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Former RIM employee takes to reddit for some no holds barred Q&A

Former RIM Employee Interview
By Adam Zeis on 27 Apr 2012 01:45 pm EDT
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We got a great tip on Twitter today courtesy of acolagro who sent in a link to a pretty cool post from reddit. The post is from a user called rim950 and is titled IAmA former RIM/BlackBerry Employee (2000-2006) - AMaA and is basically an open Q&A for the former RIM employee. While we're itching to check out the Ask RIM Anything You Want session at BlackBerry world, this is a pretty good warmup. There is great stuff in the thread including questions on the browser, the BlackBerry brand, BlackBerry in the media, BBM and plenty more -- we're not sure this is something that RIM would want out there, but it is. It's really a great read (and still growing) and lends some cool insight into things from a former RIM employee. It's too bad rim950 left RIM before CrackBerry started in 2007, or some of this just may have shown up in the CrackBerry Forums. Keep reading for some of the best Q&A, then head over to reddit to get in on the discussion.

IAmA former RIM/BlackBerry Employee (2000-2006) - AMaA

As a former Blackberry purist who recently jumped to the iPhone, I have but one question - why the hell didn't anybody fix the browser?

Oh man, browser..

I was actually in charge of the IT infrastructure to allow web browsing for BIS users back in.. 2003? Seems like ages ago, but basically it boils down to this:

1: At the time (don't know how it is now), ALL traffic had to go through RIM's infrastructure. So downloading a 50k webpage is equivalent to downloading 25+ emails.

2: That 50k of HTML and graphics is filled with a ton of stuff that is irrelevant to a BlackBerry (it's pointless to send a 50k graphic file to a BB because it just won't even display properly), so BlackBerry utilized an transcoding algorithm to break down the page, and "try" to make it visible on the display. That 50k HTML/graphics becomes 10k or something smaller.

3: The path for data then became this: Website -> Internet -> RIM's Relay -> Transcoding Infrastructure -> Wireless Carrier -> Your BlackBerry.

Remember, we're still dealing with 1xRTT or GPRS at the time, which is as fast as your grandmother giving herself a sponge bath.

Since things get lost in "translation", the transcoding probably didn't work so well, resulting in a poor user experience.

I don't know how it's done now, but that's what we were dealing with back then.

(Also, throw in caching[squid], internal routing, and carrier partners who didn't want people using data). Lots at play.

TL;DR: The browsing sucks on a BB because RIM transcodes the websites to make it appear better on the display, but during that process a lot of stuff gets lost.

Do you think that shifting the target from the business class to the lower class is what led to the irrelevancy of the Blackberry Brand recently? 

That's a good question. There came a big challenge around 2005-2007. Does RIM focus in on the existing business market, or pursue a consumer model. At the time, the numbers suggested that the smartphone market wouldn't become mainstream for a little bit longer, thus the focus on the technology as opposed to the UI/UX.

Then the iPhone came along and things changed drastically. I don't believe the BlackBerry brand is irrelevant per se, but it's more of a function of the market saying that the BlackBerry experience needed to grow significantly, and there wasn't a good opportunity to do so at the time.

How do you feel when RIM is written/talked about negatively in the news media?

Honestly? I feel bad. When I was at RIM back in 2004, people would ask where I worked, and I'd tell them RIM/BlackBerry. The looks and comments like "Seriously? Why would I ever leave my Nokia" and "your devices suck" would come up frequently. A lot of the old schoolers at RIM developed a really thick skin. I've witnessed people in international conference talk pure shit about RIM (former Sprint VP of sales at 3G in HK back in 2002 in a keynote speech, asking a question about CDMA at a conference and being heckled when we told them we were from RIM, etc, etc..). I was no different. Imagine yourself travelling alone at a big international conference at the age of 24, and being heckled and insulted publicly for working for RIM. Words cannot describe how badly I wanted RIM to succeed after that.

This is not a good analogy, but think of RIM employees from the 90's-2004 being the kid that got picked on in school, then went on and did something very successful.

