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[Table] IamA former BlackBerry employee, from the trenches to middle management. AMAA!

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Date: 2013-12-05
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Questions Answers
Do you think that BlackBerry will ever be a number three contender? Number three? Possibly. I think it would need a few things to happen but the main thing is a shift in the market towards either security, or functionality. Being number 3? I don't think anytime soon but if they're able to pull things together, I think they could do it. It depends on far too many factors that I'm just not experienced enough in to say.
Also, why do you despise apple so much? About why I despise apple so much? I can't get into their workflow. I've owned iMacs, MacBooks, iPods, iPads, and a couple of iPhones. No matter how long I stick with it, I end up getting terribly frustrated on how Apple insists I do things and I end up selling whatever it is Apple I have. Whether it be in their OS, how you have a context frame per application and everything works through not the open window, but through what your context is, or just the devices themselves.
Therefore people who realize it's an illusion of cool will be subconsciously turned off by it, because contrary to claims, its nothing special. Normally this kind of fad doesn't last long, but apple will do well as long as users maintain this self induced high.
I prefer some element of customization. Until I jailbreak the iPhone, I can't handle being forced to use it a certain way and maybe it's just my mentality of open-ness but I really don't like how they do things. Well, I did. But then some of the main things I prefer about the phone simply aren't as good on the Android no matter what I did with it. I still have a couple since they're great phones, but I'm finding myself sticking to the Z30 as my main device lately.
Switch to android, i was doing all this nonsense on an iPhone when i realised how easy it was to do out of the box on android , i dropped the iPhone. I'll see what other custom roms come out in the future and I'm always willing to give it a go then.
So I hope you and your fellow co workers live out your work lives shoving shit. Because that's the only thing you guys can actually do. Eloquent. I'll let you represent yourself on this one.
How did you guys screw up such a sure thing? Lots of small decisions that lead to bigger things. Taking too long to turn stuff around, and arrogance of some people that insisted that things happen in a certain way.
I would argue that it was a "sure thing" though. The market is constantly changing and you have to keep up with it. BlackBerry simply didn't at the time.
Would you say that having all messages going through blackberry servers was ultimately what limited growth of the company? Better yet, mesh network the devices together, add a security layer, and you have a battlefield communications net. Link to I don't think the NOC was what limited the growth of the company. I think it was a few factors but I don't think the data path was part of that. It was the user experience. When you look at older BlackBerry phones... Compare the 9900 (which was arguably the best BlackBerry running 7.1 software) vs the iPhone or Androids out at the time... The competition has almost every aspect of what people wanted done better. To answer your question - no. I don't think the data path held the company back from growth.
was it simply that anyone could potentially copy it? Put on a keyboard, a display good enough to do a short message, and some protocol that can move text. BANG! Cheap knockoff blackberry. The only advantage that BlackBerry had was the keyboard and security, but then companies started to offer Bring-your-own-device policies and then suddenly BlackBerry was losing marketshare.
I work for a Canadian company that just took away my Blackberry and replaced it with the Good for Enterprise App. I want my old blackberry back! I can't say I blame you! What are you using now that has Good on it? Did you know that Good was actually created by a bunch of ex-BlackBerry employees or so the rumor goes?
I'm using it on a Nexus 5. Its a decent app I guess just takes so long to sync and its such a pain when it gets locked out. Didn't know that's who developed it, shame Blackberry had to let go of so much talent. Totally agreed. I wish that there was more talent kept, but ultimately they need to do what they need to survive. The Nexus 5 is a good device though. I know what you mean about the long syncing time... Native is usually the way to go.
What do you think of the new Blackberry CEO John Chen? Well, he's been nothing but awesome so far from what I can tell. He's very much a straight-shooter, very transparent and seems to be more about making things happen.
We had the opportunity to have a company town-hall where people asked him some pretty brutal questions, and he was incredibly direct. Not that Thorsten wasn't, but IMO, there was a lot of corporate dodging. John doesn't seem to do that, and I liked that.
