By ANDREW MOORE
Reporter with Silicon Hills News
After eight weeks of hard work and not much sleep, 17 students graduated from the Rackspace Open Cloud Academy on Friday in San Antonio.
The graduates are now certified in A+, Network+, Linux+, Apache, MySQL, Rackspace system administration, Red Hat system administration, cloud basics, and critical thinking. Each graduate put in around 250 training hours while going through the program.
Speaking at the ceremony, Rackspace Chairman Graham Weston called the next 100 years the “era of the cloud” and told the graduates that the ability to speak the language of the cloud is will be essential.
“What has happened is we’ve moved from the world of just using computers to what your are learning, which is how the cloud is going to interact with the whole world,” said Weston. “Software – fixing it, maintaining it, and writing it – are all the building blocks of the next hundred years. In the same way that concrete, steel, shovels, and sweat were the building blocks of the last hundred years.”
The skills each graduate learned will make them valuable candidates for Rackspace’s employment needs as well as open up other doors in their professional lives. Rackspace VP of Talent Management Larry Guillory says there is a huge cost savings to Rackspace associated with the Open Cloud Academy.
“A year and a half ago, I was paying upwards of $10,000 to an agency to hire a Linux tech for me,” said Guillory. “In this model, we have people essentially paying to learn and that gives us an extended opportunity to interview them.”
The graduates are also already trained to handle typical Rackspace IT issues, making them easy to hire into the company. Guillory says that Rackspace is looking to hire at least 10 of the 17 graduates.
In addition to Rackspace, local technology companies also sent talent scouts to check out the Academy graduates. Guillory even invited HostGator to interview the students after graduation. While the academy classes were held at Geekdom in downtown San Antonio, the graduation ceremony took place at Rackspace’s headquarters, known as the Castle.
Additionally, companies post about 40,000 job openings monthly on job sites looking for people with Linux skill sets and the average salary increase for such jobs is about 5 percent. The average salary for a Linux Systems Administrator in San Antonio is $74,000, according to Indeed.com, the world’s largest job postings site. Rackspace Director of Learning and Development Duane La Bom says the graduates will have plenty of opportunities in both San Antonio and Austin.
“Any organization that uses Linux as their primary operating system — our graduates would be fine candidates — great candidates! – for any of those organizations even if they are not IT,” said La Bom.
According to La Bom, the program offered by the academy did not require prior computer knowledge for candidates to be successful, but it did require a great amount of passion, aptitude, and interest in IT. Graduate Kristy Elizondo was previously a stay-at-home mom. Getting through the program meant only two to three hours of sleep a night and little time with her husband, but she still walked across the graduation stage.
“I’ve been a mom this whole time. I’ve raised three kids. And I came into the program with only a year and a half of knowledge about computers,” Elizondo said. “[Now] I can do Apache, I have a few problems with MySQL, but as far as any kind of Linux, command lines, or scripting — I can do it because this program showed me how to do that.”
Even if the graduates aren’t employed by Rackspace, the different certifications provided by the Open Cloud Academy are a huge resume boost. Morgan Davis, who got laid off from his private defense contractor job in February, says the certifications and Rackspace name brand will really help him stand out as he looks for a job – a problem he had before the academy.
“The problem was I had such a diverse skill set I could not prove to potential employers that I had been doing excessively well at any given discipline,” said Davis. “By having these actual certifications under my belt recruiters can find me under a much smaller pool of candidates now.”
Some graduates even left previous stable job positions for the new field of Cloud computing. Graduate Carlos Fuentes spent 14 years in economic development and is leaving his post as a Bexar County Strategic Initiatives Coordinator on Monday.
“I thought it was worth the risk entirely,” said Fuentes. “I’ve gone from community development where you write grants for communities that have no economic base, to marketing a community of 1.7 million people that has a diverse economic base.. ..a natural progression is to want to be part of providing direct value to a business that has customers at stake, that’s is globally competitive, and that’s ambitious in trying to make a dent in things.”
Fuentes is excited about having the chance to move up in a company that is globally competitive and hopes to one day have his own business and create new things.
The next session of the Rackspace Open Cloud Academy will start in the second week of July and following sessions will be back to back for most of this year. Rackspace’s Weston is already looking forward to ramping up the Academy up to a much bigger scale.
“I can’t wait for the day that we have a thousand graduates in the Open Cloud Academy,” Weston said.