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8/31/2006
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Web-Hosting Vendor Pays Students To Train At Boot Camp

Rackspace Technical Boot Camp is designed to help the company fill a skills gap for staff with Web services skills. Applicants will be paid $12 per hour to attend the 10-week program, and the best will get jobs at Rackspace.

It's not uncommon for companies to pay for training of their employees. However, that's usually after the workers have been hired.

But next month, managed-hosting services firm Rackspace will launch a new 10-week program that pays individuals to attend intensive boot camp training, even though there's no guarantee of them ever working for Rackspace. The new Rackspace Technical Boot Camp kicks off on Sept. 18 with a class of 30 "carefully screened" individuals who will be taught technology and troubleshooting skills needed to support the vendor's customers, says Staci Marshall, Rackspace training manager..

It's a little difficult to find technology staff in San Antonio for the web-services niche that Rackspace is in, says Marshall. "We'd like to do these boot camps a couple times a year," she says.

Rackspace is paying the students $12 hour to attend the boot camp. Those who successfully complete the program could later apply for jobs as entry level support technicians with the company. Starting pay for those full-time positions is about $30,000 a year, says Henry Sauer, dean of Rackspace University, the company's training organization.

"There's no guarantee of a job, but there is an opportunity to interview for a job as a level-one technician," Sauer says. The company chose the 30 inaugural boot camp students from a pool of more than 100 applicants.

So, while a job with Rackspace isn't a sure-bet, the company is hoping to hire 80% to 90% of those boot camp students, who were selected because of their apparent commitment to customer service, strong work ethic, and quick-learning abilities, Marshall says.

The first class of boot camp students have a range of backgrounds, including young college students from nearby University of Texas, San Antonio, to middle-aged, career-changers, Marshall says.

Many candidates do have some technical-related experience, including individuals who worked in the insurance and medical fields.

Twenty-four-year-old Nathan Guerrero is one of those students. The former medical instrument technician says he's got customer service experience that he hopes to match up with new technology skills he'll learn at the boot camp. "I'm computer savvy, I think this will be a smooth transition for me," he says. Guerrero learned about the Rackspace boot camp from a relative who works for the company and talks enthusiastically about the company's customer-centric corporate culture, he says.

"This is a great deal," says Guerrero, who hopes to land a job at Rackspace and feels confident that he'll learn more about IT in general from the program.

The boot camp will provide students with lessons ranging from more general technology topics, like operating systems basics, network essentials and TCP/IP, Linux file sharing, Windows clustering, and Rackspace-specific issues like the company's customer service business processes.

At the end of each week, students are tested. Students who fail one week are given one more week to demonstrate they understand the lessons, says Marshall. After two failures, they're dropped from the program.

The privately-held company was launched in 1998 and generated revenue of $140 million last year. Its employee headcount and revenue have also been growing at about 50% annually, says a company spokeswoman.

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