Localized Challenges

Solving your own little world’s problems

Since the hi-tech industry is a far cry from zero-sum, each success story heats up the competition for talent. Salaries and perks have all been leveled to the point where the previously novel have become the standard. Struggling to stand out from the growing crowd, companies have come to stress on how you’ll work on challenging problems.

“Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to come with me and change the world?” – Steve Jobs to then Pepsi Executive John Sculley

This is hardly a new technique for headhunters but, within tech circles, it refers more to the technical stack rather than the underlying product or service the company has to offer.

“We use Hadoop, Hive and Pig for analytics but are looking into Cassandra as well” – Your favorite social network for pets

There comes a tipping point where the opportunity to use interesting technology to solve challenging technical problems outweigh the otherwise dull initiative of the company. For those who take the plunge, they craft elegant solutions, ones that deserve more than the problems they solve.

We can’t keep ignoring the impact (or lackthereof) of these ‘challenges’.

Visiting Rackspace HQ in San Antonio, TX

Last week I had the pleasure of visiting the headquarters of Rackspace, an innovative and leading cloud hosting provider to discuss some of their newer product offerings and iron out implementation details for a large client of Acquity Group. The agenda included a tour of their facilities by an early employee who goes by Sugar Bear. There’s a great story as to how he got his name but we’re already straying off-course…


Rackspace 1300

Based out of Texas, the company welcomes the Cowboy persona to the workplace. I don’t mean Cowboy in the sense that there is little to no preparation with everyone shooting from the hip. By keeping the organization very flat, a large pool of decision makers are hands-on and aren’t afraid to dwelve into the technical details.

The company also prides itself in providing the best customer service, a trait not too far from the state’s Southern Hospitality

The work area also has flags hanging from above the range from various national flags to sports teams. The company also awards tenured Rackers with milestone flags (‘X Year Racker’). Having everybody (including the CEO) sit in an open area cube, there is a very egalitarian atmosphere and Executive Management seemed very open and easy to approach.

The Castle

Rackspace 1301

If you’re not familiar with Rackspace, their main headquarters used to be Mervyn’s Department Store. One of the employees had rented out his prom tux from a store that is currently a conference room.

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After Mervyn’s closed its doors, Rackspace purchased the property, split it into segments and began construction. Precaution was taken to minimize waste and donate any materials over to the community.

Rackspace 1303

Nicknamed “The Castle” by Rackers, their relocation to the HQ was tagged “Storm the Castle”. There are entertaining videos of the CEO, Lanham Napier, giving a pep rallies to his employees to get ready for the battle.

But what’s the point of a castle without breaking any world records, right?

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Environmentally Friendly

The Castle is LEED Gold Certified. If that doesn’t mean much to you, think energy efficient lights everywhere, greener building materials and toilets that have two settings to flush.

They also have a wicked cool fan – the “Big Ass Fan” Rackspace 1311 Rackspace 1312

Obligatory Slide

Because cool tech companies realize their employees miss their younger days. As in way younger days.

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Preserving the history

One of the newer areas of the castle has a dedicated area for a museum. How about that? 🙂

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Awesome T-Shirts

A lot of employees were wearing different Rackspace t-shirts and there was a nice display of the past t-shirt campaigns by the HR area. Their internal marketing team seems to have gotten the memo about avoiding terrible bland t-shirts.

Summing it up

The day I visited, the Company was hosting a celebration in their outdoor area (which looked like it used to be the loading dock for the mall) for ranking #74 on the ‘Forbes Best companes to work for’ list. There was a whiteboard congratulating the Rackers and somebody had scrawled on “We’re #1, no matter what”.

Their enthusiasm was contagious 🙂