Photo: Alec Vaca during the interview at Digital Realty
Story by Kristy Gillespie, NOVA IET STEM Writer
Despite it being his day off, NOVA graduate Alec Vaca joined us in a brightly lit, spacious conference room, eager to discuss his journey from NOVA to securing an internship at Digital Realty and eventually progressing to the role of a Data Center Operations Engineer 1. Vaca was enthusiastic about the chance to share his experience with the NOVA community.
When questioned about the moment he realized that Digital Realty was the ideal fit for him, Vaca explained with a smile, “it was at the end of my first three weeks here on this campus. I was like, this has to be it. I want to do the things that they are doing, to learn, to be as equipped as they are, because it’s amazing stuff we do here. And I really do enjoy it.”
“I was so excited. This is a new path, a new journey, a new chapter in my life. And thankfully, it worked out,” he added.
Vaca started his journey at Micron as an intern and spent three years working in fabrications. During that time, he built an impressive background at NOVA, having earned an A.A.S. degree in Automotive and another in Engineering Technology. Before marking his one-year anniversary with Digital Realty in September, he spent six weeks interning.
During the internship, Vaca had a variety of experiences. Some of his favorites included learning how to run the remote operating center, which he explained is like the “brain” of the building. He also had the opportunity to try on an arc flash suit used for critical switch manipulation. In addition, one of the projects Vaca was most proud of was a handbook that he created for future interns.
Vaca encourages NOVA students to intern at Digital Reality, a business that supports the data center and colocation strategies of firms across six continents, over twenty-five countries, and more than fifty metros. In fact, there are over fifteen locations in the Northern Virginia area alone. Vaca works at the IAD39 data center in Ashburn.
Vaca explained how his internship at Digital Realty helped him recognize his capabilities and potential within the company. During this experience, he gained valuable insights into the day-to-day operations of a data center and their direct impact on customers and their equipment.
When asked for advice he’d give to NOVA students interested in an internship at Digital Realty, Vaca emphasized the importance of open communication with professors. He suggested letting professors know about their interest in the internship opportunity. Additionally, he stressed the significance of humility, patience, and staying relaxed, as securing such opportunities often takes time.
We also had the opportunity to talk with John Limbacher, the Data Center Manager for IAD39, who, as a military veteran, acquired a technical background during his service. When asked about what Digital Realty looks for in a potential NOVA intern, he emphasized that students should have a willingness to learn, collaborate in a team environment, and possess essential soft skills, including communication, creativity, and problem-solving, among others.
Just prior to his internship at Digital Realty, Vaca had recently completed NOVA IET’s Career and Leadership Readiness Institute (CLRI), a free program offering NOVA students, particularly those in IET fields, the opportunity to enhance their competitiveness as job candidates. Vaca highlighted the CLRI’s benefits, citing his significant learning experiences in communication skills and resume building. “I’ve learned so much at NOVA and I’ve grown as a person through it,” Vaca said.
When describing a typical workday, or rather, a worknight for Vaca, he explained that it starts with discussions with the engineers to gather information on ongoing tasks and important updates. Following this, he conducts checks to ensure the stability of the Building Management System, which acts as the center’s eyes, and to address any potential need for replacing critical batteries.
For NOVA students interested in future opportunities at Digital Realty, Limbacher advised seeking out education reimbursement programs and completing certifications such as data center professional certifications, design, and construction certifications.
Limbacher also highlighted the diverse career pathways available within the company once an individual secures a position. In fact, beyond data center operations, employees have opportunities to transition into various roles including design and construction, implementation, portfolio management, marketing, sales, cybersecurity, and more.
Although there is a lot that Vaca enjoys about his career at Digital Realty, he mentioned that having positive relationships with his team is at the top of his list. He explained, “I have a voice and I can say, ok, this is a good idea, let’s go for it, or let’s talk about this because it doesn’t seem right to me.”
With an infectious smile, he added, “the biggest thing that hit me when I came here was strong relationships and I really enjoy it. I like how we communicate and that there’s good open dialogue.”
Information About Internships
Applications for Digital Realty internships can be accessed through NOVA’s Career Connection portal. Click here for DCO and here for Remote Hands. Postings will be up through November 17th:
Internships will be over the holiday break between semesters for 4 weeks up to 40 hours per week. Interns will be based at the Digital Realty locations in Ashburn and will be paid $20 per hour, with a maximum earning of $3,000.
Digital Realty is a valuable partner to the college in providing accessible pathways to in-demand technology careers. The NOVA Foundation has also provided outstanding support by establishing the NOVA IET Fund, which directly supports NOVA IET programs such as internships for the Data Center Operations program.
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Story by Kristy Gillespie, NOVA IET STEM Writer