Exclusive Interview with Mike Kirkup, Sr. Director of Developer Relations, on why he is leaving Research In Motion

By Kevin Michaluk on 30 Aug 2011 03:31 pm EDT
Mike Kirkup

It's a sad day for CrackBerry Nation. To say I was shocked when I saw word that one of our absolute all-time favorite Research In Motion employees, Mike Kirkup, tendered his resignation today would be an understatement.

If you've been a CrackBerry reader for a long time, you'll know Mike well as he's made a bunch of appearances on the site over the years (heck, he was the first RIM employee to ever get his own article tag!). An early proponent of treating BlackBerry as a platform, he has been one of the main faces of the BlackBerry Platform for almost a decade, first starting as a Security Software Developer before moving to the Developer Relations team (formerly ISV/SI Technical team) in 2004.

Since first meeting Mike a few years back, I've seen him progress from Manager to Director to Senior Director of Developer Relations as he's helped grow the BlackBerry developer community to 400k strong and spearhead, along with his team, three BlackBerry Developer Conferences. Always exuding passion whenever he's joined us on a podcast or video interview, Mike truly is a BlackBerry fan.

Wanting to get to the bottom of Mike's impending departure from the company, I reached out to him for an over the phone interview. Keep reading for our exclusive Q&A with Mike Kirkup as we find out why he's leaving, where he's going and whether or not he's lost faith in RIM.

Final BlackBerry Q&A with Mike Kirkup

We caught up with Mike an he agreed to answer some of our questions about his upcoming departure and what his plans for the future are.

Q. Why are you leaving? Why now?
A. The wireless and technology sectors are changing so rapidly right now and this is a very good time for me to step back, spend some time with my family and re-prioritize a bit. It's also the right time for me to decide what my next journey will be. The journey so far, with RIM, has been incredible. This is a great company with leaders who I admire and respect. I know that RIM and BlackBerry will always be at forefront of wireless communications and I only expect great things from this company.

Q. Where are you going?
A. Like I said, I really am just taking a much needed break to spend time with family and friends and figure out what path to take next. It's a little intimidating, but at the same time I am excited to see what the future holds.

Q. Have you lost faith in RIM?
A. No. I cannot stress this enough. I have so much admiration and respect for the people at RIM. I love BlackBerry. My smartphone, my PlayBook, they are great products and I know RIM is going to keep offering excellent products for everyone who wants to be able to live on the go.

Q. Will you still use a BlackBerry?
A. Definitely. I love my BlackBerry. For the first time in my life, I am going to get to buy a BlackBerry!

Q. I've predicted on more than one occasion that one day in the future we would see Mike Kirkup as RIM's CEO. With my dream now off the table, do you have any parting advice or direction you would give to RIM's current leaders?
A. Thanks Kevin. That is a very kind comment. In terms of parting advice, RIM is undergoing a change as they focus more on the importance of app developers and align the company around creating and supporting their incredibly robust platform. I would strongly encourage each RIM employee and certainly the executive staff to always put themselves in the shoes of the external developer. I believe that maintaining that viewpoint will be critical to the platform's success in the future.

Q. Are you going to miss saying the phrase, "I cannot comment on rumor or speculation"?
A. (He's laughing at that one.) Mostly, I am going to miss the people I work with. They're smart, strong, loyal and fun. And at the same time I am looking forward to having an opportunity to more openly participate in the mobile space and share my opinions based on years of being on the front line with developers.

Q. I know you have coding skills. Going to put any of that down time towards building BlackBerry apps?
A. I won't lie. Given my skills there is a good chance I am going to be sitting back down in front of a computer and pumping out some code. Time will tell though.

Q. Can you tell us anything about future BlackBerry products? Come on Mike.. I know you know stuff....
A. Nope. I'll be eagerly waiting to see what comes next, just the same as you and the CrackBerry Nation.

Thanks for your time Mike. Best of luck in whatever comes next for you. Throw the same passion at is as you have for BlackBerry all these years and I know you'll do well. We're going to miss talking to you at all the BlackBerry shows!

Check out past CrackBerry articles featuring RIM's Mike Kirkup

Reader comments

Exclusive Interview with Mike Kirkup, Sr. Director of Developer Relations, on why he is leaving Research In Motion


To say I'm shocked at this news is quite and understatement.. that said; Mike... thank you for everything you've done. You're an outstanding individual and while some may never recognize the work you did at RIM because of it being so internal, having witnessed it first hand -- RIM is losing a great portion of the glue that stuck them together when you leave. Again, thanks for everything Mike.. all the best.


