Apple, Samsung Engineers Recount Sleepless Tech-Cramming Nights

Engineers Recount Sleepless Tech-Cramming
Making employees work extremely long hours, often without additional compensation, has been an issue in the past among some technology companies. Photographer: Jamie MacFadyen/Gallery Stock

While creating Samsung Electronics Co.’s Galaxy smartphone, Jeeyuen Wang said she slept two to three hours a night designing icons for the device’s software. As a new mother, she stopped breastfeeding to stay on schedule.

“That was very difficult,” Wang said, speaking through an interpreter translating Korean, during testimony this week in the patent case between Samsung and Apple Inc. in federal court in San Jose, California.

Her story was among the details from Apple and Samsung’s multibillion-dollar trial that underscore the high stakes involved with the timing and quality of a new product that can generate billions of dollars in revenue. In a smartphone market valued by Bloomberg Industries at $219.1 billion, companies are under pressure to unveil cutting-edge features without missing deadlines. Apple’s iPhone was the top-selling smartphone last year, generating more than $60 billion in sales.

At Apple’s Cupertino, California, headquarters, the floor where the company originally built the iPhone software that is now the foundation for more than half the company’s sales was nicknamed the “Purple Dorm” because of its similarities to a college dormitory. In testimony earlier this month, Scott Forstall, Apple’s senior vice president in charge of mobile software, described bleary-eyed engineers cramming to meet a deadline, movie references posted on the wall and the smell of pizza.

When Apple was selecting a team to build the iOS software that now powers the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch, Forstall interviewed employees to gauge their interest.

“You’re going to work harder than you ever have in your entire life,” Forstall said he told the workers. “You’re going to have to give up nights and weekends probably for a couple of years as we make this product.”

Hosting Hackathons

Many technology companies glamorize these all-night cramming sessions. Facebook Inc. and others host hackathons, where employees work through the night writing the software code of future products. In the movie “The Social Network,” the fictionalized version of Mark Zuckerberg is shown writing the original Facebook code fueled in part by beer.

The health consequences of such a sedentary lifestyle are being realized by many software engineers, who eat poorly and don’t exercise, Mike Lee, who used to work at Apple, said in an interview. He lost about 30 pounds after leaving Apple to move to Amsterdam, where he’s building iPhone and iPad applications.

Even so, he said he’s been coding for three weeks straight, seven days a week, on a new project.

“You’re talking about a group of people who have traditionally been sleep-deprived and have put their health second,” Lee said. “We measure success by how hardcore you are and how haggard you look before you ship” the product, he said.

Working Overtime

Making employees work extremely long hours, often without additional compensation, has been an issue in the past among some technology companies. Video-game maker Electronics Arts Inc. and International Business Machines Corp. have paid out settlements to employees who sued because they weren’t compensated for overtime.

For many, the financial rewards of working at a technology company are substantial. Some software engineers at Apple, Facebook, Google Inc. and other Silicon Valley companies have become millionaires as a result of their salaries and stock options. According to, a website that tracks workplace satisfaction and compensation, the median salary for a software engineer in San Francisco is $90,000 a year. The real median household income for the U.S. in 2010 was $49,445, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Many large technology companies also have added amenities for employees to enjoy when not in front of their computer screens, including free meals or gym memberships.

For many, the trade-off is worth it because of the thrill of creating something new, Forstall said in court last week.

“Some tremendously talented people accepted that challenge and that’s how I put together the iPhone team,” he said. Samsung devices.

The case is Apple Inc. v. Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd., 11-cv-01846, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Jose).

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