Apple’s IS&T division sounds like a chaotic war zone


Not everyone loves working at Apple.
Photo: Apple

Apple’s Information Systems & Technology division (IS&T) has come under scrutiny in a new book that analyzes the business practices and cultures of America’s biggest tech companies.

Scoring a coding job at Apple is a dream gig for most developers, but an excerpt from Alex Kantrowitz’s book, Always Day One, reveals that if you accept a job on the IS&T team, you better be ready for “a Game of Thrones nightmare.”

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IS&T creates a lot of Apple’s internal tech tools. Everything from server and data infrastructure to retail and corporate software falls under its domain. It sounds like it would be an exciting group to work for because you are helping make the tools that keep Apple running, but operations inside the team don’t run very smoothly.

The big problem is, workers on IS&T aren’t actual Apple employees. Instead, Apple contracts coders from firms like Wipro, Infosys, and Accenture to fill roles and build projects. Most of the work is given to the lowest bidder, a practice that has allegedly fostered an environment of infighting. Also, the high turnover rate of coders in the group breeds a lot of horrible coding on projects.

IS&T’s huge struggles

“There’s a Cold War going on every single day,” said Archana Sabapathy, a former IS&T contractor who was interviewed for the book. “They’re just fighting for the roles. That’s all they care about, not the work, not the deliverables, the effort they put in, or even talent. They’re not looking for any of those aspects.”

Using a large group of contractors isn’t unique to Apple. Google, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft all have teams of contractors. Contracted workers can be fired easier and are cheaper than full-time employees, making them an attractive alternative. Because contractors don’t get the same benefits and pay as full-time employees though, their work is sometimes mediocre at best.

In his excerpt from Always Day One, Kantrowitz’s claims code quality coming out of IS&T projects is similar to what you’d expect from a high schooler or college undergraduate. This leaves a lot of headaches for Apple’s other employees who have to go in and clean up the mess.

The IS&T team’s disarray is a stark contrast to the design team. My boss Leander Kahney wrote about the industrial design team extensively in his Jony Ive book showing how close the entire crew has gotten over the years and how they put an ungodly amount of thought and time into each decision. That group is looked at as the all-stars of Apple, but it sounds like Apple really needs to apply those lessons to the least of its employees and contractors.