Archive for the ‘Work’ Category.

I’m free!!

I quit my job at RIM just over a week ago. After two and a half years there, the days were starting to feel like I was pushing water uphill with a rake, so to speak. Nothing specific to RIM or the group I was in; the people were smart, the work challenging, the compensation good. It’s just the “nature of the beast” with a big company.

In case it’s not obvious, I much prefer startups. I’ve already done the “early employee at a startup” thing, and met with some success, so now I’m looking for the next level; to be at the founder/co-founder level. I don’t have anything concrete lined up yet, but I have been considering several opportunities over the past couple months. Unfortunately nothing exceptional stands out so far, so I’m just going to be patient.

In the meantime I’m keeping busy with some day-trading, brainstorming/prototyping ideas, catching up on piles of Toronto Life magazines, and getting used to a bit of the domestic life. Basically an unemployed bum, mooching off the ol’ spouse :).

One Year Later

It’s been roughly a year since the RIM acquisition, so I thought I’d give a little post-mortem.

I successfully avoided working for big companies up until last year, until I wasn’t really given a choice. The avoidance wasn’t due to do a bad firsthand experience, just a combination of what I’d heard and how I pictured it would be. Well I’m sorry to say, firsthand experience wasn’t able to disprove the theory.

In no particular order, the top 3 things I don’t enjoy about working for RIM:

  1. Middle management. I’ve found the stereotype very true, at least for many of the groups I deal with at RIM. Maybe not as bad as David Brent, but still very noticeably lacking. It’s compounded by the fact that RIM has very hands-on, very technical executives on the software side. So instead of middle management functioning as leaders of their autonomous units, they really just act as more of a time-delayed, lossy proxy. The corollary to this is this weird culture of fear and worship of the execs. The trumping argument often goes something like, “Well, MikeL/DavidY said so, therefore that’s the way it has to be.”
  2. Specialization. I get the theory, specialization leads to higher overall productivity, but what they don’t tell you is that it’s hella boring. RIM bought SlipStream for its compression technology, so that makes all of us compression experts only. Any knowledge and experience that we bring to the table in other areas has just about zero value. Of course switching specialties is always an option, but that doesn’t address the underlying issue.
  3. Bureaucracy. I understand, when the company is so big, there needs to be meetings and paperwork to co-ordinate between groups so that everyone is on the same page. I don’t know if it’s like this at other large companies, but I find it’s quite excessive in some cases at RIM. For example, the overriding factor for some technical decisions is whether or not say, the Legal or the IT department need to be engaged in the process. These are two groups that have gotten the reputation at RIM (deserved or not) of extending timelines by weeks to months.

To be fair, it’s not all bad, the things I DO like include:

  1. Benefits and perks. There’s the free BlackBerry of course. Plus the full health/dental, group RRSP, subsidized gym membership, etc.
  2. Compensation. The salary and options packages are very competitive, especially considering the low cost of living in the K-W area.
  3. Better work-life balance. Long work hours are not expected, vacations never have to be cancelled (as did happen once at SlipStream). If you’re not available, they can always find another way.

These are all "nice to have" things, but truthfully they have very little importance to me at this point in my life. I have no dependents, no mortgage to pay, and Bonnie works 12 hours shifts, so long hours aren’t such a big deal. My goal is still that by the time these things do become important (in say 5-8 years), I won’t actually need to work any more. I can dream, right? :)

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. 😛

Randoms

Long time no update. Let’s see, what’s new?

  • Last weekend we went to the Interior Design Show at the CNE. Overall it probably wasn’t worth the price of admission, but we did get a few good ideas for our new loft. The one I like the best is the concept of a “dressing room”; here’s an example picture:

    Example Dressing Room

    They say it’s an ideal conversion for a large walk-in closet or a spare room. Unfortunately we have neither. I was hoping we could convert the area taken up by the existing closets, but after looking at our floorplan again, I don’t think there’s enough room. If we gave up the terrace and enlarged the master bedroom there’d be plenty of space (we’d probably never use the terrace anyway), but exterior modifications aren’t allowed. Sigh, so much for that.