Really sad to see a company like it go down the drain. When did Blackberry start to know "there is no coming back"? I can't speak on behalf of the company here, but I know for me it was around March or April when the Q10 was coming out, and we had piles of Z10s all over the place. The media certainly didn't help put us into a good light with stories being made up to make it look even worse. That said, I don't think it's beyond hope. Maybe I'm too optimistic? I think going back to the roots of what made them successful in the first place is what's really necessary here.
How's the new job search going? Great - thanks. I've got something lined up and I'm pretty pleased about it.
I just bought a Z10 with a coupon ($200 off). How screwed am I for the next, say, year or 2? I would say you're pretty safe for the most part.
Apple has this thing where you have to get the latest and greatest thing every 6 months or so. If you get a year out of your phone, you're doing well.
BlackBerry is a little different, where there's a lot more devices to choose from. I think Thorsten mentioned that they're aiming for 4 devices every year. I don't know if this is still the case or not currently however.
Backwards compatiblity was a big thing though, so I would say you should be just fine for the next couple of years, or until you have a surplus of cash just begging to spent on the next latest/greatest device.
Thanks. I've had BB before but after the shitstorm I have been away. I hope my experience is good enough. Yeah, it's a whole different situation now. The part that people keep forgetting is that BlackBerry absolutely must be at its best. If it's not, it'll fail, period.
This means that you're going to see the best of best devices from BlackBerry coming out. The Z30 is a good example, but I suspect it'll only get better as long as they can wait out the storm. (Moderate pun intended)
How many colleagues (or yourself) prefer the Android or iOs platform? Does everyone in your company genuinely prefer Blackberry over other platforms? Are you allowed to own non-blackberry phones for your personal use outside of working hours, or are you required by employment contract to only use Blackberry? That's a hard question to answer. Generally speaking, most of the employees that I saw had their BlackBerry as the primary work device which doubled as their personal. Some more tech-oriented people would use Android, and very few had iPhone unless they were heavily into the Apple world anyway. (Video editing/Photo editing, and the like)
Myself, I've had all of the major ones except Windows phone. I personally can't stand Apple. I have a soft spot in my heart for Android and have a few Androids kicking around. My Z30 is still my primary device though and I find myself using the Androids less and less.
You're definitely allowed to own non-BlackBerry devices for personal use. The only time it was really shunned is when you're in front of customers for any reason. Unofficial company policy is that you use BlackBerry in all cases there, which makes sense.
There was no requirement though to use only BlackBerry however. It would actually make more sense for people to be using lots of devices, BlackBerry and competition otherwise. I think it's better to know what the competition is doing well so you can know where you fall behind.
Did you have a moment when you thought "Wow, we've blown it, and there's no coming back", or have you tried to maintain an optimistic viewpoint? It depends on the day for me. There were times when a news article would come out, quarterly reports, or whatever the news is at the time and my heart would just sink. I did my best to remain optimistic though. Despite some of the shortcomings of Thorsten (more about the crew he chose IMO) I think he generally did a good job. There's a lot that happened internally which involved getting decisions made more quickly, getting processes streamlined and such that helped BlackBerry turn out a bunch of great products in a short time. (Z10, Q10, Q5, Z30 and BlackBerry 10 will only be 1 year old in January)
Despite being out of the company now, I really like what John Chen has been saying and actually doing so far. I'm more optimistic now than I was when I was still working for them, but it's hard when you have to answer to all of your friends and family who can be BlackBerry haters and constantly poking in your direction. "Saw the stock dropped again. When is BlackBerry just going to kick the bucket?" -- Said by my own uncle at a family gathering.
That's hard sometimes.
As someone working in the tech field in Canada, it would be devastating to lose BlackBerry. Without BlackBerry we would simply be just another dirty resource exporting country and bleeding intellect to greener pastures south of the boarder. Also, I'm really enjoying the 1 free premium app per day for December. Do you know who is footing the bill for this promotion? I can only assume that our Marketing is footing the bill, but I couldn't honestly say. I know some developers will offer a paid-to-free app in exchange for promotion (Allows them to advertise their other products) but I don't know.
