Category Archives: Career Skills

CLRI Completes Spring Cohort with Executive Networking Event

The Spring 2024 Career and Leadership Institute (CLRI) was capped off on March 28 with the Executive Mentoring and Networking event!

A total of 24 students graduated from the Spring program, completing 7 workshops that covered topics including Leadership and Communication Skills, Building your Personal Brand, Technical Resume Writing, and Understanding Clearances and Vetting for Government Jobs.

The spring program covered 5 weeks starting in February and culminated in the Executive Mentoring and Networking event with 13 industry executives from Iron Mountain, HR Tec, Stack Infrastructure, CoreSite, AWS, A Foot In The Door, Vetting Konsultants, Micron, and Digital Realty.

Both mentors and students were recognized at the end of the event, and participants stayed an extra hour to network with industry partners.

Feedback from CLRI students included the following:

“I’m in the cybersecurity program and looking forward to entering the workforce. This event has been amazing; it helps break the ice, and all the questions I’ve been stressing about are being answered. Having come from the medical field, I’m entering this environment fresh. I was concerned about whether companies would hire people with no experience. Now, I understand what these companies are looking for in their employees, including certifications, and so on. It has been a fantastic experience.”

~ Kayley Radar, Cybersecurity

“I enjoyed speaking with professionals in groups along with other students because it prompted me to think of questions I hadn’t considered before. It allowed us to bounce ideas off one another.”

~ Arisiema Legasse

“I think it was cool that you could talk to industry leaders face-to-face. They were all very friendly, engaging, and interested in getting to know the students.”

~ Patrick Gilllespie, Data Center Operations

“This event was excellent as it provided a good opportunity to practice interacting with others. At NOVA, not many people engage in conversations; they attend their classes and leave. So, this experience was beneficial.”

~ Josh, Computer Science

“Andy Chavez said that working for a company is like a future relationship: the company wants you as much as you want them. I really liked this event.”

~ Nga Tran, Cloud Computing

IET Career Days are Back!

Showcasing NOVA’s commitment to supporting students and professionals in IET fields, NOVA’s IET High School Career Days return this March and April! These events introduce high school students to in-demand technology career pathways.

Check out our IET Career Day Video

Career Days are FREE and feature presentations and panel discussions by industry experts covering a range of topics such as Information Technology, Engineering Technology, Computer Science, Data Center Operations, Cybersecurity, Cloud Computing, and Credit for Prior Learning (e.g. Google, CompTIA, and AWS certifications). Students will also tour the particular NOVA campus they are visiting (Loudoun, Woodbridge, Manassas, Alexandria, andAnnandale).

High schools that meet the minimum registration requirement will be provided free transportation to and from the event and lunch is also provided. This is a first-come first-serve event and each campus is capped at 200 attendees.

Registration is required to attend and all high school students must self-register for their respective Career Day.


Register below to attend a Career Day at one of our NOVA Campuses: 

Tuesday 3/12 Loudoun Campus
Wednesday 3/13 Woodbridge Campus
Thursday 3/14 Manassas Campus
Friday 4/5 Annandale Campus


For questions contact Braden Traw at jtraw@nvcc.edu or Justin Owen at jlowen@nvcc.edu.

NOVA Student Success In IET: Willie Brown

NOVA student Willie Brown is flying high in NASA’s Community College Aerospace Scholars Program. From CLRI to FOWA, he’s leaving a trail of success wherever he goes.

We recently settled in for a conversation with Willie, a NOVA IET student and participant in NASA’s Community College Aerospace Scholars (NCAS) program. We were eager to delve into his remarkable experience and trace his journey through NOVA IET.

Brown, currently pursuing an A.S. in Information Technology, a C.S.C. for Network Engineering Specialist, and CompTIA Industry Certifications, discovered this excellent opportunity through a Canvas announcement last year. Despite fierce competition among hundreds of community college students, Brown stood out and actively engaged in Mission 1: Discover and Mission 2: Explore within the NCAS virtual experience. To top it off, Brown received an invitation to Mission 3: Innovate-Capstone Project, scheduled to take place at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California!

Mission 1 and Mission 2 are five-week programs, deeply immersing participants in NASA’s missions and STEM careers. Meanwhile, Mission 3 is a three-week endeavor, consisting of a 2-week online segment followed by a one-week residential experience. During this time, scholars like Brown will contribute to NASA’s missions by developing possible solutions to current challenges faced by NASA.

As he embarked on Mission 1, Discover, Brown found himself engrossed in a NASA orientation that set the stage for the subsequent NCAS missions. This phase offered students a comprehensive insight into NASA’s ongoing projects and pathways for involvement.

The online program blends various STEM activities, including expert talks, interactive media, group work, tests, and guidance from seasoned educators, providing students like Brown with an engaging learning experience during Mission 1.

He encourages students to explore the program, noting that Mission 1 is achievable due to its virtual nature. He explained that participants delve into NASA’s directorates and focus on major ongoing projects, such as Artemis.