As for today, I still have lots of friends there, and the last thing I want to see is for a friend to lose a job. People don't realize how much RIM has helped various cities around the world economically. RIM has created tens of thousands of jobs around the world, and helped launch huge careers for people. On top of that, RIM is a darling of Canadian industry. There aren't a lot of great companies in Canada like RIM. No one in Canada wants to see another NorTel.

There has been lots of rumours about the chain of command and lack of employee communication/integration. What are your thoughts about this topic?

As the company grew, access to Mike and Jim (the CEO's) grew more difficult for obvious reasons. One of the biggest challenges you face as a growing company is finding the right talent. RIM had a significant number of challenges facing it (located in Waterloo/Canada, high IP, unique company culture, etc, etc.. the Ivey School of Business has a case study on RIM and this area specifically). The guys at the top are amazing, no doubt. But the company changed, and it changed in a way that people are not familiar with.

Internally, people used to joke that RIM was built on the backs of "co-ops" (student interns). There's more truth to it than most people want to admit, and there was a lot of interns. If you worked at RIM in the early 2000's, you were surrounded by lots of young people that were very well educated, who were given a LOT of responsibility (I was 22 years old, flying to 10 cities in 14 days for my first business trip). As the company grew, reliance on co-op's became smaller, and I think that's when the innovation started to slow down. Over time, you have middle aged managers talking about new features, and all the co-op's would look over and roll their eyes.. but they're just co-ops who don't know any better.

Over time, the silo's were put up and it just ground to a halt IMO. My favorite times at RIM had me running around the RIM campus, knocking on VP's doors in running shoes and shorts, asking for favors. I hear you can barely get face time with the big people now.

That said, it's easy to kick a company when they're down.

From your world travels with RIM, what place did you not want to leave, and what place wanted to make you get the hell out of there ASAP, and why.

New Zealand is absolutely beautiful. I only got to visit once, but man... just amazing.

Australia was nice, until I encountered the racism. After that, it killed any desire for me to go back there. I'm not saying Australians are racist, I'm just saying that I encountered it there enough times to make me remember.

India was riveting. It's one thing to be served amazing food one moment, then see the shanty towns and the ridiculous number of people just roaming the streets. The poverty I saw was gut wrenching.

Everyone in the Philippines sings. Everyone. Cab drivers, doormen, security guys, etc, etc..

Saudi Arabia was different.

UAE: Some of those people are the nicest, kindest, most wonderful people you'll meet. 5 minutes later, you'll meet the biggest douche bag ever.

Singapore is just so damn cool.

Hong Kong is an amazing international city. Best partying in Asia.

Did you leave on a sour note with RIM? And how do you view RIM as a place of employment?

I left on an ok note I guess. I was young, and probably needed to shut up more than I did. A senior director I was close with just left a few weeks ago and gave me a call to catch up. The first thing he said in that call was "You were right with your predictions".. that felt good.

RIM's a great place to work. You'll learn a lot for obvious reasons, and for the most part, they take care of their employees.

What phone do you use currently?

BlackBerry Bold. Seriously thinking of switching over to an Android though.. but damnit, my gf has an iPhone and I want to play that drawing game with her!

Do you think Blackberrys would be top dog if they chose to adopt the Android OS

...............................no

After finishing B-School, I've come to appreciate economics in specific market environments. The market RIM is in is still growing, and there's still lots of room to grow, but the competitive landscape is considerably different. Market's work differently in different countries, so saying "top dog" depends on the market.

I believe, in order for RIM to get market dominance again, they need to make BBX (or BlackBerry 10 or whatever you want to call it today) an OS that integrates seamlessly with BBM. BBM needs to offer Push-to-talk, multiple video conferencing, LBS based social networking, near field communications, replace your wallet, replace your cable tv set top box, and do everything it already does today, on as many different devices as possible. It also needs to attack the 16-19 year old market and get them to be loyal BBM users with high switching costs.

That's just MY opinion.

