Before we jump into the conversation, I want to ask you a question. Yes, you, the reader of this article. Did you start in the technology field? Did you get a degree in this industry and now work in it? Feel free to drop a note in the comments section; I'm genuinely interested.
I was drawn to technology and telecommunications from a very early age. My interest started when I was playing with my brother's telegraph switch in Soviet Ukraine. He used to compete in national events; afterward, he'd let me chat with his friends across the country. This was just before we came to the United States in the early 90s. I'd love to get into that more, but we'll save this story for another time.
But for those that didn't start in technology or maybe got here entirely by accident, it's always been interesting to hear their stories. I've asked the questions in the first paragraph in the past during Data Center World workshops or AFCOM Leaders Lab events. Maybe this isn't surprising, but many people in the room would tell me about previous lives and careers and their fascinating journey into technology and the data center industry.
Young people in technology, often by accident
Millennials are now leaders in our industry. Many are executives, and some have even started their thriving businesses. Coming right up behind us is Gen Z. Gen Z accounts for 61 million people in the U.S., a number that's already larger than Generation X and two-thirds the size of the baby boomers. Interestingly, there's been a new trend that I've been seeing. More young people are joining our ranks.
And many of them have come from entirely different industries and careers. "Like many professionals in the digital infrastructure field, I found my way into this industry by chance," Skyler Holloway, who leads Technical Products and Programs at Switch, told Data Center Knowledge. "I knew what building hospitals or high-rises entailed because I had grown up seeing these facilities and understood the benefits they provided to society. I pursued civil engineering degrees, unaware I could contribute to digital infrastructure. But when I first toured a data center, it felt as if I had discovered an underground complex that nobody else knew existed."
Holloway acknowledged that many young professionals were in the tech field by accident. But he also noted that there are excellent opportunities for those already here. "There's no secret that lots of us young people got adopted into this industry. However, today we are a growing part of the digital infrastructure community and are very much enjoying the career benefits that the industry provides."
Honestly, I became fascinated with this and wanted to dig in further. Why are young people from completely different walks of life joining our industry? To dig in further, I asked a few people why they made a complete career pivot into technology.
Technology hits the right note
Caity Ali is a millennial and was a music teacher at a suburban school in Illinois. After about ten years in teaching, Caity felt it was time for a significant change. I still remember the conversation she and I had and what it would take to jump into IT. I told her about the fantastic opportunities and the challenges of learning something new. For Caity, it was the right move. "I saw a future in this industry," says Caity Ali, Tech Support Administrator at ExcalTech. "After 10 years, teaching until I am 70 did not seem like a viable option. A career in tech is much more sustainable and I can still make a difference."
But making this kind of career change isn't easy. "I do miss the kids; it was hard to leave teaching. But as I was getting my tech degree and passing my certifications, ExcalTech gave me a chance to get started," added Caity. And for those wanting to make the change into tech, Caity has some very clear advice. "If you want to change, it's not just about a better life and a better potential paycheck. I never grew up gaming or having LAN parties, or even working with technology that much. But I so wanted the change. For those making the jump, you will have to commit to learning something entirely new. But it's so rewarding."
Finally, for those willing to jump, Caity gave some additional pointers. "Learn at your own pace," she emphasized. "It does feel like there's a constant pressure to learn and keep up. It's a challenge, and it is important to balance."
Creating healthier security standards
David Konstant is also a millennial and is a former physical therapist. After nearly ten years in healthcare, David knew it was time to jump into technology. Like Caity, David was another person I knew and talked with before leaping tech. After two years as a security professional, he hasn't looked back. But why make the change? "As a physical therapist, I felt there was a real lack of mobility in healthcare," says David Konstant, Security, and Penetration Tester at DOT Security. "It's a very structured industry, and there are specific tracks that one has to take. The challenge is both career as well as financial growth. The other challenge is that even if you do personal growth, that won't translate to career growth. So, I could be the best PT in the company, but it won't mean much mobility. It was so hard to be overworked and understaffed. Seeing patients all day almost nonstop can burn you out."
For David, the technology industry offered David a chance to grow and be challenged. "In technology, nothing is ever static," adds Konstant. "I must be creative and learn new things every single day. And this translates to it being mentally challenging and helps with career growth."
Also, like Caity, David offers some sage advice for those looking to make a move. "Before you make a change, be sure to talk to people in the field. Ask them questions, understand roles and responsibilities, and learn what day-to-day life will be like. If the challenges you're experiencing now are the same as where you want to go, switching careers might not make sense."
That said, technology is an extensive industry. "Be sure you plan out your career practically,” adds Konstant. "Don't just go into 'tech.' Pick your field, whether it's cybersecurity, infrastructure, cloud, and so on. Find the field you're most passionate about, learn about it initially, and then be sure it's right for you. I transitioned in my early 30s. The challenge here is that there's not much room to mess up. So, know where you're heading."
However, once you are in technology, one theme has become very common. The growth opportunities are endless. "Financially, the opportunities are whatever you want them to be, Konstant explains. "I’ve learned that there really isn’t a ceiling, and that’s been huge for many when they join the tech industry. With my education and experience, I can move into new areas of IT because my skillset is directly applicable. If you understand technology, in my case, security, the ability to move around and leverage new opportunities, is wonderful. At DOT Security, I get the chance to apply what I’ve learned to improve the security posture of so many different types of organizations. Every day is something new, and that keeps it exciting!”
Helping our industry move forward
For those lucky enough to be in our industry, we must act as sounding boards and champions of our fields. I’ve had many conversations with students during our Capstone Courses about what they can do with their engineering degrees in the data center industry. However, students aren’t the only ones who can benefit. If you have friends or are curious about tech, talk to them about it. You never know where the next fantastic technologist might come from.
The growth opportunities in our industry are endless. As a connected society, we rely on critical infrastructure, software solutions, security, and technology to live, work, and play. Never stop talking about what makes our industry so special; there’s a good chance it’ll inspire someone to join our ranks.