John Engates talked to TechRepublic about his thoughts on the state of enterprise IT, the future of cloud computing, and his 14-year-career at Rackspace.
For John Engates, going to work for Rackspace in 2000 was an obvious choice. The company was headquartered in his hometown of San Antonio, Texas and gave him the opportunity to do what he loved — explore new technology.
After high school, Engates was convinced he wanted to pursue an engineering degree. But, after gravitating to the business school, he ended up with a degree in accounting from The University of Texas at San Antonio.
While it wasn't his original plan, it gave a chance to spend on things he loved, like computers and the internet. Since he was interested in the internet when he was in school, he took advantage of the internet-connect Unix machines in the campus computer labs. It was here that he learned how Unix, TCP/IP, and the internet worked.
After college, Engates did a brief stint as a support engineer before starting an ISP in 1995. The company began offering co-location services, and one of its big co-location customers was also one of the early investors in RackSpace. The customer kept prodding Engates and finally convinced him to join RackSpace.
The week that the company was planning to go public in August 2000 was his first week on the job, starting as the VP of operations, and while it wasn't a massive organization at the time, it was growing fast. According to Engates, Rackspace was one of the only companies at the time doing dedicated hosting, or what they later referred to as managed hosting.
Engates became CTO when he developed the Intensive Hosting division, which he co-managed with another colleague. When the cloud came along, his focus shifted to working on Rackspace's cloud offering. Now, he has taken on more of an evangelism role where he connects with the media and others in the market. After all the time, and all the changes, the company's core idea remains.
"I've been here for 14 years and, for that entire time, Rackspace has been pushing the idea of consuming IT as a service in somebody else's data center," Engates said. "That's been our business since day one."
Outsourcing has always been a source of tension in IT departments. The pride of CIOs for many years was being able to have their own data built and maintained by their own team. With the cloud, Engates believes the idea of outsourcing or letting someone else run your infrastructure has become okay.
Nowadays, IT isn't necessarily run by someone who identifies solely as a techie. Engates said that it can be run by a business-oriented person who has some real business goals in mind and who understands the role of IT.
"As companies have started to see IT as more of a strategic weapon, versus just a cost of doing business, then I think people started to think in a more sophisticated way about how to use that IT, and how to consume that IT, and how to build and maintain it," Engates said. "Where the technology was going to sit, physically, [matters] a whole lot less than the outcomes of that IT."
Rackspace was one of the founding members of the Openstack movement. Engates said that Rackspace helped with Openstack so that everyone could have access to the cloud. He believes that the cloud is pivotal to the future evolution of IT.
As the cloud advances, Engates is confident that we will see more cloud services and more automation — much of it driven by open source. The cloud, he said, powers innovation because it gives developers access to the tools they need and go full speed on new ideas.
Reflecting on his career, Engates said the support of the people around him set him up for success, like his parents who bought him his first computer or the "fanatical support" of his Rackspace colleagues.
In his own words...
What do you do to unplug?
"When I'm home, my unplugging just tends to be unwinding around the house with the kids. We like to build things. Our latest projects have been drone helicopters — the quad copters or hex copters that everybody is fascinated with. My kids and I have been building those, so I taught my kids how to solder, and how circuits work, and how to test electrical connections, and those kinds of things."
What music do you listen to?
"My time period of music would be, probably, the late 80s and early 90s when I was in school. I love the Beastie Boys, I love the Chili Peppers. I would probably throw in a little bit of everything, though. There's Metallica on there, there's Johnny Cash on there, there's a band that I used to follow called the Dead Milkmen. Dead Milkmen were awesome. They're a little punk band that were from the 80s, I love those guys. Some of those guys are actually customers of Rackspace today, they're web designers, which is crazy."
What's the best thing you've read lately?
"I actually read a book that my kids were reading, which is crazy that I never had read this. It was called The Giver. It was something my daughters had read and I saw it and I thought, 'why don't I read that.' So, that was good. I tend to read a lot of books on nutrition and health. I'm not the most healthy, nutritious guy, but I try to use those books as a motivation factor."