The digital infrastructure industry is truly global and scaling faster than any other time in history. Bottom line, our community is thriving but there is one consistent theme that threatens our ability to continue to serve this demand. We have a shortage of new, incoming talent.
Vocational schools, colleges, and universities have well-established programs that have been providing an educated workforce to fill job demand since their inception. The issue facing us today is how the digital age has changed that demand. There are many well-established computer science, engineering and business programs aligned with job demand. Schools are filling that pipeline well. The issue with the digital infrastructure industry is that the majority of these schools do not have a full understanding of how the foundational elements fit together to feed the digital age. Any person who initiates a digital action on any device anywhere in the world depends upon the infrastructure components we build and operate. While everyone depends on it, the majority do not know it exists and even fewer understand how it actually works. Worse yet, even fewer know of the rewarding and lucrative career opportunities in this field. Ask anyone on the street what a data center is and you will get raised eyebrows and puzzled looks.
Awareness and corresponding curriculum are lacking. Without this understanding, the schools are at a disadvantage. How can they build or adapt their programs and degrees to address this evolving world if they don’t know what positions are available and how they can prepare their students to enter them?
We decided to take this challenge head on. We established an IM Education Committee focused on three objectives. First, identify current programs that align to our industry and partner with those academic institutions. Second, define our industry job ladders and a heat map of jobs in demand. Third, develop a strategy to educate schools and students about our industry and develop applicable curriculum. We are confident we can help these institutions align their programs and students to the demand and start increasing that pipeline.
Unfortunately, while this should address the longer term issue, it will take time to implement and will not solve our immediate problem. We need to increase the pipeline now. Further compounding this problem is the lack of diversity. From a gender perspective, less than 10% of our industry is female. That means we need to increase industry exposure with the younger generation and provide incentives to help them enter it.
In 2017, we established the IM Womens group to tackle the gender gap. In 2018, we established the IM scholarship fund with our 50/50 strategy – e.g., our goal is to award half of these scholarships to women. I am proud to say that to date half our scholarships have been awarded to women.
THE LONDON $1M EDUCATION CHALLENGE
At our London Leadership Summit in November of 2018, we doubled down on this goal by issuing a $1M Education challenge. iMasons pledged to raise and award $1M in scholarship funds to accelerate the talent pipeline now.
One of the programs we initiated to help achieve this goal was Food For Thought (F4T) dinners. F4T are events that give members the chance to put down their phone, pick up a fork, and make real connections that last beyond the dinner all while helping to raise money for the fund. There is no money expected from attending members. F4T sponsors donate on their behalf. Just by showing up, each member helps raise $500 for scholarships.
IT STARTED IN SILICON VALLEY
On March 5, 2019, we hosted our inaugural F4T dinner in Palo Alto, Calif., in the heart of Silicon Valley. We gathered a stellar group of members who care a great deal about education, diversity and giving back. We had representation from our board, including Maricel Cerruti and myself, the chair of the IM women’s group, Mercy Manning, a member of our Advisory Council, Curt Belusar, and other members who have been supporting iMasons from day one. There were so many other connections as this group represented all levels of experience at past and current companies like Apple, Aligned Energy, Ebay, Flex, HPE, Nutanix, Nvidia, Salesforce, SAP, Sun Microsystems, Teledata, Uber and many more.
One of the most memorable parts of the evening was having Serena Devito join us and share her story. She persisted through a tough year of chemotherapy and surgery and is now cancer free! Many at the dinner have had the privilege of working with Serena for more than a decade. She is a dear friend and it was amazing to share her evening of celebration with the group!
During the dinner conversation, we found that Larry Bosquez and Chris Winslow had also battled and beat cancer. We’re all tied together is so many unique ways.
Many thanks to Chris Winslow and the team at Flex for hosting the dinner and donating $5,000 to the iMasons Scholarship fund!
DIGITAL DISCUSSION IN THE DESERT
We held the second dinner one week later in Phoenix, Arizona. Again we assembled another diverse group of members!
Attendees ranged from folks like Alyson Murney who is just starting in our community with four months of experience, to individuals with over 30 years of experience!
Yet again, old connections were re-established and new connections were made with attendees sharing their experience from Ebay, Equinix, GoDaddy, Iron Mountain, JLL, Morgan Stanley, PayPal, Stream Data Centers, Uber, United Metals, University of Arizona, Zayo, and many more.
This dinner raised $7,500 for the iMasons scholarship fund! Many thanks to Adnan Adi from GoDaddy and Anthony Bolner and Katie O’Hara from Stream Data Centers who hosted the dinner and donated to the fund.
When iMasons was formed in April 2016, we knew we wanted to provide a platform for our community to connect, grow and give back. These intimate dinners represent all that is good in our industry as we continue to Unite the Builders of the Digital Age, one professional at a time.
If you are interested in joining the iMasons community, visit https://imasons.org/join. If you are interested in helping with the $1M challenge or hosting / attending a Food For Thought dinner, sign up here: https://imasons.org/food-for-thought. Until next time.