Artemis II, slated as the first crewed mission to the moon since 1972, is scheduled to launch a year from now. Brown emphasized its significance, stating, “The space program affects life on Earth much more than you might initially think. For example, research takes place on the space station that can be beneficial on Earth. Research topics include plant growth, changes in bone density, chemical processes for the development of medicine, and more. It’s really exciting in addition to the first person of color being on the Artemis II team.”

Transitioning into Mission 2, Explore unfolds as a simulation where students craft solutions for missions to the Moon or Mars. This phase focuses on teaching them the art of balancing choices within set limits. Simultaneously, within the career simulation, students step into mock NASA roles, showcasing the importance of teamwork and personal skills essential for monumental missions, such as exploring the lunar surface.

Brown was a member of the Apollo Green team, tasked with deciphering which rocket to utilize, defining payloads, specifying the mission objectives, selecting landing sites, and managing numerous other crucial elements.

When allocating roles among team members, Brown humorously compared the process to steering clear of the frantic scramble for supplies at the cornucopia in The Hunger Games; in their case, the “cornucopia” encapsulated all the available STEM roles in Exploration. Thankfully, the team swiftly resolved their roles due to time constraints, spurred by the impending presentation of their project.

His role centered on public affairs, necessitating the creation of a marketing plan outlining their approach to disseminating the program to the public. He also strategized on how to keep stakeholders informed about their progress while navigating the challenge of addressing encountered issues without revealing excessive details to other teams.

Amidst his involvement in the NCAS program, Brown’s plate extends far beyond. Besides being a NOVA student, he is deeply engaged in various roles. He serves on the Student Advisory Group for Virginia Workforce Recovery, collaborates with the Community College Research Center at Columbia University, holds positions as a NOVA Corps intern with Alexandria Enrollment Services, and interns with the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative and CACI Corporation.

When questioned about his perspective on the importance of IET fields, he elaborated, “The world has shifted—now, we’re all interconnected through this internet, so there are fundamental things that everyone needs to comprehend in order to protect themselves.”

On doing CLRI at NOVA

Reflecting on his journey at NOVA, Brown highlighted the significance of completing the Career & Leadership Readiness Institute (CLRI). He firmly advocates for its value, stating, “It’s worth the time and energy invested. An absolutely fantastic program—it’s priceless.” He specifically praised several beneficial aspects such as mock interviews, guidance from subject matter experts, insightful visits to data centers, resume assistance, and the invaluable support from Career and Technical Education Coordinator, Andy Chavez, and IET Career Advisor, Sedrick Settle.

Furthermore, the CLRI focuses on imparting soft skills, an aspect Brown noted as crucial irrespective of one’s field. He acknowledged the significance of interpersonal abilities since interaction with people is universal across professions. He identified essential soft skills such as maintaining eye contact, effective communication, active listening, the art of asking questions and seeking clarification, mastering intonation, delivering both positive and negative news, demonstrating respect, and offering basic technical support.

First Place in the Future of Work Academy (FOWA)

Additionally, last fall, Brown participated in the virtual Future of Work Academy (FOWA), an institution specializing in cybersecurity career preparation. Notably, he clinched first place in the FOWA Innovation Incubator Challenge by presenting an idea centered around connecting individuals with limited resources seeking employment opportunities to free community resources. His concept involved establishing virtual cohorts within the community. His focus lay in imparting fundamental typing skills, recognizing its essentiality in today’s landscape.

Engaging in NOVA IET

Regarding advice for those contemplating NOVA’s IET programs, Brown stresses the need to dispel the notion that IT professionals are innate wizards, emphasizing that everyone starts as a learner. His advice is to initiate learning, seek guidance from successful individuals, and craft a solid learning plan, starting without delay.

For non-traditional students, he urges active engagement within the NOVA experience, advocating for the exploration of unfamiliar opportunities. He emphasizes the significance of not holding back academically or experientially due to age differences. In the competitive arena of professional life, he suggests embracing the diverse experiences within the classroom while understanding that they may also be competitors in securing dream jobs.

Highlighting the importance of a support network, Brown acknowledges the influential role of Jack Bidlack, NOVA’s Director of Strategic Initiatives, as a mentor and supporter. “One of my champions is Mr. Bidlack. Anytime something happens to me, I always send him a note to let him know what’s going on. He’s like my cheering section,” he said with a bright smile.

Looking ahead, Brown envisions completing his studies at NOVA and transferring to a four-year university, preferably one with an active honors program or a small liberal arts school offering an engaging environment. He also expresses his commitment to lifelong learning, currently pursuing a mathematics class at NOVA.

 

NOVA Student Success in IET Spotlight

NOVA student Prasit Acharya met with us during his lunch break from Capital Power Group (CPG), a data center service provider in Ashburn. We sat down to discuss his success in completing NOVA’s Career & Leadership Readiness Institute (CLRI) and his internships at Vantage and CPG. Despite not having graduated from NOVA yet, Acharya has already secured a full-time position at CPG as an NOC Service Coordinator. Currently pursuing an associate degree in Information Technology (IT), he plans to complete his studies this year.

