Matthew Miner

The Best Engineers… In Canada

I watched the BlackBerry movie. I’m a sucker for dramatizations about the tech industry, and this was a fun one.

I started university at Waterloo, Research In Motion’s headquarters, in 2006. This was near the peak of RIM’s success. Signs of its primacy were everywhere. Their numerous office buildings abutted campus, students spent co-op terms interning for them, construction workers broke ground on what would become the Mike and Ophelia Lazaridis Quantum-Nano Centre. I never worked there as many of my classmates did, but I owned a BlackBerry (a Curve, if I remember correctly), and I appreciated how much an upgrade it was from the crummy Samsung flip phone it replaced.1

By the time I graduated, RIM (since renamed BlackBerry) was a shadow of its former self. Its stock price had sunk 95% from its peak. Co-CEOs Mike and Jim resigned. The iPhone was on a tear and the keyboard-free Z10 — which actually looked decent! — was too little, too late. Even to diehard BlackBerry enthusiasts the future was dismal.

Seeing a tech juggernaut become irrelevant so quickly was eye opening. With the benefit of hindsight it’s easy to suggest ways they might have salvaged the company. What if they open-sourced the OS and became the Android to Apple’s iOS? What if they made their messaging platform BBM, which users loved, cross-platform to become the WhatsApp of today? But at the time it wasn’t obvious (to me at least) how vulnerable they truly were.

I think about BlackBerry when I consider the tech titans of today. Google looks unstoppable, but what if OpenAI or another upstart breaks its search monopoly? What about Meta? Once upon a time we waited eagerly for our university email address so that we could sign up for Facebook, now it’s the domain of conspiracy theorists and your weird uncle who fears that chemicals in the water turn frogs gay. What of Twitter? Does anybody know what’s going on over there?

It’s a volatile industry we’re in.

  1. Since I’m reminiscing about technology of days past, remember T9, the flip phone’s system for texting using a numeric keypad? Excruciating. I knew someone who swore they typed faster using T9 than a QWERTY keypad. I did not believe them.