A number of years ago when I was an engineering manager for Yahoo! News, I hired a young engineer over the objections of nearly everyone who looked at his resume.
Frankly, his resume sucked—it was very poorly written, and it didn’t do a great job of showing off his accomplishments. However, it showed that he had the skills we were looking for, so I did the usual phone interview. On the phone, he impressed me with both his technical depth as well as his passion for doing cool things. We had him in for interviews, and the reviews of that were mostly good, though some people still had concerns. I had already made the decision to hire him, however, no matter what the other folks thought.
It was one of those rare instances where my intuition, notoriously unreliable, was proven right. He ended up being a stellar performer on my team and grew to gain the respect of his peers.
Fast forward a few years, and we went our separate ways; I went to work for Rackspace and he joined a large media company and then a small startup in San Mateo. In 2012, I got an email from him; he was telling me that he had applied for a Fellowship from Code for America) (CfA), and he wanted to list me as a reference. It was an organization that I hadn’t heard of before, but I agreed.
Over the next few months, I received a number of calls from people on the Code for America fellowship selection committee, and, towards the end of that year he was selected as one of 28 Fellows out of a highly-competitive group of more than 500 applicants.
When I congratulated him, I asked if he would be returning to the startup. I’m not sure, he told me; the startup couldn’t guarantee him a job on his return. This is not altogether surprising, since most startups have very limited financial constraints. However, it stuck in my craw, and I wondered if we could do better.
A few weeks ago, I wrote an email to Lanham Napier and Lew Moorman, CEO and President of Rackspace, introducing Code for America and proposing a plan to let Rackspace employees apply for a Fellowship without penalty. They put me in touch with Henry Sauer, our VP of Human Resources, and, after a few weeks’ work, we announced a plan where employees who applied for and were accepted for a Code for America fellowship could spend their year in service, knowing that they had a job upon their return and that there would be no loss of vesting in our 401K plan or participation in various other tenure-based programs such as the employee stock purchase plan (ESPP).
I’m very gratified to work for an employer like Rackspace that not only encourages service but also supports it in such a manner.