Acharya first learned about the CLRI program through an email from Andy Chavez, NOVA’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) director. His immediate interest in the internship opportunity led him to enroll. He’s immensely glad he didーduring the program, he acquired a plethora of skills, including communication, professionalism, leadership, accountability, resume creation, and more. Additionally, Acharya forged lasting friendships with peers that endure to this day, and his confidence experienced a significant boost.

The resume builder workshop held particular significance for Acharya. Notable tips that resonated with him included the emphasis on listing accomplishments rather than just job tasks. For instance, if you held a position as a cashier at a grocery store, the advice was to focus on how you contributed to your team rather than simply stating that you scanned items. Additionally, for those without extensive work experience, the workshop emphasized the importance of highlighting your educational achievements.

One of the mottos of the CLRI is “every day is a job interview,” and this resonated strongly with Acharya. He explained, “It’s important to act professionally because you don’t know who you’re going to meet, especially in this area. We toured data centers and met directors. Even though it was just a pleasant introduction, that initial contact can open the door to opportunities.”

Another significant aspect of the CLRI program was the networking event, where students had the opportunity to meet representatives from various companies, including Google, Course 1, Prince William County Department of IT, and more.

Acharya expressed that he would have missed out on many opportunities if not for the CLRI. In fact, it was through the CLRI that he met Professor TJ Ciccone, which prompted him to register for the Data Center Operations class—a crucial stepping-stone to the internship through Advancing IT and Data Center Infrastructure (AFCOM), an association dedicated to the career advancement of IT and data center professionals.

Reflecting on the program, he remarked, “I learned the basics of professionalism in the real world. I feel like that was a big thing for me, especially coming right out of high school.”

Acharya encourages IET students to register for CLRI, stating, “I can’t thank Chavez and Cedric Settle, NOVA’s IET Career Advisor, enough. They care about every student. Chavez organizes get-togethers and Settle reaches out personally. They want you to succeed.”

Most significantly, CLRI led to Acharya’s 5-week internship at Vantage and a subsequent 5-week internship at Capital Power Group (CPG) through AFCOM.

At Vantage, he shadowed the operations team responsible for checking the BMS and HVAC systems. One task that he particularly enjoyed was trying on an arc flash suit used for critical switch manipulation.

He explained, “In class, we covered switching from the online maintenance bypass in the UPS system. I actually got to do that live, in person, with actual repercussions if something were to go wrong. I mean, there’s nothing that’s going to happen, but once you have that suit on, it feels real.”

“In class, there’s a rack, but it’s not live. When I flipped the switch, I had to look away in case something exploded. Of course, the manager was watching, but they let me handle a large portion of it,” he added.

At CPG, he shadowed not only the operations team but also the project management and HVAC teams. The operations team is responsible for determining the projects that need attention, assessing project costs, determining the required number of contractors, and overseeing the self-service tasks that need completion.

While the majority of the internship took place during the day, he also worked overnight shifts because the units required constant monitoring.

In terms of individuals who had a positive influence on him during the internship, Acharya mentioned his mentor, Kenny Bland, who serves as a service delivery manager at CyrusOne. They met weekly to discuss the progress of the internship.

While he gained a wealth of knowledge during the internships, what stood out was learning effective teamwork, improving communication skills, gaining insights into the workings of a data center, and more. At both placements, Acharya felt warmly welcomed and considered himself an integral part of the team.

Regarding the biggest challenge, he explained that familiarizing himself with all the various systems posed the most significant hurdle.

It was during his time at CBG, while shadowing both the operations and project management teams, that he realized this was an area he would like to pursue because it involves working directly with customers.

Acharya encourages IET students to complete an internship and advocate for what they want. “NOVA has internships going on year-round, so take one and learn from it. Even if you don’t like it, you’ll still learn, and you might get paid a little bit along the way. It’s a win-win,” he explained.

During his internship at CPG, a NOC Service Coordinator position opened up, prompting him to contact the hiring manager to express his interest. Clearly, he made a significant impression because he was offered the job before his internship had even ended.

As for future education and career goals, after graduating with an IT associate degree from NOVA, Acharya plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree. He holds a particular interest in data science and identity management. His ultimate dream is to work for Facebook, Apple, or Google. With his remarkable achievements in such a short amount of time, the sky’s the limit.

PWCS IT Intern Now Working at NOVA in IT

Fatima Shareen comes full circle from NOVA cyber student and CLRI to NOVA IT employee.

 By Kristy Gillespie

Fatima Shareen is a recent NOVA cybersecurity graduate and now works as an Information Technology (IT) Support Technician at the bustling Woodbridge Campus, future site of NOVA’s Data Center Operations Training Facility and where NOVA’s Information and Engineering Technologies (IET) program is based.

Her current career pathway was trailblazed from her time as a Prince William County Schools (PWCS) IT intern when she was a NOVA student. From the beginning, the 150-hour internship at Forest Park High School provided flexibility as she could choose between an eight or six-hour day, giving her the freedom to efficiently manage her busy schedule at work and at George Mason University, where she is pursuing a cybersecurity bachelor degree.

