major.io words of wisdom from a systems engineer

Getting a Technical Job at Rackspace

You’ve probably noticed that the blog has slowed down a bit recently. Part of the slowdown is due to an uptick in work required to get OpenStack Nova and its related software up and running at Rackspace for Cloud Servers and another part of it is a severe case of writer’s block. I threw out some questions on Twitter about the topics people would like to see covered in some new posts and a commonly requested topic was employment at Rackspace.

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First things first, getting a job at Rackspace isn’t easy. We don’t intentionally make the process difficult. It’s just that the work we do is unique and demanding.

We work in a fast-paced, extremely dynamic team-centric environment. While some people in the company work in extremely small teams or sometimes all by themselves, that’s pretty few and far between. We look for people who can survive and flourish in this atmosphere and we look for people who can do it all while working as a team. Even with all of this hustle and bustle, we still remember why we’re doing it: the pursuit of Fanatical Support for our customers.

Another thing to keep in mind is that there’s no true secret for making it through the application process. There’s no magic combination of skills or “silver bullet” that will scoot you through. Every candidate is reviewed individually for each position. There have been several times at the end of an interview where we’ve gotten together and said: “Wow, this candidate is solid, but they’re just not right for this position. Let’s find the right spot and see if there’s a spot open.” We look for the right candidate for the right position at the right time.

One of the best ways to get ahead in the screening or interview process is to do a little homework about Rackspace and the products we offer. Much of this is covered in a post I wrote in 2011. You’ll go into the interviews with more confidence and it will be much more obvious that you’re really interested in the position.

Don’t be discouraged if the process takes a little longer than you expected. When I was hired in 2006, I went through two phone pre-screens and then three back-to-back interviews in person. Things have changed a little since then and I’ve heard of some candidates receiving two to three pre-screens via telephone and then one or two interviews in person. The additional screening and interviews may be due to Rackers trying to find the right fit for a particular applicant. As I said previously, we look for the right fit for each applicant. We may consider you for a different position than you applied for if we feel like your skill set or personality fits that role better.

A very common question is what to wear to a Rackspace interview. It’s confusing to know exactly what’s expected since we have Rackers in the building wearing everything from suits to flip-flops. This is where you really have to go with your gut. Interviewing for a customer-facing sales position while wearing a hoodie and shorts is probably going to bring a suboptimal result. Keep in mind that there’s really nothing negative about overdressing (but keep your tuxedo in the closet, seriously). I wore a shirt and tie for my interviews in 2006 but my tie got caught in the car door and was shredded. After a lot of cursing, I took off the tie and decided to wing it with my dress shirt. Nobody ever said a word about it.

Remember to be flexible during the interviews. You might be asked to draw a solution on a whiteboard or think through a really complicated situation. Roll with it and keep your confidence up. When you don’t know something, admit it, but then talk about how you’d research an answer.

There’s one last thing to keep in mind and it’s really critical. If you’re ever asked about how you would solve a problem or how you solved a problem in the past, don’t divulge any information which is confidential or proprietary to your current company. Just tell the interviewers that you’ve solved the solution in the past but you’ll need to keep things vague to maintain confidentiality. We will definitely understand and we will encourage you to maintain that confidentiality.

Leave your comments if you have any! I’ll be glad to answer any questions you have.