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Wednesday, July 07, 2010, 11:50 am PT (02:50 pm ET)

Former employees shed light on Apple's internal corporate culture

Former workers of Apple have offered a peek inside the company's secretive corporate culture, with a glimpse at employee mentality, security, and the difference between a project in which Steve Jobs is involved, and one without the chief executive's interest.

Purported details about Apple have been shared by some ex-employees who have left the company on Q&A website Quora. As first reported by Silicon Alley Insider, current Facebook employee Chad Little and Mint.com employee Justin Maxwell offered a glimpse of their time spent at Apple.

Little claimed that, like most companies, Apple has its fair share of red tape that can frustrate employees. But those issues go away and projects take on a "startup level urgency" when something is given the attention of company co-founder Jobs.

"If you have a project that Steve is not involved in, it will take months of meetings to move things forward," Little wrote. "If Steve wants it done, it's done faster than anyone thinks is humanly possible. The best way to get any cross departmental work done is to say it's for Steve and you'd probably have it the same day."

Maxwell said that Apple's legendary secrecy lives up to its reputation, though he said things could be different after the lost iPhone 4 prototype incident. Nothing like that happened when he worked there, he said.

"It wasn't just the rules, it was the job itself," Maxwell said of security. "The measures that Apple takes to protect its creative and intellectual environment are unparalleled in the valley, and it's been a disappointing experience since leaving there. Apple's security policy extends to blogs, to speaking engagements, to what we talk about with our spouses. Most people get it and respect it."

He continued: "If I was still at Apple, I would not be responding to this question, nor would I feel wronged for not being able to.... The general idea is this: You are part of something much bigger than you. The ideas you talk about in the hall, the neat tricks you figured out in CSS, the unibody machining technique, that's part of your job, something you are paid to do for Apple's success, not something you need to blog about to satisfy your ego."

The great lengths that Apple goes to in order to keep projects under wraps was profiled last year by The New York Times. That report said the company's veil of secrecy began to take shape around the release of the original Macintosh back in 1984.

One employee said that employees working on secret projects at Apple must "pass through a maze of security doors, swiping their badges again and again and finally entering a numeric code to reach their offices." Once inside the top-secret areas, employees are often monitored by surveillance cameras as they work. Those working with the most sensitive projects are allegedly instructed to "cover up devices with black cloaks when they are working on them, and turn on a red warning light when devices are unmasked so that everyone knows to be extra-careful."

And in January, a former Apple marketing manager described the company's "controlled leaks," which he said the company sometimes relies upon to gauge public reaction, confuse competitors or encourage partners.

Other information on Apple's corporate culture, from the Q&A:

  • Launch events provide "probably the single greatest feeling working at Apple," Little said. Workers work feverishly and pull all-nighters to prepare for the company's public presentation, then the employees gather in the cafe to watch the event unfold. "It's a great rush and your whole team feels it."

  • Apple employees "truly feel they are changing the world with what they are doing," Little said. "Apple is one of those companies where people work on an almost religious level of commitment."

  • Benefits, however, were described as "lacking." Little said most things on campus, including meals, snacks and the gym, come with a cost. He said one person asked Jobs why the benefits were limited, to which the chief executive reportedly responded, "It's my job to make your stock go up so you can afford these things."