Like many technology students at NOVA who are looking to develop their soft skills, Shareen previously completed NOVA IET’s Career & Leadership Readiness Institute (CLRI): “I loved the CLRI program. I actually enrolled twice because the instructors provided great support for the interview process and helped with resume building.”

Shereen highly recommends that NOVA IET students take advantage of CLRI so they have better internship opportunities, as being a CLRI grad played a pivotal role in securing her own PWCS intern spot.

Her key tasks during the internship included computer imaging (which involves the installation of operating systems, applications, and settings) and computer scripting for automating tasks in websites and web applications. She utilized Configuration Manager, a systems management software product, to handle a total of 3,000 laptops.

At Forest Park High School, Shereen progressed through her internship in a “warm and welcoming environment with supportive individuals.” One person who had a profound influence on her was Sylvia Avila, an IT Support Technician. “I’ve been working for the last six, seven years, but never encountered someone like her. She was simply amazing and incredibly helpful,” Shareen said.

The PWCS internship significantly bolstered her resume, enhanced her teamwork skills, expanded her IT knowledge, and provided valuable hands-on training. Shareen emphasized how those skills acquired during the internship continue to support her in her current career, particularly with diagnosing and resolving computer errors or technical issues: “If you are in the IT field, troubleshooting is the most important thing that you should know.”

Shareen has come full circle, from NOVA student to NOVA employee. Reflecting on those who made a positive impact during her time as a student, she singled out IET Professor Michael Spiller as her favorite instructor: “The way he taught was different from other teachers. He always showed up to class stating that he was the boss and we were his employees. I took 3 or 4 classes with him. He was amazing.”

In her professional environment, Shareen is keenly appreciative of NOVA’s “positive vibe,” with friendly people and job tasks similar to those performed during her internship.

Looking forward, Shareen aspires to venture into entrepreneurship and develop her own business, possibly through the Fulfillment by Amazon platform.

Shareen’s heartfelt message to NOVA students is: “your time at NOVA is an invaluable investment in your future, and I encourage you to approach it with dedication and belief in your capabilities.”

PWCS IT Internship Opportunities are currently available for NOVA students. Apply by December 13 through the NOVA Career Connection portal

More about NOVA IET at https://www.nvcc.edu/academics/divisions/iet/index.html

#Nighthawks #NOVAPride #InDemandTech #InformationTechnology #Internships #InformationTechnology

CLRI Hosts Women’s Mentoring Event

Joanna Bidlack, Senior VP of Human Resources at Leidos, inspires women to succeed.

 By Kristy Gillespie

Now, more than ever, it’s crucial to celebrate women in the field of Information Technology (IT). The IT industry is experiencing exponential growth in Northern Virginia, leading to an increasing demand for qualified employees. While there are fewer women than men in IT, companies are actively seeking diversity of thought, recognizing that women will bring new perspectives and innovative ideas to the IT sector.

In celebration of women in IT, NOVA’s Information and Engineering Technology (IET) division recently held its inaugural Women’s Mentoring Session at the Annandale campus as part of its Career and Leadership Readiness Institute (CLRI) program, which trains IET students in the soft skills needed to secure in-demand technology jobs.

Joanna Bidlack, Senior Vice President of Human Resources at Leidos – Intelligence Group, is a powerhouse in her field and served as the distinguished guest speaker for the mentoring session. Although she has 15 years of experience in HR, her career began with an undergraduate degree in graphic design, whereafter she co-owned a business focused on graphic design and photography, alongside a grocery store management venture.

However, the unpredictability of entrepreneurship led her to pivot towards the stability of the local government field as she pursued and earned a graduate degree in Human Resources and Organizational Development.

At the mentoring event, Bidlack shared her wealth of knowledge with female IT students and graduates, covering a range of topics including details about her professional journey, finding support in a male-dominated IT field, and providing tips on resumes, interviews, and effective networking.

Careers Are Not Linear

With a confident smile, Bidlack explained, “Careers are not linear. You are going to pivot. You may find that what you go to school for is not exactly what you choose to do, and that is okay.”

As women progress in their careers, she suggests that they will encounter defining moments such as marriage, the birth of a child, changes in their current job, or other factors that prompt them to question their chosen path.

“Pay attention to these defining moments and assess your satisfaction with your current situation. It’s important to find happiness in your career. If you experience stress, frustration, a lack of appreciation, or poor treatment, summon the courage to make a change, or at least devise a plan for change.”

Don’t Limit Yourself

Acknowledging that men are often more inclined than women to apply for a position even if they don’t meet all the job requirements, Bidlack emphasized that while meeting the primary job requirements is key, it’s not necessary to fulfill every single one. Job requirements should be considered more as a wish list for the employer rather than a strict checklist of must-haves.

“If a position within your company aligns with your interests, make sure to inform your boss about your interest. Your boss won’t know unless you express it.

Instead of pondering ‘what if I can’t do it?, start asking yourself, ‘What if I can do it?’”

