People

Agony and ecstasy of working for Steve Jobs

Mr Andy Grignon
Mr Andy Grignon

Start-up firm Siberia's MD, who was on the iPhone project, recounts his stint at Apple

The late Apple chief Steve Jobs once called him a "f***chop" for fumbling a presentation. But Mr Andy Grignon not only survived that harrowing episode, he would later put that nickname on his business card as a badge of honour.

Mr Grignon, 42, a partner and managing director of the start-up firm Siberia, was one of the engineers who worked on Apple's first iPhone. He was memorably the first person to receive a call made on the iPhone prototype.

He was also the man behind Apple's iChat, OS X's Dashboard feature and iSight camera.

The technology veteran recently spoke to The Straits Times in a telephone interview to talk about his past and current work.

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I like that constant stream of exposure that's going on out in the technology industry.

MR ANDY GRIGNON, a partner and managing director of the start-up firm Siberia

He also recounted his "painful and exhilarating" time working for the Apple co-founder.

He said Mr Jobs once shouted at him: "You are single-handedly ruining my company!" That was when he was doing iPhone development.

"I did not know I had that kind of power," he said, with a laugh.

But Mr Jobs had an ability to challenge and coax staff into doing their best work, he recalled.

"You want his attention. You want a pat on the back from him, which would rarely happen. But when it did, you would go this is great!," he said.

He put the by-now famous "f***chop" nickname into his business card when he became part of the iPod team in 2003.

Still, he felt the overall experience of working under Mr Jobs was largely negative. "It is tough when you are in the situation to really recognise it then," he said.

Mr Grignon joined personal digital assistant maker Palm Inc in 2007, shortly after the iPhone's launch. There, he was involved in the development of Palm's famous operating system, which later became known as webOS.

He would go on to oversee 13 versions of webOS. He left Palm and co-founded software firm Quake Labs in 2012.

Mr Grignon joined Siberia this year as a partner. He described the company as a global, design-centric engineering firm that solves big problems for big brands.

"We re-invent processes and products, and engineer new solutions for them that most people can't," he said.

For example, he said the company is currently working to develop a more streamlined process for the car rental company Avis.

These days, he prefers projects that take around six months to complete instead of the long-term projects he used to work on, such as with the iPhone's development, which took three years.

"I like that constant stream of exposure that's going on out in the technology industry," he said.

Looking back, he said he knew at the time that the iPhone was very important to Apple but did not envisage that it would change the smartphone landscape and even societal habits.

"Everyone is now just looking at their smartphones and actively avoiding each other," he said.

"I am not happy that we have changed the core interaction of people."

He conceded, though, that his iPhone 5s has been great in keeping him entertained when he takes the subway.

"In the past, I would be like staring into blank space," he said.

  • Catch Mr Andy Grignon in one of the new episodes in the documentary series The 2000s: The Decade We Saw It All, which airs at 10pm on Sunday (Sept 13 and Sept 20) on National Geographic Channel (Singtel TV channel 201 and StarHub TV channel 411).
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 09, 2015, with the headline 'Agony and ecstasy of working for Steve Jobs'. Print Edition | Subscribe