Elizabeth (Liz) White wants to be successful in an in-demand tech career field and she’s making all the right moves.
Liz is currently pursuing a double major in Engineering Technology (with a focus on Data Center Operations) and Information Systems Technology (with an emphasis on Cloud Computing).
Liz also is a recent graduate of NOVA IET’s Career and Leadership Institute (CLRI) and recently completed a 10-week internship with AFCOM, an association for career advancement of IT and data center professionals.
On top of that she just got hired at Google as a Data Center Facilities Technician. She’s also a mom to two children.
We did a Q&A with Liz to discuss how CLRI and the AFCOM internship equipped her for her new position at Google and a fantastic new career path (30 questions and answers).
It’s not just about the technical skills required for a degree, it’s also about interpersonal adeptness, knowing how to interview, networking effectively with potential employers and a lot more.
Her answers and insights are instructive to anyone wanting to pursue an in-demand technology career path, especially after making a career switch.
Liz’s CLRI experience: 15 questions and answers
(Internship-specific answers detailed after the CLRI portion)
Q: What IET field are you pursuing and why?
I am currently pursuing a double major in Engineering Technology with a focus on Data Center Operations, and Information Technology Systems with an emphasis on Cloud Computing. The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 prompted me to reevaluate my career as a hairstylist, recognizing its vulnerabilities in times of crisis. The realization led me to make a conscious decision to put my hairstyling career on hold and pivot towards achieving an academic degree. For years I dreamt of earning a degree, but words woven with fear and doubt were the shackles that restrained me. The pandemic was the catalyst that propelled me forward.
My interest in cloud computing was initially sparked by its high demand and resilience in the face of uncertainty. As I dove deeper into my classes, an opportunity through CLRI allowed me to gain insights into the stable job market and flourishing demand within the data center sector. This prompted me to embark on a path within the data center field by starting with taking TJ Ciccone’s class ‘Intro to Data Centers’. The steps taken from there laid a foundational understanding that I believe will serve as a strong basis for my career journey.
Q: How did you find out about CLRI?
Being a student enrolled in an IET division degree program, I regularly received emails showcasing numerous opportunities within the division. One day, an email landed in my inbox detailing CLRI, which offered a series of workshops designed to bolster soft skills, aid in resume refinement, and culminate in a networking event featuring prominent figures from the industry. CLRI was the exact opportunity I had been searching for.
Q: Why are soft skills and effective interpersonal communication vital if you’re pursuing a career in a technical field?
Venturing into a technical career demands a readiness to engage in productive teamwork. Strong interpersonal abilities and effective communication are pivotal resources for fostering successful collaboration. Particularly within the technical field, where advancements occur rapidly and assertively, individuals must be prepared and capable of strategizing and executing alongside their colleagues.
Q: How have you fostered continuing professional relationships with fellow CLRI peers?
I can’t take full credit for maintaining the comradery between fellow CLRI peers. WE formed a close bond and made sure to keep in contact throughout our journey; we shared similar ambitions and aspirations related to pursuing a career in IET, regardless of our varying ages and backgrounds. Our camaraderie extended beyond casual interactions as we consistently stayed connected and harnessed the valuable resources offered by CLRI and the IET division.
Interestingly, most of us ventured into the same data center course, an opportunity that arose from a data center tour led by CLRI leaders Andy Chaves and Sedrick Settle. Among these connections, three of my friends, Tim Schutz, Daniel Rivera, and Prasit Acharya, who are also CLRI alumni, enrolled in the “Intro to Data Centers” class taught by TJ Ciccone. TJ was the person who previously guided us on a tour of STACK Infrastructure, serving as a source of inspiration. Significantly, all four of us secured job positions while in the AFCOM Internship program, which paved the path for promising careers within the data center industry.
Q: Tell us about how CLRI aided in building your personal brand?
CLRI played a pivotal role in equipping me with the essential resources to navigate my career transition in a successful way. Through their guidance, I not only cultivated self-assurance and professionalism, but also had the opportunity to connect with genuinely accomplished, authentic, and motivating individuals.
