Darren Watkins, managing director for VIRTUS Data Centres, speaks to SciTech Europa about data centre careers in the digital age.
This is a very real question that will be asked more and more in the future. As the demands of all things digital increase, so will the need for somewhere to house it all. But, the well-publicised skills shortage across Europe – where there aren’t enough qualified employees to meet the needs of employers – is a major concern engendering a culture where businesses must fight to attract and retain the best talent.
Many experts report the IT, construction and hospitality sectors are being hit hardest by skills gaps. However, there are important omissions in the discussion. Indeed, while some areas of expertise – like science, technology and engineering – receive significant attention in the skills debate, data centre professionals are often overlooked.
Historically, the data centre industry has been largely invisible and known only by techies – but as digital transformation continues to dominate all aspects of our lives, data centres are finally becoming recognised as the lynchpin for any digital business. With IDC predicting that worldwide data will grow 61 per cent to 175 zettabytes by 2025, demand for data centre space will grow in tandem. So how do we make sure that this crucial industry is staffed with the best recruits? And, how do we redress the balance and begin a much-needed discussion around the skills shortage?
I’ve never heard anyone say “I want to be a data centre manager when I leave school [or university]”. However, when we interviewed a range of data centre managers and their directors for our Data Centre Skills Report, they overwhelmingly reported a high level of job satisfaction.
Respondents told us that the role is challenging and rewarding – that they are responsible for the day to day operations and activities, as well as continuous monitoring and management of data centre sites and equipment – and that the role was changing, expanding and becoming more critical alongside technological advancements.
Many data centre managers also report competitive compensation. Data centre managers in the UK earn anywhere from £50,000 to £140,000 (~€57,000 to €162,000) each year, depending on their experience – But the fact remains that “data centre manager” is not a well-known career, and it’s this awareness issue which must be addressed if we are to continue to fuel the industry with skilled recruits.
To cope with demand, we must look at more diverse routes to recruitment. Indeed, diversifying talent pools has the potential to improve the productivity and effectiveness of an organisation. Where once the traditional route into the industry was through IT, today we see data centre organisations recruiting managers from a range of industries – from law, to accounting to construction. A commitment to diversity, and welcoming different ways of thinking and expression, is a valuable business resource because those differences can generate new and creative ideas and methods of problem-solving.
As an industry, we need to look further afield for skilled recruits, and when employees are actually in the job more needs to be done to ensure their value is recognised. It’s the responsibility of the role that attracted many of our interviewees to the career, and, as data and online dependence continues to grow in scale and importance, recognising the strategic nature of the role will be increasingly crucial in keeping employees motivated and engaged.
In the past, having a solid technical background with networking or hardware skills was sufficient to be a successful candidate. Today, one of the most critical, yet overlooked, skills is the need to be able to define and follow process. In fact, this is a key customer requirement and fundamental customer expectation; unless Data Centre Managers are meticulous about process, they will be unable to succeed in the role.
The ongoing shift to cloud computing has meant that data centre managers need to arm themselves with a raft of new knowledge in order to stay relevant in modern data centre environments. As technology advances, there needs to be considerable re-skilling, with a focus on digital skills, analytical skills and artificial intelligence – the emerging technologies which are influencing many industries.
For example, analytics has become a critical component of data centre management. Every data centre uses analytics as an important component of their overall Data Centre Infrastructure Management (DCIM) to maximise operational and energy efficiency – and managers need to be able to analyse the data, derive insights from analytics, and use these insights for better data centre management.
While it’s important to hire people with the right skills, it’s equally crucial for data centre managers to have the opportunities to develop their skills throughout their career. Businesses need to stop taking a short-term view and expect to be able to buy skills rather than develop them, and instead invest in training opportunities at all levels.
Working in a data centre certainly brings the opportunity for the ongoing development of skills. As technology become increasingly complex, data centre managers need to evolve beyond the traditional, IT-focused skillset to encompass cross-functional skills and advancements in data centre hardware and software.