Joi and Ross have been talking about finding work through 'weak ties'.
I came to Apple in 1998 through just such a route - I had been a regular contributor to the QuickTime-API and QuickTime-Talk mailing lists, so when I was interviewed and hired, many of my new colleagues were people I'd been sharing software hacks, hints and jokes with for many years. The trust I had built up in them meant that I was ready to leave the UK and my successful software publishing management career to become an engineer in the US.
I had been hired with the same kind of trust, rather than with any specific job in mind, and so I always had a broader set of contacts than the org chart implied, and we would help one another out.
I carried on as before, talking about my work on mailing lists, and joining ones relevant to the areas I worked in - video editing and streaming media, among others. I had found another group of people with common interests to talk with. Gradually, however, constraints became tighter.
When you are a hardware company, you really need to keep new hardware secret to avoid the Osborne effect - that customers won't buy today because they are waiting for your newer model. Apple's secrecy and PR policies are shaped with this in mind, so when I started arguing in the abstract against DRM, I was warned not to do so using my Apple account, as it might be taken as a corporate position, or foreshadow future products.
I stopped using my Apple email address in public, and began to avoid talking about the technology I worked on - after all there are plenty of other fascinating subjects, and I didn't want to inadvertently reveal something confidential.
Gradually, almost insensibly, my interests changed. While following up on my mediAgora ideas, I got more and more involved in the details of small world networks and catastrophe theory, and different kinds of social software.
I brought some of these ideas back to work - using a wiki to describe and discuss my ideas for how to improve QuickTime. My manager liked the idea of the wiki, subsuming it into corporate processes to the point where we had meetings to discuss wiki pages, but the ideas were deferred from release to release. My work was ongoing maintenance of the existing code to keep pace with the OS and hardware changes below it, and minor feature requests for the Apps above it.
Now, when compiling on my ageing hardware took too long, or reinstalling the OS every 2 days ate into development time, I spent some downtime on my new interests, as well as helping other Apple employees as before. The work continued, but the passion was gone.
My corporate manager fired me on Friday for not meeting his goals.
Rather than fight it, I am going to take this as a cue to follow a new direction. I'll look to my new 'weak ties' for inspiration.
And I'll still be using hardware and software from Apple and QuickTime - there are a lot of good people still inside.