Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Appholes

Last week, Jason Fried posted a screenshot of an ad for Apple’s new series, “Planet of the Apps”, featuring a quote from Andrew Kemendo, one of the contestants on the show:

I rarely get to see my kids. That’s a risk you have to take.

I don’t have any contempt for Kemendo for saying this; it’s a common sentiment in today’s workforce, particularly in Silicon Valley. The never-ending workday that was once the domain of the CEO has since spread to even the lowest-level employees. David Heinemeier Hansson, Fried’s co-founder at Basecamp, captured “trickle-down workaholism” in a fantastic article:

Neither these athletes [Kobe Bryant and LeBron James] or these writers [Anthony Trollope, Charles Dickens, and Charles Darwin] were giving up anything on whatever contemporaries that may have put in more time, more hours, or greater sacrifices. Their contributions to the world were in no way diminished by their balanced approach, quite the contrary.

So don’t tell me that there’s something uniquely demanding about building yet another fucking startup that dwarfs the accomplishments of The Origin of Species or winning five championship rings. It’s bullshit. Extractive, counterproductive bullshit peddled by people who either need a narrative to explain their personal sacrifices and regrets or who are in a position to treat the lives and wellbeing of others like cannon fodder.

It’s critical to understand that Kemendo’s quote isn’t reflecting upon a unique situation for Apple. In 2008, Fred Vogelstein documented the development of the first iPhone in an oft-cited article (sorry about the Wired link):

For those working on the iPhone, the next three months would be the most stressful of their careers. Screaming matches broke out routinely in the hallways. Engineers, frazzled from all-night coding sessions, quit, only to rejoin days later after catching up on their sleep. A product manager slammed the door to her office so hard that the handle bent and locked her in; it took colleagues more than an hour and some well-placed whacks with an aluminum bat to free her.

If anything, this should be read as a cautionary tale rather than a playbook — that, despite the success and ingenuity of the iPhone, this is something that should not happen.

In other words, it’s a circumstance that should not be promoted.

I feel terrible for Kemendo, his fellow contestants on “Planet of the Apps”, and anyone else who is stuck in a situation where they feel pressured to compromise on family and friends because of their job. That shouldn’t happen — ever. Even though the ad in question was eventually deleted, it isn’t a work-life balance that Apple — or any company — should feel comfortable promoting.1


By the way, I sat through the first episode of “Planet of the Apps” — because I work hard for you — and I stand by what I wrote after the trailer was released in February:

I’ve seen more than a few people write this off as a dramatized version of app development — compiling code and funding rounds, as seen through a reality TV filter. I think that’s overly kind. The premise is derivative, and the clips — so far — seem mediocre and dull. What has been shown so far does a disservice to the vast majority of developers, too.

I’ve very little to add beyond this. Without adequate time spent on character development, I’m not invested in the success of any of the participants so far, so every apparent crisis they face seems louder but no more urgent. Even with my knowledge of all of the judges’ backgrounds — especially with my knowledge of Will.I.Am’s Salesforce watch — I don’t buy any of them as serious startup mentors. Very little in the show convinced me otherwise.

Also, there are a lot of indications that this is a TV show, like audible director cues and visible camera booms. It’s super weird and it doesn’t really add anything to the show.

My perception might change later in the season, but this isn’t an encouraging start. I like the idea of Apple making original TV shows; I don’t like this attempt.


  1. Worth mentioning, too, is that Apple was one of several major tech companies — including Google, Intel, and Adobe — that conspired to fix employee wages and agreed not to recruit between themselves. ↩︎