A friend and former employee of mine was accepted as a Code for America Fellow for 2013. If you’re not familiar with it, Code for America is a non-profit organization that links up skilled technologists—developers, researchers, designers and product managers—with cities that need to have their technology updated. Fellows are elected for a year, and they are paid a “living wage” during that time.
Code for America teams have worked on automating jail operations, coordinating fire hydrant shoveling after snow storms, finding local unemployment resources and tons of other services that cities provide. By automating these tasks, cities can more efficiently provide services to their residents; moreover, a lot of the code can be shared, which means that even more cities are helped. All in all, Code for America does great things with a limited amount of resources.
But my friend had to leave his job at a high-tech startup in Silicon Valley to accept the Fellowship. Like most startups, it operates within very tight financial constraints and could not guarantee him a job when his Fellowship year was over. I thought that that was a shame: a skilled engineer doing this type of work will return with more skills, more experience and more contacts, and thus should be even more valuable to the organization.
I reached out to Lanham Napier and Lew Moorman, the CEO and President of Rackspace, respectively, to get their support. They were extremely enthusiastic and pointed me towards Henry Sauer, the Vice President of Human Resources. With the assistance of Henry and his team, we put together a policy that would encourage Rackers (Rackspace employees) to apply for Fellowships and not penalize them for doing so.
On June 27, we shared our plans with the entire company. Rackers who have been employed at least a year and who have a good performance review are encouraged to apply for Code for America Fellowships. If they are accepted (and this is by no means certain—the Code for America Fellowships are highly competitive), they can take the year off to work for Code for America and will be guaranteed a job of similar pay and responsibility upon their return. Moreover, they will not lose any time vested in our company 401K or employee stock purchase plan. In effect, there will be a hiatus, but no net loss of privilege.
In addition to Code for America, there are other service programs of a shorter duration that will have the same rules applied to them, and we’ll announce those internally in the coming weeks.
Personally, I think that any employees who are accepted for a Code for America Fellowship will return stronger, more skilled and more valuable than when they left.
To my fellow Rackers, I’d like to say: Go do something great; Rackspace has your back.