I died on Monday night.

Update (1/7/2022):

I’m pleased to announce I’ve accepted a position with the non-profit Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. I have a history with the Fred Hutchison Cancer Research center, their partner, and I feel like taking the pay cut to go into truly mission-driven work was the best place for me.

Update (3/4/2022):

I’ve been spending the last month looking for another job after that one was rescinded. Apple reported my job title as “Associate” during the background screening, and the process to resolve that was not completed before purging of open requisitions was done to prepare for SCCA’s merger with The Hutch, leaving me jobless unexpectedly. I’m still in the process, and hopeful to have good news in the next couple of weeks.

Unfortunately, I was not able to find any whistleblower resources to cover the attorneys fees mentioned here. I currently am only being billed for part of them, and I’ve set up a GoFundMe and am asking for donations to cover the bill, along with the medical expenses I incurred on December 20th — 21st. Every bit helps, even sharing. Thank you: https://www.gofundme.com/f/legal-medical-expenses-for-apple-whistleblower

People love a heroic arc, and I know that’s why my story is often so compelling. Truthfully, the only hero’s journeys that follow that lovely path are fictional, or are missing the twists and turns that come with real life.

This morning I woke up with a terrible ache in my chest. I was diagnosed with COVID last week, despite being vaccinated and very careful — always masking. The pandemic has been lonely for everyone, but testing positive, right before a holiday? It’s another level of isolation. Even the people who test negative in your family are shunned from plans. Shout out to Airbnb for the full refund, though, I really appreciate that silver lining in what has proved to be an awful time. While the pain in my chest persists as I sit here, I must confess that while it’s thanks in part to COVID, it’s not from the illness itself.

The pain is due to the chest compressions I had to have for eight minutes of CPR and the remnants from the electric pulse of a defibrillator. I’m lucky to be here typing this, and I know that, but it’s not due to my asthma, nor any other terrible physiological symptom this pandemic has given us. It was thanks to a deep spiraling depression, amplified only by the anxiety the past few months have given me. So how did I get here?

In May of 2020, I got what I thought was a dream job, being ushered into the most giant of the tech giants, Apple, as a principal software engineer. I taught myself to code websites when I was in middle school, and had used that skill off and on while I was in high school, including for Washington Biotechnology Foundation’s Biotech Expo in 2003, where I’d won a prize in a category that didn’t yet exist.

I wasn’t the best student by any means. I had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, dealt with severe problems of abuse at home, had undiagnosed ADHD, and was bullied relentlessly by my peers at school to the point of being suicidal, most notably after I’d been pushed into sexual contact for the third time against my will. In spite of it all, for the two years I spent at Juanita High School, I tried to succeed. I studied for the SAT and got a 1570. I participated in Running Start, a program in Washington State that allows high school students to enroll in college courses for dual credit. I took Advanced Placement English, Chemistry, and Calculus.

Unfortunately, I still dropped out, and was with all the wrong people using whatever drugs they gave me that could make me forget the hell I’d been through. Eventually, I tried to take my own life with sleeping pills and alcohol, after an incident that left me certain my life was doomed from the start.

After I found out I was pregnant in 2006, I bounced back and forth between Washington and Missouri (where my ex lives), including a month of homelessness when I lived out of the car I’d bought from a junk yard and paid for gas using the change I stole from my ex’s dresser. I had determined to turn my life around, but I didn’t even know where to begin. I didn’t know what that would even look like. My step-dad was a meth addict, my dad was hardly around, and when he was, he was physically and emotionally abusive, and my mom and I had a strained relationship due to her stealing my identity and ruining any clean slate at life I may have had. I still ended up back at her house in Kirkland, living in a room with plywood flooring, about to have a baby I wasn’t ready for.

I hoped I could use coding to start a career, and somehow, I did just that in May of 2007, and gave birth to my incredible daughter a short six weeks later. I struggled to keep a roof over our heads for years, but rocky as the start was, I had done what many a pop-quiz giving techbro had said I couldn’t: I got into “FAANG” as a software engineer. I’d made it.

When I left LuxuryRealEstate.com because I wasn’t making enough money to survive and pay for daycare, the HR director Angela emailed me a list of things she saw in me that took me nearly two decades to see in myself, including the thing that I now know makes me a valuable asset: “You bring a genuine desire to learn new techniques and an open mind to listening to the ideas and thoughts of others.” What I didn’t know back then, or even when I joined Apple, it was that very thing that people saw in me that would cause me to be the most unlikely leader of a culture shift at Apple away from pure secrecy to clear lines between protected speech and corporate confidentiality.

A few weeks into my tenure at Apple, I was shamed and coached about my “Apple brand” for talking about my mental health. I brought this up later in a message that wound up being the basis of my knowledge for the company’s propensity to surveil its employees, but for the year in between, I tried to fit in at Apple. Little did I know that that early interaction had planted a seed that would sprout into employee activism when Antonio García Martínez was hired.

The rights suppression started immediately, and I didn’t even see it for what it was until after I’d left the company in November. It was difficult to notice the ways the company was discouraging me from speaking to the press and publicly in a way that they would be displeased with while I was being harassed and targeted with abuse by anonymous employees in the company. Nothing I’d been through growing up could have prepared me for the war I’d unknowingly declared on the cult-like, self-policing culture.

I quickly learned I was defying institutional knowledge and precedent by speaking to the press about workplace issues, criticizing the company, and encouraging colleagues to discuss their compensation. More open letters came, and behind them, highly produced videos from leadership parroting that individuals should take their concerns to HR, hammering in the “unwritten rule” that organizing collectively is improper.

