SAN ANTONIO - It may be the most fun place to work in the world. And it happens to be here in San Antonio (actually Windcrest) in the old Windsor Park Mall.
Before we get to that, if you don't know what Rackspace does. I'm still not sure that I do, even after being there.
But for non-techies, it has to do with providing web servers, cloud computing, internet services, e-mail, and what they call "fanatical support" for all of that kind of stuff.
About three thousand of the company's four thousand or so employees work at the headquarters nicknamed "The Castle." The servers -- the big hard drives and other computer hardware kind of equipment are elsewhere, much of it in the Dallas area. The rest is all over the world.
But back to that "playtime" at the Castle.
"Let's hear it for Randy Beamer!"
The screams and applause when I was introduced let me know I was in a different world. A one-of-a-kind world of Rackspace.
I was in "Rookie O" -- for Rookie Orientation. It's basically a week-long combination of class, party, and hazing for the 100 or so latest Rackspace hires to learn about the company and the culture.
A trainer working the microphone on a small stage in the center of the room sums it up. "We work hard! We play hard! Welcome to Rackspace everybody. Glad to have you."
Some of Rookie O is serious stuff. I learned a lot about all the different things Rackspace does: the cloud computing, the web hosting, e-mail services and more. And how it's grown from three people in 1997 to more than 4,000 today.
But I also learned everything at Rackspace can be interrupted at any time by fun and games.
"You got sticky balls. I think that's the problem."
We're suddenly in one of the "Minute-to-Win-It" kind of games used to separate and punctuate different lessons in the class.
After a short segment on balancing the load on a cloud computer, it's a game that tests your balance.
In this one, contestants representing different teams of new employees each have a tennis racket between their knees. Without using their hands, they're supposed to maneuver a little ball from one square marked on the racket to another.
Co-workers scream to cheer on their representative.
I soon succumbed to the massive peer pressure at my table, suiting up with a Rackspace tattoo arm sleeve to get into the spirit. And there's plenty of spirit here in the wildest company orientation you can imagine.
After a semi-serious segment about internet Spam, my game was called "Junk-in-the-Trunk." Get it? Spam -- junk? So it's cheesy. That's part of it.
After strapping tissue boxes full of ping pong balls around our waists and positioning them above our backsides, our job was to somehow get rid of the balls in our boxes without using our hands. I'll just say it involved a lot of wriggling, jumping, yelling and all the humiliation you can imagine.
If you took it seriously. But the point is - you don't. You're supposed to lose your inhibitions and just have fun. Like working here.
This is clearly a big team-building exercise. And it's pure Rackspace.
They want to make clear from day one that they don't care about what you wear, what you look like, or pretty much anything else you do, as long as you do the job you're hired to do. And thinking outside the box and being creative is rewarded.
So I asked the guy at my table who happened to be wearing a black mask and a fedora whether what they do here is really work.
"Absolutely. This is absolutely a job!" Sam did agree that some of this frenzy and excitement helps compensate for all the real work they do when they're just sitting in front of computers.
'Some of it is that. But I mean we're all hyper-creative people. And you know, kind of Type A, very get-it-done, that kinda thing. So I think it blends well together. It breeds that camaraderie and it breeds that kind of wackiness."
Later, outside of that exuberant cocoon of Rookie O, I realized that Rackspace is full of wackiness.
My guide Rick Lozano even mentioned that they have a phrase "to bring the wack back."
I spotted a MASH Unit type tent above some cubicles. "Yeah, this is what work looks like," he tells me. "If you can believe that."
Expressing yourself at work is encouraged here, to say the least.
Lozano gave me a tour of what used to be Windsor Park Mall, now nicknamed "The Castle," where what once was the J.C. Penney's store is now home to E-Mail Support staff.
"I had hear about it, but then once I actually got here it was like Disneyland," says Jessica Botello." It's so much fun here. It doesn't feel like work!"
Botello was born and raised in San Antonio and then went off to college at the University of North Texas. She wasn't sure she would find a place back home where she wanted to work.
"I wanted to stay in town because I wanted to be with my family. But yet opportunity seemed to be elsewhere. Then Rackspace came along and saved the day. And so here's my second home."
She tells me the loose environment here also helps workers deliver what makes Rackspace different -- and what it advertises.
"Fanatical support. And it's basically we bring our best -- more than our best -- every single day. You talk to the customers, you engage with them, you interact with them. You get to talk to a live person every time you call in."
And fanatical is how they feel about working here. I ask Botello why that is.
"Why? The people, the environment, the building itself, the fact we can come to work as who we are. We can wear goofy things and put flags over our desks that represent us.
I ask Lozano about how much work is actually getting done in what at times can look like a playground.
"There is a ton of work getting done. We work really hard. You'll see people walking back and forth in meetings and just doing all sorts of stuff. But we also have this element of craziness, like that guy over there just yelling. That just happens for no good reason."
He says he wants to give an example, so he leads me over to another area of cubicles.
"Hey Rackers," he yells. "Help me welcome Randy Beamer!"
The screaming begins. I could get used to this.
I ask Lozano whether this is the workplace of the future, maybe because young people need the stimulation, maybe it's ADHD, the TV generation.
"That's a great question," Lozano says. "I think what a lot of research has shown is that... first of all, personalized workspaces mean something to people. They've shown statistics that say that people are more engaged whenever they're sitting in an environment that they've created. And the other part of it is people want to have fun."
So the Castle boasts a playground-like slide that connects the second floor with the first. There's a workout room and game rooms with ping-pong, pool, and video games.
"And then there's the Nerf Guns!" Lozano says. Excuse me?
Lozano and a random nearby employee pick up a rather large Nerf Gun to show me a bit of the Nerf madness which can break out at any time.
"So if you get bored or frustrated," I ask... "you can actually fire weapons here?"
And you can drink -- but only after hours.
That's what they assure me, as that random employee shows off dozens of beer bottles he says are the product of beer tastings on Fridays after work.
But in the end, it is still a workplace and everybody has a job to do.
"If you don't produce, yes, somebody's gonna notice," Lozano tells me. "So there's an accountability factor. No one gets away with not doing the work. But we hire some really good people."
And with the way Rackspace is growing, they expect to hire many more. There's still 500,000 square feet of undeveloped space in the old mall. That's enough to house a couple of thousand more Rackers and expand their unique culture.
Thinking about culture brings up another question. "Culture," I ask jokingly. "Is it a cult?"
Lozano laughs. "If you want to look at it that way. Ha, ha. Is a cult bad? No, but is it a cult? No, but it is addicting."
Most of the workers are clearly younger than I am.
Looking around, Lozano says the average age might be around 33, but that it's not age that defines the average Racker. It's attitude.
He assures me that while a potential employee's background and skills are important, that their fit into the Rackspace culture is just as key.
So I leave the Castle with the words of the masked man Sam in my head: "Aspire to greatness! You can do this! You can do this!"
I'm not so sure. But if you want to give it a shot, we have links to their website and careers and job pages.
Tell them Beamer sent you. The old guy with the junk in the trunk, who made everyone else around him look better. Yeah. That's it. Rack On!