Where to change the technological world?
March 20, 2006 5:02 PM   Subscribe

14-year Apple veteran -- Where to go to change the world?

[Posting on behalf of the person in question]
You are a 14-year veteran employee of Apple Computer. You work there because you appreciate technology that's cool, functional and well designed. Gadgets and technology are basically like art to you (with most of what's out there being crap). When you see a really good product, you're immediately struck with the 2 or 3 things standing in the way of it being great. You're still waiting for someone to make the perfect combo cell phone/PDA device.

You've become increasingly alarmed at the trend of content/service providers consistently f**ing up areas of the technological landscape that have the potential to be great. For example, you believe that cellular service providers have totally screwed up the cell phone hardware market because they waste millions making cell phone companies do custom phone design/branding/locking that users don't want. You're also extremely annoyed that part of the money you give to music & video companies goes toward creating technologies designed to prevent you from doing things with the music & video you buy.

You're 38 years old, with idealistic goals (and sometimes realistic expectations). Perhaps this is your version of a mid-life crisis, but you're thinking more and more about how to change the world (and where you could get a paycheck for working to do so). You're ready to leave a company that you've always resisted leaving because frankly, you couldn't think of another company where you could be as excited & proud about what you were working on. You're not opposed to startups, but you want to make sure you wind up somewhere that's going to make a difference.

Oh, and you also have a family and your wife is currently a full-time student, so you need to make a decent income.

Where do you go from here?
posted by tkolar to Technology (13 answers total)
I'm around technology a little bit from my job and my interests, and the only company that is as consistently bold with hardware and software as Apple is Nintendo. I'm surprised that a person who feels this way feels that Apple may not be the best environment to try to implement these ideas.

That said, Firefly Mobile comes to mind as a place (in the US) to go if cellphone design is what this person wants to do.
posted by sachinag at 5:09 PM on March 20, 2006

It's easy, just send Steve an email.
posted by cellphone at 5:28 PM on March 20, 2006

There's not going to be a single magic answer - it doesn't seem like you have a specific goal in mind in leaving (is changing the world your #1 reason? Are you convinced you're better off outside of Apple to complete that goal?), which is ok. But it means that you're going to have to do some exploring before you find something that fits.

I recently left MSFT after 10 years and I wasn't 100% sure what to do next - so i worked out with my wife for me to spend some time after I quit trying figuring out what's next: talking to people, exploring some things I've always wanted to try, etc. I think whether you plan for this or not, you'll end up doing it.

Specific to your question, where to go, my first though for you was a place like IDEO, where your passion for great hardware experiences would be at the heart of how the organization functions. Almost any other firm will have more of the annoying things you mentioned than you can probably tolerate (e.g. cell phone cos). Another thought is Sonos as they're definitely trying to be like Apple in some ways, but you'd have to be into the home theatre/media space.

Good luck!
posted by Berkun at 5:33 PM on March 20, 2006

With all due respect, the gating factor here is going to be who is interested in hiring you, not in where you want to work. Once you have several job offers -- if you end up with such a happy choice -- then you can think about which is best for you to permit you to change the world. But if you need another job fast, one which provides a good living so you can support your wife, you're probably going to end up having to take pretty much whatever job gets offered to you.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 5:49 PM on March 20, 2006

Steven, did you read the question?
He still has a job, but he is considering leaving for greener pastures. So he doesn't need another job fast.
posted by atrazine at 5:56 PM on March 20, 2006

I and several friends just left our jobs in cupertino for similar reasons. I'm doing non-profit things; others are taking some time off.

Sounds like you haven't left yet. Quitting will be *hard*. There will be negotiation. It will likely take a month longer than you think. Look into the 'personal leave' option if you think you want to come back in a year.

