Google Fired an Apple Legend for Leaking Internal Memo

The saga of Randy Wigginton is long and lively. He was employee number six at Apple. A distinguished engineer at PayPal and eBay. And now word out of Google is that he's been fired there for leaking a raise.

A well-placed source close to Google says Wigginton, who created MacWrite and bought chocolate-covered espresso beans for the rest of the original Macintosh team, was the unidentified employee fired earlier this month for sending the press information about a 10 percent raise and holiday cash bonus. Google told its staffers a leaker had been terminated within hours of Business Insider posting news of the raise on November 10. Wigginton is widely believed within the company to be the fired leaker, said the source close to Google.

The circumstantial evidence indicates the water cooler talk is likely correct about his firing. The day after Google terminated the leaker, Wigginton's Wikipedia entry was altered by a fellow Apple and Google alum to say Wigginton previously, rather than presently, worked for Google. Within 10 days of the firing, Wigginton's LinkedIn profile was updated to indicate his employment with Google ended in November 2010. Finally, and most circumstantially, Business Insider's tech feed is one of just 54 accounts Wigginton follows on Twitter. Business Insider attributed its scoop to "a loyal reader."

Wigginton did not return a phone message left with a woman at his home last week, or any of several emails seeking comment.

Google Fired an Apple Legend for Leaking Internal Memo

Why would Google, which is paying millions of dollars in stock-based retention bonuses to keep its best engineers, part with the man who co-wrote the software controller for Apple's first disk drive? Especially since the engineer's purported crime consisted merely of leaking a companywide email memo and well-known details about a bonus?

Wigginton might not have appreciated the safety concerns of some Googlers. "The leaker... thoughtlessly put 20,000 co-workers in immediate danger of being mugged while carrying holiday bonus cash on their way home in the dark that very evening," one Googler told CNET. "The leaker directly disobeyed repeated and very explicit instructions from the top, not to leak this bonus news prematurely before evening when all workers were home safe."

Indeed, Business Insider's post, which was widely picked up here and elsewhere online, ran the morning of the bonuses, leaving plenty of time for financial news junkie muggers to plan their ambushes. No such muggings, it's worth noting, were ever reported in the press.

Wigginton may also have been dealt with harshly due to the sensitivity of his job. He works as a site reliability engineer, or SRE. SREs have access to Google's most sensitive data, including unfettered access to user accounts for the services under their purview. That would make any breach of company confidentiality policies, no matter how trivial, look especially stark. Google may be especially touchy about SREs after one was caught spying on user accounts this past summer, as our own Adrian Chen first reported.

Google Fired an Apple Legend for Leaking Internal Memo

Wigginton might also have chafed under Google's corporate culture. It's worth noting that his LinkedIn profile lists 13 different employers in the 29 years since Wigginton left Apple's technical staff. Many of his gigs lasted just one or two years. Like many gifted engineers, Wigginton may posses a temperament poorly suited for company rules, particularly around the flow of information. At eBay, where the photo at left was taken, Wigginton was part of a special group known as the "SWAT Team," called on during IT crises. That unique environment may explain why Wigginton's second stint with eBay lasted nearly five years.

In any case, Wigginton has his supporters, including Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, with whom Wigginton worked closely in the company's early days.

When we emailed Woz for his thoughts on Wigginton's firing for this post, he wrote back,

Google is a proponent of 'open' source?

This is minor enough that a wrist slap would be more appropriate.

As sweet as Google stock, salary and perks might taste this dreary holiday season, there's nothing quite so warming as the loyal support of a longtime colleague. Here's to wishing a newly jobless Silicon Valley stalwart a not-too-terrible Thanksgiving.

[Photos: Top, Wigginton, via Wigginton's Facebook profile; Google Mountain View campus via Flickr]