Category Archives: Industry Partnerships

DCO is Getting Bigger and NOVA is at the Forefront

T.J. Ciccone, NOVA DCO Faculty and VP of STACK Infrastructure, shares insights on teaching and managing in a mission critical field.

You’ve recently been named a 2022 Education Champion by Infrastructure Masons – congratulations! Can you tell us how that came about and how you felt about it?

In 2017, Northern Virginia Community College approached me and asked if I would be willing to help start their data center operations course. First, I helped develop some of the coursework to be implemented, then they asked me to teach it. In January 2018, I held the first data center operations course, part of a fully accredited program at the college. In September 2018, the college launched the first-ever two-year degree program designed specifically for data center operators in the state of Virginia. It’s an ideal program for a state now known as “the home of the internet.”

The class began with 12 enrollees. Now the program has gained so much momentum that I teach two cohorts of the course with room for up to 50 students. About 85% of my students are now working full-time in the data center business, and most of them are people who had never set foot in a data center before.

Infrastructure Masons is a global, non-profit, professional association of infrastructure executives and technical professionals. This year, I was honored and humbled to have been named the 2022 Infrastructure Masons Education Champion. So many people have played a part in this, and I am very appreciative! I would like to thank STACK Infrastructure, Beth Ciccone, Northern Virginia Community College, and AFCOM Potomac Chapter for helping me further the education of our future data center workforce.

As far as your Data Center career, what lit the flame for you? How did you get into it?

Like most people in the data center business, I got into it by accident. I was a Chief Mechanical Operator while serving onboard the USS Enterprise, where I was responsible for the daily mechanical operations of the nuclear power plant. When I left the military, I spent ten years in retail, and I was looking to get out of retail and go to law school. While going through that process, I got a call from a former military member and a dear friend of mine who was the director of operations for a data center company in New Jersey.

I started working there about a week later.

You are VP at STACK Infrastructure and busy with many projects related to DCO. You are also a professor at NOVA. Why is it important for you to teach?

Five years ago, one of the statistics brought to my attention was the need for data center industry personnel will grow more than 15% in the next 5-10 years—and that was back then. Since then, the number of industry personnel has increased vastly. When the pandemic shut everything down and the use of the “Internet of Things” grew, many people were driven into the data center business.

The data center industry has tried to increase diversity and inclusion across the board, especially in regard to STEM students who are trying to find their way into something.

At the same time, I teach because I realize that the opportunities given to students from working in the data center can literally change their lives overnight. When I was asked to join the data center business, my first question was, “What’s a data center?” Even though it’s been 15 years since I entered the industry, many people still ask me that same question. I am working to change that.

What’s your philosophy of teaching in terms of connecting to students?

I look at every student like each one has the ability to be in this industry. There may be varying levels of impact, but each student can do it. That’s how I look at them and how I connect to them. Have you ever seen any movie where there’s a drill sergeant that everybody hates and then loves by the end? I think that is me in a way. On day one I make it clear that I do not teach remotely for a reason. In this business, we are on-site. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we were in person. For 15 weeks, these students need to commit to being there for at least 14 of those because mission critical works the same way. We’re not giving out $25,000 a year jobs. These are $100,000 salaries. If you want it, you must put in the work to get it. That’s kind of the way it starts off. Of course, then you get to know them, and you get to know their story. I have individual meetings with each one, and then I cater the learning from there.

What are some of the success stories you have seen from students in the DCO program moving forward into a career?

80% of the students that have passed my class currently work in the data center business. It started with 12 people the first year, then went to 15, 18, and finally 21. Now I teach twice a week on Mondays and Fridays because we expanded to two cohorts since there were so many students. We recently crested 100 students who have been a part of the program. To think, five years ago, 50-something of those students had never even heard of a data center, and now they’re working in the industry. At our STACK Infrastructure site, NVA01 in Northern Virginia, nearly half the existing staff at that building came from the Northern Virginia Community College program. The data center industry will only grow; NVCC pointed out this last year that during the pandemic, community college enrollment across the board declined, except for in the engineering technology space.

What would you say to students who are considering DCO as a career field but don’t necessarily see themselves as technically gifted?

Many students start the program without basic knowledge of the industry. NVCC has the only fully college-accredited coursework in the data center business. Our curriculum breaks concepts down in a way that students of all levels can understand and enables them to dive into the industry. This program produces students that understand all sides (telecom, fiber networking, engineering operations, etc.). Finding people with a broad knowledge is challenging, and our program is not only turning out high-quality students, but students that know both ends of the industry—utility to rack and what’s going on inside the rack to connect it to the internet.

NOVA will soon have a state-of-the-art Data Center Training Facility at the Woodbridge Campus. How will that change the game in terms of awareness and training?

There’s nothing like this in the United States. They are building a $5 million functional data center in Woodbridge, Virginia. It will allow us to expand the program for more students. Right now, we’re limited to 20 – 24 per class, but their classroom sizes will be bigger, and it’s expandable at the same time. It’s really going to give students the hands-on experience that they need. Aside from that, one of the amazing things about STACK being a huge supporter of this program is that on three of the 15 class nights, the students come to STACK and get to see what it’s like on the inside.

