Until today, when Ars Technica's Jacqui Chang handily debunked the legend, it was common knowledge in the tech blogger world that, in some sort of hazing ritual, Apple put new employees to work on fake products until they could be trusted. About a year ago all the big tech news sites reported things like "Apple Puts New Engineers On Fake Products Until It Can Trust Them" and "Apple Makes New Employees Work on Fake Products Until Apple Can Trust Them," which would lead the general public to believe just that. But, looking back at the origins of those reports, nobody should have ever believed that in the first place.
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Chang spoke with numerous engineers who have worked at Apple at one point or another, and none of them had ever heard of the practice. But the reason everyone else thought the story was true is a quote from a LinkedIn employee during a conversation with Adam Lashinsky, who wrote Inside Apple: How America's Most Admired--And Secretive--Company Really Works. The man, as documented in this YouTube clip, said: "A friend of mine who's a senior engineer at Apple, he works on — or did work on — fake products, I'm sure, for the first part of his career, and interviewed for 9 months. It's intense." Lashinsky then replied: "I talk about being hired into dummy positions, where they are not sure what it is they are doing." Because the man who literally wrote the book on Apple secrecy didn't refute the point, the blogger world took it as a nod of approval. Some reports even said this engineer "confirmed" Lashinksy's own reporting in his book. And, thus, an interesting little tid-bit about Apple's secretive culture was born.
Lashinsky doesn't know anything about the practice, either: "If people work on fake projects I have no idea about that and I have never written about that," he told The Atlantic Wire. And, rewatching the exchange removed from all the blogger hype, you can see that Lashinsky did not at all indicate that Apple puts people on fake projects to test their loyalty. "I used the expression dummy position, meaning that people aren't necessarily told what their specific job is going to be when they are hired," Lashinsky said.
In his book, he talks about engineers that work on parts of projects without knowing what the end goal will be. Sometimes these projects turn into nothing. But he never mentions intentional placement of employees on made-up projects. "I can see how 'dummy projects' was a poor choice of words on stage that day," he told Chang. "The concept I was trying to describe might best be worded as 'placeholder' positions or 'unspecified' projects."
Apple may have more than $137 billion of cash on hand, but it does not, for the record, hire people to do fake jobs.