Archive for August 2006

RIM buys SlipStream

In case you haven’t heard yet (I wouldn’t be surprised since it’s been kept quiet), about a month ago RIM bought the company I work for. The deal closed on July 7th, but didn’t actually become public knowledge until July 11th. There was some spotty, mostly online coverage, no press releases. I’ve archived the articles for posterity: The Record, The Globe and Mail, IT Business.

Now as one of the first few SlipStream employees, you’re probably thinking I made out like a bandit. You’re not alone, in fact the company made such a big fuss[1] that one of my colleagues asked shortly after, “So, what’s it like to be Waterloo’s newest millionaire?”. Allow me to set the record straight; it’s definitely not like that. Not even close.

Some observations on the whole experience:

  • Money tends to bring out people’s true colours. It’s pretty surreal to be yelled at by your boss’ boss the same way a parent yells at a small child. Especially when yelling is the response you get when trying to clarify/rectify unfair treatment.
  • Ever tried putting a price on youth? Would you rather be in your mid-to-late forties with 12-million some odd dollars, or be 26 and have a tiny fraction of that? At one point, these two situations were implied to me to be roughly equivalent.
  • Someone should have briefed Mike L (co-CEO of RIM) before he came in to announce the acquisition. Picture this: all 60-something SlipStream employees are sitting in the lunch room, around 12 or so are full-time developers. The entourage from RIM walks in, and one of the first things Mike L says is something along the lines of, “Don’t worry we’re keeping the entire development team!” (Tumbleweeds roll by and the other 48 employees don’t look so happy for some reason…)
  • It’s weird being in a meeting with an accountant or a lawyer and realizing part way through that it’s clear you know more than he/she does. I’m not picking on accountants and lawyers specifically; I think the same is true for any profession. It’s very hard to find people that are on the ball and good at what they do. There’s a lot of truth in the saying, “If you want something done right, do it yourself.” Or at the very least, try to understand the issue yourself; don’t just blindly rely on the “experts”.
  • Case and point: I cancelled my vacation to Mexico because it was scheduled for the same week that the RIM deal was closing. I’m glad I did because I caught a calculation error in the shareholder/optionholder payout spreadsheet, short-changing the optionholders by about 1.5%. The funny thing is I asked the two founders about the same issue a couple weeks before the deal, and they said I didn’t have to worry, that I should just leave it to the “experts” to get the calculations right.
  • I think I’ve been spoiled by the “true” meritocracy of small companies. Moving to somewhere huge like RIM, I’m forced to deal with asinine decisions like, “You have 3 years of full-time experience; at this level your salary has a cap of $X, so we can only give you a 10% raise.” Meanwhile, some of my peers and subordinates are getting up to 20% raises because they have more years of experience. Skill and merit play a much smaller role at a large company, despite what anyone says. I’m definitely not looking to slowly climb the corporate ladder over 20+ years, so it’s hard to stay motivated in an environment like this.

[1] They had this ceremony to distribute the option payout cheques, calling each employee up one-by-one in alphabetical order for a photo-op with executive management. For complicated reasons I won’t get into here, the executive cheques, along with mine and those of two others (the “core technical team”) were being hand delivered later by the lawyer.

When others asked why the three of us were skipped (since it was supposed to be alphabetical), the response was that our cheques were coming later by special delivery because they were “too big”. I think all that did was stir up some undeserved resentment. I mean, if I’m going to be resented by my co-workers, it’d be nice if there was some substance to back it up. 😛