From Introvert to Director at Apple
I've always wanted to be a director. Not the type that I ended up becoming at Apple, but a film director. Jaws made me afraid to go into the water, and I must have watched Raiders of the Lost Ark at least 50 times before the age of 13. I didn't end up chasing my passion, but working at Apple has enabled me to be passionate and creative every day.
By most objective standards, I've accomplished a lot. Yet, compared to most, I'm not uniquely talented, smart or special. Those of you who may know me may be surprised to know that I'm an extreme introvert. I'd much rather spend time curled up reading a book, then interacting with people. I'm unusually clumsy at small talk and avoid meeting new people at all costs.
Yet, I've found a way to break through this wall, and while I'm still a bit awkward in social settings, I'm happy with the progress I've made.
What has always helped me pass others is my mindset. I work harder, learn faster, and dream bigger than most.
This is my brief story, and i hope that it conveys who I am, some of the high's and low's I've faced and how I can perhaps help you. Perhaps you'll consider trusting me with your e-mail address and joining our community, if you get to know me.
I know, I don't have an accent anymore...
Iftikhar with my father Ajaz Khan, and my grandfater, Imam Bashir Rafiq
I was born in 1978 in the hospital that directly faces Big Ben and the English House of Parliament, right across the Thames River in London.
Some people live their entire lives in one city or town. By the time I graduated from college, I had lived in a dozen different homes including London, Kent (SE England), the suburbs of West Palm Beach, Chicago, the suburbs of Detroit, and East Lansing. Change is something that I’ve learned to love, to the point that now I find myself getting bored if I stay in one place for too long. It drives my wife Rabia crazy!
The downside of moving so often was it exasperated my introversion, which resulted in a somewhat lonely childhood. I had very few friends. I still find it very hard to make small talk and find the courage to introduce myself to others. In my junior & senior year of high school, after we had just moved to Michigan, I had no friends, nor did I make any effort to make any. It was easier for me to retreat to the library at lunchtime and read. I read the biographies of more than 30 US Presidents over those two years.
One activity that forced me to interact with others was playing a leadership role at my local Muslim Youth Group. At the age of 15, I lead the Detroit chapter of Muslim Youth USA a group that included more than 70 members and required me to learn a variety of leadership skills that were pivotal to any success I’ve had later in my career. Detroit won Best Medium Sized Chapter in the US under my leadership.
One of my best decisions..
A pivotal moment occurred when I became a student at Michigan State University. My first two weeks at school, I avoided everyone. I had notions that all my fellow students were interested in was drinking and partying, both of which I had no interest in. It wasn’t until I made the long walk down the Holmes Hall hallway into a room, where a dozen guys were playing Madden 1996 on the PS2, that I realized my fellow students were much more complicated and interesting than the stereotypical partying college students.
During my wonderful experience at MSU, I made close friends with a variety of students. I met guys that were the most popular kids in their high school and realized they had vulnerabilities and idiosyncrasies similar to the rest of us. I met a variety of kids from small-town America, towns that only had one stop light. I met farmers, a Jeopardy champion, hippies, activists, slackers, frat boys, and more. One particularly memorable day was moving into an 11 bedroom house and realizing that one of the tenants had a confederate flag on his truck window. That same individual became one of my favorite friends, and soon after college went to Korea to teach English as a Second Language.
I’m a firm believer that struggles are necessary to achieve success. During college, two struggles had an enormous impact on my career.
Diffrentials = My mortal enemy
The first challenge was a series of Degree choices that cost me an extra year at school. All my life, my parents had encouraged me to pursue becoming a doctor, even though I had no particular interest in the field. My first year in college I enrolled in a unique science program at Lyman Briggs school. By the end of year one, I knew science wasn't for me.
So I pivoted toward computer science in order to follow in the footsteps of my dad, a Systems Architect. While I was adept at computers, I couldn’t overcome Calculus 2. I failed the class twice. Failing the same exam twice after putting in a decent amount of effort was a particularly depressing experience. My cumulative GPA dropped like a rock, and by the end of my sophomore year, my GPA hovered around 2.5.
Around that time, I opened up the school newspaper and read some horrifying news. The Eli Broad School of Business had decided to start limiting enrollees to the school of business, and future graduates would have to apply to the school and hope to make the cut. With my GPA I quickly realized I was in trouble.
