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BlackBerry Book Review: “Losing the Signal” nails it, “RIMcest” and all

BlackBerry
BlackBerry
The BlackBerry 5810, which was released in 2002.

Let me start by saying that of the many inside jokes, none continues to make me laugh and have legs like the phrase “RIMcest”.

It was funny during my tenure at RIM (as everyone called it when I joined and as my cards said until the bitter end) then Research In Motion and finally BlackBerry and referred to people that became couples while employed together. It was bound to happen. Lots of extremely talented young people working towards a common goal! Some of the unions were ahem, extremely short lived and many continue on today.

It continued to be funny and hold true post 2011 when many folks (myself included) either left the company or were laid off and went on to new companies and the connection points often led back to RIM. See: Desire2Learn as a prime example of a company that through former employees and friends started something anew, but there are hundreds.

A wise mentor at the time told me that despite the sadness of the company imploding and people going off to the four corners of the earth the network that we all had as being part of the run would be invaluable as the years went by in ways that we couldn’t yet understand. Boy was he right.

I joined RIM at the end of 1999, having had my fill of the insurance company I landed at upon graduation. I remember thinking, I have no idea if this is a good or bad move, but I know with certainty it will take months to hate this new firm as much as I despise the culture of the insurance industry rife with “lifers” who were so disgruntled and negative it became unpleasant to be around them. My parents flipped out. I left for less money and *gasp* no pension plan. What was I thinking? I should add that insurance was the family business and much of what my parents knew so this departure threw them for a loop. But undeterred off I went.

When I started at IBM many folks said “wow, you must be so relived that you aren’t there anymore!” and although I understood what they were trying to say, the reality is that I missed the company for all its troubles and shortcomings and truly wished that I could have seen a path forward and stayed on with an amazing group of colleagues.

I started on a Monday morning and spent the next two weeks in “training” which was a loose collection of very laid back peers coming to explain how things worked because nothing was written down or set in stone. At the conclusion I was led to a desk amongst the help desk filled with incredibly smart programmers who saw this as a way into the company. I was hired for sales and tentatively asked why they thought it important to seat me with the technical folks, and my handler laughed and said, “oh we forgot to tell you? You’re super smart, we decided to put you on the phone for technical support!” Um, what now? Putting footnotes into my essays while studying Eng Lit was exciting for me – I quit a solid pension-providing-job to take a risk for less money and now I was set up to be fired stat.

But I worked. Bought some MCSE books. Studied. Created a notebook with flags for all the problems I encountered and started by learning by rote but over time patterns emerged and I started to “get it” That was the start of the most wonderful journey where I grew as a person and employee. I worked incredibly hard and was rewarded with amazing mentors and opportunities that now in retrospect do I fully appreciate.

I share all this because I am sentimental after burning through “Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of BlackBerry”, the newest installment on the rise and fall of BlackBerry. I will say it is the most accurate portrayal of the way things were at the company and despite lots of financial chops, it doesn’t focus solely a-la-MBA-method on what was happening at the company and in the market. The authors invest time in the personalities and how things came to be – not just a one sided (often uninformed view of the world).

When I left in 2011 I said that I needed to because Rome was burning. It was a sad day. When I started at IBM many folks said “wow, you must be so relived that you aren’t there anymore!” and although I understood what they were trying to say, the reality is that I missed the company for all its troubles and shortcomings and truly wished that I could have seen a path forward and stayed on with an amazing group of colleagues.

Its nice to read an account that talks about the people, what they did and how they worked to take a company to the stratosphere. Its been too commonplace in recent years to be the butt jokes delivered by people that never aimed as high as many at RIM did every day. Armchair business quarter backs that never would have survived a week opine on how “stupid” everyone must have been to not see the writing on the walls. I’m proud and fortunate to have been part of the company. I hope that many people read this book and view the story as a human story of triumph and failure – but human always. The “RIMcest” I most appreciate now is to see the successes of many brilliant people that I had the great fortune to work alongside, and how they are collaborating, using their skills and networks and being excellent at new endeavors and changing their world. Kudos.

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