Northern Virginia Data Center Tour
Following on the success of iMasons first Apprentice Tour of a Facebook data center in Ft. Worth, iMasons, in February of 2018 iMasons organized a tour of a Digital Realty MTDC for students of, and interested in, Northern Virginia Community College. NVCC is the largest multi-campus community college in the US, serving xx,000 students annually. In response to the crying need of the local data center industry for additional qualified employees, NVCC is in the process of developing a AA certificate program in Data Center Operations, scheduled to accept the first students in fall 2018. To help interest students in the emerging program, iMasons organized a tour of a large Digital Realty MTDC. Students ranged in age from early 20s to 60s and were recruited from NVCC’s cybersecurity program, CS program, and included some prospective students who were considering the new program. 6 of the 27 students were women, supporting iMason’s initiative to attract talented women to our industry (but not quite meeting our 50/50 goal). In addition to the students, 5 faculty and staff of NVCC joined the tour.
After boarding the bus at NVCC students were whisked 15 minutes to a local Digital facility where they were badged in and given a brief introduction. On the way to the facility Dean Nelson, IM’s founder and board chair, gave them a quick overview of the digital infrastructure industry.
The tour started in a large CRAC gallery with DR people describing how heat is removed from the compute bays and emphasizing the redundancy necessary to meet customer needs. The tour then visited “generator alley” where row on row of back-up generators stand silently ready to shoulder the load should the grid go down. The next stop was a power distribution and conditioning area where ranks of VRLA batteries and huge circuit breakers wait to bridge between the moment of a grid failure to 5 seconds later when the generators are up-to-speed and roaring.
The final stop was a computer room where racks of customer-owned server “pizza boxes” churn away in secure cages, being cooled by the cold breeze coming through perforated floor tiles. Facilities like this is where Siri lives, where Pokemon Go monsters sleep, and where every Snapchat and Instagram post on the eastern seaboard passes through.
We wrapped the tour with 4 DR employees, plus Dean and Andrew from Uber, describing how they got into the digital infrastructure world, over pizza. One of the young women was a Regional Construction Manager with DR with a BS in Philosophy and an MS in PolySci, and another had a BS in Psychology, proving that you don’t need to be an engineer to succeed in this industry. Andrew’s story was particularly interesting: he is 22 and does DC build and commissioning for Uber. As a teenager he was into computers and his hobby grew until he had racks of servers in his basement. He had taken an internship part-way through his BS degree and, on a whim, applied for a position at Uber. He got the job, didn’t finish school, and never looked back. Dean wrapped up by encouraging all the students to connect with him on LinkedIn. It was clear from the discussions that what is most important to succeed in the digital infrastructure industry is flexibility, a can-do attitude, drive, and building professional connections.
The NVCC faculty was not quite ready to announce their DC Ops program, but by the end of the tour many of the students were wanting to apply. Mission accomplished!
Special thanks to the dedicated people at Digital Realty for making this opportunity available to the students, and to the caring staff at NVCC for reaching out to potentially interested students. This is how community is built!