• It’s a Small World After All

    October 22nd, 2005

    The other day, David Biedny, a regular featured guest on The Tech Night Owl LIVE, wrote about his meeting with the product manager for Apple’s new photo retouching application, Aperture. Now there’s nothing unique about talking with an Apple executive during a new product introduction, but this time, the reference to his name, “Joseph Schorr,” the Senior Product Marketing Manager, brought back memories.

    As many long-time Mac users will recall, Schorr used to be a regular writer for Macworld, and he was co-author, along with David Pogue, of the original “Mac Secrets.” But he has since moved on to holding executive positions with software companies, and the last time I talked with him, he worked for Extensis. As I said, a small world indeed.

    I began to wonder just how many people I’ve known in another life have since become part of Apple. Take Jeffrey Robbin, for example. I first heard from this extremely talented software developer years ago when I became a beta tester for something he called “Conflict Catcher and other Innovative Utilities.” Of this collection, only Conflict Catcher survived and it was one of the best ways to manage this pesky system extensions under the Classic Mac OS. Over the years, Jeff worked on other applications, as co-author of a game, Spaceways 2000 and a jukebox application, SoundJam.

    I still remember my son, Grayson, having a long phone conversation with Jeff about problems he was having mastering that game.

    Now we begin to approach the present day. Several years ago, Apple acquired the rights to SoundJam from its publisher, Casady & Greene, and Jeff joined Apple as the lead programmer of iTunes. The rest is history. Although Apple doesn’t put its programming team front and center at media events, it’s generally known that Jeff heads up the crew that works on both iTunes and the iPod. In fact, you can find him mentioned, in passing, in that article in Time magazine describing Apple’s unique product development cycle.

    “When he generously introduces you to the guy who runs Apple’s iTunes development team, Jobs makes it clear that you’re welcome to meet him but you can’t print his name. Jobs doesn’t want competitors poaching his talent. ‘You can mention his first name but not his last name,’ Jobs says. ‘How’s that?’ It’ll have to do. The guy’s name, by the way, is Jeff.”

    All right, the cat is out of the bag, but in all fairness to Jeff, his last name has been revealed in previous articles. Perhaps the corporate headhunters have been bothering him, though, I wouldn’t want to add to his misery. Let’s just say that he’s a credit to Apple and I continue to wish him the best. But whenever I launch iTunes, I wonder just what particular components were personally coded by Jeff or if he just sits back and lets others handle the dirty work these days.

    Of course, Apple has a staff of thousands, and I couldn’t begin to speculate how many I’ve known over the years at previous positions. But the point of this exercise is the fact that this company doesn’t just consist of Steve Jobs and a bunch of lackeys. The brilliant products that have taken the technology world by storm are the work of many extremely talented people. Sure Jobs has the unique talent of marshalling his troops to delivering excellence, but without the people to back him up, his visions would go unrealized.

    On the radio show, I’ve used the term “Stepford staff” to describe employees who function in lock step with Jobs, and I’m probably making fun of his statement that the people at Apple who don’t get it are the first to leave. But it’s not that simple. In the scheme of things, Apple Computer is a fairly small company. Its Mac OS X team, for example, is dwarfed by Microsoft, yet is somehow able to deliver compelling operating system releases many times faster.

    I suppose one could explain that, in part, by the greater complexity of the Windows environment and the fact that Microsoft must ensure compatibility with thousands upon thousands of third party PC boxes, but it’s not that simple. And the vision of Steve Jobs cracking the whip to browbeat his cowering staff to do his bidding is far too simplistic. The people who work at Apple must, above all, have the talent to deliver the goods. Otherwise, Steve Jobs wouldn’t stand a ghost of a chance of maintaining Apple’s position as the envy of the technology industry.

    So Steve Jobs must be credited with one more talent, and that’s to hire the right people. And that’s one magnificent achievement.

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