• Apple Engineer Fired for Letting Woz Use an iPad

    An interesting story has emerged in the wake of the Gizmodo/iPhone controversy. Steve Wozniak, in a message to Gizmodo editors, related the tale of how an Apple engineer was summarily terminated for showing him an iPad after midnight on April 3, the day of the official product launch. Although the engineer had an email saying he had permission to take the iPad out of the secure area, apparently showing it was verboten, and he lost his job. In comparison, the engineer who lost his iPad is still going to work in Cupertino every day.

    Steve Wozniak founded Apple with Steve Jobs back in 1976, when Jobs was 16 and Woz was 21. Woz was always the engineer while Jobs was more of a hustler: Woz helped Jobs win an award at Atari by reducing the number of chips needed for a circuit board by 50 (Jobs told Woz they'd split the prize, but Jobs only gave Woz $350 of the $5000 he won). Though Woz is still an Apple employee, he hasn't worked there since 1987. He still remains an enthusiastic supporter of Apple products, showing up at the Apple Store near his home in Silicon Valley for every iPod and iPhone launch, waiting in line like everyone else.

    Woz was in touch with an iPad engineer, "A.J.," a guy that Woz said "resembled myself and Steve Jobs when we were that age, and my younger son who programs for NASA." A.J. got an email saying he could take the iPad out of its secure area after midnight on April 3. So he showed it to Steve Wozniak, who was waiting for an iPad of his own. Woz spent about two minutes playing with Numbers, and gave the iPad back. When word got out (whether he told his superiors or they found out about it from reading Gizmodo), A.J. was fired. Woz hadn't told anybody anything about the iPad before the official launch... and in fact didn't speak to anyone about it until now.

    This is one of those stories that seems outrageous until you dig into the details. At first, I thought A.J. got a raw deal compared to Gray Powell... after all, he showed the iPad to Stephen Fricking Wozniak, an Apple employee, and the guy without whom there probably wouldn't be an Apple, or an iPad. However, having written a story about Woz at the launch, I knew he was at the Valley Fair Mall at midnight on the 3rd, and sure enough, there is a TwitPic of him using the iPad there. So there's a significant shade of difference between showing another Apple employee an iPad at Apple, and taking it out of the company headquarters and driving down to the mall with it in the middle of the night. What's more (though Woz says he didn't realize it at the time), the iPad he was using was an unreleased 3G model. So there's a bit more to this story than there initially appears.

    Few would argue that Apple isn't a very secretive company. And it's usually not technical secrets they're protecting, but things like design and features that they try and keep from the general public until they're ready to announce it. It can be aggravating to read about people losing their jobs for breaking this cone of silence, but when you sign an NDA (non-disclosure agreement), you are legally bound by its terms. The kid sounds cool, though, and fortunately he got another job right away after Apple canned him.

    image via TwitPic
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