Additionally, if a woman fails to celebrate her successes, there’s a high probability that others may not notice them. She suggested that a great opportunity to highlight achievements is during an annual performance review, emphasizing the value of keeping track of accomplishments throughout the year to include them in the review.

Highlights or Gaps in the Resume

Bidlack highlights the value of proficiency in additional languages, particularly in the IT field. Many companies are willing to offer higher compensation for multilingual skills. Therefore, women should ensure to focus on this valuable skill on their resumes.

In addition, if there’s a gap in employment history and the hiring manager inquires about it, a simple explanation such as “for personal reasons” or “due to a family commitment” will suffice. “Remember, employers are not permitted to ask for specific details regarding your personal life,” she explained.

She stressed the importance for women to conduct thorough research on the business they are involved with. Understanding the mission, purpose, and operations of the company is critical. Taking the initiative to familiarize themselves with the business, rather than waiting for others to educate them, will significantly benefit their careers.

Preparing for the Interview

Bidlack, offered numerous constructive tips, stressed the value of thoroughly studying the job description before an interview. She advised identifying skills, recognizing gaps, and ensuring overall preparedness. Bidlack recommended creating an Excel spreadsheet to list job requirements alongside personal and professional experiences. This spreadsheet can spotlight transferable skills and assist in addressing gaps, either by acquiring certifications or discussing these during the interview with the hiring manager.

In addition, generating a list of potential questions based on the job description and practicing them through role-playing with a trusted friend or family member can significantly enhance a candidate’s readiness.

While a comprehensive understanding of the company isn’t necessary, she pointed out the importance of studying its website. Knowing core operations, unique initiatives, and how

the applied role aligns with the company is key. Such preparation not only fosters confidence but also helps in providing specific and relevant answers when asked about one’s interest in working for the company.

Moreover, taking the initiative to familiarize oneself with the business rather than waiting for others to educate will significantly benefit a candidate’s career. Requesting a copy of the questions beforehand is acceptable, as it’s essential to stay focused during the interview.

 Creating a Professional Brand

Bidlack emphasized that creating a successful professional brand is paramount for a woman’s career success. It encompasses how they interact with others, their communication style, attire, and work ethic. Women should reflect on what they want to be recognized for in their professional sphere.

Maintaining a professional appearance at work is essential. If a woman is unsure whether an outfit is too tight, short, or revealing, it’s best to opt for a more conservative choice.

Behaving appropriately in the workplace and at work-related events is vital. For instance, when alcoholic beverages are offered, it’s advisable to adhere to a two-drink limit.

“It takes a lifetime to build your professional brand. It takes one situation to tear it down. It’s one outfit. It’s one interaction. It’s one crying fit session that you have in somebody’s office because you didn’t get your way,” she said.

Create a Network

Both Nga Tran, a student in the Cloud Computing program, and Maya Figueroa, an Engineering Technology student, were most interested in networking tips.

Tran expressed, “The one thing I hope to get from today is to hear everyone’s stories and to keep going. You know, see where I fit in and see where I am in everyone’s stories.”

Mya asked, “Do you have any tips on networking and meeting people that will help you further your career?”

Bidlack explained how it’s important for women to establish a supportive network of professionals within their field, whom they can approach for assistance when needed and with whom they can celebrate their successes.

She recommended setting a goal to engage with three new individuals during work events instead of attempting to network with everyone. By doing so at each event, women will gradually build a more meaningful network.

Receiving Feedback

For many individuals, receiving positive feedback is motivating; however, not every employer will provide it. Nonetheless, the most impactful feedback comes from within. For women, striving to do their best is what truly matters.

She advised being open to feedback, even when it’s negative, as it offers an opportunity for growth. Women should consider insights from individuals, even those they may not prefer, as there’s always something to learn from it.

“The most successful people in the world have failed so many times. So what we do as women is we expect perfection from ourselves, but that’s not realistic. You have to go into your career knowing that you will fail. You will make mistakes. It’s normal. Everybody does. Make your mistake, let it sting for a minute, and move on,” she explained.

 You Will Never Be Liked by Everyone

She expressed that being universally liked, especially in higher positions within a company, is unlikely.

“If I’m liked by everyone, then I’m not doing my job as a leader,” she said.

However, the most important aspect is for women to appreciate and like themselves. Women should speak to themselves with the same kindness and support as they would to those they care about. When negative self-talk arises, women should remind themselves of their positive qualities. They should embrace their unique skills and the distinct way they perceive things; that’s what makes someone truly special.

Uncomfortable Situations

Unfortunately, there may be instances when a male coworker puts a female in an uncomfortable situation. In such cases, Bidlack suggests that women consider these steps:

  • Be direct: Clearly ask them to stop their behavior.
  • Physically take a step back or remove themselves from the situation.
  • If the discomfort happens in a group, address it privately by speaking to the coworker.
  • Discuss the issue with their manager.
  • If needed, approach the HR department. If it’s not available, inform the manager. If their concerns are not taken seriously, reconsider working in such an environment.

