Former RIM Employee Interview

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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

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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