This story originally appeared on Texas Public Radio.
Not long ago Zach Hall was finishing his degree in physics. Will Brau had moved to San Antonio and was unemployed. David Riggs, 29, was trying to figure out what he really wanted to do.
“I did go to college originally for criminal justice, then I did switch to biology-healthcare. But never officially IT,” said Riggs, who’s built computers and worked with them for years.
Now, all three sit in a computer training lab at the Open Cloud Academy in downtown San Antonio. They’re filling screens with long streams of code, and learning how to help companies trouble-shoot problems with complicated computer systems.
Open Cloud Academy IT Training
When they successfully finish this nine-week program the students will be certified network operators, among the most sought-after professionals in the country. Riggs Hall says this is practical training he probably wouldn’t have received in a traditional, four-year university.
“A lot of times traditional schooling doesn’t get you the certifications you need to say you know the systems. A lot of times the college’s, they do push out people to get them through. With certifications you either get and know the material, or you don’t.”
San Antonio-based Rackspace launched the Open Cloud Academy with its intensive boot camps three years ago when it was facing a crisis. Academy Director Deborah Carter says the global, cloud-computing company couldn’t find enough home-grown workers.
“Rackspace was in a position where we were relocating individuals from across the United States for entry level roles. Not only was this costly to our business, but we saw the retention of these individuals was low. They would stay with us for two years or less.”
Now Rackspace is scooping up a lot of the students trained at the Academy.
Each boot camp costs $3,500, which is a bargain compared to some other training programs. But just to make sure the cost doesn’t shut-out talented techies, the City of San Antonio is pitching in.
Government Support For IT Training
In the past two years the city has contributed $600,000 in scholarship money that’s managed and awarded by a non-profit. President Obama’s TechHire program has provided another $6 million for training.
Then there are some informal partnerships with schools that may become a pipeline for more talent.
High School With Tech-Ready Program
At Northside ISD’s Holmes High School, students at the Business Careers magnet can earn the same industry certificates as adults at the Open Cloud Academy.
“Now I’m learning about cyber security and how to configure normal things, and how to keep people off my computer who shouldn’t be there,” said Roberto Delgado, a junior who’s dreaming of big opportunities in the IT world.
“Hopefully, after high school, I can get a job in cyber security because there’s a high demand for those jobs,” said Roberto.
Roberto’s instructor, Gerald McCaslin, says he encourages his students to pursue college or additional education beyond high school.
“But, you can go straight into the industry with these certifications,” said McCaslin, who works with Rackspace to make sure programs at Holmes keep pace with rapid changes in the industry
“These students are definitely prepared in order to go into the industry and demand good money. Fifty-thousand dollars is a good starting point right out of high school, and it only goes up from there, he said.”
According to city information for 2014, the average IT salary in San Antonio was $78,744. Compare that to the average salary of all San Antonio workers which was $43,256, and you start to realize being a computer nerd is a pretty sweet deal.
And there are companies just begging San Antonians to find their inner geek and apply.