Ask for Help

Bidlack stated that despite the tendency among women to avoid seeking help, it’s crucial to ask for assistance before feeling overwhelmed. Women should focus on a few things they excel at and be recognized for those strengths. Attempting to handle everything often leads to inefficiency. Instead of solely working hard, aim to achieve specific goals.

Seizing Opportunities

Cloud Computing graduate Asma Eldahshory mentioned, “I’d like to get confidence even to apply. I never apply. I say, what if they interview me and I can’t do it?”

Bidlack recommends reading The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, which illustrates that many successful individuals simply seized opportunities they were given, while unsuccessful ones missed those chances.

When an opportunity arises, “what you choose to do with it will either propel you toward your goals or you’ll stop and stay where you’re at. What’s the worst thing that could happen? You fail? Well, we already know we’re going to fail at things. You’re going to make mistakes? Well, we already know we’re going to make mistakes. So what does it matter, right? Give it your all – what could happen is, you’re actually successful.”

Enthusiasm about New Tools

Shamalee Jayakodi, a NOVA cybersecurity student who attended the event, was effusive about what she’d learned and felt that the session was “an amazing experience. I had an opportunity to meet powerful women who have proved that there is no limit to what we, as a woman, can accomplish. We are stronger when we support each other and cheer each other on. I’m grateful to be part of the women mentoring community.”

Nga Tran, a Cloud Computing student at NOVA praised the outcomes of the event by describing it as a “welcoming and inspiring meeting for me and great working advice for women in technology. I found heartwarming story-sharing and encouragement from fellow peers. The struggles and passion are now not only mine but for all of us to share and overcome. I found friends here and we will continue to be each other’s support throughout the journey.”

CLRI Graduates Network With Industry Executives

Education meets opportunity! Our 6th cohort of NOVA IET CLRI (Career and Readiness Leadership Institute) grads at Northern Virginia Community College used new skills to make industry connections at our recent networking event aimed at securing #InDemandTech internships and jobs!

We had a record number of students this Fall, with 61 students at the preliminary interest meeting and 65 students attending at least one workshop.

NOVA IET’s  M. Andy Chaves and Sedrick Settle have done excellent work inspiring students to get involved and understand the value of interpersonal relationships in the technology industry.

Overall, 41 students are on track to complete CLRI, ready to get ahead with valuable soft-skills (Building Your Personal Brand, Interview Prep, Professionalism & Accountability, Effective Communication, Trends in IT, and How to Write a Technical Resume) that are vital for their technology career journey.

During the program, students were offered at least 4 site tours to Data Centers and a microchip processing plant to gain a fuller understanding of what they are preparing for.

The big finish – an Executive Mentoring and Networking Event where industry professionals advised and conversed with students to help them build their network. Many of these companies will provide internship and job opportunities to CLRI participants, as has been the case every time we do CLRI!

Big thanks to the following executives and companies who invested their time, knowledge, and experience for our CLRI grads looking to launch their careers:

CoreSiteMiguel Ramos, CMCO
Sustainable Workforce Development Solutions (SWDS) – Daisy Saulls
FedHIVEMichael Cardaci
Amazon Web Services (AWS)Stephen Jolly
Micron TechnologyMichael Guttman
A Foot in the Door, Inc.Keith W. Francis
Technology Infrastructure Advisors – Ajay Bawa

The feedback we received from students was effusive. Here’s a few of the responses:

“CLRI is an incredible program from beginning to the end, every single day was filled with great opportunities to learn and explore new careers. The best program ever created to achieve students confidence at the door step of widely expanding technology industries in Virginia. I’m thankful and grateful be in this program and hope future NOVA students will continue to be inspired by CLRI.”
Shamalee Jayakodi Arachchige

It was fantastic! I had very thoughtful and insightful discussions with industry leaders. I feel much more confident in myself and in my speaking abilities. Thank you so much for the opportunity to participate, learn, and apply the concepts you’ve instilled in my CLRI teammates and I.” – Gabriel Diaz-Rosero

“Thank you for the the event. The mentors are so welcoming, open to share and listen. We are so glad to be a part of the community. I left with a clearer vision of my next step.” – Nga Tran

NOVA students who are interested in getting in on the 2024 CLRI sessions, go to https://bit.ly/CLRI24

More about CLRI at https://www.nvcc.edu/career-services/clri.html

Digital Realty Internship Leads NOVA Grad to Data Center Career

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.

#InDemandTech #DigitalRealty #Internships #DataCenterOperations #DCO#InterpersonalSkills #BoldlyNOVA

Story by Kristy Gillespie, NOVA IET STEM Writer

CLRI Kickoff Our Biggest One Yet

The Career and Leadership Readiness Institute (CLRI) kicked-off at the NOVA Annandale campus on September 7th and this Fall’s group is our biggest one yet with over 50 registered participants.

CLRI is free and provides NOVA students the opportunity to become more competitive job candidates.

NOVA IET’s M. Andy Chaves and Sedrick Settle have established a highly regarded program that equips NOVA students with career readiness and priority consideration for paid internships with industry partners.

