BY ANDREW MOORE
Reporter with Silicon Hills News
“You are sitting in an historic place,” Weston said. “Do you know what started right here? Rackspace started here. But another historic thing that happened on this floor is right behind that glass back there were the first three servers of Youtube.”
Weston along with other dignitaries including Mayor Julian Castro, City Manager Sheryl Sculley and Rackspace’s Director of Learning and Development Duane La Bom gathered to officially open the new Open Cloud Academy on the sixth floor of the Weston Centre.
The Open Cloud Academy will be a mirror of Rackspace University, the company’s internal training program, LaBom said. He will be managing the academy. It will teach the general public the same essential cloud computing and system administration skills and technologies that are required to work for Rackspace.
“We’re going to teach our students specifically what they need to know to gain employment today,” La Bom said. “And we are going to do that in an affordable way and a way that makes sense for our students.”
The academy has already started a pilot program with 100 students. These students will be going through the Linux Academy – a division of the Open Cloud Academy that certifies students to be L1 Linux administrators and teaches them the Rackspace system of customer support. Other divisions that will be available in the near future include the Network Security – or NetSec – Academy, the Cyber Security Academy, and the Cloud Computing Academy.
By the end of 2013, Rackspace also hopes to roll out additional divisions to provide training programs in the cutting-edge Ruby and Python coding languages.
Currently few university courses or certification programs exist for many of these much-needed coding languages, Weston said. And programs for Linux certifications are generally long and prohibitively expensive, he said.
“Technical training is very expensive everywhere,” Weston said. “There is really not a place today in the country where people can get training and certifications that are more than just a day or two.”
The Open Cloud Academy will offer courses that span six weeks to eight weeks. The cost will generally be $4000 or less depending on the skills learned.
Mayor Julian Castro is especially optimistic for the new Academy, hoping that it will help put San Antonio on the map as a hotspot for technology and IT jobs.
“San Antonio’s competitive advantage out there is that we are a young city,” Castro said. “We have tremendous numbers of folks coming out of high school, going to community college.. ..that have an interest in IT. And this is a fantastic opportunity for them to get the skills that will make them employable at Rackspace and many other companies in San Antonio and outside of San Antonio.”
In the big picture, the Open Cloud Academy is as important to Rackspace’s continued success as it is to the development of a technological workforce and ecosystem in San Antonio.
Rackspace Hosting spends a lot of money finding personnel with knowledge and skill-sets needed for their business. Increasingly, this means relocating employees from other markets or convincing them to work for Rackspace from home.
“We’re in a war for talent, and our options are we can either buy talent or build talent,” La Bom said. “The short term goal is to help Rackspace fill jobs we struggle to fill because, to some degree, we have tapped (out) the local market for technical skills.”
The academy will produce immediately qualified personnel to work at entry level positions at Rackspace, and the programs require no prior knowledge of IT or cloud computing.
“That’s coming to us with no knowledge of IT and walking out 10 to 12 weeks later with several IT industry standard certifications,” La Bom said.
La Bom estimates that Rackspace will hire around one-third of the students graduating from the Academy. The remaining students will have skills and experience as cloud computing system administrators that enable them to work for other companies or even start their own businesses. Rackspace hopes that these graduates will become customers after they leave.
A great deal of opportunity exists for the graduates. According to an IDC report sponsored by Microsoft, “Needed cloud skills will grow at six times the rate of IT skills overall.”
The report predicted “cloud-related skills represent virtually all of the growth opportunities in IT worldwide and will grow by 26 percent annually through 2015. IDC believes there could be as many as 7 million cloud-related jobs in IT worldwide by 2015.”
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that IT employment in the United States will only grow at a maximum of 2.7 percent annually, which is a long way from keeping up with worldwide growth.
In addition, training opportunities in cutting edge technologies are also severely lacking.
This is why Rackspace is developing training programs for coding languages such as Ruby and Python – languages required to be on the cutting edge of new apps and programs based on the cloud. There are currently no certification programs for these languages — which makes hiring developers difficult – but Rackspace hopes to have training programs ready as early as the last quarter of 2013.
Geekdom Co-founder and Mentor-In-Chief Nicholas Longo said this is a huge opportunity for advancing both San Antonio’s tech scene and cloud computing in general. Longo said there was previously no real opportunity for developers to quickly learn these job-essential languages.
“You couldn’t walk into a place that needs Ruby, Python, or cloud technology expertise because they don’t teach it. Now we teach it!” Longo said. “You come here, you learn the things that you need to know to get a real job or start your own startup. And you literally get certified with a certificate just like it was a normal vocation.”
Longo believes that the Open Cloud Academy is just the first step of a wave of innovation where technology will be taught and certified like other basic vocations. He and Geekdom were instrumental in putting the event together – creating exposure for the grand opening and holding information sessions for the Academy’s first students. In fact, Geekdom referred most of the pilot students.
One of the students, Tom Hoffman, is attending in the evenings after finishing at his regular job.
“It’s an awesome opportunity,” Hoffman said. “I can’t quit my job to go back to college, but I can do this self-based stuff and attend this open academy at night – re-tool myself with modern skills.”
The first stage of Hoffman’s Linux course involves reading a book, watching online instructional videos, and attending workshops for practice. He looks forward to getting his A+ certification and Network+ certification at the end of the first phase.
The Open Cloud Academy will also seek to specifically target military veterans as students – many of whom are now returning from their tours of duty and are looking for employment in the civilian market.
“We’re really wanting to give those individuals who are wrapping up their military career an option – we’d like to make IT an option for them as they made the decision about transitioning from a military career to a civilian career,” La Bom said.
Rackspace has already started the process of approving their Academy for use with the military’s GI bill. La Bom is hoping to get this approval in the next six months.