I've always wondered this and maybe you could answer; why Alicia Keys as a Creative Director? Was it just for publicity? Well, that's a good question. Most of the folks at BlackBerry I think weren't entirely sure either... or that's the impression I got. I hear she did some work to get people using the Z10 in artistic circles, trying to get it out in the public. She could have been pretty critical for deploying the device but honestly I couldn't tell you.
I have a suspicion that her contract is up in January of next year though, so there is that.
When you worked at Blackberry, did you "eat your own dogfood"? If not, why not? And, what about your spouse/partner? What do you mean? Like did we use our own products?
Yep. Well then yes. My spouse wasn't into cell phones and the like at all, but when we got together, being the tech-type, I gave her one of my old Androids. She liked it, but then I was able to get her a Z10 and she absolutely loves it.
For myself, I have a few devices including the Google Nexus 5, HTC One, Z10, Z30 and a bunch of older BlackBerry's. My main is actually the Z30 after much switching back and forth. I still use the HTC for games occasionally but the main phone is the Z30.
Hello! In your opinion what is the best phone out there? Well, that's subjective. If you're looking for the largest screen for media consumption, then the Note 2 might be what you want. If you want the best typing experience, it could be a toss up between the BlackBerry keyboard (Physical) or even the virtual keyboard. Swiftkey is really good though, and so is Fleksy.
What I'm getting at though is that there is no 'best' phone for everyone. My favorites right now are the Galaxy S4, HTC One, Z30 and the Xperia series has always caught my eye. I really like the Nexus 5 though, so it's a tough call. I'd say it depends on what you want it for.
The S4 is a little to expensive for me. I was thinking about BQ Aquaris. BQ is relatively unknown but i have one of their tablets and its really great for its price. I haven't heard of it, but after looking it up, it seems to be a pretty slick device. I'm not a fan of the 1gb of ram, and 1.2ghz processor, but the expandable SD Card memory is nice.
I love my Z10. In fact, I think the Blackberry10 user experience is better than iOS and Android. I think the marketing was all wrong. I didn't see one commercial showing why different/better is okay. In fact, I didn't see one commercial with someone even holding a blackberry 10 phone. I would have invested more in the "fun education" of people through those commercials, and plastered them everywhere. 30 seconds is enough time to showcase 2 major features. A lot of the really awesome features that kept the phone separated from the competition was left out of the commercials so I would have brought those to the table as well. (Android sideloading is one example, True multitasking is another.) Finally, I wouldn't have stopped advertising what's new. I'd do the Apple marketing ploy where instead of comparing it to what's out there, I'd compare it to what the old BlackBerry's were. The brand is/was damaged, so I'd want people to know that this isn't the same BlackBerry that people still seem to think it is.
My question: what would you have done differently marketing wise? Marketing wise?
Thank you for doing this. I look forward to using a Z30 in the future. Would you ever apply to work at BB again if you could? I think so. There's a lot of things that the company did really well for some of its employees, and it was honestly a very enjoyable place to work right up until the end. I might have had a biased experience, but compared to other places I've worked, it definitely had some perks.
I miss our Ice-cream Fridays though. (Every Friday during the summer, they would provide us with Ice Cream of various types. This got cut from every Friday in the summer, to 3 or 4 times in the summer, to not at all)
We're all going to Olive Garden, what'll you have? Olive Garden is excellent!
Their breadsticks are killer... So I'll start with the salad, breadsticks. Then, probably something fish-like. Maybe the grilled salmon?
Your best advice to someone looking to start work from the trenches? What can they do to get, you know, promoted? Work smart. Be positive/enthusiastic. Be assertive, stand up for yourself but don't be a jerk about it.
And sexual favors. Those always help.
Was there still Playbook development at the time of you leaving? Nope - Sadly I was one of the many who wanted to see BB10 on the PlayBook. There was some major concerns about the 1gb of ram on the devices. It's not that BB10 couldn't get running, it's just that there was a lot of investment needed for the differing screen resolution, and getting everything running on 1gb of ram... While it could be done was very unlikely. It would need a LOT of time and manpower to pull it off, and it would be a poor experience compared to the production Z10's which had more ram, faster processor, and so on.
