Inside Open Cloud Academy

Phase 1
This includes a sequence of four instructional modules on the basics of computers and network operations. Students read a chapter in a course guide, take a test, watch a video and take part in a workshop. Aside from the $30 fee for the guide, all courses are free.

Students are able to move at their own pace and complete work in as little as three weeks. Rackspace allows them up to three months. “The free training basically weeds out anyone who doesn’t have the passion for it or the aptitude for it,” said Duane La Bom, Rackspace’s director of learning and development.

To move on to Phase 2, students have to pass a test and receive the Network+ certification, an industry standard certification managed by CompTIA, a provider of vendor-neutral IT certifications.

Phase 2
This phase, which comes with a $3,500 price tag, consists primarily of instructor-led training and hands-on work five days a week over eight weeks. Rackspace has since added a longer, less intensive evening program for students with full-time jobs.

Students follow one of two career tracks: Linux systems administration or network operations. Courses are taught by Rackspace instructors and include an introduction to cloud computing; Linux+ certification training; MySQL, an open-source database language; Apache, an open-source Web browsing technology; Rackspace systems administrator training; and soft skills training in critical thinking.

At the end of the course, students are given an assessment by an outside company, True Ability.
The aim is to give students experience with the kind of hands-on work they’d be doing as a Rackspace engineer. Despite the program’s rigor, not all graduates who land Rackspace jobs hit the ground running. Some go through additional training as part of a program called TNT, which stands for Team New Talent. This includes another four to six weeks of “nesting time” to hone their skills.

Advice for Working With Community Education Partners

According to Joel Simon, vice president for public sector services at the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning, a nonprofit, employers can have different levels of involvement in community education.

At a basic level, employers provide information to schools and communicate their needs to them as school administrators build curriculum.

Some employers play a more direct role in developing curriculum by participating in an employer advisory committee that validates learning outcomes.

Though rare, other employers actively deliver instruction to students that is relevant to their business and meets their needs.

For the latter, the question is if the instruction is relevant beyond that single company. “We don’t want to make it so specific that it’s relevant in only a very limited set of circumstances,” Simon said.

Whatever the involvement, Simon offered employers the following advice:

Be clear about what you’re looking for from community partners. Don’t just say students need math skills. “The more specific you can get about that, the more strategic and specific schools can be about upping those skills,” Simon said.

Avoid overly focusing on personal skills, like teamwork or adaptability. While those skills are valuable, job applicants would be better served with technical training.

Manage expectations so that members of the community understand that there are no job guarantees. “People still need to compete and put their best foot forward,” Simon said.