Product Design at Apple

Rebecca Patterson '18

Matthew Hill ‘06 went on to attend Stanford University after leaving Olin; there, he received his MS in Mechanical Engineering and was a PhD candidate.  In his professional life he’s made Apple Inc. and the iPhone Product Design Team his home for the past 7 years while working on devices including iPhone 4, 4S, 5S, 6+, SE, and more to come.  We recently heard from him about what it’s like to work at one of the biggest names in consumer products today.  


Do you have any advice for Oliners seeking to attend grad school?

Establish strong personal relationships with Olin's faculty during your undergraduate years.  TA positions, research, and mentorship will all pay off when you're seeking references, advice, and recommendations in the application process.  When you're picking a program and an advisor try to balance work you're passionate about, an advisor you enjoy working with, and funding opportunities.  If you're missing any one of these your path through graduate school will be exponentially harder.


Tell us more about your position at Apple.

I work on the Product Design Team at Apple designing next generation phones.  I split my time between doing design work in the US and building prototypes and readying our factories for mass production in China. When I’m in Cupertino I’m focused on working out the design with cross-functional engineering teams such as antenna, thermal, and acoustics.  I work to balance their competing needs--as well as those of operations-- to make the best possible products for our customers   This can mean sitting down with a small group to go over details in CAD, or presenting larger design trade-offs to our executive team to help build consensus around a path forward.  

In China I have a chance to step away from email, presentations, and meetings, and get into the details of how parts fit together, test different designs we’ve developed, and identify opportunities to improve our manufacturing process and make it more robust.  This can be as technically deep as coming up with a vision algorithm for a robot, to as simple as realizing that a certain assembly step would be made easier if we changed the direction on an adhesive pull tab.  Having your CAD designs meet the reality of manufacturing is an important learning experience--being in China in a factory is the essence of Olin’s “do-learn” philosophy in the real world.


Do you feel that you have you made a difference in the world?

Absolutely.  Working at Apple has given the training I received at Olin and Stanford a platform and scale I still have a hard time wrapping my head around.  Every decision I make as an engineer is multiplied by the tens and hundreds of millions of phones we ship every year.  My work impacts everything from the surprise and delight of our users’ experiences to the environmental footprint of the products I design.


Do you work with other Oliners?  What's it like working with them in the real world?

Yes, there are 4 fellow alumni that I currently work with.  It's just like working on projects and teams at Olin, only you're better dressed and not sharing a dorm room!  Collaboration, teamwork, and excellence are things that we all learned at Olin, and those habits follow us into the workplace


Did Olin help you get where you are today?

The most important things that Olin taught me were 1) how to  go hands-on with a problem and to develop/trust my intuition as a designer;  2) the importance of communication and narrative in the workplace, even as an engineer.  Since working on the iPhone 6+ I’ve transitioned from an individual engineering role into a project leadership role with much more executive interaction.  The presentation and communication skills I first learned at Olin have been a huge advantage in taking on this new challenge.


Advice for current students?

Find a job where you look at the clock and wonder where the day went--not when you can leave.

Posted in: Alumni Speak