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 standout resume requires balancing technical formatting and strategic content. On the technical side, maintain a clean layout with consistent fonts and headings, ensuring appropriate white space. Customize the length based on your career stage. For content, tailor your resume to each job posting, spotlighting relevant skills and experiences.
Begin with a concise professional summary, emphasizing key skills. Highlight notable accomplishments in work experience and focus on outcomes. Prioritize job-related experiences while showcasing transferable skills. Include a dedicated section for technical skills and certifications. If needed, emphasize education or relevant projects. Prioritize relevant education and relevant projects if work experience is not within the industry being applied for. Incorporate volunteer work if applicable. Avoid personal details and proofread for errors.
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?
While managerial roles may not be the immediate goal, life invariably presents us with choices. These decisions, in turn, come with their own outcomes, and navigating them effectively hinges on possessing leadership skills. The ability to exhibit courage and determination when confronting situations with a disparity between right and wrong is no simple feat. Leadership entails the willingness to opt for the more challenging route for the betterment of the collective and the welfare of those involved, regardless of whether you hold a formal management position.
Q: How did mock interviews prepare you for real interviews?
Participating in mock interviews proved instrumental in enhancing my interview performance by simulating real-world scenarios. Practicing allowed me to receive constructive feedback and valuable insights into both my strengths and areas that needed refinement. Engaging in multiple mock interviews further honed my adaptability and flexibility in addressing diverse interview dynamics. The experience reinforced my belief in my capability to excel. As the saying goes, “Proper preparation prevents poor performance,” and mock interviews undeniably played a crucial role in my readiness for real interviews.
Q: How did CLRI enhance your professionalism and accountability?
In many ways, CLRI emphasized the significance of consistently making choices that align with our utmost potential. Whether it pertains to our roles as students, professionals, or individuals in our personal lives, the everyday decisions we make influence our professionalism and accountability. The demonstration of professionalism extends beyond words; it encompasses maintaining proper posture, active engagement through eye contact, and investing effort in establishing meaningful connections. These traits collectively reflect one’s level of professionalism and accountability. CLRI notably highlighted the effectiveness of networking, showcasing how connecting with others can yield significant benefits.
Q: It was said during CLRI “every day is a job interview.” What does that mean to you?
The statement “every day is a job interview,” as emphasized in CLRI, holds a distinct significance. To me, it underscores the idea that opportunities can arise unexpectedly in any situation or encounter. Regardless of our location or context, we are constantly interacting with diverse individuals. How we carry ourselves, the attitude we embrace, and the mindset we adopt are all within our control. Each day presents us with a choice—a choice that invariably yields a consequence. This decision shapes the outcome we attain. Essentially, the notion encapsulates the idea that our daily approach influences the results we achieve.
Q: What did you learn from the executive mentoring program?
The lessons I gained from the executive mentoring program exceed what I can encapsulate in this response. It became evident that dedicating myself fully, investing genuine effort, and translating the advice received into actionable steps reaps rewards that make the exertion entirely worthwhile.
Q: How effective was the networking event? Anyone in-particular that you connected with?
The networking event acted as a catalyst for numerous opportunities that have unfolded in my journey. Its impact exceeded my initial expectations by far. I had the privilege of connecting with individuals who not only became sources of inspiration and mentorship but also turned out to be those I interned for, received job offers from, and built lasting professional relationships with.
Q: What’s next for you? What opportunities do you feel you might have missed if you hadn’t taken CLRI?
My next step involves commencing my career with Google next week. Reflecting on all of this, it’s apparent that I might not have been presented with this remarkable opportunity had I not been a part of CLRI. The transformative sequence, transitioning from my role as a hairstylist to a student at NOVA College, subsequently embarking on an AFCOM Internship, and now securing a full-time position at Google, underscores the profound impact of my involvement with CLRI. CLRI opened a door, I just had to walk through it.
Q: What would you say in recommending CLRI to NOVA students?
