In the latest episode of Uptime with DCK, we investigate the skills crisis facing the data center industry with Nabeel Mahmood, an experienced IT executive, keynote speaker, and one of the hosts of the Nomad Futurist podcast.
We look at data center culture, and approaches to attracting a new generation of talent into the wonderful world of mission-critical infrastructure.
According to Mahmood, the main challenge for the industry is awareness – data center degrees are still few and far between, and industry professionals are too busy with their job of connecting the world to spend time on extolling the virtues of a data center career.
Long term, trade schools for data center engineers might hold the answer. But in the short term, data centers could try to capture some of the workforce that left their jobs in recent months as part of a social phenomenon dubbed ‘the great resignation.’
Mahmood will be discussing the skills crisis in-depth at the upcoming Data Center World conference and exhibition in Austin, Texas, taking place between 28 and 31 March at the Austin Convention Center.
Data Center Knowledge will be on location to report on the news, learn from the experts, and to eat some of that famous Austin barbecue.
See the full automatically-generated transcript below:
Data Center Knowledge: Hello there, and welcome to uptime with data centre knowledge, the podcast that brings you the news and views from the global data centre industry. My name is Max Smolaks, senior editor at data center knowledge and today we're going to talk about the skills crisis facing the world of digital infrastructure. To discuss this subject in depth, I'm pleased to welcome Nabeel Mahmood. And the bill is an experienced it executive keynote speaker and one of the hosts of the Nomad futurist podcast. So you could say competition in a sense. Hey, welcome to the Show Interview.
Nabeel Mahmood: Well, thank you for having me, Max. It's it's a pleasure. And it's not a competition at all. I mean, we we covered different elements basically, in our podcast.
Data Center Knowledge: Yes, yes, yes. And then they say that a rising tide lifts all boats. So you know, like more podcasts about digital infrastructure, the better I think?
Mahmood: Absolutely, absolutely. The more awareness we can create. It's better for the younger generation.
Data Center Knowledge: Yes. And first, if you could tell us a little bit about yourself, How and why did you become a futurist? And how did you start producing a podcast?
Mahmood: Oh, my gosh. So yeah, well, we'll keep it short and sweet. So basically, I've been in the information technology industry for about 20 years started my career actually on the application layer, developing applications, biometric and retina scanning and security. With ERP system integration, manufacturing, discrete manufacturing, primarily, purely accidentally got involved in the data centre business, it was not something that I had my cards growing up, I fell in love with it. And the reason for that, especially the culture, the type of people that we've got in the data centre industry, you know, from an electrical, mechanical, structural architectural perspective, they're very passionate, they bring a lot of value, and very personable, it's the largest, smallest industry, in my opinion, we get to know everybody, we make friends, and these are lifetime friendships. So that was actually one of the core reasons why I ended up in the data centre industry. And as I started getting deeper into that space, I realised there's a lot of silos from the DevOp, guys to the guys that are actually designing, building this critical infrastructure. And we are supporting the growth of the digital transformation, adoption of the industry, there's a lot of gaps. And over the years, I extended my reach into different parts of the industry. So you know, from software layer to crypto and blockchain, to banking, to legal to real estate to design build. So I've been very fortunate over the last 22 years to have had the opportunity to touch pretty much every single piece of computing, and the foundation of it, but at the heart of it, I am very passionate about the physical layer, and that is the data centre, that's the backbone. That's the foundation of everything that's happening in this digital world today.
Data Center Knowledge: And these are, these are great jobs. I mean, I mean, let's be honest, these are high paying jobs, right. But over the past, you know, like three, four or five years, the number of people who who can do these jobs, you know, like the the critical infrastructure jobs is is going down. And conversely, salaries are going up. So why is there a C skills crisis? And in your opinion, how serious is the problem? So, you know, like your work the data horse, you've talked to people, you know, like, is it as serious as the analysts are telling us? You know, like, when you're trying to equip a data centre and run a data centre, you know, like, are you going to run into staffing issues?
