Working at a Web Host

Working on a server (literally)

Working at a web hosting company is a unique experience. The environment is technology-centric, the industry is hyper competitive, and the people all vary. There is no typical person that works at or owns a web hosting company and while many of the companies seem similar on the outside, most of them operate very differently behind the scenes.

I’ve covered the web hosting industry as a journalist since 2005. Through my reporting, I’ve covered and written about countless web hosting companies. While I can be considered a relative newbie to some people, the industry is still pretty new. Many of the industry’s hottest players and companies are young. The people are in their twenties and thirties and their companies have only been around for 3 – 5 years. It’s still easy for newcomers to enter the industry and make a significant impact. That is one of the reasons web hosting appeals to so many and is such a fast growing industry.

Intense competition can make working at a web host, especially in a marketing role, very difficult. Because the barrier to entry is so low, there are thousands of web hosting companies. Even when one ignores the very small companies (which still have customers), there are still hundreds of serious players in the industry. These serious players are extremely competitive and the competition for customers is fierce. They all try to out market each other, offer more features, and essentially differentiate themselves however possible. They increase space and bandwidth allocations (often in vain), promise better support, and load every imaginable feature onto a budget hosting plan. This can make a working environment stressful. However, many people like, and excel under, that level of stress and with such intense competition.

The web hosting business can be complicated. A large web hosting company is in charge of managing hundreds (sometimes thousands) of servers. There are thousands of things that can wrong with each of these servers, especially when you put a couple of hundred clients on each one of them. The abuse department at a sizable web hosting company will be deal with spamming, phishing, and pornography on a day to day basis. The three situations/problems are to be expected at a web hosting company. Tens of thousands of clients, hundreds of thousands of web sites, and thousands of servers make for a very complicated business. When businesses get complicated, operating the business smoothly can become very difficult.

When web hosting companies put “fast paced working environment” on their employment, they mean it. Working at a busy web hosting company can often seem like a blur because the businesses move so quickly. There is always work to do, the management is always busy, and something is always happening. A big web hosting company will see hundreds or thousands of questions come in from existing and potential customers a day. At most companies, 95% of these questions are pretty simple and can be solved by level 1 (usually the lowest level with the least experience) technicians. The rest have to be elevated to level 2 or level 3 technicians who have more experience. Elevations can be frustrating for customers and stressful for employees.

Some web hosting companies move slower, though. I’ve worked with and covered relatively small (under 15 employees) companies. At these companies, things are still very busy, but calmer. There are statistically fewer things that can go wrong and the staff at the smaller companies is often closer. The management at smaller companies is often more involved with day-to-day operations and has a closer eye on what’s happening at the front lines. Working at a smaller host is a much different experience than working at larger one. Who enjoys which environment more depends entirely on the person.

Something that is important to keep in mind is that the most finely tuned, most advanced web hosting companies can still be hectic. Rackspace Managed Hosting, one of the largest dedicated server providers in the industry, was hectic when a truck crashed into one of their power sources and a chain reaction of events caused one of their major data centers to go down. This happened at a web host with one of the most advanced networks and arguably the most technical talent of pretty much any web hosting company in the industry. What will happen to a particular host can’t always be predicted and it is that level of unpredictability that makes the industry so hectic.

A web host company organization vary’s depending on size. This is a very general idea of what a web hosting company org chart might look like:

  • Top Level: CEO / Owner
  • 2nd Level: Director of Customer Service, Sales/Marketing Director, CTO, sometimes a General Manager
  • 3rd Level: Senior Administrators, Frontline Supervisors, Bookkeeper, Human Resources, etc.
  • 4th Level: Level 1 and 2 Reps (Sales, Tech, Billing)

No matter what your title at a particular web hosting company is, if you work in the industry, be prepared for a set of unique challenges. You’ll deal with every sort of person with every sort of situation you can imagine. It’s fun most of the time and frustrating some of the time. Regardless of the situation and the company, working at a web hosting company is certainly a unique experience. If you enjoy a fast paced working environment that is constantly changing and evolving, web hosting might be for you.

Douglas Hanna is a former writer for Clickfire and other publications who went on to become CEO of a major web hosting company.

1 comment

Say Something