Today, 3/2/2010, is a monumental day.  On this day exactly ten years ago, I did one of the scariest things I had ever done.  Ten years ago today, I began working for a small start-up that (at the time) was called “Rackspace.com”.

The events that lead to my fateful decision…

By early 2000, I had been working as a contractor at Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) for about 3 years.  It was a comfortable job.  I had a lot of friends, was well liked by the people whom I worked with and for, but there was one problem.  SwRI liked me so much that they wanted to hire me on as a full time employee.  The owner of the company that I worked for, however, was a bit of a jerk.  He didn’t want to let me go, even though SwRI was willing to pay him cash to buy out my contract.  Instead, he decided to give me a “promotion” and make me the manager of all of his techs based out of SwRI.  When I asked him what additional compensation I could expect for this “promotion”, he did something that sealed my fate with his company.  He chuckled, turned to me and said “I think you are making enough for your age.”

As soon as my meeting with him was over, I went straight to my computer and posted my resume to Monster.com.  I must have had some help from above, because within 30 minutes my phone rang.  On the other end of the line was a recruiter.  He started telling me about a local company called “Rackspace.com” that was looking to hire someone with my skills.  I asked him to go ahead and setup an interview.

The interview process

I have often said that if I were to apply for a job at Rackspace today, I would never get hired.  The interview process is now a day long event where you are interviewed by many, many people.  That wasn’t so in February of 2000.  When I went in for my interview, I sat down with three people.  Heather Barko, the customer service manager; David Bryce, the Director of Customer Support; and Chris Blumentritt, one of the Linux/Unix technicians.  The first portion of the interview lasted all of about 15 minutes.  Chris looked at my resume and asked me a handful of questions.  Once I answered them, he declared that I “looked good to him”, and he left.  The rest of that interview consisted of Heather and David asking me some customer service questions.

The second interview immediately followed the first.  The second interview was done by Dirk Elmendorf, one of Rackspace’s founders.  He walked into the interview room barefoot and asked me a couple of Sun Solaris questions, which I answered.  It was when I saw him that I knew that this company was different.  This company was WAY more relaxed then any company I had ever worked with.

The next day I received an offer letter from Rackspace.  After thinking about it for a couple of days, I accepted it and turned in my resignation to NetForce.  I was ecstatic!  Not only was I getting a new job at a company that seemed really cool to work for, but I was getting “Dot Com” benefits!  My new job at Rackspace was going to include stock options (this WAS the dot-com era after all), and not only FREE catered lunch every day but also all the free drinks and snacks I could ever want!  I couldn’t wait to start!

The First Day

My first day at Rackspace (3/2/2000) was a Tuesday.  I remember this day well.  I arrived at the office (6th floor of The Weston Centre) around 8:30AM and sat in the Rackspace lobby for about an hour before someone showed up who actually knew who I was and could help me out starting my first day.  The first hour or so was spent filling out paperwork.  The next two hours were spent watching the infamous “Dirk” video.  I don’t remember much about the video itself, except that a) I already knew all of the stuff that was discussed in the video, b) I couldn’t wait for the video to end, and c) for quite a while it was required first day material for all Rackspace.com employees.

Once the Dirk video was over, I was taken into the support area to meet my co-workers.  My next task was to build my workstation from scratch.  I was told to pull parts from the server build area, and put my machine together.  That part was easy.  The hard part was the fact that the network card that I grabbed was broken.  I spent a good part of the afternoon troubleshooting it, not wanting to admit defeat since it was my first day.

Once my machine was up an running, I received training from my team lead.  My training consisted of him writing down the URL of the ticketing system on a Post-It, handing it to me and saying “start closing tickets.”  Just for reference, the current (as of 2010) onboarding process for new Rackspace employees consists of a week long orientation class called “Rookie-O” where they teach the new individuals about the company, as well as the basics of all of our internal tools and systems.  The new techs in my department also go through another month long training session within our department learning how to respond to tickets, etc.  I got a Post-It.

3/3/2000 and Beyond…

A lot has happened in the 10 years that have passed since then.  Here is a list of some of the major events that have happened:

  • The “dot-com” bubble burst, delaying our IPO by 8 years.
  • Rackspace stopped serving us free lunches daily.  🙁
  • The company has grown from 67 employees on my first day to over 3,000 today.
  • What was once a small company which occupied one floor of the Weston Centre (office space and data center space combined) is now a multi-national company with data centers in Texas, Virginia, London and Hong Kong and offices in Texas, Virginia, London, and The Netherlands.
  • I have moved my desk countless times.  In all seriousness, I wouldn’t be surprised if the number was greater then 50.
  • I have moved from the Weston Centre to the Broadway Bank building (which was across the street), back to the Weston Centre, over to the second floor of the Datapoint bulding, down to the first floor of the Datapoint building, then across town to the “Mervyn’s” building of the Castle!  And that doesn’t include all of the desk moves while I was in each of those locations!
  • I fulfilled my dream of traveling outside of North America by visiting Dublin, London (once for pleasure, once for work), and the Czech Republic.
  • Although I have been a support tech for my entire 10 years, the departments that I’ve been in have changed as the company has evolved.  These have included “Complex”, “Team F”, “Red Label”, “Intensive” and “Rackspace Enterprise Services”.
  • Although I was initially hired as Rackspace’s only Sun Solaris tech (I was the only Sun tech for about 5 years), I have not touched a Solaris server in the last 2-3 years.
  • I have won the “Fanatical Jacket” award (Rackspace highest award for customer service) twice.
  • I divorced in 2001, and remarried in 2007.
  • I went from having one child when I started, to two children when I married, to four children in 2009.
  • I went through one of the hardest things I have ever been through when I buried my twin boys in June of 2009.  (They each only lived for a few hours after birth.)  I couldn’t have gotten through this difficult time had it not been for the support of Rackspace and my co-workers.
  • After going my entire life firm in the belief that I could never see myself getting a tattoo, I ended up getting a tattoo to commemorate the twins.
  • I have made countless friends through work, and now know people spread across not only the country but the world.

All in all, it’s been a good ride.  This is the longest job I have ever held, and to put it in perspective, I have now worked for Rackspace nearly a third of my life.  Many of the 66 people who came before me have moved on (I think there are about 20 people who still work here that have been here longer then me), but still here I remain.  It’s an odd feeling when I am sitting in a meeting room with everyone in my department and I think about the fact that not a single person in that room has been here as long as I have.  Kind of like when I went to the Rackspace UK office and realized that I pre-dated not only everyone in that office, but also the entire existence of Rackspace UK.  At times I wonder if it’s time for a change.  But then I realize that if I made a change, it would only be for the sake making a change.  I love what I do, and I thank God every day that I get to do what I love and get paid for it.  That’s when I realize that even after 10 years, I am happy right where I am.

J