Colleagues who spoke internally said their concerns were transformed into HR complaints without their knowledge. As summer ended, additional reports poured in. When Ashley Gjøvik received an email notifying employees that the “Environmental Health and Safety” team was doing contamination testing at offices built on locations in which hazardous materials are buried deep underground, she questioned leadership about it. She said her manager told her not to discuss it with coworkers. She, and other coworkers who spoke up about other issues using #AppleToo reported more uninitiated individualized investigations.

After the wage survey launched, dozens of colleagues said they had been told not to participate or discuss their wages, and to steer clear of me. The most sinister allegation was that HR demanded a team use algorithms to determine who participated. I filed a short-lived Business Conduct complaint that was passed to HR and distilled into personal issues. When I left the company, it had no activity. In fact, nothing materialized from any internal outreach, except for a line in a separation agreement — which I sent to the SEC instead of signing. Apparently, I’d “lodged multiple internal complaints” — all curiously missing (along with my performance review) from the personnel file I had to demand access to.

Before long, we’d be denied opportunities to discuss pay equity as a group, continuously funneled to our HR reps. I filed a charge against Apple, and asked for company-wide affirmation of employee rights. After months of fighting, they posted a notice during the week of Thanksgiving, while everyone was off. In an earlier global all-hands (marketing video?), they gave us canned responses, leaving many frustrated that they had no intention of sincerely addressing our workplace concerns. Unsurprisingly, it ended up in the press.

Several colleagues inferred I was “the leaker” of those definitely-not-confidential details. Despite the executives disagreeing with those sentiments, they said nothing. I slipped into a very dark place and requested medical leave for what would become one of my worst bipolar episodes. Leadership asked me to stop talking about the company for the “headaches” I was giving them, and followed up with a threatening email saying that “leakers” “don’t belong” at Apple. I was quiet while I recovered, until Janneke Parrish, my #AppleToo co-leader, was investigated under a false pretext and terminated.

At the end of my tenure, I was isolated, had my Slack messages surveilled and used against me, learned that Apple had access to my personal iMessages, and received several reports of requests to disparage me and my statements. The playbook became clear: divide groups and conquer with small concessions, ostracize “disgruntled employees”, and silence those with legitimate claims.

When I spoke to journalists in October, like Reed Albergotti, I was sure that I could weather any storm Apple blew my way. I’d been through hell and back and lived not only to tell it, but in a position where I knew there was light at the end of the tunnel. Furthermore, I hadn’t done anything wrong. I’d held up my integrity, even when they tried to make it seem like I was choosing money over people like I’d said they were doing day in and day out. I was having great interview sessions, turning down places I’d decided I’d never work because of the ethics, making waves refusing to participate in inequitable interview processes. Saying no to tech giants with life-changing cash like Netflix and Google, and narrowing down my list to the places I thought would embrace what I’d done and made me feel like it was me choosing them.

Instead, I was left jobless (“we want you, but come back in a few months”) and forced to rethink whether I belonged in tech anymore, and if I did, maybe I was being too picky. During this same time, a few women embarked on a harassment campaign against me, including abusing Wikipedia to diminish me and perhaps most disgustingly refer to my childhood abuse as “alleged.” They determined I had slighted them all in some way, and quite possibly most hilariously, have some warped idea that I am controlling the press, and not simply being honest about what I’ve witnessed and giving evidence where necessary. Why? Because I care about doing the right thing. Always.

Over my life, I’ve witnessed the ways certain people will stop at nothing to destroy anything they think is in their way, and the damage they may cause. They ignore the ripples they leave behind them because they aren’t even looking for them. They don’t consider how their actions will affect other people. I see their words and I know my impact. I have my integrity, and will continue to have my integrity, because when questioned I have done one thing, and continue to do that one thing: I tell the truth. When someone defames you, what can you do? You can fight with them, letting the story become a soap opera that does exactly what they set out to do to (center themselves), or you can continue to do the right thing, continuing to circle back to what matters: holding those who do harm accountable.

That doesn’t mean, though, you’ll be unaffected. I haven’t been, and I’ve been too ashamed to talk about the ways that these women, Apple, and my other harassers have affected me. I’ve been scared that someone will find a way to use it against me. Sincerely, fuck all of that.

I relapsed, and I didn’t lose my 11 years of previous sobriety.

I relapsed, and I’m not just a junkie.

I relapsed, and I’m not a bad person.

I didn’t shoot heroin or snort cocaine again, but I dabbled and explored what I thought could make the stress I was under manageable, while still being a responsible mother to my teenaged daughter.

All of this culminated with my life ending clinically for 8 minutes on Monday night, when I took what looked like a Percocet to take the edge off. It wasn’t Percocet at all, it was Fentanyl, and it sent me almost immediately into cardiac arrest. I’m alive after two doses of Narcan, 8 minutes of CPR, and a defibrillator jolt to my chest.

I still have to find a way to pay $92,000 in attorneys fees, what I imagine is quite an awful emergency room bill, and I’m still in a massive pile of debt from my days in poverty trying to come up with ways to get my electricity turned back on with an infant in tow. The things people have said about me still weigh on me. I know there will be more. This time: I’m ready for it.

All of this is to say: I’m lucky to be here. We all are. We need to take care of each other. We are all human beings, and we need to do the right thing to help each other not be harmed. Tell the truth. Focus on uplifting the stories of the most vulnerable, and how to do the most good.

You cannot do all the good the world needs, but the world needs all the good you can do.

XOXO,

Cher

PS: My sense of taste has returned, and chocolate and marshmallows are delicious.

Unlisted

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