I’m supremely confident in my skill and ability and I’m more or less considered pretty bright. However, I got served a very hard career lesson a few years ago when I took a job at Rackspace. Rackspace is a great company and a great place for most people to work. This isn’t a critique of them as an organization specifically. They have a great culture with the only draw back that most people complain about is the pay scale. Rackspace is a service provider which means the margins are typically not very high so they face the challenge of attracting and retaining top talent. The take away from the experience is that I learned the most about my leadership style and ability in my short 3 months working for them than anywhere else.
Their interview process is extremely thorough. If I remember correctly, I went through at least 5 interviews to get a job as Manager of Network Operations for their Chicago facility which was just getting turned up. They drilled me on Spannng Tree, BGP, iBGP and a ton of technical networking material. This should have raised a red flag for a management position but I didn’t pick up on it. I met with their Chief Engineer and my Manager a couple of times and with the key staff that I would be managing. I was impressed with the talent of the Chief Engineer and my staff was top notch.
The culture if very Silicon Valley like. You get to wear jeans, tee shirts and shorts. Plus you get to play with Nurf guns during your working hours. None of this really appeals to me but it speaks to the laid back environment Their work hours are very Silicon Valley like as well. A couple of the engineers I managed worked ungodly hours in Chicago for Austin, TX pay scales. As a point of reference, I felt I was underpaid by about $20-$25K a year. So, I knew they were severely underpaid for their levels in the Chicago region of the country.
I knew the salary issue coming in the door. I was excited to work with a leader in hosting and service. But, I underestimated how big of a difference in culture the company was from most places I worked. The biggest shift was in management style.
I failed to realize that there was a severe missmatch in what they were looking for in a manager vs. what I provided as a leader. They were looking for someone who could take a detail level approach to managing staff. If I was giving a task, I was expected to manage the task to completion and not delegate and just provide basic direction. I’m just not skilled in providing this type of leadership and even through all of the interviews I misread what they were looking for and they miss-interpreted my leadership style.
It was a hard few months I worked for the company. I enjoyed the challenge of the work but just couldn’t adjust my management style to someone who QA’d work versus someone who sets direction and removes road blocks. I developed a very tough skin as I was pulled into more performance related conversations than I ever experienced. I’d always been a top performer. The job prior to Rackspace the CEO of the firm told me, “You brought us out of the stone age.” So, it was pretty humbling not to succeed at the role and I basically refused to quite because I don’t like failure. It made for a very uncomfortable position which again was another great learning opportunity. From healthy conflict comes growth.
“From healthy conflict comes growth”
I also learned more about in what types of roles I add the most value. I’m a thought leader that has the ability to apply technology to business challenges, inspire others and develop consensus amongst a diverse group. I bring change where change is sought. You want someone who will ensure the correct knobs are turned and the switches were set in the right position that’s really not me. It was a difficult experience but I’m grateful for the additional tool in my belt.
I’ve learned to ask valuable questions and pay attention to red flags in communications during interviews. Hope this post saves you from having to learn it the way I did.