Hey Siri, Thank You!

Takeaways from my first job out of college

Julia Wu
Julia Wu
Aug 19, 2019 · 3 min read
Sunny evening in Apple Park

After almost 2 years, I wrapped up my time as a software engineer in the Siri Search team within AI/ML at Apple. I’m lucky to have joined an action-packed group within a company I’ve admired since childhood — one that has shaped humanity and became the most beloved brand on the planet. Goodbyes were bittersweet, but I take solace in knowing that Apple will always be part of my identity, like a package/dependency in the software within me.

Fun fact: The Breakout List (known for featuring hot startups) included Apple Siri in its list of “High Potential and High Growth Companies.”

Here are a few insights I’ve collected during my time at Apple, that I would like to remember throughout my career:

  1. To change the world, you must captivate people with magical experiences. Make your users feel like you’re thinking on their behalf— show them that you have their best interests in mind. Spoil the shit out of them.
  2. Have unrelenting standards for engineering and design: In most of my technical endeavors, the problem-solving/coding/architecture aspects were always obvious priorities. But product intuition and good taste can significantly scale technology. This is not just for consumer-facing products. And it applies internally too: Apple’s company-wide emails about employee fitness challenges are just as well-designed. We have patented pizza boxes. But this philosophy has tradeoffs: When Apple launches a product, it needs to have “perfection” written all over it. It has to be sexy beyond imagination. This means that “done is better than perfect” doesn’t always apply. So it’s harder to afford bets and take a trial-and-error approach.
  3. Demo often, demo well: Live demos are effective in sharing progress, conveying the potential of a product and getting critique/feedback. They should be short (usually under 5 min), simple, and delivered in an engaging fashion. Consider rehearsals and back-up devices for every demo, regardless of audience size.
  4. Search is an epic problem to work on. The world’s information is no longer limited to webpages. There’s now a need for specific search engines within iOS, macOS, Facebook, Uber, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Tinder/Bumble/Hinge, Craigslist, etc. Furthermore, search intent and query understanding have their own set of problems that puzzle academia and industry experts. And queries come in the form of text, voice, image, and perhaps brainwaves soon.
  5. Make dogfooding and bug-reporting easy. It’s powerful when you have hundreds of thousands of employees + developers testing out products before they’re officially released. It should be easy to download beta releases and try them on. Most importantly, it must be easy to report bugs. Radar is an externally-accessible tool used for tracking bugs and tasks. You hear the phrase “file a radar” every day at Apple. We even have t-shirts with this phrase.
  6. Earn trust by consistently doing the right thing. Warren Buffett said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.” Integrity is valued across the company and conveyed by leaders. Apple is constantly discussing and emphasizing its responsibility around users (i.e. their data) and the world at large. Remember that what you build has the potential of influencing billions of people. It’s imperative to take this responsibility seriously and to set the standard for the rest of the industry.

Julia Wu

Written by

Julia Wu

Engineer thinking about fintech, AI, China, and our civilization | @Apple, @Microsoft, @BrownUniversity

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