Use Two PDAs to Keep Work and Personal Stuff Separated

Have you ever sent an email or an IM to the wrong person? Have you ever sent the wrong attachment? I’m not the first person to think about and write about this problem online, but let me tell you one of my strategies that can help contain the scope of the damage: Do everything you can to keep your personal life and your work life separate.

I’ve had a Blackberry provided to me by my job on and off for several years. (Moving around in the company, I lost and regained the privilege/burden.) At some point, I decided I liked the Blackberry so much, I went to T-Mobile and got my own personal Blackberry that is not connected to my work. Why didn’t I simply use my company Blackberry for personal activity, when this is more or less allowed by policy due to the fact that it doesn’t incur any additional cost? The reason is that I like to keep a sort of personal firewall between work and personal data. I’m not comfortable using a company-owned device to access personal, private data like my email, contacts, and other web-based applications. I absolutely don’t want anything leaking from one side of the firewall into the other. Imagine this scenario:

  1. I have an  incriminating photo of my cat doing something silly, stored on my company PDA.
  2. I later capture a photo of notes on a whiteboard in a meeting and then attempted to email that to all the participants.
  3. In the meeting email, I make an off-by-one error and attach the cat photo instead of the whiteboard photo.

Now this may be merely funny, but imagine if the wrong attachment wasn’t a cat photo but instead something I really would never share with work contacts? Keeping things fenced off in different PDAs doesn’t solve all permutations of this problem, of course, but it does take care of some of the worst cases.

I should also point out that this strategy doesn’t need to end with PDAs. Using separate hardware, or virtual machines, you can keep your desktop files fenced off too, and you should do that too. Just this morning, I sent this email:

From: Brendan
To: Kevin
Subject: Re: Vzaccess for Brendan all set

Thanks Kevin,

In case anyone’s interetsed, this if you’re using Linux (unsupported by Verizon) to connect via the Blackberry, use Berry4All < http://www.kuro5hin.org/prime-intellect/mopiall.html >. This might work in OS X as well. According to the Verizon download site, they don’t seem to offer support for connecting to Verizon wireless access from anything but Windows.

What the heck is “prime-intellect/mopiall.html”? It’s the URL for a novel. I was using my work virtual machine on my personal laptop last week to grab and convert the book for my Blackberry before I left for vacation. The URL for Berry4All didn’t make it onto the clipboard, and I didn’t catch this mistake before I sent it. Oops! Maybe if I need to be running Windows apps on my Linux laptop for non-work activity, I really should create a separate non-work Windows virtual machine.

Inevitably, data will spill across your work/personal firewall’s border. The best policy is to have your alternate environments ready to go before you need it, and in the moment, take a step back and think before you perform an action in the “wrong” environment. How risky is it? Did you double check file names, person names, attachments, etc.? Don’t do a lot of work outside the office unless you have additional computing environments.

If you only have a personal PDA and your company wants you available on the run, make it clear really need them to provide a separate PDA for that. Likewise, if you only have a work PDA, don’t use it to play around on Myspace; pay the cash to get your own, or go without it! If you have to work at home, ask for a separate company-owned computer or setup a virtual machine on your own computer. Don’t let your work files mingle with your porn pictures of your cats.

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