An eight-year-old girl shows the data center industry how to attract more young people

There is a worrying lack of diverse young talent interested in a data center career. If the talent pipeline is to remain resilient for generations to come the industry must do better at educating children about the industry. 

Our Senior Development Manager, Jennifer Reininger, and her eight-year-old daughter may already have solved part of the puzzle.

By Jennifer Reininger, Senior Development Manager at Yondr

Ask most eight-year-olds what the cloud is and they’ll probably point to those fluffy things in the sky.

Not my daughter.

Because I’ve worked from home my whole career she’s been exposed to the industry her entire life – and she likes it. In fact, she likes it so much she’s decided that when she grows up she’s going to be Yondr’s contract negotiator.

No doubt she’d be welcomed with open arms: the industry is crying out for diverse talent right now.

Young people simply don’t see the data center industry as a career option despite its obvious perks. Meanwhile, women and minorities largely feel that they’re not welcome in the industry, which is nothing short of a tragedy.

The severe skills gap is a real concern for the industry, which continues to see record-breaking growth year on year.

If economies are to remain productive and prosperous we must learn to attract young talent capable of building the next generation of connected infrastructures – and do so sustainably. But how?

Perhaps my daughter and I can shed a little light on the situation.

Lucky beginnings 

One day in high school my teacher announced to the class: “80% of you will have careers in fields you’ve never heard of.” I thought that was absurd at the time but now here I am, part of that 80%.

It wasn’t my intention to join the data center industry, I wanted to be an occupational therapist. But halfway through college my dad, who worked in the industry at the time, got me a part-time summer job managing a data center conference room. At the end of the summer, the company asked me to go full-time in an operations role.

If it wasn’t for my dad I’d have turned the job down. He explained to me where the industry was heading, the opportunities available, and the stability it offered. Heeding his advice, I took the opportunity and haven’t looked back.

We can’t rely on such luck to attract people to the industry now. We must ensure people have heard of data centers and do know about them. And that means shining a light on our opaque industry.

Shining a light into the shadows

One of the biggest challenges surrounding talent acquisition is the fact that the industry is shrouded in mystery.

Few people know what data centers are let alone how they work. And it doesn’t register in most people’s minds that the cloud is not a mystical entity but is, in fact, a physical infrastructure.

Top tip for parents: this lack of knowledge can be used to your advantage when teaching your children about social media. I like to remind my son and daughter that everything they post on social media ends up in my data centers – is this the modern-day Boogey Man?

To pique children’s interest in the industry at an early age we need to talk to them and educate them about the opportunities available to them. We must make it clear that you don’t have to be an engineer or an operator to work for a data center company. There are all sorts of roles out there for people with all manner of skills.

Companies that value family are valued by families 

My daughter wouldn’t want to follow in my footsteps if she saw me stressed and miserable every day, staring down the barrel of a webcam. But because Yondr values family she values them.

I’m a much better mom at Yondr. At other companies I worked 80-hour weeks, barely took holiday and when I did I had my work phone on the entire time.

It’s one thing for a company to say they value family but Yondr actually lives it. My kids are welcome to join me on business trips, and last winter when I had to take time off to deal with family issues Yondr approached me first to offer their full support.

At the start of my time here, Eanna Murphy, senior VP of operations, asked me why I hadn’t scheduled any time in my calendar for my kids. I actually had blocked time out to pick them up from school but I’d labeled it ‘focus time’ so I sounded more professional.

I explained this to my colleague and confessed I didn’t want people to think I wasn’t career-focused. He told me to change it so other women and men would feel it’s okay to have a career and be a parent. It was the first time in my professional life anyone had permitted me to put that in my calendar.

Businesses that value family will be valued by families, and young people will naturally be drawn to them.

Don’t forget that it’s fun!

When I asked my daughter why she wanted to be a contract negotiator, she replied, “Because it’s fun!” – and she’s right.

It appeals to her because she’s extremely strong-willed, she doesn’t hold back and she knows how to get what she wants. I enjoy it because I get to build relationships with people all over the world and every project brings something new. It’s like being an investigator; each project is a puzzle to be solved.

My kids have joined me on several work trips and they’ve seen many of the cool places my job takes me.

Last year, we traveled to Virginia for a celebratory dinner after closing a major joint venture deal. The kids spent the evening mingling with half of Yondr’s executive team. The following day they harvested fruit and vegetables on a community farm with our JV partner’s family and watched films in their home movie theater.

While we can’t replicate this experience for every child around the world, we should do everything in our power to impress upon children just how fun the industry can be. If we can give the industry a reputation for being cool and fun the battle will be half won.

A future fit for my daughter 

I’m touched that my daughter wants to follow in her mom’s footsteps, just as I followed in my dad’s many moons ago. And I’d be proud to see her enter an industry rich with possibilities.

By the time she’s grown up, I hope the industry consists of much more diverse talent pools and companies continue to place greater value on family.

I’m sure we’ll discover the insights necessary to make young people fall in love with the industry. We’ve already managed it with my daughter.

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