck, and he looked frail. I returned his smile with a contorted grimace with my head going “DON’T SAY ANYTHING – JUST ACT COOL.” He walked on and got in an Lincoln Town Car that drove him away. I remembering thinking, “Go home Steve and get rest! We need you better!.”
I have so many other thoughts and emotions surrounding all of this and it had made me horribly nostalgic for any of my Apple days. I read once that it’s not how long you work for Apple, but how many times. I’ve already done it three times and it was because of Steve. If I go back now, it’s because I know of the passionate teams of people that he left behind staying hungry and staying foolish.