More Top of Mind: Talent, Alignment, Emerging Markets, Regulation
Bridging the talent gap continues to be one of the most pressing issues for digital infrastructure leaders. Alignment between software and the infrastructure that supports it, emerging markets, and regulation were other topics of discussion at the Advisory Council meeting.
This is the fifth in a series of five blog posts reflecting the top-of-mind issues discussed during the Infrastructure Masons Advisory Council meeting on April 25, 2019.
Talent and diversity concerns continue to challenge data infrastructure leaders: Bridging the talent gap, retaining the talent you have, and finding a diverse pool of talent to add a new perspective to the team are all top of mind.
One partner referenced the 2019 State of the Data Center report saying, “80% of us have a talent challenge.” Another commented on the challenge as one of being “pale, stale, and male” – in other words, a lack of ethnic, age, and gender diversity.
Good people tend to move around. One end user, who said he has filled all his open positions, commented, “But we’re growing rapidly so how do we plan to line up positions for the future?”
One partner, jokingly responded, “That probably means others of us in this room are down some people.” More seriously, he added, “How do we get to the point where we’re not all just poaching from each other? We need to bring more net new talent into the ecosystem.”
Diversity: Leading by example
When it comes to gender diversity, it remains a crucial sticking point that it’s hard to be what you can’t see. One member said, “When I did a presentation, I asked the girls ‘Why are you here and your friends aren’t?’ Every single one of them said they had someone in their lives who had encouraged them into the field.”
One partner asked a question he said he had never asked before publicly. “Who has daughters and how many are trending toward a path in technology right now?” (Some hands went up.) “What could we be doing differently to influence more of our own girls to pursue careers in tech?” he asked.
“When it comes to gender diversity, it remains a crucial sticking point that it’s hard to be what you can’t see.” –Click to tweet
One member said she took her daughter to a panel discussion to see her talking to other women and to show her that tech isn’t necessarily a ‘do this then that’ career path but it is an exciting career. One end user said that there is “such a rich supply chain for talent” and “you don’t have to have an engineering degree.” She said she has a liberal arts degree and started in tech as an intern.
Visibility and exposure can help open doors. A partner said, “My daughter is 6 but I took her through our data center the other day and she loved it – so maybe that alone sparks an interest.”
One partner commented on the number of females in the room at the meeting – more than ever before. iMasons founder Dean Nelson mentioned the IM Women committee, which will soon become one of the Member Resource Groups (MRGs), a collection of member groups that will come under the purview of a newly created Diversity and Inclusion Committee.
As a general statement to the women in tech, Nelson said, “It’s your talent that we need and your perspective that we care about. We said we have to lead by example and seek out talent that was already here. We have to start or things will never change.”
Diversity in your network of suppliers
One end user said her company’s diversity goals are represented not only by direct hiring into her company but also by indirect hiring among her suppliers. It’s about the talent pipeline across the supply chain.
“Direct hiring is easier when you’re a large recognized organization like mine,” she said. “So indirect hiring most concerns me. These are trades people. There are fewer people interested in trades careers. And there’s not enough diversity.”
The root cause, that end user pointed out, is “not enough awareness around this industry and the fact that the industry offers great opportunities for long careers.” She added, “When people think about data, or tech, and what they want to do when they grow up, few think ‘I want to go into the digital infrastructure industry.’” One partner added, “Being a trades person is a career, not just a job.”
“Diversity goals are represented not only by direct hiring but also by indirect hiring by suppliers.” –Click to tweet
Co-creating training and education
One partner talked about first trying to partner with local community colleges but said that was too hard. “So we hired our own educators, created a program, and now run a program to train people.”
Another partner said, “We haven’t had deep penetration in schools, even vocational and high schools. We haven’t done it yet, but if we’re going to scale – particularly as edge begins to grow – we need broader penetration in the education system.”
Recruit by first building awareness
One member commented that industry leaders should work together to build awareness, to which one end user responded, “We do work together. There is a Big 3 initiative where we go to schools and talk about the industry.”
But it’s not only about going to schools, the end user added. “There’s an opportunity to create a platform of information on YouTube or wherever whereby we create buzz about the industry. Once you tap in it’s an incredible journey but before you do there’s no awareness.”
