Careers in the digital economy; what have data centres ever done for me?

Written by David Watkins, Solutions Director, VIRTUS Published 2019-07-09 09:31:44

It’s fair to say that from the outside, most data centres seem pretty nondescript. But, behind the grey concrete facade lies a business’ most critical systems, vital to the continuity of daily operations. And outside of business, the world we live our lives in is totally dependent on what goes on inside the data centre. From the moment you get up in the morning and turn on the TV, check your email, swipe your Oyster card on the way to work, pay for a coffee - or make your first phone call of the day (old school!) -  you will be having multiple touch points with a data centre, somewhere.

For me, the stereotype of the IT “geek” simply doesn’t hold true in the data centre world. As the Solutions Director for VIRTUS, I work alongside some of the industry's most talented people who are responsible for everything from design, building, marketing, sales and operations. They are from all backgrounds: we employ architects, engineers, consultants, builders, marketeers, sales staff, coders, financiers and security specialists, and it’s this diversity of talent which makes the industry such a compelling place to work.

As Solutions Director, my responsibilities include pre-sales consultancy with the sales team, design and implementation works with the operational team and post-sales client management for all of our customers.

So, I’d like to tell you a bit about my career, and hopefully inspire others to take a similar leap into a fast changing, dynamic and critical industry.


The basics - how I got started

Rewind to 1983, and Financial Services is “where it’s at”. I’m all ready to go to the sixth form (or year 12 for younger readers), but an opportunity arose at a life insurance company so I decided to take the plunge and join the world of work. In those days work in the city was a bit like going training with an American Football team - you couldn’t move for shoulder pads.

The company had an IT division, and within six months I got a job in data control. This involved building work schedules for overnight batch runs, which were executed on a computer four metres long!

Everything was big. The storage units were like a top loading washing machine, with a platter of disks delivering 100mb of storage, weighing 10 kilos and needing to be screwed in with different platters for different data. To put it into context, that’s less data then the SIM card holds in your mobile phone today.

Over a couple of years I held various positions in Operations, then was “outsourced” to an IT services company as part of a managed services contract. The company I joined had a large data centre built to 400w/m² which, at the time, was considered powerful (but a sixth of the capacity we build to today). From there I worked across a range of contracts, eventually becoming Head of Data Centres for the UK and Europe. My final role there was to build the business case then execute the delivery of a new primary data centre for UK operations, which was my first experience of the build and delivery of a bespoke data centre.  

Once in the world of outsourcing, I had opportunity to work and gain experience across a range of different industry sectors. I’ve worked with finance organisations, food manufacturers, coffee companies, logistics companies, diamond importers, PC manufacturers, pharmaceuticals, local and national government and even the police (responsibility takes on a whole new meaning when you are running a system that handles all of the 999 calls in London). Whilst the end services and products of these organisations differ hugely, they all had one thing in common – the need for a robust and well-run data centre to support them.


Why work in data centres - and what advice can I offer?

We’ve already talked about the importance of the data centre to all of us. For me, a career in data centres has provided significant personal development opportunities. I’ve been able to work and travel around the globe, learn about the requirements of different industries and experience how each one deals with very different challenges. This environment has given me the opportunity to study in France at a renowned business school, greatly enhance my own knowledge and to build a network of business contacts that has provided opportunities for myself and our business.

I also have a career that now extends to 35 years but still consistently provides new challenges and experiences. 

The main advice I can offer recruits into our world is not to fear change – but instead to embrace it. The industry needs bright new people to make its services even better, and being a “geek” is not mandatory – far from it. Data centre providers need talent from many industries and visionary employees, in order to help them continue delivering the innovative and mission critical service that they do today.

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