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How Craig Federighi & Dan Riccio were selected to leadership roles at Apple

Apple's promotion of Craig Federighi to lead Mac software engineering and Dan Riccio to head hardware engineering follow years of experience in working closely with Steve Jobs and other members of the company's executive team.

Craig Federighi was recruited to Apple in 2009 to serve as vice president of OS X engineering, working under senior vice president Bertrand Serlet. However, Federighi and Serlet had started working together 15 years earlier at Steve Jobs' NeXT, and both joined Apple in 1996 when Jobs returned to the company he founded.

Federighi's EOF leadership at NeXT

Shortly after joining NeXT in 1994, Federighi took over management of the company's Enterprise Objects Framework, which had become one of the company's most important products.

Jobs' NeXT had first attempted to sell high end workstation hardware, then attempted to market its advanced operating system (for Sun Solaris and HP workstations and even generic PCs). But as Microsoft's Windows closed opportunities for competition for alternatives, Jobs began to focus NeXT on objects, the subject of a 1996 Wired interview that occured just a few months before Jobs' return to Apple.

Jobs described the importance of object-oriented programing in noting that "the most exciting things happening today are objects and the Web," adding, "I don't think Microsoft will figure out a way to own it [the Web]. There's going to be a lot more innovation, and that will create a place where there isn't this dark cloud of dominance."

NeXT was therefore focused on bringing its object-oriented development technology to the web in order to make it easy to build sophisticated web applications, which was the purpose of its then-new flagship product named WebObjects.

A key technology that made WebObjects valuable to corporations wanting to build web applications was the Enterprise Objects Foundation software that Federighi had been leading.

EOF enabled companies to build sophisticated apps that could access information stored in a relational database as if it were objects, erasing much of the complexity of making that data easy to display and update in dynamic web apps.

Federighi brought ideas together, listened

Wil Shipley, a developer who worked closely with NeXT before it became part of Apple, noted that "the NeXT EOF team had some of the smartest engineers on it I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with, but they tended to be kind of lone wolves. They did their thing, they had their ideas, the wrote code. Craig [Federighi] brought ideas together."

Shipley described meeting Federighi as "the new guy" at NeXT in 1994, writing, "he’s like seven feet tall and gameshow-host handsome and he’s smiling like a used car salesman. I will admit it; I was prepared not to like him. I mean, nerds have a certain look to them, and if you violate the unwritten nerd contract then you risk ostracization."

Shipley added, "You naturally expect a tall, handsome dude to be, well, kind of a jerk. Like, his ideas are more important than yours. But what struck me so hard in that first meeting, so much so that it’s still in my head 17 years later, is that he was there to listen.

"And not just to passively listen — he wanted to make sure he understood what we were saying, yes, but also to get to the heart of it. Are you saying we need this? Is this what’s really important, or is it this other thing? Active listening. In an industry where most engineers just want to talk about how big their metaphorical dicks are, this was a huge surprise."

Craig Federighi

Apple Senior Vice President of Mac Software Engineering Craig Federighi. | Source: Apple

Federighi is listed as an inventor on three Apple patents related to EOF: binding user interface objects to application objects, distributing and synchronizing objects and managing changes to a graph of data bearing objects.

On page 2 of 4: Apple kills EOF, Federighi leaves