Apple’s New Open Office Sparks Revolt

Not Open to Openness

Apple’s new Cupertino headquarters cost $ 5 billion (see above). One of its prominent features is a massive open office space in which many Apple engineers sit on benches at long shared work tables.

As Apple aficionado John Gruber revealed in a recent episode of his podcast, not everyone is happy with this decision.

“I heard that when floor plans were announced, that there was some meeting with Johny Srouji’s team,” said Gruber, before explaining that Srouji is an important senior vice president in charge of Apple’s custom silicon chips.

Srouji, to put it politely, was not pleased with the idea of moving his team to a cacophonous, distracting, cavernous open office.

As Gruber tells it:

“When he [Srouji] was shown the floor plans, he was more or less just ‘Fuck that, fuck you, fuck this, this is bullshit.’ And they built his team their own building, off to the side on the campus … My understanding is that that building was built because Srouji was like, ‘Fuck this, my team isn’t working like this.’”

To be clear, this story is just a rumor. But it smells right.

Designing silicon is a complicated, painstaking process that requires copious amounts of deep work. Nothing about it is helped by surrounding yourself with unrelenting disruption.

True or not, I like the broader point underscored by this rumor. In knowledge work, your primary capital investment is in human brains. If you’re not careful about the environment you setup for these brains to function in, you cannot expect a good return on investment.

To date, Silicon Valley has tried hard to ignore this reality to instead chase vague trends and embrace tired signifiers of innovation. But if more and more senior people like Srouji react by saying “Fuck this,” things will change.

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(Hat tip to Mike B. who pointed me toward this interview via this Silicon Valley Business Journal article.)


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