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Cloud talent search: How Rackspace finds cloud engineers

To overcome a shortage, Rackspace builds cloud computing talent at its Open Cloud Academy boot camp in San Antonio.

The enormous shortage of cloud engineering and developer talent was highlighted in an IDC study last year that was funded by Microsoft. A new SearchCloudProvider survey has confirmed that this shortage is a major problem. Forty-three percent of cloud providers ranked finding engineers and developers with cloud experience as their top technical challenge.

This shortage of cloud talent motivated Rackspace to launch its own "Open Cloud Academy" training boot camp. Duane LaBom, director of learning and development, describes how Rackspace is teaching desirable cloud skills and creating cloud talent at the same time.

Is Rackspace struggling to find cloud talent?

Duane LaBom: Absolutely, yes. Rackspace is no different than Google, Facebook or any other cloud-based organization when it comes to struggling to find cloud talent -- we're all struggling.

A study by IDC and Microsoft last year found that 1.2 million cloud-based jobs went unfilled in the U.S. and Canada. That number is expected to more than double in 2013. There's a huge skills gap in IT -- specifically in cloud-based technologies. Rackspace is feeling the pain of it too, so, earlier this year we launched an Open Cloud Academy boot camp to teach the skills we're struggling to find as an employer.

What is the Open Cloud Academy boot camp?

LaBom: The Open Cloud Academy, which is located in downtown San Antonio, provides instructor-led cloud training. It's primarily designed to offer residents of San Antonio and military veterans the same technical training programs we deliver to our own employees, 'Rackers.'

By 'boot camp,' we mean a group of students starts and finishes our eight-week program together. The program we're running now is designed to develop students into a Linux systems administrator. It's eight hours of class per day, but they have a few 'Green days,' which are days with guest speakers or job fairs.

By providing this training, we're creating a pipeline of future job-ready Rackers, and we want to hire as many of these graduates as possible. In fact, Rackspace guarantees a job interview to each of our graduates. Our plan is to hire at least one-third of our graduates; another third will be available to work at other companies with similar technical needs in San Antonio, and the final third will become entrepreneurs and members of Geekdom (which partners with the Open Cloud Academy), where they can use their new skills to create cloud-based businesses that will incubate and grow through the Geekdom structure.

What kinds of cloud skills do you teach at the Open Cloud Academy?

LaBom: At the Open Cloud Academy, we're really focused on teaching Linux. The reason we start there is because that's where we have a really big skills gap. Beyond Linux, we'll also offer network security training, firewall security and software development. We're focusing on teaching the languages that are important to cloud computing, but at the same time, these are the skills we're struggling to find as an employer: Python and Ruby. Our software development program will focus on Python and Ruby.

Which skills and certifications should cloud engineers and developers pursue?

LaBom: When we look for cloud engineers and developers at Rackspace, we're looking for individuals with a strong understanding of the cloud -- virtualization, hypervisors, [application programming interfaces] APIs, continuous integration and security in the cloud. These are the things we look for with candidates. The more they know and understand, the greater the opportunity they'll have at Rackspace.

Once we select and hire an individual, we teach them OpenStack, which was created by NASA and Rackspace. We also ensure that our engineers and developers know and understand Rackspace's portfolio and products really well. We also teach them about the market and our competitors' products, because it helps if they understand what they're doing as well.

It's important for them to be able to architect solutions for our customers to help them solve their problems, and we teach that. That's what we do, and we're known for doing [it] with 'fanatical' support. Our technicians need to be not only highly technical and knowledgeable about different technologies, but they also need to be very much customer-service-oriented. That's just as important to us as the technical skills -- we search for people who are naturally customer-service-oriented.

Our technicians need to have the industry standard knowledge. We expect Linux technicians to either have their Linux+ or Red Hat Certified Systems Administrator certification. For a Linux-based role, we expect them to know Linux very well. If it's a Windows-based role, we expect them to know that very well. For network security, we expect them to know either the Cisco foundational knowledge or F5 or Brocade -- and we expect them to understand the cloud as well.

Do you offer online training?

LaBom: Right now, the online cloud training Rackspace offers is Cloud U, which is an online program open to the public. It provides anyone who is interested with a basic understanding of the cloud and how it works. All Rackspace employees are required to get the Cloud U certification.

As far as the Open Cloud Academy, today students have to actually attend to receive training, but we're investigating technologies and ways to deliver some of this content remotely. so eventually not all students will need to come to San Antonio.

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