In November 2002, having been dismissed from my first job out of college (no hard feelings, NI), I reluctantly took a call-center job. It’s a glum rite of passage for any underemployed early-20-something, and the only thing about it that didn’t depress me right into the ground was who I’d be taking calls for: Apple, my favorite company since before I knew what a “company” was.
I walked in the doors as a temp worker on November 1, 2002, where my future coworker Elizabeth trained my class of new hires in the mysterious art of troubleshooting PowerBooks. After a three-week boot camp I was shown to my desk and issued an outdated blue-and-white Power Mac G3. My first bewildered day on the phones—telling people to reset their PMU *way* more than was necessary—was Thanksgiving Day.
Apple was more of a punk-rock company in those days, still an underdog to Microsoft and only five years removed from its near-certain death. Our call center was a couple of prefab buildings overlooking a highway interchange in low-rent Austin. Mac OS X was a buggy mess, and plenty of people were using the “classic” Mac OS. The iPod was still an overpriced curiosity.
Having passed muster with my call metrics, on my birthday—June 30, 2003—I was officially “badged” as an Apple employee. My employee ID was 55508; ID numbers are issued numerically, meaning I was the 55,508th person to ever be hired by Apple (Steve Jobs was #1). By the time I left, the numbers were approaching 650,000, which means by this inexact metric, Apple has done over 90% of its growing since I’ve been there.
Though Apple is a superior company to provide tech support for, it was still call-center work. Doing it for five years felt like a stint in purgatory. I remember in the early days having a pile of pennies that I would toss into a dish, one every three seconds, which was roughly the rate I was earning them.1 My Job-like patience helped me stay on the job and get promoted to Tier 2, but there were many occasions where I was inches away from leaving The Fruit for somewhere else.
There were many memorable moments over the years. Every Advisor had their share of famous-customer interactions. Mine included Isaac Mizrahi (tricked him into thinking he was getting VIP treatment; it was really our normal repair process); Scott Baio (spent an hour troubleshooting his printer); and Pat Sajak (replaced his PowerBook G4, only for it to be lost in transit due to Hurricane Katrina).
And naturally there were the exchanges that sound like jokes from an email forward. Not once, but twice I asked a customer to look near the clock at the top-right corner of their screen, only to have the following exchange:
“There’s no clock in the corner of my screen.”
“Okay… what DO you see in the top-right corner?”
“It says Tuesday, 2:43 pm.”
The most seminal moment during my 18 years was at noon on January 9, 2007, when a number of us watched the live broadcast as Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone. (If you’ve never seen it, the first couple of minutes are genuinely worth your time as a historic artifact.) Steve was a deeply flawed man, but good lord, he could pitch a product. And he correctly predicted that everything about our company—maybe about the world—was about to change.
The iPhone even helped me escape the hourly-wage tech-support life. A few months later I helped train the very first class of iPhone support agents, which would help land me a job in the AppleCare Training organization.
That first class was a bit of a mess, because the iPhone wasn’t physically available to us—we didn’t even see one in person until the afternoon of the day it was released to the public. Apple is like that when it comes to secrecy. You don’t get new-product information unless strictly necessary, and sometimes not even then. When I wrote training all of our projects had code names, and often code names for code names. The training team once got a black eye when some of our screenshots leaked to an Apple rumor site, but I used context clues to help Apple Security identify the culprit, who I assume was drawn and quartered.
I also experienced business travel for the first time, visiting call centers in places as out of the way as Daleville, Indiana or as exotic as Hong Kong. (The latter was a spectacularly whirlwind trip: my boss asked me on a Thursday morning if I could be in Hong Kong on Monday morning.) My favorite trip was a three-week training class in Portland, June 2008—the class ran until 3pm, giving me leisurely evenings and not one but two weekends to explore the Pacific Northwest.2 Regular business travel might never return in our lifetimes, but if you get the chance, I do recommend it.
Though the company changed, my job from 2007 until now largely hasn’t—besides switching from training delivery to training development, I’ve remained in place as Apple ballooned around me. In 2002, the iPod seemed like an odd product offering for Apple to be offering. Now we’re offering Ted Lasso.
I never aspired to greatness at Apple. I never wanted to be a manager, and I certainly didn’t want to move to California, so I was content to contribute to the big big company in my own small small way. I’m powerfully lucky to have found a niche where my tech-writing talents could be of good use. And I’m amused that that niche is almost exactly where I started—training newly hired tech-support agents.
Apple was a golden-handcuffs situation, to put it mildly. The company’s wild success is gratifying for anybody who rooted for it as an underdog, but it’s gone from a plucky little sailboat3 to an nuclear-powered icebreaker. That took some of the shine off the rose over time; much of my work the past year in particular has been 5% writing, 95% approval-process. Trying to implement a change these days is like turning an icebreaker. When you add that to my compelling personal situation, and with the *waves around generally* that is 2020, there are plenty of reasons to call it a career and figure out what’s next. I’d say it’s no guarantee that I won’t be back, but I’m very happy to think of my time at Apple as being finished.
Much like with improv, it’s difficult to imagine how different my life would have been without Apple as my employer. It seems unlikely that I would have gained the privilege that lets me now, 18 years later, quit the race and move to Europe. I’m boundlessly lucky and grateful to the company, even though the big ship will hardly notice as I hop off and set out across the ice.
- When I worked overtime I could toss a penny every TWO seconds!
- My least favorite was a week-long trip to Singapore that—after elaborate preparations—was canceled at the last minute, forcing me to deliver the training from my desk on Singapore time, 9pm-5am. It was jet lag without the jet.
- It was still a billion-dollar sailboat.