How has NOVA SySTEMic/NOVA IET been helpful to you in connecting education to industry?

It’s almost like the opposite. Working in industry allows me to connect industry to education. For example, there’s a lot of data center events that I get to invite the students to, and those groups encourage the students to attend golf outings, Christmas parties, etcetera.

How does diversity, equity, and inclusion factor into filling the talent gap in the DCO market?

Progressing DE&I is a major initiative in the data center industry, and the same goes for Northern Virginia Community College, which is a big supporter of STEM and working with national programs like “Girls Who Code.”

I’m on the board at AFCOM Potomac, another organization supporting the advancement of data center and IT infrastructure professionals, and I help run their education committee.  We run an internship program over the summer, and the money raised from the internship program goes to directly support students who are going into the program that I teach. It’s grown so much so that everyone who takes my class in the fall gets their class entirely paid for. There’s no paperwork associated with it. There’s no background check. There are no qualifying prerequisites. The course is paid for everyone from all walks of life.

Additionally, STACK Americas created a program that is specifically designed to bring in students from diverse backgrounds for paid training without subtracting from the viable headcount needed to run a site so that students can learn and train on the company dime for one year and become a fully operational critical technician. I’ve never seen an employer do that—ever.

What’s your work/life balance in this field? What do you enjoy in your spare time?

Instead of the term “work/life balance,” I prefer the term “work/life flow.” I am a big believer of work hard, play hard. In addition to my career at STACK, as well as my contributions as a professor, I have way too many hobbies. I play golf and disc golf. I’m at the gym every morning, religiously, at 5:20 a.m. where I’m either lifting weights or doing yoga. For years, I maintained my status as a triathlete while in this industry. My expectation for myself is that I need to be available 24/7, and I am ok with that.


Click here for more info on Data Center Operations at NOVA. We offer a 2-year A.A.S. and and 1-year C.S.C.

You can register for T.J.’s course: ENE 195: Introduction to Data Center Operations for Spring 2023. There are several spots still available (classes start mid-January), but it will fill up quickly as the Spring class will focus on getting students into the internship program over the summer and getting jobs filled!

 Click here to watch a video on enrolling at NOVA.

#DCO #InDemandTech #HighTechHighWage

CLRI Celebrates Fall Graduates at Networking Event

The Fall Career and Leadership Readiness Institute (CLRI) concluded on November 17 at the Woodbridge Campus (at the site of the future NOVA Data Center Training Facility). NOVA IET students put their newly enhanced career skills in action to make industry connections at a final networking session, the culminating event for students before they receive their certificates of completion. This was particularly notable this semester as it was the first in-person CLRI at NOVA since it was established in 2020.

Through an extracurricular 5-week course, CLRI students were trained how to interview, create a resume that stands out, manage interpersonal skills in a diverse workplace, and more. Students were also treated to two tours of an IET partner, STACK Infrastructure Data Center.

The final networking event kicked-off with remarks from VP of IET and College Computing Dr. Chad Knights before students and IET professionals gathered for a round table discussion and Q & A on relevant experiences and pressing needs in the tech workforce. After the discussion, Executive Director of the NOVA Foundation Kelly Persons addressed graduates and presented them with completion certificates and a leather CLRI portfolio. Graduates also receive a digital CLRI badge that they can add to their LinkedIn profiles.

Following the certificate presentation, CLRI students put their skills to the test during a catered meal where there were opportunities to network with the industry partners from the roundtable discussions. One of the major draws of CLRI and especially the final networking event is that graduates obtain immediate internship opportunities and receive priority consideration for our paid summer internships. 2-3 students from the fall CLRI cohort have been offered winter-break internships at Digital Realty and 3 CLRI students have already been extended an offer of employment from various industry partners.


Feedback from CLRI graduates included the following:

“CLRI helped me to get professional skills, to meet people, to make connections, to build my network. I really learned how to rebrand my resumé to attract hiring managers.” – Kanyin, NOVA IT Major

“I want to get better, I want to be better, I want to do better, and I want an opportunity to come my way. This gave me the opportunity. It was a lot of fun and definitely built my confidence” – Elizabeth, NOVA IT Major

“The nicest thing about CLRI is that you get to know a lot of people who are like-minded, and industry professionals who give you really good advice. It’s definitely worth joining.” – Hamid, IST Major

“I would 100% recommend CLRI. The networking aspect was what I got the most from. Tom (Tom Gerencer, CLRI’s Technical Resume Instructor), who I was able to contact via LinkedIn, turned my resume from OK to fantastic.” Tim, ET Major

“Once [NOVA students] come into the program, they will feel how impactful CLRI is on their career journey.” – Tahiba, IT Major


For the Fall 2022 cohort, 34 NOVA students are scheduled to complete CLRI (make-up sessions are due Dec 15) and 52 students attended at least one workshop. Overall, since it’s implementation, CLRI has surpassed 100 completers.

