OT: Firing the Maps Guy Isn’t Leadership, Apple, It’s Blamesmanship!

Apple yesterday apparently fired the senior director of the troubled iPhone maps program.

Either he did something truly wrong, or he made a mistake for which he’s becoming a scapegoat.

If he did something untenable in HR terms — e.g., abused a subordinate, stole stuff — Apple should have stated that directly, the way Microsoft did when they fired an employee who stole and resold copies of SQL Server. Thus I infer that he was fired because of his work on the mapping software.

At his level, he did not have final control of whether or not to release the program, nor is it clear that the bugs in the software were detectable; Apple doesn’t run extensive beta-test (field testing) programs the way Microsoft and Google do. But even if he did, there’s a difference in the software industry between making a mistake and sinking the ship.

Designing consumer software is one of the most difficult tasks on earth, except for skiing through a revolving door. Consumers do things you never imagined (and many things you can’t believe!), in ways no one ever considered. No one expects a car to be able to leap open drawbridges, and they don’t design for it. No one expects a microwave to dry clothes, and they don’t design for it. And when someone flies his car into an open drawbridge leaf, or crispy-critters their underwear in the microwave, you don’t blame the designer. Yet users do the equivalent – and worse – with software all the time, to say nothing of the bad guys out there trying to use the software to break into your computer and steal your money (or just make you watch more Internet cats).

So here’s the message Apple has sent to mid-senior level people thinking of working for Apple: Don’t.

Every senior software developer, program/project manager, and test manager in the Valley and beyond will have seen this story by midday today. The good ones will be reluctant to apply to Apple, or accept a job offer. Google gives them the opportunity to grow, and fail. Microsoft does the same. So do a thousand start-ups and  younger companies.

I suspect Apple managers think they’re setting an example of leadership and accountability. They’re not. The message they’re sending is this: If you work for Apple, don’t dare take any risks; be 100% certain, or you may lose your job.

An great engineer with offers from Google and Apple will go to Google. Microsoft and Apple, Microsoft – even for confirmed Apple fanboys who hate Microsoft.1

Apple will get the un-great ones, those with no other choices, those whose love for Apple blinds them to other career choices.

That doesn’t bode well for their future.

Great companies need leadership, not blamesmanship.

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