Honestly, I’ve recommended this program to every friend in school I’ve encountered since my graduation from CLRI. The program has unequivocally transformed my life for the better. CLRI, TJ Ciccone, and AFCOM provided me with an arsenal of tools, invaluable exposure, and a platform to demonstrate my dedication and commitment to my aspirations. It has enabled me to be part of a meaningful impact.
My gratitude extends eternally to the leaders of CLRI, the IET Division, TJ Ciccone, and AFCOM. During times of self-doubt, they believed in me. They propelled me past my apprehensions of inadequacy, urging me to transcend the fear and reveal my true capabilities and identity. My journey is a testament to their unwavering support.
Q: Have we missed anything? What else should we know from your CLRI experience?
In reflecting on my CLRI experience, I believe we’ve covered the significant aspects. However, it’s worth mentioning that CLRI not only provided me with invaluable professional growth but also fostered a sense of community. The connections I formed with fellow participants, mentors, and industry leaders have continued to shape my journey beyond the program. The supportive environment, coupled with the exposure to real-world scenarios, has been instrumental in preparing me for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead in my career.
Liz’s AFCOM Internship: 15 questions and answers
Q: Generally, why are internships important?
Internships are a pivotal steppingstone to creating your own fulfilling professional journey. They’re a bridge between academic knowledge and real-world experience. They provide an opportunity for hands-on experience and opportunities to develop and refine both technical and soft skills relevant to your area of interest.
Theoretical knowledge can be applied to real-life scenarios through an internship with room to receive constructive feedback. It’s much easier to make informed career decisions by gaining insights into the daily operations, challenges, and opportunities in the industry of interest. Internships give you a chance to make connections and friendships which can help open even more doors for job opportunities and mentorships.
The exploration you have through an internship is eye-opening; you gain a much clearer understanding of what aligns with your career goals and what doesn’t. The confidence building you gain through an internship offers validation of what you’re capable of and reinforces your belief in your ability to meaningfully contribute to a team. Stepping outside of your comfort zone and adapting to new environments will only encourage personal growth and enhance your resilience and problem-solving capabilities.
Q: What did you learn during CLRI that helped you in your AFCOM internship?
I discovered the importance of making choices driven by courage, rather than succumbing to the fear of inadequacy. This perspective empowered me to confidently engage, understanding that every question holds the potential for valuable contributions.
Q: A number of CLRI grads have gone on to do internships together. How has that developed a sense of professional community?
Many of the friends I connected with during CLRI embarked on similar journeys. While our paths led us to intern with different companies, we stayed connected throughout the process. We consistently made an effort to meet in person, exchanging our individual experiences and insights. In particular, a few individuals offered their invaluable support during challenging times, helping me to overcome obstacles. I hold deep gratitude for their presence in my journey. These relationships have not only enriched my professional growth but have also magnified the significance of such connections in my career development. I have full confidence that we will remain connected throughout our careers. If that isn’t a genuine sense of professional community, I’m not sure what else would be…
Q: Tell us about your AFCOM Internship experience? How did it build on what you learned through CLRI?
My journey throughout the past three months as part of the AFCOM Internship encompassed a dynamic learning adventure. This period not only provided me with a comprehensive understanding of data center critical infrastructure but also served as a practical lesson in navigating the complexities of the business world. The principles instilled by CLRI, particularly the significance of professionalism and accountability across all situations, came vividly to life during this internship. The multitude of decisions presented each day carried their own set of consequences; a concept emphasized by CLRI. The alignment between my goals and the choices I made was a testament to how CLRI’s teachings guided me in making meaningful decisions throughout this internship.
Q: Why have you pursued an internship in this particular field?
My drive stemmed from the desire to acquire practical, hands-on experience within the data center sector. Despite dedicating extensive hours to studying inside and outside the classroom, I recognized the immense value of an internship that transcends theoretical learning. Honestly, as a 30-year-old mother of two, my aim was to establish a steadfast foothold in my career transition by gaining early exposure and reliability. An internship felt like the most pragmatic approach to this change.
Q: What specific activities have you engaged in during your internship? What has been your favorite task or project?
