Three graduates tell Intelligent Data Centres about making a start in the data centre industry and what this career path means for them. Angela Meah (PhD), Operations Director, coolDC, explores this further and gains insight into how a career in the data centre industry can offer many rewarding benefits.
It is no secret that the burgeoning data centre industry is facing a skills shortage. As much of the current workforce edges towards retirement, the industry is not proving a career of choice among young engineers and technicians.
However, three recent graduates are hoping to inspire other young people by sharing their data centre journey so far. We hear from three graduates who tell us more.
Aminah Hussain, James Green (BSc Computer Studies) and Rebecca Willis (BEng) graduated in the summer of 2019. They were offered three-month internships with a data centre start-up based in Lincoln and went into their final exams knowing that there was a potential career waiting for them.
In February 2019, they attended ‘insight’ afternoons hosted by the company. These included a site tour during the construction of its debut data centre. Although Rebecca previously had no idea about the data centre industry, she applied to the company’s internship programme because of its focus on sustainability as well its family feel. The concern with sustainability was important to all three graduates and they also report being encouraged by the enthusiastic endorsement of fellow University of Lincoln graduate, Kieran Brown, who had been offered a full-time position with the same company following the completion of his internship just months earlier.
Having previously completed an IT apprenticeship, Green was already working part-time in the university’s IT department at the time of application. He was therefore no stranger to the role of data centres in everyday life.
“I love the tech behind it and the way in which everything works together. Servers and DCs have always interested me,” said Green.
Speaking of the recruitment process, they explained that the company arranged a visit to DCW London 2019 prior to the selection day. This was an opportunity to learn more about the industry, including meeting manufacturers and industry consultants. Prior to starting their internships, they also had the opportunity to attend factory assessment testing and a unique training experience with immersed cooling manufacturer, Asperitas.
All of the graduates recognise what a unique opportunity they had experiencing the final phases of construction. In addition to a range of CPD courses to bring them up to speed with health and safety and other issues, they benefitted from manufacturer training covering UPSs and free-cooling chillers, along with different types of cooling solutions. This took place alongside supplier training concerning the installed leak, fire detection and building management systems (BMS).
Reflecting on the internship, they described it as both insightful and not what they anticipated based on friends’ experiences in other data centres or other industries.
“I expected to be pigeonholed in our own areas and not do anything other than fix servers or look at a computer,” said Green.
“We were doing real things, designing real processes. For example, none of us knew what IST was, but within two months we were project planning and executing IST with supervision,” said Willis.
“I never expected it to be so real, so soon,” said Hussain.
“To have the authority to be planning things around the plant room and procedures. Here, there’s not a gap between the facilities and IT that you get in some places. In everything we did, we all sat down together – bringing our different disciplines together – to work things out between us… that helps us to move forward faster,” said Willis. “For example, I sat down with Aminah and said, ‘I need to know these things’.”
I had no idea what transducers to pick for the mechanical, I had no idea what half the mechanical is, so it was like ‘Rebecca, what’s this?’ You get the answer straight away,” said Hussain.
Towards the end of his internship, Green completed CNet’s CNCI training. He came back from this with improved confidence and feeling that he had more credibility in the industry. “I thought, ‘I belong here. I know what I’m talking about and what I’m doing’. It gave me that confidence when talking to suppliers about snagging issues,” said Green.
This sentiment was also expressed by Hussain and Willis after they completed CNet’s remote access CDCTP programme weeks after the end of their internship.
“It makes other people take you more seriously. When I put my badge on LinkedIn, people began to take me and my profile more seriously,” said Hussain.
“The course enabled us to consolidate the knowledge that we had but didn’t know we had. I do know all this, I now have it on paper and I can talk to partners and suppliers with confidence,” said Willis.
“It makes the old guard take us more seriously. We have a certification behind us that confirms that we actually know what we’re talking about,” said Green.
Hussain and Willis report that the dearth of information about liquid and immersed cooling in the CDCTP programme meant that their experience of working with these technologies positioned them as ‘experts’. CNet noted the learners’ feedback regarding the limitations of the material covered on the course and Paul Gorman, Technical Development Manager, plans to meet the team to discuss how some of the content can be enhanced.
“The task of maintaining the technical accuracy of the CNet Training technical education programmes consumes a significant amount of my time and I sincerely appreciate constructive feedback from our learners. It was particularly refreshing coming from the younger end of the industry spectrum. I am excited by the prospect of meeting the team in person to explore their considered opinions in greater detail,” said Paul Gorman, Technical Development Manager, CNet.
Empowered with the confidence provided by both their professional certifications and seven months intensive on-the-job experience, these young engineers are embracing new challenges.
With her interest in energy and sustainability, Willis is leading projects involving the identification of new battery storage products and discussions about how to develop and improve current immersive technologies for the end-user.
Hussain is currently working with several software companies to identify ways of improving reporting via the front-end BMS she has developed. As software-defined data centres evolve, her passion for software development positions her to play a crucial role in this process.
Green is responsible for managing the data centre’s IT infrastructure and developing the services offered to SME clients. He is also exploring the possibility of utilising immersed cooling for the telecommunications systems at point of presence (POPs).
Willis commented: “The opportunities I’ve had within my first seven months have been incredible. I’ve been able to do things I wouldn’t have had access to in a lot of companies, either within or outside of this industry.”
All graduates plan to remain with their present employer and work towards more industry qualifications. In the meantime, Green and Willis are volunteering as STEM ambassadors and all three have been involved in school outreach activities to raise awareness of both diversity in STEM and the data centre industry.
“Teaching other people helps solidify my own knowledge. I enjoy getting people enthusiastic about things I like,” said Green.
“A lot of STEM ambassadors are retired, so less relatable than someone younger. Being an engineer seems a long way off when you’ve got someone much older talking to you about careers. It seems more possible when you hear it from someone closer to your own age, especially if they’re the same sex as you,” said Willis.
Aminah, James and Rebecca work for coolDC, winner of the 2019 Global DCD Energy Smart Award. coolDC was a finalist in the CSR category of the DCD awards for its student engagement work.