Hundreds of students celebrated the success of the Rackspace Open Cloud Academy at new Rand Building headquarters on Wednesday, where city officials awarded the Cloud Academy and Project QUEST with $200,000 for tuition assistance for low-income students. Since the boot-camp coding school launched in 2013, the Cloud Academy has recorded 335 graduates, 76% of whom work in IT-related fields in San Antonio, while 47% of graduates currently work at Rackspace.
The $200,000 from the City will help Project QUEST fund 100 new Cloud Academy students, while an additional $50,000 will help veterans looking to enter the IT sector. The growth of the programs has also prompted the Department of Labor to award Project QUEST $6 million through their TechHire grant, which will fund more than 400 students studying IT-related fields at Cloud Academy, local community colleges, and USAA.
Graham Weston, co-founder and chair of Rackspace, developed the program as a pipeline for educating and creating the new talent needed to fill jobs in the IT sector. Weston said it was important to find and train talent existing in San Antonio, rather than looking to other cities for local entry-level jobs.
“I really think this is the beginning of something great, that becomes a part of the San Antonio ecosystem,” Weston said. “This support directly helps people. This is what the government should be doing. Let’s get these skills to people” Weston said.
Many Cloud Academy students apply for the program to explore new career options with better pay or to avoid the large time and money commitments required to complete a traditional four-year degree. Cloud Academy alumni Jose De La Rosa was a frustrated college student in San Marcos when he discovered the Rackspace program through a post on Facebook.
“I think that (the four-year college) model is really outdated for the rate at which technology moves,” De La Rosa said. “By the time you graduate, a lot of the stuff you learned in your freshman and sophomore years are already irrelevant. This allowed me to step right into a career I wanted, without the student loan bubble hanging over my head.”
Prospective students can attend free information sessions held on the first and third Tuesday of the month, inside the Rand building. The Cloud Academy offers a free self-study course and educational resources for applicants before they enroll for the Network Operations or Linux Administration learning tracks. Students are required to pay $3,500 for each learning track, but the cost is much lower compared to the average student loan debt of $30,000.
The program requires students to attend 40 hours of classes, taught Monday through Friday each week, although sometimes the most successful students spend more time studying outside of the classroom. Once De La Rosa was accepted to the program, he quit his job, moved back to his parent’s home in San Antonio and dedicated his time to completing the Linux Administration track.
After graduating, De La Rosa found a new job doing WordPress support at WP Engine.
"What I will be doing is very similar to the skills we were taught by the Academy, I just save a lot of money and time doing it here instead of going to college," De La Rosa added.
According to officials, the Open Cloud Academy attracts a wide variety of educational backgrounds, ages, and levels of professional achievement. Some applicants apply straight out of high school, others are seeking as new education or career path. However, the majority of applicants come in with almost no background in IT.
Open Cloud Academy isn't the only coding boot-camp game in town. Codeup is also pumping out IT professionals into the local tech industry and national code school The Iron Yard recently opened up shop in San Antonio. There are also a variety of online programs popping up every day as well.
“I came to an intro session and fell in love,” said Cloud Academy student Yolanda Sanchez. “This is my first time doing anything related to this industry, but I love it. The fact is that I needed something else."
Sanchez previously supported herself as a local graphic designer, photographer and teacher before a friend introduced her to the Cloud Academy. In a class of 32, Sanchez numbers among the few women who are enrolled in the program.
“That’s what makes it even more interesting,” Sanchez added. “To know that there’s only like three girls in the class, but we can do it if the boys can do it.”
Open Cloud Academy applicants must be 18 years or older, and have attained a high school diploma or a GED equivalent. Applicants are also required to complete a preliminary certification before they can begin the course. To learn more about upcoming information sessions and the growing IT-fields in San Antonio, visit www.opencloudacademy.rackspace.com.
Featured Image: A guest looks at an inspirational quote with her child at the Rackspace Open Cloud Academy. Photo by Scott Ball.