Mahmood: Absolutely, it's actually worse than what the analyst is telling us. And analysts have a tendency of actually, keeping it in the grey area was what I call it, so so you don't create that level of panic. But in reality, it's really worse. So what has happened, especially in the last two years, is that there has been a significant adoption of digital technology. I mean, with COVID-19, coming into play, we actually had to send everybody back home, yet we had to keep our lives going. And if it wasn't for the core foundation, that we as technologists had put forth, you know, 10 years ago, and and, you know, thought through the elements of scalability, this would be a catastrophe. Right now, the gap that you you're talking about is actually significantly large, because now there's more adoption of technology. Everybody wants information, and they want information at their fingertips, and they want it now. Right? And they want the entire experience to be now so I'll give you an example. That voice over IP, right? It was, you know, a pipe dream, we will have it eventually. Okay. And whereas now today, you can be anywhere in the world. And you can connect with anybody using VoIP companies did not really, you know, buy into that whole idea prior to COVID-19. There was a significant gap. So I mean, examples of zoom Microsoft Teams, I mean, these collaborative platforms and communication platforms were fancy, you know, we don't need it. We've got people in the office, they can actually stand by the water tower and have a Conversation, they can go into a conference room, whereas now they can be anywhere in the world. Right. So there has been a significant adoption of technology. And the challenge that comes with it is that it's still the same number of people that existed two years ago, that existed five years ago that existed 10 years ago in this space that have been supporting this infrastructure. And it's not, it's not exciting enough, we have not created an appeal for the younger generation to come in, and scale it up. So that's where the gap is. And when I, based on my standing in my position, when I look at things, we are scaling significantly at a very higher rate. So there's more people using it, there are more people that are connected, there's more technology integrations there more applications that come in, and but we've got the same set of people, and we don't have enough talent pool, or resources that are coming into our space. So that's where the gap comes into play.
Data Center Knowledge: Where is the problem? Is this is this education? Is this, that there's not enough awareness? Is this, you know, like, are the salaries still too low to attract the necessary talent? Or are we just gradually, like, we're just using like, these STEM skills, which are essential to do this kind of, you know, like, these kinds of jobs in this kind of engineering? So where do you see the core of the problem? You know, like, when you look at just like, I can't hire it, hire the stuff I need, you know, like, this is where it originates?
Mahmood: Well, salaries is not a problem in the space that we're in. I mean, we're actually seeing that the industry that we are in is actually the one of the highest salary. Industry, it's the highest paid industry to be in. I mean, our folks in our space with any special skills are actually making more money than the doctors and attorneys. Yep. The challenge is lack of exposure, the challenge is the lack of interest, the challenge is not knowing the reason why to get into the space, the challenge is lack of awareness. You know, all of us have gone into this space purely by an accident. Yes, we did not go to school, to be in the datacenter business. Even today, when you look at the educational system, we have not had any change since the Second Industrial Revolution. We're still talking about discrete manufacturing, we're not talking about data, we're not talking about computing. We're not talking about industry four dot O. But we are talking about being a star war genius, you know, and you get a bachelor's or master's degree knowing Star Wars. So I think we have lacked as a society as an industry to educate the younger generation. And we have not created enough awareness, we are just delivering what the industry demands, or what the consumer demand. And we're not enticing the younger generation to come into space. I mean, it's kind of like, you know, I look at it, whereby, you know, a grandma sitting in New York City is going to talk about, you know, the the grandchild to become a scientist or a grandchild to become a doctor or attorney, or a real estate broker, she's not going to talk about at a dinner table, hey, you need to be a data scientist, or you need to be an electrical engineer working in the data centre space, or you need to be a real estate guy that does, you know, acquisitions, or puts out new facilities, right? Or you need to be the guy that goes out and negotiates the power purchase agreements. That's not a conversation that's happening at the dinner table. And that's because of lack of awareness that there is this largest industry that does not exist in 99% of the population across the globe.
Data Center Knowledge: Yes, absolutely. But okay, okay. So that's, that's people who don't know data centres. But let's let's, let's shift the focus to the industry itself. Do you think in the community, you know, like, not enough people are doing this outreach work?
Mahmood: Yeah. So I think the challenge is that we have got so much work, that we've got this tunnel vision that we all we think about is taking care of the issue on hand. There's so much build that's happening right now that, you know, I wouldn't call it the view of God blinders. But we've got so much work that we can't even deliver as a stand today for what the demand is. So no other tasks can be taken. Uh huh. That's that's the challenge. I mean, you know, there's backlogs that are in excess of two years right now. I mean, we are keeping just just to keep things connected. That's, that's, that's to people's job. I mean, maybe we can't get out of that, that the core focus is to make sure that connectivity exists, right. So I don't think that it's the people I think we don't have enough time, I believe, you know, everybody that I know that I've connected over the years, they all want to help they all want to grow this industry, they all want to contribute, they want to be able to pass the baton on to the next generation. They just don't have time.
