Charlie Warzel: ‘This Is the Awful Voice Inside My Head’

If you think I’m a jerk for my response to that leaked letter from a subset of Apple employees unhappy about the company’s new “three days per week on site, two days remote” policy, you might enjoy this piece from Charlie Warzel, on his new Galaxy Brain site, responding to it:

The voice says: You are free to choose your job. But once you’ve done that, it’s time to fall in line. It argues that you should be extra grateful for what your company provides you — a salary, purpose, any auxiliary benefits — and not to think as much about what you provide to your company. After all, you agreed to take this job. You signed the contract. And, most importantly, you have options. If you don’t like it, leave.

These are the words of a bully. This line of argument is designed to make those speaking up feel as if they’re being ungrateful, unreasonable and hysterical. The point is to intimidate employees into silence. Listen to Gruber’s tone, here, which quite literally asks: Who do these people think they are?

“And who are these people who took jobs at Apple not knowing the company’s on-site culture? Do they think Apple built a new $4 billion campus on a lark? Three days a week on site and two days remote is a huge change for Apple.

I don’t regret a word or emoji of my piece, and I’ve heard — privately — from a lot of Apple folks thanking me for it. So I think my take still speaks for itself, and I shan’t respond to much of Warzel’s take. But quite a few people who objected to my piece took away the same thing Warzel did regarding my mention of the new Apple Park campus. I’m not in any way arguing that Apple ought to keep people on site because they built the new campus; I’m saying the reasons they built the new campus haven’t changed.

Tellingly, he disguises this disdain for employee autonomy with a classic tactic: the ‘culture fit’ argument:

Given that these letters keep leaking to Zoe Schiffer at The Verge, I can’t help but think that the problem for Apple is that they’ve grown so large that they’ve wound up hiring a lot of people who aren’t a good fit for Apple, and that it was a mistake for Apple to ever hook up a company-wide Slack.

The culture fit argument might sound intuitive at first. It’s meant to suggest that “if you don’t believe in our mission, you probably shouldn’t work here.” But that’s not what it’s actually saying. Culture fit is really a way that power reproduces and sustains itself in an organization and silences any dissent.

That might be one way some people argue about “culture fit”, but it’s not what I meant. Apple has, since its inception, had a company culture that encourages dissent and individuality. What they don’t have is a culture that encourages passive-aggressive, meandering 1,400-word letters that claim to demand nothing but make demands nonetheless, or try to rhetorically paint anyone who disagrees as being against inclusivity, or, more ridiculously, the environment. Not getting everything you want is not being “unheard”. And more so, the company has the opposite of a culture that leaks internal discussions with the media. Or that leaks anything for that matter.

Compare and contrast that 1,400-word letter about remote work with Bertrand Serlet’s recently-released 2007 email laying out the entire plan for third-party apps on iOS in a mere 130 words. It’s pretty clear from the first word of Serlet’s email — “Fine, […]” — that Serlet was opposed to allowing third-party native apps. (I’m pretty sure Serlet had argued, and lost, in favor of sticking with — and improving —the web-apps-for-third-party-“apps” strategy that was announced at WWDC just before the iPhone’s release.) But, he lost the argument, so, fine, he acknowledges a decision had been made and he laid out what he deemed to be the best course forward from that decision.

That is very Apple. You argue, you tussle, you make your case, and then when a decision has been made you go for it, even if you don’t like it.

But if you still think I’m being an ass about this, enjoy and savor Warzel’s response. It is worth a read regardless.

Thursday, 1 July 2021