Another sad loss for RIM. I never got to meet Mike in person, but I emailed him with some developer concerns I had a few times, and he was always quick to respond and was able to get me assistance when I needed it. Even when I emailed just to bi@#!ch about stuff he still replied. :)

Good luck Mike in the future.

It is a huge loss for RIM... This is just the first of many people leaving. Mike's kind words for RIM are really hiding his true feelings and the fact that he won't speak about his future plans means he signed an anti-compete clause and has to wait for the forseeable future much like Vic Gundotra after he left Microsoft for Google.

Believe me, look beyond his words about RIM and the fact he's leaving says it all. RIM is finished without Mike. So many employees are unhappy at RIM and are fed up with the senior leadership.

anti-compete clause are not legal in Canada, so that very much isn't the case.

you are looking for bad where bad probably does not exist.

Best wishes Mike, and enjoy that time with the family, THAT is most important. You WILL be missed! Hopefully we will see you more at CrackBerry.com.

Hmmm.. something not right. If you want to take leave of absence to spend time with family or re-prioritze, you do NOT resign, you take LOA. That is what a good company and employee does!! There's something more here.....

I see your point, but that's not necessarily true in all cases. Since it was a position that requires constant contact and outreach, taking a LOA would only put a placeholder on that position and the job goes undone (in a way) while you're gone. This is especially true if it is for an uncertain amount of time, which I get the feeling is true.

In any way, I wish him the best of luck.

We must be careful not to try to read between the lines because only Mike and RIM really know if what is being said is the company line or if there is more.

The truth of the matter is that change is inevitable. This is change and whether it is good for the parties involved will be determined by how they cope with the change. My hope is that Mike will be reinvigorated by time with his family, by the sometimes unsettling feelings of not being employed, by the incredible opportunities that lie before him. For RIM my hope is that they will build upon what Mike has done and open even more doors for developers for their great products.

All of us are agreed the RIM business model and development path trails its competitors in a number of key areas. As much as we all like/liked Mike he was part of that. RIM need a kick up its backside, a shake up so to speak. Anyone remember their much vaunted Operation: Disruptive Transformation? I love RIM but am not impressed by their latest round of OS7 devices. They were not calculated to make non-believers look up. I can only imagine what a non BB addict thinks. I am resigned to moving on if the Colt doesnt at least match competitors when it eventually lands. The products on the horizon offer a little glimmer (BBM Music, BB Colt, V2.0 of QNX). It's immaterial to the bigger picture if Mike left or was pushed. What matters is what RIM does NEXT.

That depends on the Position, and Negotiations.

Some Positions do not work well with LOA's and bringing in an interim employee or contract employee just isn't feasible due to the knowledge that person will gain whilst in the roll.

He wants to spend time with Family and Friends, and assumingly so escape from the high stress world of Smartphones. as someone who has taken 2 LOA's from work, for family reasons the stress of the job is never gone on an LOA, if Mike had been planning this for a few months he could have his financial house in order to support his family for an extended time of unemployment and then maybe pursue an independent career.

For those who said he signed an Anti competitive clause, those are not legal in Canada. NO Canadian company can prevent an employee from making a living, a Director of Coke Canada could leave Coke today and go to Pepsi, there are things to prevent them from sharing trade secrets, and laws around that. but their is no legal leg to stand on to prevent that in Canada.

One I resigned a good job with a large corporation because I couldn't get LOA for the 3 months I needed to do what I wanted. The most HR would offer without medical reasons was 1 month, even though one of the department directors tried to get me more.

What do you mean not Good? As in jumping ship before the ship goes down? Or just the company making changes to improve?

if RIM is going to put more focus to app developers, why did they shut down IM+ for the playbook and gave a cold shoulder to shape?


(watch out someone might curse at you and call you ignorant)

Perhaps this guy is/was causing the issue with IM+ or perhaps he said what RIM was doing to IM+ was wrong and didn't want to work for such a company anymore.

RIM has shut down others but they remain silent right now.

Will this fellows replacement do better or worse?

Time will tell...


