Update: Chris Espinosa has been in touch to let us know he’s no longer on the Apple Xcode team, but teases: “I can’t tell you what I AM doing ”… judging by his previous contributions to Apple, it’ll be amazing. Chris, we’re expecting big things…
Steve Jobs has been at Apple since day one, right? Wrong. While the company’s charismatic co-founder is officially Apple’s “employee number zero” (having argued with fellow founder Steve Wozniak about being branded “number two”) several extended absences, and an unfortunate firing incident in May 1985, mean he’s actually put in fewer days of employment than one other man: Meet Chris Espinosa. The most loyal employee Apple has ever had.
Table of contents
We recommend you read Chris Espinosa’s story from the beginning, but if you want to skip ahead just use the links below:
- It all began in the garage
- Extra curricular Apple activities
- A lifelong career at Apple
- Competition from the “other” Steve
- The friendly face of Apple history
- The root of Apple’s secrecy
- Out-lasting all others
- Early Apple employees
Officially employee number 8, Chris Espinosa joined Apple at the age of fourteen in 1976. At the time, the company, although not properly founded, was operating from Jobs’ parents’ garage.
At the time both Jobs, then 21 years old, and Espinosa were friends united by a passion for technology. They attended the same Homebrew Computer Club, and sat at the back with other employees of an embryonic Apple, including fellow co-founder Steve Wozniak.
Espinosa’s mother drove him to the Computer Club, where many of the world’s first home computers were hatched. She sat reading, while her son soaked up the skills that would help propel Apple for the next 35 years. Later, Espinosa’s mother would join Apple herself, and work there for ten years, running the training programme for Apple’s word processing software. Espinosa’s defining moment in Apple’s history, however, came when he moved away to university.
“When the company formed in 1977 I was one of the first employees,” says Espinosa. “I went off to Berkeley [university] in 1978… I wasn’t going to be able to work the hours that I had been previously. So [Jef Raskin, who had just joined Apple as Manager of Publications] gave me a long-term task: he gave me what had [been] assembled as the mini-manual for the Apple II, which was basically the product of a series of nightly forays into people’s desk drawers for anything typed, or handwritten, in a few cases… None of it was written consciously for an audience, and Jef said, “We need a technical manual for the Apple II… I want you to write a real manual out of this.”
What Espinosa held in his hands was the now notorious Apple II “Red Book”: a manual hastily concocted by other Apple employees. It was jam packed with technical information, which he would need to decode and translate for the average user to understand.
Espinosa went to Berkeley and continued his role as an Apple employee while studying. He worked 20 to 30 hours each week on the Apple manual throughout his freshman college year and finished the project during Christmas break, at times sleeping in a local park, “sneaking into closed dormitories”, rather than return home to his family’s house.
“I was literally working in the computer lab for 20 of the 24 hours of the day that they were open; when they shut the machines down for backup and maintenance between 2 and 6 in the morning, that’s when I slept.
“I had taught myself typesetting, I had written a 200+ page manual, and that was Apple’s first published technical manual for the Apple II. I still don’t know how I did it, and I managed to pass my classes, too.”
In the early days of Apple, Espinosa helped to write the preliminary Macintosh Business Plan, laying the ground for the company’s computing bedrock. Describing the document, he says: “For a business plan written when the hardware was a wire-wrapped board and the software was three demos on a graphics substrate, it was pretty close.”
During his time at Apple, Espinosa has worked on almost all of the company’s high profile products, and certainly its most technical ones, including Mac OS, A/UX, HyperCard, Taligent, Kaleida Labs, AppleScript, and Mac OS X. Today, he works as a development engineering manager on the Xcode team, responsible for Apple’s programming tools.
That job title might not sound glamorous, but Espinosa has more Apple experience than almost anyone else. In total, he’s served 35 years as an employee. Steve Jobs, meanwhile, can only claim 24 years with his name on the Cupertino payroll, due to an 11 year absence between 1985 and 1996, when he returned to Apple after it bought his company, NeXT.
Take into account Jobs’ absences on medical leave, and the gap widens even more. But there’s one more contender for the prize of Apple’s longest-serving employee: Co-founder Steve Wozniak.
Officially, Wozniak stopped working at Apple on February 6th, 1987, after clocking up 12 years’ continuous service. He no longer contributes to Apple product development, but remains an Apple employee on paper. He still receives a pay cheque, and holds shares in the company.
Does that make him a longer serving employee than Espinosa? It depends how you measure his contributions. Woz, as he is affectionately known to the tech community, remains an Apple cheerleader, and acts as a sort of unofficial spokesman on all matters of Apple history.
Meanwhile, Espinosa is very much the public face of Apple’s hardcore employee base and able to comment on more current company endeavours. He’s often called upon to demonstrate Apple’s internal coding expertise, speaking regularly at conferences, including Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference, and communicating with the Apple developer community regularly through Apple’s mailing lists.
