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Google vs. Apple: The Difference May Be a Matter of Degrees


It's no secret that Apple (AAPL) and Google (GOOG) are involved in a war that figures to do nothing but escalate as they compete on an ever-growing number of business lines.

According to Eric Jackson of Ironfire Capital, Google and Apple isn't just a fight between the pedigreed elite and the street smart fighters: "There's a huge difference between them when you look at the background of the people who are running the two companies," Jackson says in the attached video. "Google is filled with Rhodes Scholars, Ph.D's ... they've got something like eight Ph.D's on the management team. Fulbright Scholars ... people with real, prestigious backgrounds."

Google's intellectual snobbery isn't just limited to degrees. Since its inception, company job interviews have included brain teasers that could stump the sharpest mind. Agonizingly for the job candidates, many of the questions don't have an answer but rather are simply chance to demonstrate structured problem solving skills.

Apple's a whole different animal, as Jackson sees it. In part as a legacy of Steve Jobs, the product of Reed College (he didn't graduate) and a man who gave and took no quarter on business matters, Jackson says Apple has never placed much stock in academic degrees. In Cupertino, it's more important to stay cool in the heat of the fire of debate. Forget the fancy boys and girls with their pedigrees, Apple has a tradition of stockpiling the company with people who can give as good as they get.

Is only one the right approach? Jackson says he has a preference for "the underdogs, the gritty guys." His problem with the elites is that they tend to start thinking a bit too much of themselves. As a result, they can miss trends that emerge from anywhere other than their pedigreed minds.

The difference isn't as stark as it may seem. Despite the power-to-the-masses image Jackson outlines, he confesses to not being able to get Apple to tell him what they are looking for, if not academic credentials. Without some filtering process, Apple would be forced to do little other than interview candidates, given the number of people who would love to work for the Cupertino Kings.

Neither Apple nor Google is telling anyone precisely what they want in a candidate -- just what they don't. At Google, you better be able to think your feet, even under pressure. Think of it as the taking SATs. At Apple, an employee needs to be equal parts aggressive and canny, something like speed chess for money.

Which system works best? So far, the hiring process is obviously working well for both companies. Over the next few years, when the competition really starts heating up between Google and Apple, is when we'll have a better idea as to who has the edge in this high level game of relative snobs versus extremely wealthy slobs.