Leaving Rackspace

21 Years, 6 months and 22 days

A great man once said:

“Everyone has a last day at Rackspace.”

—Lanham Napier

….and today is mine.

Beginnings

I began my journey at Rackspace on March 2, 2000 and MY GOD what a journey it’s been! I was 24 years old. Just a kid, really, but I was already raising my own kid. Christopher, my first born, was 6 years old at the time. Rackspace had been looking to offer Sun Microsystems servers running Solaris, and that was where I came in. For years after I was hired, I was the only person in support that was capable of fully supporting Solaris. There was a guy named Steven Bird who had architected the install system for Rackspace, but he was a developer and not in support. One of my first “outside the box” tasks was being responsible for scripting and writing up instructions for the setup of the Solaris Volume Manager with software RAID, as the use of Sun hardware RAID controllers was cost prohibitive. (This was my first experience using Perl.) A couple of years in, once we had multiple data centers, I was even sent off to our data center in Dulles, VA to teach the Data Center Operations team how to do the Sun stuff.

The early days were exciting times! It was just before the dot com bubble burst. When we were hired, we were showered with free snacks and sodas and free daily meals. Of course, that all had to change once the bubble burst. But for a period of time, it was awesome! I have fond memories of the early days of Rackspace. I was one of the first three “Lead Techs” that Rackspace had, and we were each assigned a set of customers for whom we were responsible. We were on-call for those customers 24x7x365. (It wasn’t a sustainable model, and luckily didn’t last too long before it was modified to utilize 2nd and 3rd shift support.) There were a few days where I would greet the 3rd shift guys on their way out the door, and they would greet me at the start of their next shifts!

Always Be Learning

I still remember one of my very first escalations. Being the only Support Racker with knowledge of Solaris, I was given all of the accounts that had Sun servers. One of those accounts was for a website setup by two guys named James Hong and Jim Young in California that suddenly went viral in October of 2000: “Am I Hot or Not”. Within a week of launching the site, it was reaching almost two million pages per day, and they were having trouble with scaling and performance issues. That was my first experience with pulling an “all nighter” at Rackspace.

That evening while I was on the phone with James Hong and Jim Young in California, I remember one of them asking if I’d eaten dinner yet. I replied that I hadn’t, but that it was OK because I wanted to try and get their system stabilized first. I told them that if push came to shove I’d just run down the street and grab something to bring back. (I lied. I was in our data center on the 6th floor of The Weston Centre in downtown San Antonio. Outside of M-F 8-5 that part of the city was a ghost town.)

Fast forward to about 45 minutes later, I look up when I hear one of the security guards calling my name from the entrance to the office space. Turns out that James and Jim had taken it upon themselves to order me a pizza and have it delivered to me so that I could have a bite to eat. That act was truly impactful. It taught me that if I take care of my customers, my customers will take care of me. If I give my customers (either internal or external customers) my all, and I truly mean my all, then they will notice that and it will positively impact our relationship. Sure, there have been times when I have given my all, but the outcome wasn’t what the customer wanted or expected. However, even if the outcome wasn’t what was desired the customer will remember your efforts.

I think that the events of that night were what truly gave me an understanding of what “Fanatical Support” was, and why it was important. It helped to shape the next twenty years of my life, and as a result I’m proud to say that I was the recipient of the Fanatical Jacket Award (the highest award given at Rackspace) twice during my tenure.

I know….I digress. I could seriously write a book about my time at Rackspace, but that’s been done before. (See The Rack We Built by Lorenzo Gomez or Billion or Bust!: Growing a Tech Company in Texas by Lanham Napier for two awesome examples by two fantastic Rackers that I’m proud to call friends.)

High-level highlights of the last twenty years

I don’t want to make this post too long, so I’m just going to list some high-level highlights from my last twenty years. I may or may not expound on them in future posts.

  • Watching the company go from about 50 employees all located in San Antonio, TX to over 7,000 employees around the world.
  • Being responsible for owning the support relationship for too many great companies to name. Some of them are:
    • Sony Music Entertainment (including hosting Michael Jackson’s website when his death was announced, as well as the site of one of my personal favorite performers, Harry Connick Jr.)
    • Sony Playstation
    • Electronic Arts
    • TOMS Shoes
    • US Auto Parts (home to probably every major auto parts store you’ve ever used online, like JC Whitney)
    • Rackspace.com (supporting the marketing web team, which became my full-time job in 2014)
    • Columbia House
  • Travelling to Europe
  • Meeting and marrying my beautiful wife, Laura
  • The addition of my daughter, Andi, and my son, Rylan, to the family
  • The birth of my beautiful granddaughter, Lizzie
  • Obtaining my Associates degree from San Antonio College through a program sponsored by Rackspace

Once a Racker, Always a Racker

As it’s been said by many over the years, “Once a Racker, Always a Racker”. I will always consider myself a Racker. Even though the direction of the company has changed in recent years, and by most accounts “Fanatical Support” is now dead, I will remain proud of what we accomplished over the last two decades. It has left an indelible mark on me, and shaped me into the person that I am.