In early January of this year, I participated in one of the most amazing professional orientations I have ever experienced. With these sorts of events the word “experienced” usually has to be replaced with “been subjected to” – but not in this case. In fact, if more people were aware of what Rackspace does, what its mission is and the means by which it actually accomplishes this, the technical world would be beating down the doors of the company to get in. If I had known earlier, I would have joined much, much sooner.
Before I go further, though, I should provide some context for you, so you can weigh my support appropriately.
I have a technical background: I started writing code as a kid in 1981; took college math and science in high school; was a Physics major (Math minor); was a programmer and systems administrator during the first Internet boom; and have been an active participant and contributor in various open source communities since the mid 1990s. I have been most active in Python and Twisted.
For those who know me, I’m an enthusiastic supporter for that which exceeds my expectations – this goes for anything from food to software language libraries. You also know that I am not a “ra-ra” sort of person. If I think something is a pile of BS, you will definitely find out from me in no uncertain terms. I abhor lies, emotional manipulation, and the like. If something’s good, you’re also going to hear about it. And you’ll also hear why.
Rackspace’s orientation – called “Rookie O” internally – comprises a week of departmental presentations, Rackspace history, information, games and activities (the latter two designed to break up the monotony and foster a better learning process). I went into the training expecting the worst, one eyebrow raised cynically for the first few sessions. After several hours, I started to reassess. By the end of the first day, I was completely won over. Lawrence “SugarBear!” Reyes – Rackspace’s ambassador of culture and Rookie O leader – is a first-class showman who loves what he does and clearly loves the company. Most importantly, he was 100 percent genuine with us. It became quite clear that he was there to share his appreciation and his first-hand experiences. He truly believes in Rackspace, its culture, its contributions to the community and its people. As such, he eventually had us all yelling “More Cowbell!” for our Racker fever.
To contrast: one thing I have noticed in other companies is that the culture surrounding founders often becomes a clique – a core group to which the rest of the company doesn’t have access. Rackspace has been around since 1998, so there’s nearly 15 years of experiences, in-jokes and a legacy of decisions and evolution. Rookie O brings all of us into the inner circle. I’ve never seen a company capable of propagating that to new employees over any period of time, much less a span of four days.
The sessions at Rookie O involved the founders, C-level execs, VPs, directors and others. They came and talked to us, shared their histories and dreams and what they found magical about Rackspace. All of the presenters stayed after their sessions so that we new recruits could have direct, one-on-one conversations and more fully absorb what they were passionate about.
Many of the sessions had activities interspersed. Many of them were competition-oriented, targeted towards achievers in the class, or those who were highly extroverted in nature. It was quite interesting to see how this “imbalance” found a natural equilibrium in the group (each group resided at a specific numbered table). For example, those who were competitive ended up checking their desire to be first, working with others at their table who had conflicting motivations and interests. In each group, there was some level of introspection taking place where the class members actively sought how to achieve better harmony in their tables. I overheard comments like “wow, I really need to tone down my urge to win” and “I need to come out of my shell a little more.”
The important – and possibly hidden – point here is that the teams at Rookie O represented a microcosm of the wider (and very diverse) Rackspace workforce. The work done in “the small” reflected the values and history of the work done in “the large:” team members went out of their way to better support each other, often having to overcome their own strongest tendencies. To me, this was living proof that the goals of Rookie O were actually having the desired effect. The culture was taking shape organically and with kindness at each table.
I didn’t enjoy every part of Rookie O; it’s probably impossible to pull off something like this that is perfectly suited to everyone. However, without question all of my interactions with the people there – both the participants and the company leaders – were very good. Getting to know the folks at my table over the course of the week was a fantastic experience. Being exposed to the history and the living, breathing culture of Rackspace in the heart of the Castle (Rackspace’s San Antonio headquarters) was essential. Through the special alchemy of Rookie O, Rackspace has figured out a way to instill its values, culture and 15 years of lessons learned in the attendees of the orientation class. This appeared to me to be nothing short of miraculous.
This is what I and so many of my peers have been searching for in a technical company: a place with heart, room to grow and a vast frontier in front of us. The key thing, though, is the heart. That’s the support for everything else, and it’s something that often ends up riding in the back of the bus on a trip to nowhere. Rackspace has the heart driving the bus. This is not a conscious technical criteria for so many of us when seeking employment, but it is the reason that we grow so dissatisfied at other companies and why Rackspace has been such a surprise for me.
Rackspace is famous for Fanatical Support, and the infrastructure that has been put in place to make that scalable is the very launch pad for our next steps. We’re building some amazing products, software and supporting libraries – a dream for innovators and world changers. The dreams made here have a proven track record of coming to fruition within a culture that fosters excellence for the customers and our employees.
I was hired at Rackspace more than a month before I went to Rookie O, and it felt like one of the best moves in a long time. After Rookie O, I can say without a doubt I am convinced that Fanatical Support is the way to go. Furthermore, I will seek to embody each of the company’s core values and be a contributing member of this family.
In short: I am a Racker, and proud of it! 🙂