Perhaps I am missing something here but why exactly was he so great? He's the Director of Developer Relations, and if you ask 8 out of 10 developers, the relations SUCK. Everything about the entire development process from idea to availability in App World completely blows. It's common knowledge in the developer community. Developers stay away from BlackBerry for a reason -- and it's not for lack of handsets because there are 50 million of them out there. Seriously... everyone responsible for even a small piece of the developer relationship at RIM needs to have been thrown out three years ago. Am I completely missing something here?

I agree, at least from an independent developer's perspective it feels like a "who needs you unless you're big and in the Alliance" attitude.

They might also consider opening up some more API's; too many innovative projects run into a big RIM stop-sign at some point because some minor and mundane API or class is restricted that has no bearing on security.

I know Apple also has a lot of frustrations but RIM is the one trying to catch up, they could be more cooperative.

"Pay-per-incident" support is the first thing that has to go.

Well said. Browsing the internet and all you see are horror stories from developers regarding what their interactions with RIM. There are some exceptions to be sure - for example, we have one with Pocketeers LTD and their experience with their new game for the Playbook that was released the other day (very good btw).

But stories like this seem to be few and far between.

I'm not saying that this individual was/is a problem at RIM but perhaps his leaving is best for RIM in the hopes that whoever replaces him can bring some new ideas as to to handle developers - either by encouraging them to develop for Blackberry and being supportive of the developers or by reaching out to those who have left to let them know that things will be different/better than what has been occuring.

Watch... BGR will post this news but with a negative spin that RIM is sinking and dying blah blah blah and Mike jumped shipped before the ship sank...

Of course. RIM bashing is still "in". Until they get enough hate mail, or lose enough page views, or both they will continue the "trend".

We'll see what they and others will say but it is curious how many top level executives have been leaving RIM recently. If you believe in coincidences then you need not worry.

Good luck, family is surely the most important thing in life, in my opinion. It is good to see young people taking the time to step back a little. this is something that is often missing or not allowed to.

This smells funny so I compiled a list of possible reasons he would quit so close to dev con.

1: An illness

2: He's frustrated with RIM's own stupidity and snail's pace like response to everything

3: Burn out/nervous breakdown, I've experienced this myself as a lead developer at an organization and had to just walk away from a high paying job for my own health reasons

4: He was secretly fired or ordered to resign

I have no love for Kirkup as I have spoken with him in person and over email many times about developer relations and where they are completely failing but nothing ever happens or gets done on their side. All the problems we've had as BB developers since 2008 and earlier are still there today causing delays and road blocks on every project. In fact, between myself and a co-developer we've dealt with Tyler Lessard, Mike Kirkup and Alex Kinsella a number of times on various issues and NOTHING HAS EVER BEEN RESOLVED.

It's very possible he's being escorted out, not leaving on his own. Developer relationships have been strained for quite some time. Maybe it's time for some fresh ideas at RIM. After all, the team that has put RIM in a declining share position must be held accountable.

Really! The director of developer relations is leaving, you get an interview & you don't ask about the IM+ debacle? Good reporting.

well, probably Kevin did ask, but it is simply not written in the blog post. Being out of work is already a daunting experience by itself and a bad post on how bad his work was on a blog as famous as crackberry would only make the experience worse.

I am just hoping that Kevin would reassure us that developers are being taken care of, that RIM has heard of the problems with IM+ and it is being handled. With all the secrecy going on, and with Maria from shape no longer commenting on this matter, I have a crazy idea that RIM struck a deal with shape and IM+ would be integrated into OS 2.0 (seeing that they probably don't have time to develop IM clients other than BBM, why not take the one already coded by one of your biggest developer and include it for free?)

Well, I guess if there's suddenly a blog post about that lysard/lessard guy being fired then we would confidently say that that RIM is paying attention to this IM+ fiasco.

Best wishes in your future endeavours, Mike. You were the best developer relationships manager and one of the best presenters at DevCon! You will be missed.

Sad news for RIM. Though things happen. I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavours Mike. You will be sorely missed here at CrackBerry.

Best wishes Mike. I totally understand the concept of re-centering and focusing on family. Being a long time organizational professional myself, I can appreciate the need to just get away from it all. I recently left a job in DC just to be with my family more. People don't understand that we sometimes become too big too fast. The people who suffer the most are the ones closest to us. It's not about the money because there are some things that money can't fulfill. How do you tell the people you love that you can't be there for them and then go off to handle other peoples issues. Enjoy the family Mike and remember that you know why you left and all others need not understand. Those that matter, already do...

Rimpire Struck Back for 2hr 32mins.

The Drain In Brain Falls Mainly On The Plain...

