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When Kevin Johnson decided to go back to work after four years as a stay-at-home-dad, he knew he faced an uphill battle. His 15 years in electrical engineering might as well have been ancient history when it came to the rapidly evolving tech job market. He began looking for a way to get his edge back.
Johnson found what he was looking for in Rackspace’s Open Cloud Academy (OCA), a unique training program designed to equip students of all ages with the most marketable IT licenses to start their tech career.
“Rackspace has brought me back to the cutting edge,” Johnson said.
On May 15, OCA hosted its fifth career fair, allowing students and alumni the chance to see just how valuable their new training will be. After completing their course track in either Linux systems administration, network operations or software development, OCA graduates feel confident to field the questions coming at them from serious employers.
“The OCA has put us in the perfect position to participate in this job fair,” Johnson said.
Originally OCA was intended to be an incubator for future hires at Rackers (Rackspace employees). The cloud management company is still the heaviest recruiter of OCA graduates, hiring 46%. However, they anticipated that the talent within the program wouldn’t always be a perfect fit for the jobs available at Rackspace. So, they established the OCA job fair where students can see just how in-demand their new skills really are.
In past years the six to eight companies participating in the fair were tech-heavy employers. This year, participation has broadened to businesses and non-profits seeking professionals for their internal IT departments. Some names like WP Engine were an obvious fit, however others, like Chrysalis Ministries and VIA Metropolitan Transit demonstrate just how widely tech professionals are needed.
“The idea is that (a company) like VIA (which) has a tech department may see something in our students that they want in their IT department,” said Marcus Benavidez, operations manager for OCA.
This wider participation works well for candidates like Johnson who are making what Benavidez calls a “professional pivot.” These candidates have diverse experience backing up their new tech credentials, so they will be able to make connections between a company’s technology needs and its overall mission.
Donovan Grajewski fits the more traditional profile of an OCA student. The young Minneapolis transplant discovered OCA on a trip to visit his sister in San Antonio, and jumped at the opportunity to boost his career. After four years as operations manager for a non-profit, he had become a sort of makeshift IT guy.
“Having technical aptitude in a nonprofit makes you ‘the guy,’” Grajewski said.
While he plans to continue volunteering for non-profits, Grajewski is now ready to make a full fledged career in the tech field.
This sort of focus is appealing to employers.
“Having someone with that passion is verification that they’ll be a good fit,” said Shane Hutsen of Argo Group.
Like other employers around the country, Argo Group has had a challenge finding workers with the specific skill set to fill the jobs they have available. Unlike Grajewski’s experience with non-profits, most companies now have technical components too sophisticated for a hobbyist. They need someone devoted to the evolving challenges of network systems.
“We don’t know what we’ll need next week or the week after,” said Leslie Martin with Argo Group.
OCA continues to find ways to explore gaps in the technology job market. Deborah Carter is senior manager of global talent development for OCA and Rackspace University.
She is particularly excited about OCA’s forthcoming move to the Rand building, where students will have more direct access to the synergy and innovation at Geekdom.
Carter is also looking forward to the kickoff of Linux for Ladies on June 1. Twenty-two women will participate in the inaugural course aimed at getting more women into the male-dominated field.
“San Antonio has great people with great attitude and aptitude. We need to provide an avenue for them to get the training they need to get jobs that allow them to contribute to the urban environment,” Carter said.
*Featured/top image: Senior Manager of Global Development for OCA and Rackspace University Deborah Carter poses for a photo. Photo by Scott Ball.