Source: reddit
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Reader comments

Former RIM employee takes to reddit for some no holds barred Q&A

48 Comments

interesting read. i can relate to that Australian thing, it is pretty bad there sometimes. but it's not everyone, there are a lot of great people there. kinda like how those racist Boston Bruins fans that shot their mouths off don't represent the majority.

Anyone I've ever met from Australia have either been blatantly racist or unknowingly racist, including some good friends.

The comment about Australia doesn't surprise me. I'm in my twenties from Australia, born and bred, yet have been subjected to racism throughout my life by a minor percentage of the population.

I too am a former RIM employee (2006 - 2011), and I worked on the BlackBerry Enterprise Server team.

I was there from the initial release of the iPhone and the Android. It was a very interesting time. We were told that the iPhone was not a threat and if asked to sidestep the comment and point out the fact that the iPhone was a toy to be used in the consumer market and was no threat to our business market share.

I still think that the BlackBerry is a superior business tool, but not to under estimate the iPhone as RIM did back when it was released.

I felt that from 2007 until I left in 2011 that RIM was a bit blind to the competition. But as the author states, it was a great place to work and I learned a ton of knowledge that is invaluable in my currently place of employment. The RIM culture needs to wake up a bit and realize that they need to change and change fast to keep pace with trends.

In my humble opinion complete the following:
1) Integrate BBM into other devices including Android/iOS/WP8
2) Charge a small fee for purchase of BBM to non-BlackBerry users
3) Cross platform video chat / conference / social networking utilizing BBM at the core
4) Utilize the PlayBook hardware more efficiently and add Media Center functionality that the other devices do not currently have. (How nice would it be to run a Media Center app on the PlayBook that can connect to a media share (MKVs, 720P, 1080P...) and play this back on a big screen via the HDMI interface (or media dock) all the while controlled via the bridge remote on your BlackBerry (or other??) device.)

RIM is a great company and have a fantastic user base. Utilize this to its maximum potential, and make a reason (other than security features..) for users to switch over.

Anyway, I digress.

Have a great weekend everyone.

Newf

So many good and clear headed ideas from former employees. . .working at RIM really must be a great learning experience! I wonder if re-employment is a option. . .wink wink. . .

If he left in 2006 then there's a mass of change at RIM he's missed. Not least being the dozen corporate acquisitions made since that time.

Given the browser has been completely replaced by the Torch browser, not sure much of that is relevant anymore either.

Interesting historical perspective though.

Agreed wholeheartedly until the line about getting new 16-19 year old users.
That is what eroded BB's reputation I feel... It's the 21-25 year olds they should be aiming at.

I would argue that 15-25 in terms of phone choice is basically one demographic nowadays with iphone and android around.

MAN, THAT'S VERY WELL SAID. AN INTERESTING INTERVIEW.. BB10 MUST DELIVER THE GOODS, IF NOT AT LEAST TO MAKE A DENT AGAINST COMPETITIONS..

I love how he points out that EVERYONE in the Philippines sings.

It's true, EVERY Filipino loves to sing. We all have a Magic-Mic or some karaoke machine at parties :)

True. The use of the word "EVERYONE" is not an overstatement. We even have dedicated channels that serve as Karaoke substitutes when you're at home. ;)

I also believe BBM has the potential to become its own social network but in a different aspect a true mobile social networking connected thru apps, chat, video, etc. I like the ability to send music, pics, contacts thru bbm so effortlessly.

Good read. If BB10 offers a nice device with a stable OS, I will for sure do my part to educate those around me about the BlackBerry solution. Here's hoping!

Great article!
Hope RIM is reading this. Thor? Are you there?
Get more interns, have info flow both ways, and LISTEN for good ideas.
RIM before EGO.
Thanks.

Anyone with internal knowledge and no axe to grind will always give a great insight.
It keeps coming back to BBM. RIM acknowledged the power of BBM when they announced that apps that became BBM Connected quickly went viral in App World, it was an early indicator of how powerful the old trusty service still is.
I think if RIM had OS6 or OS7 devices with front facing cameras BBM would have video call added to it a while ago. The cries for Skype would have been less, and the defections slower. Who knows Skype would have been forced to release an app for BlackBerry as the hardware would have been there with a direct competitor on board.