Along with Steve Jobs, Espinosa is the only employee remaining on the Cupertino campus who began his career in the Jobs family garage. But while Jobs is a notoriously private individual, Espinosa is more outgoing, bucking the secretive company culture and maintaining a public blog since 2008.
Espinosa tweets frequently too, and although his blog is entirely devoid of Apple mentions, his Twitter biography states he is “#8”, an obvious reference to his Apple employee number, and is littered with mentions of his Xcode work and commentary on Apple news. He’s even been known to poke fun at the competition.
Add to this Espinosa’s adoption of Twitter culture, taking part in hashtag memes, and talking to his followers with direct replies, he’s very much the friendly face of Apple. Compared to the company’s corporate use of Twitter, it’s a world away. And, yes, he tweets from an iPhone, of course.
But despite his open attitude to fans, developers and the Apple community as a whole, Espinosa’s history includes the origins of Apple’s notorious secrecy. After the release of the Apple II, Espinosa held the role of Marketing Manager. “[I] spoke to user groups formally,” he says. “I had to be very careful with them, because user groups wielded an immense amount of purchasing power through their rumor dissemination; and if word in the user groups was, ‘Don’t buy product X, because product Y is coming out at time Z and it’s going to be better,’ sales would suffer. Everybody at that point was paranoid of the Osborne syndrome.”
The “Osborne syndrome” refers to Adam Osborne, another pioneer of early computers, who announced to his customers that a better machine would ship, before finishing sales of his existing product. When his new products inevitably hit delays, it caused cash flow problems because his old stock wouldn’t sell.
“The fan club user groups love getting inside information, and having a scoop or a secret, and many of them didn’t understand how that could be detrimental to the company,” explains Espinosa. “Once I really started working at Apple and being in on new products, I couldn’t spend much time at user group meetings.”
The key to Espinosa’s out-lasting of all other Apple employees? He clearly has a deep-seated love for the company, and one that transcends financial gain. In the early days of Apple, others invested heavily in the company. Far more so than Espinosa.
That’s not to say he hasn’t accrued stock options, and by now is wealthy by any measure you’d choose to apply. But check out the list below, and you’ll see Espinosa, the quiet worker bee of Apple, has out-lasted those eager for high-profile positions and corporate glory, financial pay-offs, and even its co-founders. If we were in charge at Apple, we’d be naming things after him by now.
Apple’s earliest employees are listed by Owen M. Linzmayer in Apple Confidential 2.0: The definitive history of the world’s most colorful company. Espinosa says the single digit number gives him plenty of kudos within the company today: in an interview back in 2000, he said: “The reason I’m number 8 is that Mike Scott wanted number 8; everybody else just drew what they got…I knew who the first ten were, in order, but no one really paid attention to it after that. Today, the single digit badge gets me status because all the other badges are five digits!”
1. Steve Wozniak
Wozniak and Jobs formed Apple Computer on 1 April 1976. Although he stopped active employment in February 1987 technically, he is still an employee. He continues to hold shares in the company and receives a pay cheque.
Years of service: 12
2. Steve Jobs
While Jobs jumped on the chance to be employee number zero, for business purposes he is still number two. Jobs was ousted from the company he founded in 1985, but returned in late 1996 as interim, and then permanent CEO. The rest is history.
Years of service: 24 (Not including medical leaves of absence)
3. Mike Markulla
An angel investor and former Intel employee, Markulla gave Apple one of its first influxes of cash in the early years, and later served as CEO. He served on the board until he was pushed out in a reshuffle in 1997.
Years of service: 20
4. Bill Fernandez
On paper at least, Fernandez the first Apple employee rather than founder or investor, joining in 1977. He worked on the Apple 1, Apple II, Macintosh and other projects, eventually leading the charge for Apple’s user interface design. He later moved to roles at other Silicon Valley companies, before going solo as a consultant.
Years of service: 16
5. Rod Holt
Vice president of engineering during the early years of Apple, Holt was much older than his colleagues, born in 1934. He worked on the Macintosh, but left around the time of its release in 1984. According to Holt, he was pushed by the new management team of the time.
Years of service: 8
6. Randy Wigginton
Wigginton, like Espinosa, was another young starter at Apple. He was on hand with Steve Wozniak to reveal the first ever Apple 1, and became the company’s first programmer. He left in 1981, and went on to work at, amongst others, eBay, PayPal and Google. The latter from which he was reported to have been given the boot after leaking news of a Christmas bonus.
Years of service: 5
7. Michael Scott
Mike Markulla persuaded Scott to join Apple from National Semiconductor as the company’s first CEO, since Wozniak and Jobs had little business experience. He served in the role until 1981 when he was demoted after a mass sacking, known by Apple employees as “Black Wednesday“, and then resigned soon after.
Years of service: 4
8. Chris Espinosa
Espinosa has worked tirelessly for Apple since he was 14 years old, witnessing it evolve from a garage start up to the most valuable technology company in the world. He is still an employee and actively contributes to its products.
Years of service: 35
Additional research and reporting by Ben Sillis