If I could share my internship reports with you, you would witness the extensive array of activities I engaged in over the summer. During each visit to a data center site, my primary focus was comprehending the intricate power distribution network throughout the building. Subsequently, I delved into understanding the nuances of cooling requirements, their utilization, and maintenance protocols. Every day presented me with numerous avenues of exploration, spanning mechanical and electrical systems, fire life safety protocols, building management systems, and electrical power management systems, among others.
One of my most cherished tasks involved collaborating with the remarkable and welcoming team at STACK NVA04D. I dedicated time to cleaning chiller coils, makeup air units, and rooftop units alongside this team. This experience provided a deeper understanding of the equipment and the integral role each component plays within the larger system. Despite the challenging outdoor conditions, with temperatures exceeding 90 degrees, I thoroughly enjoyed working alongside the team. Amidst our diligent efforts, they generously answered my myriad questions, willingly sharing their valuable knowledge and expertise.
Another highlight was my time spent with the team at CoreSite’s VA3 building. Their guidance extended to teaching me about telecom operations, utilizing a visible fault locator for fiber tracing from MDF to IDF to ODP to the client’s cage – a process aimed at troubleshooting light level issues. I also gained insights into tasks like cleaning and inspecting fiber before connection and the termination of copper Cat6 cable, alongside acquiring knowledge about fiber splicing. Engaging in POST troubleshooting on servers within the data halls was yet another invaluable learning experience.
Q: Who has had a particular influence on you during your internship?
Countless inspirational people. TJ Ciccone VP of Operations at STACK Infrastructure, Miguel Ramos Sr. Data Center Manager at CoreSite VA3, Chris Lettiere Sr. Director of CoreSite VA, Emily Maldanado Data Center Technician at CoreSite VA3, Shelby Angulo Data Center Technician at CoreSite VA3, Ju Kim Data Center Operations Manager at VA1/2, Troy Bowen Operations Manager at Infrapros, Zachary Miller Area Operations Manager at Google, Isaac Canales Critical Operations Technician at STACK Infrastructure, Ray (Ramone) Critical Operations Technician at STACK Infrastructure, Angela Maruca Critical Operations Technician at STACK Infrastructure, Shane McDonald Critical Operations Technician at STACK Infrastructure, Brandon Osefoh Critical Operations Technician at STACK Infrastructure, Reid Thomas Critical Operations Manager at STACK Infrastructure, Joe Kendra Critical Facilities Manager at STACK Infrastructure, Troy Hill Director of Iron Mountain VA, and the list goes on.
Every individual I had the privilege to engage with, collaborate alongside, and foster professional relationships with significantly shaped my internship journey. Expressing my gratitude for each of these individuals is beyond the scope of mere words.
Q: What skills have you learned during your internship that will help you during your career?
I gained a comprehensive understanding of HVAC systems, including vaporization cycles, chilled water systems, CRAC/CRAH units, and humidification systems. I performed preventative maintenance tasks, which included routine activities such as blowdowns, cleaning water-cooled and air-cooled chiller coils, replacing filters for VESDA systems and air handlers, and maintaining chiller strainers.
Fire Life Safety Systems became familiar territory as I engaged in hands-on tasks such as jockey pump replacement for fire pump systems and methods of procedures for isolating fire pump valves. My proficiency in double interlock pre-action systems was complemented by my experience in managing VESDA systems and STULZ humidification systems, contributing to a comprehensive understanding of safety protocols.
I also gained valuable experience in managing additional daily rounds of the building, quarterly and annual maintenance duties, ensuring the reliability and longevity of critical systems. I feel more enabled to effectively manage and maintain climate control systems, ensuring optimal performance in various environments.
Moreover, my internship exposed me to critical power distribution concepts, ranging from utility/generator, main switchgear to client load, and I became well-versed in electrical fundamentals such as Ohm’s law and single, two, and three-phase power. I gained more confidence in making informed decisions regarding power management and efficiency in my future career.
In terms of infrastructure management, I learned about IDF/MDF/MMR rooms and structured cabling. This experience highlighted the importance of organized customer space and proper maintenance, ensuring seamless operations and scalability of systems.
