Apple’s obsessive secrecy may have driven out Swift’s creator

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Apple makes Swift open source at WWDC 2015.
Making Swift open-source wasn't enough to keep its creator at Apple.
Photo: Apple

Apple’s culture of secrecy was responsible for the departure of Chris Lattner, the company’s former head of developer tools and the creator of programming language Swift, claims a new report.

Lattner recently left Apple for Tesla — with friends putting the move down to the ongoing conflict between wanting to create open-source tools and Apple’s tendency to not want to publicly discuss anything.

“He always felt constrained at Apple in terms of what he could discuss publicly — resorting to off-the-record chats, surprise presentations, and the like,” a colleague told Business Insider. “Similarly, I know he was constrained in recruiting and other areas. Eventually I know that can really wear people down.”

Apple’s culture of secrecy was established by Steve Jobs upon his return to Apple in the late 1990s.

Before this, Apple was — believe it or not — a company known for leaking information to the press. Jobs immediately shut this down, doing his best to track down employees illicitly leaking information and instituting one of the most counterintuitive PR departments around, with the goal of controlling the Apple narrative.

This strategy worked well, and Apple’s position and reputation meant that most employees would happily take the vow of silence to get the kind of reimbursement Apple offered — and to work on some of tech’s most exciting products.

Is the age of secrecy coming to an end?

In the past couple of years, there has been less contentment with all the secrecy, and Apple has compromised a bit. In 2015, Apple’s entire networking team reportedly quit the company when Apple asked them to build a bulletproof network, but wouldn’t allow them to collaborate with others outside the company doing similar work.

Apple later joined the Open Compute Project, despite having previously refused to do so.

As Apple has ramped up its AI research in an effort to compete with companies like Facebook and Google, it has struggled to recruit top students due to its obsessive levels of secrecy. With that in mind, Apple recently took the previously unimaginable step of allowing its researchers to publish academic papers on their work.

Update: Lattner sent out a tweet this morning denying that his leaving had anything to do with Apple’s secrecy. “My decision has nothing to do with "openness," he wrote. “The "friend" cited is either fabricated or speculating.”