Data Center Knowledge: Okay, so um, do we need more community organisations and you know, like so for example, at informer, we have the outcome you know, like they sent a professional association and it's just like there's there's many other communities do you think we just need more of this you know, like we need we need to connect not just for business but for actual You know, like building the industry?
Mahmood: Well, we need to find a way to encourage the younger generation expose this to the younger generation, we need to get in schools, we need to have a community outreach. For the younger kids, we need to start early, we need to give kids because the reason to look into this as a potential opportunity. So you know, an example is like growing up as a kid, my dad was a businessman. Guess what? I'm a businessman today. Right? It's exposure experiences, and connecting points. So with kids today, you know, they every kid is got a laptop, every kid's got an iPad, or some sort of a mobile device. They're all connected in some way, form or shape. But do they know the reason how it works, why it works, why it was created? Now? Can we as technologists give them that exposure and an opportunity? Yes. And I think, you know, leveraging technology, enabling them to think, why it exists, what purpose it's serving, and how it's done. You know, I would throw it out on your podcast, that let's go out find a reason why we search on Google versus anything else, and how much carbon emission that there is on every single search. Right? So we need to think differently, we need to get into different mediums whereby we encourage the younger generation to find the reasons for all of this behind, and what's the core of it. And of course Informa and data centre knowledge and data centre world a great platforms. But what we attract and who we attract, are people that are in the industry, absolutely need to find reasons for other, you know, other communities to come into our space, we need to find a reason to encourage, you know, kids in college, or even school programmes to to participate in some way form or shape. So it's about creating awareness. And, you know, the community outreach, is it's critical. And it's potentially even, you know, think about trade schools. give kids an opportunity to learn a skill set. And this is really a skill set. It's kind of like, you know, in my opinion, we used to have blacksmith used to actually have a trade school to be a blacksmith, you you had a trade school to be a mechanic, whatever happened to that it disappeared since the second industrial revolution right? Now, computing data centre is going to bring that back, we need to go back to trade schools, we need to give kids you know, something to look forward and look up to.
Data Center Knowledge: Absolutely, yes. And obviously, the problem here is even if you started, you know, like doing this outreach work, and you're like inspiring the kids, it's gonna take, like, 5-10 years, because before they actually reached the workplace, do you think because at the moment is a very interesting time and employment? Do you think they call it the great resignation? Do you think some of those people some of that wave, which is like resigning, they're boring office jobs? Do you think they might look at the datacenter and find it attractive because it's something new, something they've never heard about before? These are interesting engineering jobs. And they're not that hard. They're, you know, like, their structure, there's manuals, there's other people are going to tell you what to do. So do you think that maybe we can we can capture some of those guys, you know, like, who are tired of the office and give them a good engineering job?
Mahmood: Absolutely. Absolutely. The only thing that's holding them back is them. That's the fear factor. That they don't know, it's a different industry. And it's complicated. I mean, we as an industry, we are growing so dramatically, and there's an extreme level of complexity. That's probably what scares people. So if you can get past that, you know, and knowing that everybody in this industry is willing to help, and teach and train. Yeah, I mean, those are valuable resources. As a matter of fact, I had this conversation earlier today about the grid resignation. It's, it's an improvement in lifestyle, people understanding what their self worth is, people are understanding that they can actually be doing something better and contribute back to the society. They just have to be a little bit open and be open to learning and, you know, find what their passion is. This is this is, I think, the opportunity era versus the resignation error. There's the way I look at it.
Data Center Knowledge: Alright, so if if one of our listeners, let's say, let's say, but we've lucked out, and they're on the fence, right, they've heard about data centres. They've heard what you just said. And she's like, how would you entice them? What would be like maybe maybe two or three things you would say? What makes data centre jobs, good jobs.
Mahmood: So when we look at the industries and verticals, if you if you look, you know, where we were 1015 years ago, the commodities that were being traded were oil and gas, and minerals. What is on the stock exchange now? Top 10 companies that are publicly traded, what are they? There? Every single company is data driven. From alphabet to metaphors, right? We are in the data rush era. We are not going to go back and live like cavemen and women, the future is data. This is the data rush. And it's an opportunity to get in early as early as you can, it will be a life changing event for any and all of us. Computing is going to be second nature, it's going to be basically muscle memory. You know, I remember the days when I would have to call a travel agent to book my travel. Now, I can do that on my phone. Anytime, anywhere, right, I remember when I would have to call the bank to do my balance, my chequebook, I can do that on my phone today. So we have already accepted the digital world. And that's the future. This is actually just the beginning. I mean, there's so much more that's going to come with artificial intelligence, with Internet of Things with connected devices, with industry 4.0, with autonomous vehicles, that the life is going to change, and where we are at today. And what we have seen over the last two years, the adoption rates are significantly high, people have started to use this and start to become muscle memory. So technology is going to evolve significantly quicker than it has over the last few decades. People are wanting more and more and more data is becoming second nature. So you know, if that doesn't entice you, I don't know what will.
