Interview with Rob La Gesse Chief Disruption Officer Rackspace

Here is an interview with Rob La Gesse ,Chief Disruption Officer ,Rackspace Hosting.
Ajay- Describe your career  journey from not finishing college to writing software to your present projects?
Rob- I joined the Navy right out of High School. I had neither the money for college, or a real desire for it. I had several roles in the Navy, to include a Combat Medic station with the US Marine Corps and eventually becoming a Neonatal Respiratory Therapist.

After the Navy I worked as a Respiratory Therapist, a roofer, and I repaired print shop equipment. Basically whatever it took to make a buck or two.  Eventually I started selling computers.  That led me to running a multi-line dial-up BBS and I taught myself how to program.  Eventually that led to a job with a small engineering company where we developed WiFi.

After the WiFi project I started consulting on my own.  I used Rackspace to host my clients, and eventually they hired me.  I’ve been here almost three years and have held several roles. I currently manage Social Media, building 43 and am involved in several other projects such as the Rackspace Startup Program.

Ajay-  What is building43 all about ?

Rob- Building43 is a web site devoted to telling the stories behind technology startups. Basically, after we hired Robert Scoble and Rocky Barbanica we were figuring out how best we could work with them to both highlight Rackspace and customers.  That idea expanded beyond customers to highlighting anyone doing something incredible in the technology industry – mostly software startups.  We’ve had interviews with people like Mark Zuckerberg, CEO and Founder of FaceBook.  We’ve broken some news on the site, but it isn’t really a news site. It is a story telling site.

Rackspace has met some amazing new customers through the relationships that started with an interview.

Ajay-  How is life as Robert Scoble’s boss. Is he an easy guy to work with? Does he have super powers while he types?

Rob- Robert isn’t much different to manage than the rest of my employees. He is a person – no super powers.  But he does establish a unique perspective on things because he gets to see so much new technology early.  Often earlier than almost anyone else. It helps him to spot trends that others might not be seeing yet.
Ajay – Hosting companies are so so many. What makes Rackspace special for different kinds of customers?
Rob- I think what we do better than anyone is add that human touch – the people really care about your business.  We are a company that is focused on building one of the greatest service companies on the planet.  We sell support.  Hosting is secondary to service. Our motto is Fanatic Support®

and we actually look for people focused on delivering amazing customer experiences during our interviewing and hiring practices. People that find a personal sense of pride and reward by helping others should apply at
Rackspace.  We are hiring like crazy!

Ajay – Where do you see technology and the internet 5 years down the line? (we will visit the answers in 5 years 🙂 )?
Rob- I think the shift to Cloud computing is going to be dramatic.  I think in five years we will be much further down that path.  The scaling, cost-effectiveness, and on-demand nature of the Cloud are just too compelling for companies not to embrace. This changes business in fundamental ways – lower capital expenses, no need for in house IT staff, etc will save companies a lot of money and let them focus more on their core businesses. Computing will become another utility.  I also think mobile use of computing will be much more common than it is today.  And it is VERY common today.  Phones will replace car keys and credit cards (they already are). This too will drive use of Cloud computing  because we all want our data wherever we are – on whatever computing device we happen tobe using.
Ajay- GoDaddy CEO shoots elephants. What do you do in your  spare time, if any.
Rob- Well, I don’t hunt.  We do shoot a lot of video though! I enjoy playing poker, specifically Texas Hold ’em.  It is a very people oriented game, and people are my passion.

Brief Biography- (in his own words from

My technical background includes working on the development of WiFi, writing wireless applications for the Apple Newton, mentoring/managing several software-based start-ups, running software quality assurance teams and more. In 2008 I joined Rackspace as an employee – a “Racker”.  I was previously a 7 year customer and the company impressed me. My initial role was as Director of Software Development for the Rackspace Cloud.  It was soon evident that I was better suited to a customer facing role since I LOVE talking to customers. I am currently the Director of Customer Development Chief Disruption Officer.  I manage building43 and enjoy working with Robert Scoble and Rocky Barbanica to make that happen.  The org chart says they work for me.  Reality tells me the opposite :)

Go take a look – I’m proud of what we are building there (pardon the pun!).

I do a lot of other stuff at Rackspace – mostly because they let me!  I love a company that lets me try. Rackspace does that.Going further back, I have been a Mayor (in Hawaii). I have written successful shareware software. I have managed employees all over the world. I have been all over the world. I have also done roofing, repaired high end print-shop equipment, been a Neonatal Respiratory Therapist, done CPR on a boat, in a plane, and in a hardware store (and of course in hospitals).

I have treated jumpers from the Golden Gate Bridge – and helped save a few. I have lived in Illinois (Kankakee), California (San Diego, San Francisco and Novato), Texas (Corpus Christi and San Antonio), Florida (Pensacola and Palm Bay), Hawaii (Honolulu/Fort Shafter) and several other places for shorter durations.

