MOSES LAKE —Big Bend Community College’s new Data Center certification program is proving successful, as students from the program’s pilot cohort have now moved from the classroom into full-time jobs.
Last fall, BBCC partnered with several regional data centers, including Sabey Data Centers, Microsoft, H5, NTT, Oath and Vantage Data Centers, to come up with a way to meet their growing need for trained IT professionals. The collaboration resulted in a specialized one-year training program that prepares students for entry-level datacenter operations positions.
While in the program, students can pursue the Network Support Specialist Certificate of Accomplishment and the Systems Administration Certificate of Achievement. Students also have the option of continuing on towards a two-year degree at BBCC.
“The program has been very successful. Of the 26 students who enrolled in the program, eight of them were hired into full-time jobs at the Quincy data centers after completing most or all of the one-year program,” said BBCC Computer Science Specialist Tom Willingham. “And initial feedback is good from the employers who hired them.”
Willingham said starting salaries for entry-level data center positions are between $46-48,000 a year.
Eleven of last year’s students are continuing on toward a two-year Systems Administration AAS degree, Willingham added.
One of those students is Omar Alvarado. Omar enrolled in the program last fall and hopes to be finished with his data center certifications by the end of winter quarter and finished with his degree by the end of the academic year.
Although he is not all the way through the program, he was offered a data center technician position at Zoho just last month. In his role, he is responsible for receiving new servers and ensuring they get up and running and online as well as servicing existing servers.
He said he learned a lot of what he does on a day-to-day basis at work in his classes at Big Bend.
“Before, I didn’t really know all the hardware components and their purposes, or a lot of the book work side of things,” said Alvarado. “In my classes I learned a lot of real concepts, terminology and technical skills. It has been a big help for me.”
Before working in IT, Omar had a steady job at a food processing plant in Quincy. He began to notice more and more data centers popping up in the area, which drew his interest.
“I saw a lot of IT companies coming to Quincy and creating more jobs, and I thought IT could be a good career for me,” he said. “I knew I didn’t want to stay in food processing, I didn’t want that for my future and knew school was going to be important.”
Omar said the data center program was especially attractive to him because most classes were conveniently in the evening.
“I could work and go to school at the same time, so it fit with my schedule,” he said.
Those in the industry say the need for skilled workers will only continue as more data centers continue to move in to the area.
“More and more companies are moving to Quincy, to Moses Lake and Wenatchee,” said Mike Wallace, account manager for data center staffing company TEKsystems. “Before, companies were hiring anybody off the street so they could ramp up quickly. But over the last year with how competitive it’s getting, and how attractive these jobs are, a lot of people want to get into the data centers.”
Because Wallace works closely with data centers, he knows how candidates can stand out when applying for these jobs. He’s shared some of this information with students in the Big Bend program in the past.
“Hiring managers are now looking for one of three things- experience working in data centers, certification around some of the hardware they use and education. They won’t even interview you unless you have one of those three,” said Wallace. “I tell students you’ve already set yourself apart from other candidates by going to school.”
Willingham said the college and the data centers are continuing to work together to further develop the program’s curriculum.
“We know that we must continue to work closely with our industry partners to develop the right training and find a way to keep the students focused on furthering their education,” said Willingham. “We are even working with the universities of our state to create opportunities where Bachelor’s degrees are attainable.”
BBCC has limited space in the program due to class sizes that give students a great educational experience and one-to-one instructor access. Nineteen students enrolled in the program this fall; eighteen are continuing classes Winter Quarter.