Data Center Knowledge: I think I think this sounded like a very good statement of intent. This is this is why you should you should consider a career in this field. And finally, in the bill, so you have been working in this direction yourself, right. Last time, you mentioned that you you are starting your own project foundation. So could you tell us a little bit more about it?
Mahmood: Absolutely. So I'll give you a quick summary. So I've been very fortunate. And I actually looked back at time and my upbringing and experiences exposure I had the reason who I am today. And the reason where I'm at today in my career is because of this very strong foundation that was laid. We are family, we are the culture, we are travel, we are education. And you know, a part of is also being at the right place at the right time. So that's certainly that help. And been a very, very fortunate career. Now, over the last six years, I've had a few peaks and valleys in my life, I've flatlined a couple of times, I was legally dead performance in 19 seconds came out of that, about six months ago, I had a quadruple bypass. So things changed dramatically for me whereby, you know, I feel that it's an opportunity for me, whereby I've given another lease on life, that I should contribute and give back to the community, pass the baton on to the next generation and hopefully bridge the digital divide that we have generationally speaking, technically speaking, because if you're not going to do this, now, we're going to create a black hole. And in doing so, that's the reason we started the podcast called The Nomad futurist, which is to demystify technology, simplify it for the users simplified for the average listener, and encourage the younger generation to come into our space. And it's not about bits and bytes of computing those kilowatts and beat us. It's about the experiences, the trials and tribulations of my peers and the industry, and how we learn how we work, how we collaborate and where the industry is heading. So having said that, six months ago, when I had that experience of going through a quadruple bypass, I figured that I needed to do a little bit more than that. And in collaboration with my partner, Phil Copeland's, you know, I basically encouraged him that we should actually start a foundation. And the premise of the foundation, besides creating awareness is to help develop scholarship funds for kids in underdeveloped regions around the world, especially in emerging and fiduciary markets. And also, eventually, within the next three to five years, help build a trade school, whereby we can, you know, help people grow. I mean, you know, people that don't have an opportunity, they don't have a career path, but they're smart, that want to get into our space, you know, we need to be a means to them. So that's, that's the premise of the foundation. I also believe that, like I said, emerging markets is where we want to focus areas that kids don't have an opportunity is where we want to focus. Because you never know, you really don't know that the next biggest change maker could be out of a little town, somewhere in the world. We just need to find that genius. The thing is that the industry that we are in, it's it is a global industry. Yes. Right. And in order for other societies to catch up, we want to be able to provide them that talent pool. And, and and give them an opportunity to keep that to a talent pool locally, right. You know, like, let's say, a kid out in Zanzibar. You know, he's got interest in computing, he's going to be seeking to come to America or going to UK or another, you know, another country, but if we can give him that education we can give him or her that exposure and experience and an opportunity that he can see locally, build that community up. That's that's the goal, you know, encourage them to contribute back to their local communities.
Data Center Knowledge: Absolutely, absolutely. Cuz I mean, our structure is built out but there are regions in the world where it just like they will need data centres and will need hundreds 1000s of data centres and yes, who's gonna build them?
Mahmood: Exactly. Yeah, you and I are not going to Zanzibar to build a data centre, right. So we need people out there to build that it's a connected world. We need to encourage empower those people locally
Data Center Knowledge: That that is a very positive message. We will need 10s of 1000s of more engineers. And yes, this is a good way to start engaging them. So if you like what you heard here, check out Nomad futurist, it's a podcast or you guys weekly episodes or sort of a couple of times a month.
Mahmood: So we release a podcast release every two weeks. And you can check us out on Nomad futures.com We are available on every platform basically. And Nomad futures.org is the foundation.
Data Center Knowledge: Alright, thank you very much. And that is everything we have time for today. Thank you for listening. Thank you for being here in the bill and good luck in your work.
Mahmood: Thank you very much for having me, Max.