At this point, I had already flaked out of a science program, a computer science program, and now it looked like I had no hope of getting a business degree either?
After briefly considering other options (including packaging) and talking to my counselors, I decided to double down. I WAS graduating from the college of business, and it was up to me to make it happen. Unfortunately, there were over half a dozen core classes I couldn’t take until I was admitted. So I went the unconventional route of taking every class I could, with the goal of completing all my core classes in my senior year.
I also discovered Supply Chain Management. Not only was MSU one of the top two schools in the country in this field, but I found it fascinating as well. I worked very hard the next two years to bring my GPA up, getting a solid mix of A’s and B+.
My counselor had convinced me that if I achieved 3 A’s and 1 B in my junior year, that I’d be highly likely to be accepted. I made sure to achieve that goal and left that summer for Chicago convinced I was going to finally get admitted to business school in my senior year.
So you can imagine my shock when I got the rejection letter from the admissions department. My heart sank. I couldn’t believe it. I was going to have to start again, adding another couple of years to pursue who knows what. Since I was paying for college myself and beginning to accumulate a sizable debt, this setback was financially punishing too. I immediately called the admissions department to make my case. I begged, pleaded, threatened. It may have been the lowest moment of my life. The lady politely listened but said there wasn’t much they could do, but they’d double check.
That was a dark 24 hours. I prayed extensively that night.
God heard my prayers; as the next day, I heard some incredible news. The admissions department had miscalculated my GPA, and with the revised score, I had barely squeaked in.
Phew. I was going to be able to go to business school after all. I graduated in 2001 with a degree in Supply Chain Management.
Interviewing All Star
The second setback also occurred in my junior year of college. My friend was working for student government and was moving to a higher position. He convinced me to apply for the vacated seat. For no good reason, I didn’t prepare for that interview, and left the interview, feeling angry and embarrassed at how poorly I did. I was better then what this interviewer thought of me. On the walk home I pledged to myself that next time I would be over prepared and take fate into my own hands.
That summer, I checked out half a dozen books on “Interviewing Excellence” and spent the summer vacation becoming an expert on interviewing. In the fall of senior year, my interview skills combined with my four summer internships at GE Medical Systems and Allied Signal paid off. I crushed every interview I took. You've heard the idiom, "taking candy from a baby." I knew what that felt like. I got multiple jobs offers that fall.
As part of my interviewing regimen, I decided to practice repeatedly by taking every opportunity to interview. That is the only reason why I interviewed with Apple. It was the only interview that season where I was interviewed by two people at the same time, a format which kept me on my toes the entire time. A few weeks later I was invited to a four-day fly-in event in Cupertino. Since I had never been west of the Mississippi, and one of those four days included a full day tour of San Francisco, I signed up.
I had NO intention of joining Apple. This was 2000, and just three years earlier Wired Magazine had published the below front cover story predicting the demise of Apple. This was pre-iPod, and Apple's market share for computers was less than 3%.
I was just going to California for the free trip to San Francisco.
As I boarded the plane back home to East Lansing, after my four-day trip to Cupertino, I knew I was going to work at Apple.
First, I saw the product.
I saw iMovie on the latest iMacs and fell in love. I'd never seen desktop movie editing before, and couldn't believe how simple, but powerful this was. As a wannabe filmmaker, my mind was blown.
Second, I met my coworkers.
Wow, were they impressive! Passionate. Energetic. Wicked smart. They didn't have the patience or time for bureaucracy. They were everything I wanted to be.
Third, the role had real impact.
These people were clearly empowered, given enormous responsibilities and challenged every day. Depth mattered here, not breadth. I was told by two different people, that my decisions would probably lead to the factory shutting down at least once in the first year. That type of responsibility simultaneously scared the hell out of me and inspired me. Plus, clearly, supply chain management mattered here. One of the reasons why Apple had almost gone bankrupt was due to poor inventory planning. I could have a real impact here.
The summer before I started at Apple, I spent 3 months backpacking Europe
Launching the iPhone, iPad, Watch and more...
Joining Apple has been one of the best decisions of my life, and the same three principles for why I took the job at Apple, are the same three reasons I still love coming to work here, sixteen years later. I've worked through experiences that MBA students pay money to case study.