It still only has 1gb of ram, but has a faster processor. (Upgraded to the 1.5ghz processor) Yeah, nuking the runtime would make it feasible without much work, but it'd be useless for many. The number of natives is simply too low for it to be a useful move. :/ The developers once told me though that there's so much Cascades integration between all of those elements that the entire back end would have basically needed to be rebuilt. Not being a programmer, I only understood some of their words, but it wouldn't be an easy task regardless.
Aye, even if only portions of BB10 were to be backported to PBOS, the experience would increase immensely. I personally was pushing for the Browser, Keyboard and BBM/Hub. If even the PlayBook could have supported JUST those aspects of BB10, the PlayBook might have had a fighting chance.
Can you give any insight to BB10's obsolescence cycle? How long do you estimate before next year's gimmick breaks this years specs? Good question. I think it comes down to what the market is looking for initially, but then you have to think that BlackBerry is also in a new ballgame too when talking about the current market. The PlayBook only somewhat recently has stopped being supported AFAIK. This means based on the current cycle, you should expect to get about 2-3 years out of your current hardware.
That said, when new versions of software come out, the plan from what I've seen is to keep it as backwards compatible as possible (Excluding the PlayBook) but of course, this could change. This is all speculation but I couldn't entirely say. If I guessed, I'd say that the Z10 will have support probably until early 2015, but this isn't based on any tangible information I've come across. It very well may be supported even longer.
What were the general thoughts and feelings within the company regarding the promotion of Heins as CEO a few years ago? How has that changed since the less than stellar launch of the new BB OS? Well, Heinz did a lot good internally surrounding processes, getting things moving more quickly, putting accountability on the people that needed to make decisions to get things done.
The less than stellar launch I mostly hold Marketing as the blunder there.
Thanks for your response. I had high hopes for the company after hearing of Heins' promotion and reading his first interview with zcrackberry. No problem. My hopes for the future is that Chen will identify the execution failures, continue to move the company to profitability and then fix what's broken. He seems to be doing that so far but only hindsight will let us know after it's all said and done.
Knowing what you know about the company, would you ever invest in the stock now or if it became much cheaper? This is a good question. I'm not very stock savvy, otherwise I would have invested in Bitcoins.
That said, I think I might invest if I had some spare cash kicking around, but only after the company stabilizes more. John Chen just came in, he's doing a lot to make sure he's transparent but there's a lot of moving pieces I'm not sure about yet. I'd want to have a more solid foundation behind what's happening before proceeding with anything... So regardless of price, I'd want to see the company returning to profitability or at least show how it plans to.
Since blackberry and windows phone are fighting for the third spot, my question to you is, what do you think of the Windows Phone? (windows phone 8) compared to bb10, ios7, Android I've honestly had a whole 5 minutes with a Windows Phone... So it really wouldn't be fair for me to try and even pretend I know what I'm talking about. The only thing I can say is I know Windows Phone has the same lack of applications that we do, but I couldn't say which parts are betteworse.
I would love to get my hands on one for a few weeks for testing though!
If you were CEO, what would be your next step for BlackBerry? Next step? When I left, I liked the direction that was being taken, so I think I would push that more.
Get the company back to profitability and earn the trust of the shareholders that we're doing the right things.
FIX MARKETING. (Fix the Brand. People need to know this isn't the same BlackBerry that they're thinking of when people say the name)
I'm not a CEO without all the business degrees, but that's the general overall strategy I'd try and start with.
Do you think that if Blackberry revamps the whole device including the OS, what platform would be best? Funny enough, that's what BB10 was, was a complete revamp of the devices and the OS.
The OS is still in its adolescence right now. It's a very hard comparison to make when you consider that the iOS and Android OS's have been around for 7 or 8 years. (Or longer)
And best is subjective, like I mentioned before. Hard to say.
Do you know if blackberry has or will bring out (hope it can be answered) a rugged phone? full keyboard, military spec case? A otterbox only goes so far sadly for being rugged. I remember years ago, Sprint requested a very rugged Curve, and we made one for them. I know I prefer Otterbox as well, but like you said it only goes so far.
About Military spec... I would love to see how they would do that. You should be able to submerge it in water, run over it with a tank and drop it from the ISS and it survives.
