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A Strategy to Aid Underserved Communities and Fill Tech Jobs

Nonprofit DevOps academy takes educational approach to open up career opportunities for the underserved as well as address ongoing demand for IT personnel.

Organizations anxious to build up their IT ranks might find some of the talent they need from job seekers who come from underserved segments of the populace.

Creating more chances for diverse people to pursue in-demand technology skills can be a gamechanger for communities and organizations alike, according to Sheldon Gilbert, founder of nonprofit DevOps and infrastructure computing training academy Kura Labs. With a program that first launched in 2020, Kura Labs offers free education and job placement to chosen candidates who want to pursue potentially well-paying careers that include site reliability engineering, DevOps, and cloud. Google Cloud, Nasdaq, and JPMorgan stand among the commercial partners with the academy. Donors to Kura Labs include Silicon Valley Bank and the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Kura Labs aims to help students establish long-term careers with forward-looking, cross-discipline approaches to developing and overseeing technology ecosystems. “When people hire engineers, they also want to know what are the newest versions of open-source technologies they are already aware of,” Gilbert says. Education tracks at the academy include Linux, Python, networking, server configurations, virtualization, containerization, Docker, Kubernetes, as well as infrastructure as code, he says. “We also have network monitoring and security. I’ve also added a new track in the last four weeks around the deployment of decentralized apps.”

Gilbert started Kura Labs to help better fill the gap in the workforce for personnel versed in DevOps, SecOps, and other elements of infrastructure -- while also creating opportunities that may narrow the digital divide that continues to leave some communities behind even in this age of transformation.

In his other role as CEO of Proclivity Systems, Gilbert says it proved challenging to find potential hires with much needed software and hardware expertise. “We had to go out there to look for a DevOps engineer, a cloud ops engineer,” he says. In a process Gilbert describes as exasperating, it took about 18 to 24 months to find the talent they needed. Further, he felt a shift was underway that conflated hardware and software engineering paradigms in infrastructure computing and DevOps.

“I saw this massive workforce imbalance,” Gilbert says. “All these companies were clamoring to get engineers to migrate to the cloud and maintain themselves in the cloud.” That meant engineers became mission critical to organizations, he says, rather than exist on the periphery. Companies sought engineers who could wire infrastructure remotely, create an automated CI/CD pipeline, and understand layers of frameworks.

Such roles, Gilbert says, call for skills beyond graphic design, HTML, and CSS with salaries to match their expertise. Graduates among the first cohort from the academy found jobs that pay upward of $90,000 to start, he says. “For the communities they come from that’s a quantum leap. You’re talking about them making more money now than twice the salary of both parents in the household,” Gilbert says. “This is really a civil rights issue in many ways. It’s about true, significant income equality and income mobility.”

He says the career tracks the academy puts its graduates on could, within a year or two, lead to salaries that range from $150,000 to $200,000. “We are putting our students on a pathway to become the heads of engineering, heads of product, CIOs, CTOs, CEOs, and future entrepreneurs,” Gilbert says.

Kura Labs runs as a six-month, online training program with tuition covered entirely by funding from foundations. About twenty students made up the first cohort in 2020. “This year we’re starting with 30,” he says. Candidates for the program must be from diverse backgrounds, which can help employer partners who hire from the academy improve their diversity recruitment efforts. Prior computer science education is not required to be a candidate for the academy.

Gilbert sees Kura Labs as part of a solution to meet the outsized demand to support digital infrastructure with functional tech experience much like the need for plumbers, mechanics, and electricians for physical infrastructure. “We need to have vocational academies for the 21st century,” he says. “We need people who are specialists in cybersecurity; you don’t have to go to college for that.”

Many organizations face a similar dilemma, he says. “Every company is trying to figure out how to reduce costs and maximize profits,” Gilbert says. “Profit maximization is becoming more digitized.” That requires an elastic computing framework linked to the cloud, which could be cloud native, hybrid, or multitenant. “Everyone needs some mechanism to make their IT costs more variable than fixed,” he says. Gilbert is offering DevOps, cloud maintenance, and other training from Kura Labs as a means to address such need.

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