  • In truth I probably got more excited over the peripheral food-related things at the design show. One booth that was hawking floor tiles was luring people in with free samples of parmigiano reggiano. They had a whole wheel of the stuff, the ones that sell at Pusateri’s for a few thousand dollars each. There was also a stand selling fresh lemonade; half a smashed lemon (with its juice) in a cup, and the rest filled with sugar water. It looked good, but it was merely tolerable.

  • Continue reading ‘Randoms’ »

Random Update

I’m in an ADD kind of mood, so here’s a matching entry.

Site
I got sick of moderating comment spam so I upgraded to WordPress 1.5 yesterday and chose a new theme. The latter part was way more difficult than it should have been; since getting this 20″ Dell 2005FPW widescreen LCD last month, most webpages are now huge portions of whitespace (i.e. a couple of centered, fixed width columns perfect for an 800×600 resolution, then huge columns of whitespace on either side). Out of the 50 or so available themes I could find, maybe 5 of them are actually variable width, automatically adjusting to the size of the browser window. Out of those 5, only one of them didn’t look like ass.

Work
We gave our first full-time offer to a female developer last week. We’re now also taking bets on which of us will be the first to be sent to sensitivity training.

Car
I swear my car and I must be cursed or something:

  • Last weekend Bonnie and I were changing the tires on my car back to the all-seasons. Apparently one of the rear ones picked up a screw sometime last year, and I didn’t notice when swapping to the winter tires last November. Just like last time, it’s in a place that’s unrepairable. What are the chances, really?
  • A star-shaped, stone chip crack in my windshield also appeared all of a sudden. Apparently some insurance companies will completely waive the deductable on the ~$50 repair because it’s so much cheaper than the replacement option. Not my insurance company. Sigh.
  • My brakes have started squealing, though it’s a very high-pitched squeal. The next scheduled maintenance isn’t for another 6,000KMs or so, but I guess I should take it in anyway.
  • Apparently the natural resonant frequency for my front bumper matches that of my engine when it idles around 750RPM. Needless to say, there’s a lot of vibration once the car has warmed up and I’m waiting at a stop light. It’s apparently a known issue, complete with a technical service bulletin. I guess I’ll get that fixed along with the brakes.

Money Stuff

  • The University of Waterloo is expected to open a downtown Kitchener health sciences campus, consisting primarily of a School of Pharmacy in September 2007. It will be located at King and Victoria, which is coincidentally just down the street from where we’re living right now. Go one stop light south of the proposed campus and you’ll find the abandoned Kaufman Footwear factory, which is being converted into The Kaufman Lofts. Why is this of interest? Check out the expected demographic for the Pharmacy undergrads at the new school. 85% expected from outside of the Region of Waterloo, 75% female, 90% single, 65% over the age of 23. This is practically a landlord’s wet dream: 1) Mostly out of towners that require housing. 2) Single, meaning they are more likely to rent rather than plant roots and purchase housing in the area. 3) Long term leases (the duration of their undergrad program – 4 years?). 4) Females in their mid-to-late-20’s are not likely to seriously trash the place.
  • Since the beginning of March, stock markets have lost roughly 10% of their value. This has the nice effect of weeding people out such that prices drop low enough that they just give up and sell their positions at a huge loss because they think everything is going straight to zero. In the industry they call this “capitulation”, and it is also the best time to buy. People who are not usually wrong are predicting that this will happen in the next week or two, after a further non-trivial drop. Hopefully you’ve “kept some powder dry” to take advantage.
  • My sister bought me subscriptions to RealMoney and Minyanville as belated Christmas presents. The people that write for these sites tend to be more correct than the general media because there is no conflict of interest (you pay the subscription fee to read what they’re really thinking, rather than what someone has paid them to say). The value is not so much any specific recommendations that they make, but rather skimming through the articles to get a general feel for their sentiments at any given time. Hey, if you don’t have the time to do the work yourself, why not stand on the shoulders of giants? :)

Continue reading ‘Random Update’ »