I don't know that there are any plans, but I know the carriers have a lot of pull when it comes to what they want. (Verizon wanted the Z30 to have a wireless charging battery, so they got one)
Did you come from Keane? Sorry, No I didn't.
Do you think the Z30 should have debuted first instead of the Z10? Nope. The 5" screen market isn't as large as the general touchscreen market. Also, 10.2 is excellent for the Z30. The Q10 I think should have launched at the same time as the Z10. (Or the Q10 first)
Do you have a large collection of rubik's cubes? Huh? No. I think I solved one once by taking the stickers off. Why do you ask?
I don't have a question. I just hope Blackberry survives. I really do like my Q10 for what I use it for (lots of emailing/texting for work), and I'm glad the company hasn't abandoned physical keyboards, as a (small) percentage of us really prefer them. Thanks. Me too... I have no ill will towards the company. It gave me lots of experiences and such, but more than anything I love where the company was headed with the new updates. I'm really excited to see what they come up with in the future. I don't think it'll go anywhere, but it'll just be more like the smaller company it was back in 2005-2007 when it was starting to really peak.
Who thought of the blackberry storm. I don't know the individual project team that thought it up, but MANY people weren't happy with it internally... and we were forced to release it before it was ready.
The Storm 2 should have been the Z10, but we couldn't have known then either.
I paid my Z10 ~170$, and for this money, it's an awesome phone. The mistake Blackberry made IMO was to price his phone way too expensive at first. Thanks. This was a huge sentiment of many internal folks as well, especially when the Z30 came out. More powerful devices for almost 1/2 the price... We weren't too happy and thought it should have been almost $100 cheaper to start.
That said, someone higher up had done far more research and considered more things that myself and I'm sure there was a reason it was priced the way it did, even if I didn't agree.
When Blackberry finally goes tits up, what is going to happen to all of the Blackberry users who rely on BB systems to run their devices? Assuming you're correct that BlackBerry goes bankrupt and they shut down the NOC, there's a few things.
1 - Older BlackBerry devices (Java-based OS) would become basically useless. They mostly require BlackBerry Internet Service to function which means providing service books to tell the device where to look for email, internet, social media, provisioning of services, and such.
2 - BlackBerry Enterprise Servers (running 5.0.x and earlier) would also become mostly useless. They could still poll the mail servers for new mail, but they maintain a SRP connection to the NOC which means they would have no connectivity to the internet for secured communications to the devices.
2a - BlackBerry Enterprise Servers (running 6.2 and above) would be less impacted but their ability to activate devices in some cases would be completely stopped. They take a different path for data so secure traffic would stop, but there are still other possible ways to get the devices to communicate. Stuff that was working before would somewhat continue working but generally bad things would happen and data would stop flowing for a lot of users. (Anyone not on WiFi generally but there are exceptions to this)
3 - PlayBooks would be largely unaffected, except any BES 10 or BDS 6.2 or earlier servers wouldn't have connectivity. They might still get email depending on how the admin set up the environment. Also the BlackBerry World store, music store and video store would stop working.
4 - BB10 devices would be more impacted. BBM would stop working. Anything on the work partition/corporate side would mostly stop functioning unless the admin had VPN profiles configured and pushed out to the devices in advance. Email would likely still work, but that depends on a few different things. Adding new email accounts would all have to be done manually because there's a discovery service that keeps server settings so the phones don't need to have a local database of that information. BlackBerry world would stop working, so you'd have to sideload any and all applications. Any services that were specific to the NOC (Secure communications between servers and devices, BBM, BlackBerry World, and related) would simply stop.
5 - Carriers would have a sort of crisis situation on their hands; There are servers that are running and monitoring the connection between the carriers and the NOC as well. As soon as the bandwidth stopped, the carriers would be wondering why all data just stopped flowing and alarms would be ringing all over the place.
I can't see that happening though... Not that BlackBerry could cease to exist, but that the NOC gets shut down. There would be other companies that would be happy to buy the NOC to keep the services running, contractual agreements with governments, and that sort of thing.
Thank you for the excellent answers. No problem.
Last updated: 2013-12-10 13:38 UTC
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