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Leveling Up Developers At Rackspace

The typical conference is a chance to swap business cards with strangers, check your email in crowded rooms and get to know the inside of your hotel minibar.

Great conferences are rare and powerful things. They bring you meaningful personal interactions with people who share your passions and pursue shared goals. You leave energized, ready to rock and roll.

The energy and passion were palpable at the internal developer conference Rackspace recently hosted at its San Antonio headquarters. The goal was to bring some of its most promising developers together to share ideas, best practices and collaborate on cutting edge projects. But the more than 300 Rackspace developers that participated made it something more. They brought out the best in each other.

Rackspace is a people company. We sell the services of really smart, hardworking people. Have you heard of our award-winning Fanatical Support? Well our business is solving difficult problems for customers, the ones that they need the most help with. In 15 years of operations, we have had to adapt and expand the expertise of our teams as our customers face increasingly complex problems. Today’s IT problems aren’t solved by simply turning it off and on again.

The Rackspace Developer Conference, dubbed “Rax.io,” is an opportunity for the brilliant technical minds inside our company to engage, educate and empower each other to continue solving really tough problems for customers. Sure, we could have brought in outside experts, paid for consultants in expensive suits to lecture us at lush off-sites, or pushed our people to pursue pricey technical certifications. We could have done it the same way lots of big tech companies do it, with a series of top-down directives and “incentives” that target desired behaviors. But when you’re a people company, you trust your people to do the right thing and find the best ways to share information and ideas with each other.

That’s why we build Rax.io each year from the ground up with a collaborative design process that involves employees across engineering disciplines. We solicit presentations from across the company and invite Rackers to vote on what they most want to learn about. This year’s topics included how the Open Compute Project shapes the future of computing hardware, process-based virtualization with ZeroVM, high availability with OpenStack and others.

Planning is important, but the ability to rapidly respond to new needs is too. That’s why Rax.io runs an “unconference” and uses some of the organizing tenants of OST community events. Participants can propose breakout sessions, vote on what they want to involve themselves with and join small groups to get more deeply involved in specific issues. We tried an unconference for the first time this year and Rackers loved the opportunity to roll up their sleeves and dive deep into interesting topics such as using open source QE tools, building bridges between product development and support and technical recruiting.

A hackathon crowned the three-day conference and gave developers an opportunity to put some of their new ideas into practice.

It was anything but a typical conference. Our hope is that events such as this will help our people help each other, that they will empower Rackers to deepen our expertise and strengthen our specialization to better serve ever-evolving customer needs.

About the Author

This is a post written and contributed by Lucy Mendel.

Lucy Mendel is a community leader at Rackspace, San Francisco, where she provides technical growth opportunities and runs the summer internship and mentoring program. When she's not helping Rackers connect, she's hacking the planet.


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