For the last 8+ years I have been a single parent – and have done an amazing job (yes, I am a proud papa) thanks to having great kids.  They are both in College now – something I did NOT manage to accomplish. I love doing anything someone thinks I am not qualified to do.

I can be contacted at rob (at) lagesse (dot) org

you can follow Rob at

R Apache – The next frontier of R Computing

I am currently playing/ trying out RApache- one more excellent R product from Vanderbilt’s excellent Dept of Biostatistics and it’s prodigious coder Jeff Horner.

The big ninja himself

I really liked the virtual machine idea- you can download a virtual image of Rapache and play with it- .vmx is easy to create and great to share-

Basically using R Apache (with an EC2 on backend) can help you create customized dashboards, BI apps, etc all using R’s graphical and statistical capabilities.

What’s R Apache?

As  per

Rapache embeds the R interpreter inside the Apache 2 web server. By doing this, Rapache realizes the full potential of R and its facilities over the web. R programmers configure appache by mapping Universal Resource Locaters (URL’s) to either R scripts or R functions. The R code relies on CGI variables to read a client request and R’s input/output facilities to write the response.

One advantage to Rapache’s architecture is robust multi-process management by Apache. In contrast to Rserve and RSOAP, Rapache is a pre-fork server utilizing HTTP as the communications protocol. Another advantage is a clear separation, a loose coupling, of R code from client code. With Rserve and RSOAP, the client must send data and R commands to be executed on the server. With Rapache the only client requirements are the ability to communicate via HTTP. Additionally, Rapache gains significant authentication, authorization, and encryption mechanism by virtue of being embedded in Apache.

Existing Demos of Architechture based on R Apache-

  1. An interactive web dashboard for plotting graphics based on csv or Google Spreadsheet Data
  2. A demo visualization of a web based dashboard system of baseball pitches by pitcher by player 








3. For baseball results – a demo of a query based web dashboard system- very good BI feel.

Whats coming next in R Apache?

You can  download version 1.1.10 of rApache now. There
are only two significant changes and you don’t have to edit your
apache config or change any code (just recompile rApache and

1) Error reporting should be more informative. both when you
accidentally introduce errors in the Apache config, and when your code
introduces warnings and errors from web requests.

I’ve struggled with this one for awhile, not really knowing what
strategy would be best. Basically, rApache hooks into the R I/O layer
at such a low level that it’s hard to capture all warnings and errors
as they occur and introduce them to the user in a sane manner. In
prior releases, when ROutputErrors was in effect (either the apache
directive or the R function) one would typically see a bunch of grey
boxes with a red outline with a title of RApache Warning/Error!!!.
Unfortunately those grey boxes could contain empty lines, one line of
error, or a few that relate to the lines in previously displayed
boxes. Really a big uninformative mess.

The new approach is to print just one warning box with the title
“”Oops!!! <b>rApache</b> has something to tell you. View source and
read the HTML comments at the end.” and then as the title implies you
can read the HTML comment located at the end of the file… after the
closing html. That way, you’re actually reading how R would present
the warnings and errors to you as if you executed the code at the R
command prompt. And if you don’t use ROutputErrors, the warning/error
messages are printed in the Apache log file, just as they were before,
but nicer 😉

2) Code dispatching has changed so please let me know if I’ve
introduced any strange behavior.

This was necessary to enhance error reporting. Prior to this release,
rApache would use R’s C API exclusively to build up the call to your
code that is then passed to R’s evaluation engine. The advantage to
this approach is that it’s much more efficient as there is no parsing
involved, however all information about parse errors, files which
produced errors, etc. were lost. The new approach uses R’s built-in
parse function to build up the call and then passes it of to R. A
slight overhead, but it should be negligible. So, if you feel that
this approach is too slow OR I’ve introduced bugs or strange behavior,
please let me know.


I’m gaining more experience building Debian/Ubuntu packages each day,
so hopefully by some time in 2011 you can rely on binary releases for
these distributions and not install rApache from source! Fingers

Development on the rApache 1.1 branch will be winding down (save bug
fix releases) as I transition to the 1.2 branch. This will involve
taking out a small chunk of code that defines the rApache development
environment (all the CGI variables and the functions such as
setHeader, setCookie, etc) and placing it in its own R package…
unnamed as of yet. This is to facilitate my development of the ralite
R package, a small single user cross-platform web server.

The goal for ralite is to speed up development of R web applications,
take out a bit of friction in the development process by not having to
run the full rApache server. Plus it would allow users to develop in
the rApache enronment while on windows and later deploy on more
capable server environments. The secondary goal for ralite is it’s use
in other web server environments (nginx and IIS come to mind) as a
persistent per-client process.

And finally, will be the new once I
translate the manual over… any day now.

From –



Not convinced ?- try the demos above.