That company is the hardest place you'll ever work. Consider taking a break before looking for the next thing. Most likely, you will be working until you are 65 or 70, doing the things you love. You have plenty of time to work, and most likely have a bit of a cushion built up. Relax. (my family situation is the same as yours)

If doing nothing isn't for you, start your own software company, or check out a startup. The economy in SF is white-hot right now, and you can get a place at a startup in about 2 minutes.
posted by rajbot at 5:59 PM on March 20, 2006

posted by autojack at 6:32 PM on March 20, 2006

Google is the new Apple.
posted by flabdablet at 6:35 PM on March 20, 2006

Ideo designed the iRiver iHP-120/140. Probably the coolest implementation of an audio-only handheld that has ever been designed or will ever be designed. It didn't have a chance in the marketplace against the entrenched iPod. It sounds like you are very idealistic but you are also used to your ideas getting out there and succeeding, backed by the might of a multibillion dollar multinational like Apple. Idea factories, design farms, and incubators might not be a good bet for you...

Someone earlier mentioned Google. Google is a nice company but there were companies with more interesting technology than Google's in the Valley a few years ago, and there are now, and there will be in the future. However, most of these will fail, whereas Google will probably go on for a good few years yet.

You bring up startups in your question in order, it seems to me, to defuse them as serious contenders, and in your case I think you're right. Startups are exciting, but risky, and unless you are pursuing some very mainstream ideas now with a view to acquisition, most of the startups' prognoses are not good.

I think you'd be better off with one of the larger research firms, something like IBM Almaden.
posted by meehawl at 7:31 PM on March 20, 2006

I'm in a very similar situation. My plan is to study graphic design for a year, and then figure something out.
posted by jeffj at 7:32 PM on March 20, 2006

I think any commercial enterprise seeking to do something in the consumer devices and services space in this day and age will going to be subject to many of the same pressures to compromise the customer experience in order to placate the interests of partners that big tech companies are.

Even if a startup manages to fly under the radar for a while, the content industry, backed up by the legislation they bought and paid for over the last decade, is going to come calling at some point. If not them, then it will be a shake down for the communications industry. Chances are, it will be both.

I think the best antidote to these anti-customer forces, who often get to work their influence before new products and new features are ever market tested, is to work in a non-commercial setting to make something cool and compelling. In the end, it will have to be embraced by industry, but the best chances for that are if you can get consumers to ram it down their throats.

If you time it just right, you can later capitalize on the trend you started. More likely though, is that success in this sort of scenario isn't going to be pointing to some unbelievably cool device and say "I made that." It's going to be knowing that the people who made it never would have been able to sell it if you hadn't done your part to shake up the world.
posted by Good Brain at 7:51 PM on March 20, 2006

I think it might be limiting to think only in terms of technology like software or gadgets. I worked at a kind of baby-wannabe-Ideo just out of college, and was always bothered by the feeling that something fundamental was being missed.

There are a lot of big problems out in the world; the trick, I think, is finding one solvable problem that, if you solve it, will help solve all the others. Human organization? Communication? Cultural understanding? Infrastructure? Education? Etiquette? Alternative Energy? An economic model that favors conservation of resources instead of maximum exploitation? One that leads to everyone being fairly compensated? If you think about these, you may find that these problems all feed into each other.

If you can find a workable solution to some fundamental linchpin issue can be found, for which your skills, experience, and personality suit you, that, in being solved, makes the other issues much easier to solve, that's a good place to focus.

On the other hand, maybe just finding a way to identify this linchpin issue would be a good place to start.

Once you've got your issue, finding an idea for a solution becomes possible. Not easy, not quick, but possible. Then you have to wait who knows how long for it to be completely worked out and implemented. But if it really does work, you'll have a truly far-reaching effect.

I suspect the poster is already thinking along these lines a little, but I wrote all this because I'm not sure just "finding a company to work for" is going to really do it. First you need your mission, then you find people who will help you make it happen.
posted by amtho at 9:47 PM on March 20, 2006

I work at a company that does blogging, and we've got some ex-Apple folks around. I think what attracts them is that so much of what we do (and granted, not all of it, but the overwhelming majority) is in content that *people* make and own, not companies. Couple that with the fact that normal people's words/thoughts are too, well, ugly and inarticulate and just plain real to fit in Apple's aesthetic, and it's appealing if you're tired of building business models around companies pushing content at people instead of people just communicating with each other.

That's not to suggest that you would want to come work where I do, 'cause I dunno if you do, but more about the traits that have made former Appleites happy. You should seek the places where you get to do the cool parts of technology in a way that's not antisocial.
posted by anildash at 12:21 AM on March 21, 2006

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