Special recognition goes to M. Andy Chaves, NOVA SySTEMic CTE Coordinator, and Sedrick Settle, IET Career Advisor for their exemplary work in running CLRI with excellence and enthusiasm from beginning to end this semester.

You can reach M. Andy at machaves@nvcc.edu and Sedrick at ssettle@nvcc.edu


Industry Partners who attended the CLRI Networking Event:

Keron Taylor, Data Center Operations Manager, Google
Troy Hill, Director of Data Center Operations, Iron Mountain Data Centers
Jay Mitchell, Operations Manager, Iron Mountain Data Centers
Scott LaCasse, Supervisor of Workstation Support, PWCS
Darlene Armenta, Director of Talent Acquisition, Red River
Koren Flint, Senior Director of Customer Experience, Red River
Christopher Lettiere, Director of Data Center Operations, Coresite
Rob Morgan, Director of Project Management, CompuDynamics
Sal Amado, Director of Learning & Development, Simple Technology Solutions


Spring CLRI Opportunities:

If you are a NOVA student and want to get ahead in your career, CLRI will continue in Spring 2023, with a kick-off event on Feb 16 and workshops beginning the following week on Feb 21. You can sign up for our Spring 2023 Interest Form at https://www.nvcc.edu/career-services/clri.html to be notified when applications are available. We will also keep you up to date through our monthly Newsletter, which you can sign up for at http://newsletter.novastem.us

Another good resource to keep up with IET and future CLRI sessions and feedback is the NOVA Engage App, which you can find on Apple and Google Play. Some CLRI students who received internships applied directly through the App.

Data Center Tours and Career Info

Data Centers are on the rise, especially in Northern Virginia. Demand for Data Center Technicians is soaring and NOVA has the only fully accredited 2-year data center degree program in the state of Virginia.

Last month NOVA faculty and staff as well as Loudon County Public School educators participated in a tour of STACK Infrastructure, which is a leading data center company built from the ground up to address the full stack of client critical infrastructure needs, today and into the future.

Participants were guided through the facility by STACK employees and provided descriptions of data center equipment and procedures. TJ Ciccone, VP of critical operations STACK who also serves as a NOVA adjunct instructor in Data Center Operations (DCO), conducted the tour and educated participants on the mission-critical fields of DCO and engineering technology (ET).

Some of the points about Data Center careers that TJ Ciccone highlights are:

  • The pay is incredible. Students typically make $30-$35 with no experience.
  • Demand is very high in the field. There are 2 million people working data centers worldwide, with that number expected to increase to 2.2mil in the next five years. We need 40,000 people a year with very little outlets to create new candidates.
  • This is a career and not just a job. Outside of data center engineering, there are a multitude of career paths you can take once you are in. These include project management, sales, sales engineering, HR, legal, and more.
  • Data centers are global. You could literally transfer anywhere in the world.
  • Data center skills are transferable. You could work at any number of data center providers once you are trained on the theory of how they work.

NOVA faculty and staff were able to network with LCPS educators and provide them with information such as the points above for upcoming NOVA programs that will help build pipelines for K-12 students into the DCO and ET career fields.

More tours of STACK are currently planned for April 22 and May 20. Contact TJ Ciccone at tciccone@nvcc.edu for more information.

#WeDoSTEM #InDemandTech #HighTechHighWage

NOVA Fiber-Optic Fusion Splicing Course Makes News

Northern Virginia’s skilled workers — including many NOVA students and alumni — build, operate and maintain our region’s critical infrastructure. Exciting programs like this support an inclusive innovation economy and prepare our talented and diverse students for high-demand, high-wage jobs and careers that will keep Northern Virginia on the leading edge of technology well into the future.

~ NOVA President Dr. Anne Kress


NOVA’s IET Division was happy to partner with Amazon.com Inc. on October 13th and 14th for a fiber-optic fusion splicing course and career networking session. Sumitomo Electric Lightwave Inc., an optic fiber manufacturer and data center solutions provider based in Raleigh, North Carolina, also partnered in the course and networking session on Wednesday and Thursday. The event was held in the WRC Building on the Woodbridge campus, and with almost 40 students participating and completing the training, it was a huge success.

Northern Virginia is home to the largest data center market in the world and is nearly equal to the 2nd through 5th largest US markets combined. When you add this with the increased demand for broadband technology and access, you can see the rapidly growing need for skilled labor for the data center industry and the supporting companies. Opportunities like this give NOVA students industry credentials to explore careers even during their educational journey and add value to their resumes for future employment efforts.

Fiber-optic cabling is made of glass fibers inside a casing that transmits data through signals, including for internet, television and phone services — technology that’s critical to the build-out of communication networks and data centers. Participants in this week’s course, the first installment in Greater Washington, learned how to install and repair fiber optics and met with local employers, an AWS spokesperson said.

Check out the article from the Washington Business Journal