- Building the iPod Planning Management system as Apple transitioned into becoming a consumer electronics company. On more than one occasion, I remember pinching myself wondering out loud "I can't believe they trust me to build and execute this!" There was a period where iPod demand was so surprisingly strong, that we were essentially constrained for two years as we struggled to catch up. Those were two of the most exhausting, but exciting years of my life.
- Launching iPhone. If you haven't seen Steve Job's keynote announcing the iPhone, see below. Its a master class in storytelling. I walked out of that keynote, went up to my manager, and told him that "No matter what, I want to be part of that product team". My boldness and previous expertise was rewarded, and I was part of the small operations team that launched the iPhone.
- Launching the iPad. Demand far exceeded any of our wildest expectations. That year was the toughest of my career, and it required all my resilience, energy, prioritization and motivational skills to keep my team together.
Somewhere along the way, my personality started to change. During my first seven years at Apple, while I was getting exceptional reviews, positioned on Apple's most critical products, and increasing my technical expertise. I still quietly struggled with a lack of confidence in myself, an unease interacting with leadership and was painfully awkward in large forums. I watched less technically competent peers then me get promoted and move onto roles that I wanted.
I started to get frustrated.
My lack of confidence in myself was holding back.
I had credibility with everyone I worked with on a daily basis. So why was I so cautious and uncertain around people I was less familiar with?
I decided I needed to make a change.
I was going to leverage my technical expertise and credibility to take the lead. Be more vocal in larger forums. Spend more time influencing upward, not just sideways.
This isn't the article where I'll explain how I made the transition. I just did.
And my career exploded. In 2008 I became an entry-level manager of a team of 3. By 2012, I was leading a team of more than 200, and in 2013 I became a director.
My career was flourishing.
My home life though needed some work.
Meet the family
Rabia and I have been married since 2002, and it is a fact that without her support, I wouldn't be the man I'am today. In 2007, Rizwan was born. 2.5 years later, Khadija entered Rabia and my life. God has blessed me with an amazing family. My family brings me so much joy.
During Rizwan's first four years, Apple released the iPhone and then the iPad. It's not an exaggeration to say, that I barely saw my family during that time.
In 2011, I was dangerously burnt out, and my boss essentially ordered me to take some time off. We went to Disney World for one week and bonded as a family. Since then, we've visited Singapore, Turkey, Italy, Germany, England, Hawaii, the Caribbean, New York City and much more. Experiencing new things in new places is our thing.
The vacations help, but I still have had issues where I'm not present for my kids, both physically and emotionally.
Building memories in Venice, Miami & Istanbul
The first time your child realizes their parent's priorities; and scolds them for it, is more devastating then you can realize (unless it happened to you).
Fortunately for us, Rabia is a fantastic parent and has more than made up for my slack. She actively volunteers at school and stays on top of the kids secular and spiritual education.
People regularly compliment us on Rizwan and Khadija's behavior, attitude and zest for life. Rabia deserves all the credit.
You maybe wondering why there aren't any pictures of Rabia? She's asked me to not share pictures of her. It was tough finding great family pictures that didn't have all four of us!
Becoming a better dad
Recently I decided that I was going to participate more in raising my children and take an active role in their education and upbringing. It was time for me to share some of my knowledge and experiences with my kids, and mentor them on their journey.
I'm on that journey right now and every day is an experience and a learning opportunity for all of us.
On this journey, I intend to become an expert on raising children with a STEM-centered mindset. Children who are resilient, ethical, fair, curious, generous and continuously looking to grow. I'm reading books on this subject, taking courses, listening to podcasts, watching videos and following influencers and experts in this space.
I decided to share this expertise and journey with you. Back when the internet first took off, I coded a film review website using HTML. It was my first taste of building a community online, and I loved it.
I love it again. I hope you benefit too from seed2STEM.com. Please consider joining my mailing list so you can get my weekly newsletter filled with tips, tricks, facts, and quotes that will inspire you to take action and be a better and more effective parent.
Please also take a minute to send me an e-mail. How can I help you? I've loved to give it a shot.
See you this Thursday,
PS. If you don't want to wait until Thursday, check out my post on: 7 Ways to introduce STEM to girls