The kick-off event is intended to give CLRI participants an invested and friendly opening to what’s become a vital program at NOVA.

Just from the kick-off alone, surveyed students responded with the following feedback:

“This was an amazing session, something I needed for a very long time. Today I found my brand with the help of two amazing mentors. Looking forward to gain more valuable tips.”

“Thank you for being genuine and for sharing personal experiences with us.”

“It was great! The guest speaker went over all communication skills in great details, provided great examples and requested the crowd to participate as much as possible. Best workshop so far in my opinion.”

“It was interesting and educative. I’m glad I joined this program. I really need a mentor in life.”

“It was a great experience, learned a lot of tips and important aspects of interview techniques. In fact, it helped to build confidence and hope in me. Great workshop.”

Fall CLRI sessions are are currently underway. where CLRI students are training how to interview, create a resume that stands out, network effectively, manage interpersonal skills in a diverse workplace and more. For NOVA IET students, the CLRI is a vital component in learning soft skills to complement technical skills.

Many CLRI grads have landed internship and job offers from tech industry partners directly through the program.

New Spring sessions will be available to sign up for in Jan 2024. Fill out our Interest Form and we will alert you when registration is available.

More about CLRI at www.nvcc.edu/career-services/clri.html

 

NOVA Student Success Spotlight in DCO: Tim Shutz

Last year, Tim Shutz  departed from his previous career in search of something new.

Starting his new career pathway at NOVA, he dove into Engineering Technology, Data Center Operations, and Computer Science. He also signed up for CLRI (NOVA IET’s Career and Leadership Readiness Institute) in 2022 to hone his professional and interpersonal skills, after which he landed an internship with AFCOM Potomac Chapter in 2023, fostering a passion for Data Centers along the way.

Now he has secured a job at Iron Mountain Data Centers as a Critical Facility Specialist.

When deciding to switch careers, Tim started with a leap of faith:

“It was as nerve-wracking as you can imagine, leaving behind the comfort, rhythm, and familiarity I had known. With the onset of the 2020s, as the world grew increasingly volatile, technology appeared to be on an exponential rise, and the pace of change outstripped my preparedness, I knew I needed to undergo a personal transformation. This journey brings to mind a cherished quote by Warren Buffet: “If the future is uncertain, invest in yourself.”

After Tim invested in himself through NOVA, CLRI, and AFCOM internship, and now at Iron Mountain, Tim’s leap of faith is paying dividends and he is confident about the future:

It’s been an incredible journey, and I’m grateful for the series of events that have brought me to where I am today. I can’t wait to contribute my skills and embark on this exciting journey with an amazing team. Thank you to everyone who has been a part of my path.”


Interview with Tim Shutz

We caught up with Tim and asked him a few questions about his experience with CLRI and AFCOM and how it prepared him to go to the next level. His answers give some insight on what he has learned and accomplished, who has helped him, and where he sees himself in the future.

Tim’s CLRI experience: 13 questions and answers
(Internship-specific answers detailed after the CLRI portion)

Q: What IET field are you pursuing and why?

I pursued and finished an Engineering Technology certification, and am continuing a Data Center Operations certification and an Associate’s degree in Computer Science. These choices stemmed from a desire to engage in technical work while also challenging myself through the pursuit of a computer science major.

Q: How did you find out about CLRI?

My introduction to CLRI came during my fall semester when I received an email about the program. Recognizing the importance of exploring various clubs and opportunities, I was drawn to the intriguing prospects offered by CLRI.

Q: Why are soft skills and effective interpersonal communication vital if you’re pursuing a career in a technical field?

The significance of soft skills and effective interpersonal communication cannot be overstated for those venturing into technical careers. While technical expertise opens doors, it’s the soft skills that pave the way for advancement and growth.

Q: How have you fostered continuing professional relationships with fellow CLRI peers?

Cultivating enduring professional relationships with fellow CLRI peers has been an organic process. By embarking on the AFCOM internship together and sharing subsequent experiences, we have forged strong bonds that greatly ease navigation within this field.

Q: Tell us about how CLRI aided in building your personal brand?

My involvement in CLRI significantly contributed to the refinement of my personal brand. Beyond the connections I established, working closely with a professional resume writer resulted in a standout resume that has garnered numerous compliments for its quality.

Q: In CLRI you worked on building an effective resume. What are the best ways to make your resumé stand out both technically and with the content you include?

Crafting a remarkable resume in CLRI involved strategic decisions. Placing my educational achievements at the forefront and quantifying my contributions with specific metrics enabled the resume to stand out both technically and content-wise.

Q: How did CLRI hone your leadership skills? Why is it important to have these skills even if you are not interested in pursuing a management role?

CLRI played a pivotal role in honing my leadership skills, particularly aiding me in enhancing my networking abilities after a period of isolation due to the pandemic. These skills hold value even for non-managerial roles, as they facilitate meaningful interactions within the data center profession.

Q: How did mock interviews prepare you for real interviews?

Participating in mock interviews through CLRI, particularly the ones hosted by Amazon, allowed me to refine my STAR interview technique, offering invaluable preparation for real-world interviews.

Q: How did CLRI enhance your professionalism and accountability?

CLRI’s influence on my professionalism and sense of accountability was substantial. Engaging with experts on soft skills and receiving personalized advice provided valuable insights. One conversation with a speaker helped me recognize the depth of experience I possessed, boosting my confidence.

Q: It was said during CLRI “every day is a job interview.” What does that mean to you?

The adage “every day is a job interview” underscores the importance of presenting oneself in the best possible light during all interactions. Just as in formal job interviews, daily encounters offer opportunities to make positive impressions.

Q: How effective was the networking event? Anyone in-particular that you connected with?

The networking event was effective in connecting me with individuals who have since become valuable professional contacts. The experience was highly positive, although additional in-person talks would have enhanced the connection-building process.

Q: What’s next for you? What opportunities do you feel you might have missed if you hadn’t taken CLRI?

So recently I was offered a job at a great company. Without CLRI I don’t think I would have gotten there. CLRI introduced me into data centers which got me into the DCO program, then into AFCOM, right into a job.

Q: What would you say in recommending CLRI to NOVA students?

I honestly think a program like this should be mandatory for students. My point is that school is only a part of the recipe to success, if you don’t go out of your way to meet industry professionals you will have a very difficult time getting the dream job you want, or even figuring out if the major you are in is the correct one.

Q: Anything else that we’ve missed?

CLRI introduced me to inspiring professionals and fellow students, setting the stage for what was to come. Thank you M. Andy Chaves and Sedrick Settle!

TJ Ciccone’s ENE195 class was a game-changer, teaching us the art of acing interviews and igniting my passion for data centers. Thank you Thomas (TJ) Ciccone


Tim’s AFCOM Internship: 14 questions and answers

Q: Generally, why are internships important?

Internships hold universal importance as they offer firsthand experience, allowing individuals to assess their suitability for a role and their compatibility with a company. Additionally, internships facilitate longer and more revealing interactions with potential employers.

Q: What did you learn during CLRI that helped you in your AFCOM internship?

The insights gained from CLRI played a pivotal role in my AFCOM internship experience. This foundation enabled me to engage effectively in discussions surrounding data center operations and ask pertinent questions, showcasing my acquired knowledge.

Q: A number of CLRI grads have gone on to do internships together. How has that developed a sense of professional community?

The collective pursuit of internships by fellow CLRI graduates fostered a profound sense of professional community. This camaraderie not only provides ongoing support but also expands networks, enabling connections that will likely endure throughout our careers.

Q: Tell us about your AFCOM Internship experience? How did it build on what you learned through CLRI?

CLRI played a pivotal role in enhancing my soft skills during my internship. Many individuals have emphasized that cultivating these skills is indispensable for securing a position in data centers, which further underscores the significance of my experience there.

Q: Why have you pursued an internship in this particular field?

My motivation to seek an internship in this specific field was fueled by a keen interest in data center operations. The desire to comprehend the intricacies of these facilities and contribute to their efficiency guided my choice.

Q: What specific activities have you engaged in during your internship? What has been your favorite task or project?

During my internship, I engaged in a range of tasks, including rounds, coil cleaning, and learning about the building management system. These activities allowed me to gain hands-on experience and expand my understanding of data center operations.

Q: Who has had a particular influence on you during your internship?

My mentor, Hansen Troy Hill, significantly influenced my internship experience, providing valuable guidance and support. Thank you Troy and AFCOM Potomac Chapter. Moreover, Stephan Plock, the manager at DLR, offered indispensable insights during my job search.

Q: What skills have you learned during your internship that will help you during your career?

The internship equipped me with vital skills, particularly in terms of networking and professional connections. These relationships will likely play a pivotal role in shaping my future career endeavors.

Q: Have you discovered a job or career path through your internship that you want to pursue?

I’ve taken a job in data center operations at Iron Mountain which I plan on pushing as far as I can. I do plan on going further into the data center realm but I want that fundamental understanding of how the buildings work in order to hopefully help with engineering/software aspects down the line.

Q: Tell us a little about the personal side of internships. What are the relationships like with peers and with supervisors?

I had a great relationship with the team over at DLR. I really enjoyed the managers and team and thought they provided me with a lot of openness and helpfulness in understanding different aspects of the company.

Q: What has been your biggest challenge or obstacle?

I had some challenges making sure that I was pushing myself to ask the right questions and make sure if I had nothing to do I found somebody who did. This took a bit of getting outside of my own comfort level but I think I managed to do that well.

Q: What has been the biggest game-changer for you in this internship?

It was the ability to get three different job offers, which was a blessing. I went from nobody responding to my applications to three on the table, you can say that was a huge confidence booster.

Q: What else should we know from your experience as an AFCOM intern?

I think the AFCOM internship is essential for anybody that wants to get into data centers. Even if you have an in, you will gain so much more than an immediate job.

Q: What are your career goals? Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years?

I hope to become a manager in 5 years and in 10 years working on engineering projects within data centers to help push the boundaries.