For the tenth time, layoffs never work... they make matters worse and kick the reality can down the road only to buy a little time for management to try to save their own asses. Whatever the backstory here, we are a far ways away from what we need to be seeing out of this company. A global recession, which is a one in three, one in two or one in one possibility depending on your economist du jour, is going to ensure acquisition of this firm, and a great risk of the end as we know it.

RIM was genius for a grand run, but they didn't manage growth and didn't manage management.

Typical tech tale of the times.

The Rimjob strikes out.

Good luck fellas... I'll never buy apple, never buy anything google. I'll use a string and two Dixie cups first.

For all the negativistas... do you think RIM has great developer relations???? If you answered no, then STFU about this being bad for RIM.

Mike seems like a class act, but anyone with their eyes open says RIM needs some new blood in this area.

My guess is they will go with a guy that has the pulse of the Android developer community. Reach out to them, get them to sign their Apps for App World and get them excited about using the native SDK for QNX. This is actually a hell of a lot of work and Mike may have seen this as a good time to make a job switch. In reality it could be lovy dovy as presented. In any case I don't think this is bad for RIM.

The company has a whole news OS the fact that they are getting new people is NOT bad

Given that he is exploring his options, one can only surmise this was a push and not a pull.

I'm no fan of letting folks go who have put their heart and soul into a company. I have no inside information, but sometimes employees get promoted too fast and end up in lofty positions ill-equipped to handle the responsibilities. Its unfortunate that a lateral move was not workable to keep him in the company.

I must also point out (as others have) that developer relationships are probably at an all time low and I suppose the RIM senior management felt "a new direction" was warranted.

In any case, I hope Mike finds a new home and eclipses his current achievements within the RIM technology sphere.

What you said... except "all time low". I think it was trending upward, and there were certainly lots of hopeful signs, but the delay in getting the PlayBook NDK to market is kind of irritating: whether that's on Mr. K or someone else is an issue, but if we're actually supposed to see a new QNX-based handheld in the new year, not having the QNX NDK out yet is kind of problematic: launching the NDK narrowly before a device isn't good, and perhaps that's the corner Mike was backed into and thought "my career is OVER as anything to do with Developer Relations based on the NDK release schedule...".

Could have been defensive, or it could have been "offensive" ("We'd like to make a change, and we are going to give you a chance to resign") but one would think he'd have something else lined up rather than just leaving it if was 100% his choice... or unless he got some really not-good news about said NDK or something yesterday and just had to make the decision immediately.... but then again, he could have stock options that he'd sold off at an opportune time and have quite a nest egg built up.

Speculation is fun, but I feel that developer relations were looking UP at RIM, but perhaps not up high enough or fast enough for RIM management.

Good luck to both Mike and RIM, and let's see that QNX NDK so we have a hope of getting Skype before the turn of the century.

This was a push. Sorry, but I've never known anyone at that level that "spend more time with the family" wasn't a phoney baloney excuse.

What does it matter to us whether he was fired or quit, that matters to him, but to us he's simply gone and now hopefully there will be some change in the right direction.

Great interview and he does know stuff he's just lying
Why did he say he can't wait to buy a blackberry are senior staff not allowed or something /:)

You guys may have love him but the SHAPE fiasco, and little movement on the Playbook front meant someone needed to fall on their sword, so Mr. Kirkup being the head of developer relations needed to go. You can't have a story like the one from SHAPE out there, and do nothing and expect developers to flock to you. "If they didn't post SHAPE's app, and won't provide an explanation, then what's to say the same thing won't happen with my app?" Now that he's gone RIM can install someone new which buys them more stalling time while the new clown comes "up to speed" and then maybe they'll make some announcement.

Good luck Mike! Peace! Regardless of what you're motivations are - it's none of my business - just keep it real whatever you do!

As for nay sayers who continually focus on negativity, what's really up? Other issues? Iceberg effect? Anyway, I'ver loved every single one of my BlackBerry devices - I'm not really sure what people have a problem with.

The playbook is the best tablet (I don't care about the delay in native apps, why should I? I have a 9810) LoL, I use it constantly partially because I have nothing else besides this 9810 and a playbook, but mostly because it is really good. Also, I've seen nothing but improvements from RIM and although things are "global", I'm a Canadian and so I decided to support RIM.

I'm rambling on like usual, but I'm just sayin'. I'm the self proclaimed king of random incoherence.