Shadowing technicians exposed me to various software applications and control systems. This built my confidence to effectively troubleshoot and replace faulty hardware. I oversaw internal management of data center cabling using FNT, ensuring well-organized and efficient connectivity.
My ability to collaborate actively within a team to troubleshoot hardware issues, perform cross-connect terminations and relocations, and verify device statuses was greatly enhanced. I also conducted end-to-end fiber optic cable continuity checks, further solidifying my grasp of connectivity diagnostics.
Additionally, I gained proficiency in terminating copper Cat-6 cables with RJ45 pinouts and learned about fiber cable splicing. In the realm of network management, I was provided hands-on experience in learning how to manage IXPs, point-to-point, and point-to-multipoint connections. I verified device physical statuses and adhered to the BICSI standard, ensuring high-quality information and communications technology systems.
Overall, my internship equipped me with an extensive range of skills encompassing HVAC systems, critical power distribution, infrastructure management, fire life safety systems, control systems, troubleshooting, cabling, and standards. All of this undoubtedly contributes to my success and competence in my future career endeavors.
Q: Have you discovered a job or career path through your internship that you want to pursue?
Yes, I am now a Data Center Facilities Technician at Google. I plan to fully pursue an Operations path and hopefully end up in a leadership role.
Q: Tell us a little about the personal side of internships. What are the relationships like with peers and with supervisors?
The level of inclusion extended beyond mere formality; I found myself fully immersed in the day-to-day operations of the team. What stood out was the genuine encouragement and openness with which I was met. I was not only invited but genuinely welcomed to participate in the team’s troubleshooting, problem-solving, and daily operations. This sense of collaboration and shared involvement went beyond the ordinary expectations of an intern’s role, underscoring the supportive environment that defined my internship experience. My peers and supervisors alike fostered an atmosphere where my input was valued, and I was able to contribute meaningfully to our collective efforts.
Q: What has been your biggest challenge or obstacle?
Overcoming imposter syndrome has undoubtedly been my most significant challenge. As is often the case, there’s inevitably someone who attempts to undermine or disparage your journey, regardless of your path. Transitioning from a hairstylist role to that of a Data Center Operations Technician could have easily overwhelmed me with intimidation. Along the way, I encountered instances where individuals sought to convey that I didn’t belong in this industry, a sentiment compounded by the imposter syndrome I grappled with. Confronting these challenges has proven to be far from effortless.
Yet, it’s important to recognize that those who dismissively closed their doors are mistaken, much like the unfounded notion of my inadequacy. Amidst these doubts, I constantly remind myself that I am more than capable of contributing significantly to any team. I am more than enough.
Q: What has been the biggest game-changer for you in this internship?
Providing a definitive answer to this question is a challenge in itself. The entirety of this internship has been transformative, redefining my outlook. If I were to pinpoint a single experience, it would be the journey I undertook during the interview process, culminating in the moment I accepted a job offer. This marked a particularly significant turning point.
Q: What else should we know from your experience as an AFCOM intern?
This opportunity has had a profound impact, not only on my life but also on that of my family. Before being accepted into this internship, I found myself in a position where I believed that commencing my career would remain a distant goal, despite my unwavering determination to start immediately. Navigating the complexities of college education and job-searching while raising two children, particularly amidst the backdrop of a pandemic, was a daunting challenge. Life’s expenses, coupled with the considerable cost of education, cast a shadow over my aspirations.
This internship not only provided me with an education but also paved a path into my chosen career. This convergence of education and career prospects has wrought a seismic shift in my life’s trajectory. The magnitude of this transformation cannot be overstated. I’m profoundly grateful to have been a part of this remarkable opportunity, which has provided me with the means to shape my future and break barriers that once seemed insurmountable.
Q: What are your career goals? Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years?
My aspiration is to gradually climb to a role where I can extend the same kind of support that I’ve received. I envision myself assuming a leadership position, collaborating with a team of authentic individuals, and contributing to bridging the talent gap within the industry.