And it’s not only about universities. “We were presenting to a high school STEM academy and they asked us to speak to not only what you can do as an engineer (with a four-year or advanced degree) but also as a technician (with a two-year degree),” said one partner.
Another partner talked about starting well before college, in high school or even earlier. “Young people have a complete misconception of what the data center is ,” he said. “They don’t understand that their Xbox game or whatever app lives in a data center.”
For another partner, key to building awareness and interest among young people is showcasing the ‘cool’ factor. “In speaking with schools I try to impart on them how much the data center has changed from a big warehouse with rows of servers. I talk about the integration of new advanced tech in the data center. We’re literally housing next-gen applications.”
Untapped sources of talent
Lee Kirby, who is the co-founder of Salute Mission Critical, shared how he’s finding untapped sources of talent for the digital infrastructure industry. Salute hires military vets and trains them for jobs in the data center. The organization started 6 years ago and today has 265 full-time staff. Salute has trained more than 1000 people, 12% of whom were homeless before getting training through the organization.
“Salute hires military vets and trains them for jobs in the data center. It has trained more than 1000 vets to date – 12% of whom were homeless.” –Click to tweet
“It really is a heartstring story,” Kirby said, “but also it’s a genius move because everyone has been ignoring vets (except Navy nukes) and these are people who have diverse skills, critical thinking, discipline, and are very trainable.” He told the story of a vet with a master’s degree and eight years in the Air Force, who was delivering sandwiches and didn’t know anything about the data center industry, despite being a perfect candidate.
The discussion at the April 2019 meeting echoed previous Advisory Council discussions about diversity and hiring. For a sneak peek into those, check out Talent Today and Tomorrowand Time for Occupational Training Standards & Regulations?
One end user talked about his concerted effort to ensure alignment between infrastructure and the software it supports. “How do we keep dropping physical resiliency and let software take care of it?” he wondered. He added, “I love that we own the stack (data center, hardware, network, software that runs metal as a service). But is the model the right one, does it scale, how many zones do we have in a region?” All questions there are no textbook answers to.
Other Advisory Council members talked about leveraging software to optimize the infrastructure. As one end user explained, “Demand has gotten so large so quickly that we’re having to rethink the way we manage our tools and systems. I don’t know of any enterprise system out there that can speak to those demand signals,” he said. “We need software automation to continue to scale at the speed with which we’re growing – to think about logistics around every part of the data center.”
“Demand has gotten so large so quickly that we’re having to rethink the way we manage our tools and systems.” –Click to tweet
One member talked about it as digital transformation “to power our business to create better experiences for partners and customers and do it in a ubiquitous way across the entire globe. The technology is the easiest piece of that. The people and processes are the hardest part, especially given an aging workforce often opposed to change. How do you drive adoption and use of new tools and technologies to transform what we do?”
One partner said, “As a supplier we have to be global now too. We used to geek out with our customers about the technology. Now we get excited about where we are importers of record.”
Another partner talked about opportunities in China. “China has focused on the application of AI (versus the theory of it in Western countries). The industrialization of AI in China gives us the opportunity to enable international companies in our Chinese data centers to leapfrog and push innovation that is highly accepted by the government there.” That is one reason, he said, why two of the three big tech companies are actively representing U.S. interests in the ongoing trade negotiations with China.
One partner talked about regulation in the context of sustainability. “For example, there are new air quality permitting requirements in Santa Clara and Ashburn. If we’re growing even 10x it’s going to be a problem. In Europe refrigerants are getting regulated.” He wondered, “Is innovation going to be able to keep up with the regulation?”
Another member talked about global regulatory risk in a different context, citing “poorly drafted regulation out of Brussels.” He said “the IT community is looking at it from a different angle but the impact on the data center industry could be huge. The digital infrastructure industry has to raise its head above the parapet. We can’t stop this stuff but we can and need to influence it.”
One partner said, “Countries are looking at data sovereignty as a cash cow.” Because if a country imposes data sovereignty requirements, the thinking goes, then cloud service providers, credit card companies, data centers, etc. have to locate there. “We look at this together and say we will need infrastructure in those locations.”
Another partner cautioned against a passive response to such regulation. “Instead of letting sovereign countries tell us how to do business we should approach them with recommendations” for win-win regulations, he said.
Previous posts in the April 2019 top-of-mind series: