The content of this blog is my personal opinion only. Although I am an employee - currently of Nvidia, in the past of other companies such as Iagination Technologies, MIPS, Intellectual Ventures, Intel, AMD, Motorola, and Gould - I reveal this only so that the reader may account for any possible bias I may have towards my employer's products. The statements I make here in no way represent my employer's position, nor am I authorized to speak on behalf of my employer. In fact, this posting may not even represent my personal opinion, since occasionally I play devil's advocate.

See http://docs.google.com/View?id=dcxddbtr_23cg5thdfj for photo credits.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Push Cell Phones should be a Tool, not a Status Symbol

For the last umpteen years, my reviews have contained paragraphs of the form "Andy misses too many meetings and annoys important people". This *has* been career limiting.

I've long had this problem, but I had it solved for a few years via a technical crutch: I had our calendaring software send me a message, a page, just before the meetings. I find it hard to ignore the beeping, buzzing, or vibrating of a pager or cell phone.

A pager or a cell phone works for me, whereas I have a demonstrated ability to ignore whatever notifications Microsoft Outlook throws at me on my laptop. My laptop sound is nearly always muted; my cell phone may be on vibrate, but at least I still notice it. My laptop does not have vibrate. I carry my cell phone everywhere; I do not carry my laptop everywhere.

Why does this no longer work?

Because of IT, and information security.

(I say frigging not as a pejorative, but as a term of endearment: because I work in computer security, I understand the motivation, although I do not necessarily like the consequence.)

IT does not want company email or calendar pushed to devices that the company doesn't own. Potential security holes: the very meeting titles may give away Top Secret information, while the meeting information may contain a phine bridge number and an access code, allowing somebody who came into possession of a lost device to listen in.

IT therefore wants such information to be kept only on company owned devices; or. at least, on devices where company IT can remotely cause all sensitive information to be erased if the device has been lost or stolen. LoJack for PDA phones.

So far, so good - this sounds reasonable.

But, budgets being what they are, the company will not pay for a secure push cell phone for all employees who want one. In particular, they won't pay for a secure push cell phone for me.

What if I'm willing to buy my own phone, and allow company IT the remote access they require for security? Budgets again: the company won't pay the fee for connecting me to the corporate network via BlackBerry or the like.

What if I am willing to pay for phone, *and* the service? Oh, no, we can't do that...

The net upshot is that only bigshots have push cell phones with calendar and email synchronization. The use of such a push cell phone has become a status symbol. People will ostentatiously poke at them during meetings.

I resent them their status symbol, because I am the sort of guy who needs to use something like a push device as a tool. But I am thwarted by IT at all points.

I know how to create my own tunnel through the corporate firewall, evading their restrictions. *I* don't do this, because as a security wonk I think it would be wrong, but I know people who have done so. (Fortunately, I know nobody doing this at the moment, and the folks who did this all moved on to companies with less annoying IT departments.)


Yes, I know the saying "It's a poor craftsman that blames his tools."

(1) Yes, I am a poor craftsman, when it comes to getting to meetings on time. As for my actual craft, computer architecture, I am one of the best in the world - and - it is my ability to concentrate on my work, ignoring all distractions, that results in me missing meetings.

(2) This saying is stupid. Jack G. Ganssle said it quite well, at Embedded.com 03/19/07:

It's a poor craftsman who blames his tools. That phrase sounds wise and profound. It's wrong.

Perhaps Noah could build an ark with nothing more than an adze. Few boatbuilders since have managed such a feat.


It's a demanding craftsman who blames his tools. And then he discards the bad ones, sharpens those that are dull, and adds additional tools where a need exists.