Totally agree about former employees with no axe to grind. It made for really interesting reading, even if his knowledge was dated.

Maybe Crackberry should seek out some former RIM employees for more articles like this. And I would be curious to hear an inside perspective on Apple/Google too.

Great post.CB! I really never thought of BBm at the level he is thinking of of it.

If BBM were more robust,playbook compatible, cross platform, included PTT and video conferencing features....we wont need Skpe :)

Great post. Thank you to those former and/or current employees for providing a little bit of insight to the company's culture and history. Very interesting.

"It also needs to attack the 16-19 year old market and get them to be loyal BBM users with high switching costs."

Interesting point and one I have felt strong about for a while.

Rim saw that in order to keep developers developing and have any hope at staying competitive in the App ecosystem that they needed to get into the tablet market. However, there is still a critical piece they need to look into, and I hope they jump all over it soon with BB Jam.

Still, there really is no competition for the iPod. Any and every tween/teen wants and iPod, and long before they are even at the age demographic to be looking at phones or tablets are already hooked on the Apple ecosystem.

RIM really needs to get this First Device out there, to get the next generation using the ecosystem before they are hooked on the competition. With BB 10 and os standardization between devices so close, there is no better time to introduce this device.

Agreed.

I don't think that anyone (myself included) is really passionate about marketing a serious business phone to a 16 year old. But the reality is that this cohort has a huge impact in in a few short years.

I guess that is the logic behind creating so many phones, so that they could target key demographics, even if they took it too far.

Well, I bought a Blackberry Playbook out of sheer loyalty, gave my Torch 9800 to my daughter and refurbished my Bold 9000 and use it as my dog-walk phone.

My iPhone can prove more useful and the Android Galaxys just knock your eyes out with their dazzling displays and fast speed. IMO just put something under the hood that makes her roar and stick with QWERTY format. My 2 cents.

That was a good read. This is corporate and big heads are hard to reach out to and should be, according to the chain of command. The last answer was the solution to all RIMs problems and should be taken into consideration.

LOL he said BB sucked and the browser sucks and that everyone who say BB/RIM rules is just being a fan boy ...I knew that, good to hear from the inside RIP RIM

As a former Blackberry purist who recently jumped to the iPhone, I have but one question - why the hell didn't anybody fix the browser?

"Oh man, browser.."

"The browsing sucks on a BB because RIM transcodes the websites to make it appear better on the display, but during that process a lot of stuff gets lost."

UH HUH

I have been waiting for the all the fanboys to come on here and post how wrong this individual is and that everything is fine and dandy with RIM. Come on, where are you? :)

In all seriousness, its nice to see someone finally speak truthfully about RIM, both the positive and negative, points about the company. Perhaps if more people had done this earlier and louder and been more persistant in their criticisms, RIM wouldn't be where they currently are in the mobile market.

Bullocks!

Hiding behind the internet anyone can come up with a fairy tail...

RIM is not and has never been in trouble, its your teenage child evolving into an adult - nothing could have been done to avoid the rough teenage years... It's what will be looked upon as a character developing period in its brief history!

He hit the nail on the head when he said he wants to play the drawing game with his gf and that's why he's getting an Android. Lack of apps is the Achille's heel of RIM. No matter how awesome BB10 will be if they have no apps they won't amount to much. Feel sorry for them as I really want to go back to BB when BB10 comes out. It is hard getting the devs to write for BB10 when you don't have a large consumer base. Same goes for companies like banks, restaurants. Etc....They have to encourage the devs to create spps by charging on App World, but that discourages the consumer ; on the other hand, they can't offer free apps to the handful of consumers and expect devs to back them up on this. It all goes back to the bad choices Jim and Mike made since 2008 when the iPhone apps started coming out and people started going nuts for apps.

I agree they need to target the teens because that way you get them hooked then when they become adults they go with what they grew up with. I also agree with this guy, he gives good insight on everything. He may have been gone for years but still he makes some great suggestions (along with Newf) and ideas.