Returning Nighthawk Transitions from Hospitality to High-Tech 

September 15, 2023

Switching professions can be daunting, but Daniel Rivera made a promise to reinvent himself and start a new career after working in the hospitality industry for a decade. He had no clue how to get started, what the new career might look like or even how long it would take to make the switch. 

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Fast forward 10 months: Daniel is stunned at how fast it all happened for him and thrilled with his new career in the data center industry. 

Tell us a little about yourself:  
For almost a decade, I worked in hospitality management and customer service. Before my career change, I was working at a Residence Inn by Marriott. One of the guests, Andy Chaves from NOVA, was staying there. He stayed there often, and we built a friendship and talked frequently. 

Chaves is the SySTEMic CTE (Career and Technical Education) coordinator at NOVA. Also, he is a retired executive from Marriott International, Inc.  

One day, we were talking, and I told him I was looking for another career. I was considering going back to college and was trying to decide what to study. He suggested I visit the Woodbridge Campus where he worked to learn about the NOVA Data Center Operations (DCO) program. I agreed and thought the program seemed interesting. At that time, I didn’t know much about data centers or that Northern Virginia was the largest data center market in the world, which made things even more exciting. 

What brought you to NOVA? 
I attended NOVA and graduated in 2018 with an associate degree in hospitality management. I really liked it, so I definitely wanted to come back.  

My first semester back was January 2023. This year, I took T.J. Ciccone's class (Intro to Data Center Operations). He talked about the internships, so, I applied, and I got one. I did my internship this summer and spent 10 weeks with one employer, Iconicx Critical Solutions, which is a global data center services provider. 

During the final two-weeks of my internship, I was given a job offer and accepted the position. Now I’m inside the data center industry working as an electrical commissioning engineer. I work with a team of engineers testing all the electrical equipment and connections inside different data centers, from the generators to equipment that powers the server racks and critical equipment.  

Last year, I decided on a goal that I wanted to switch careers, but I couldn't imagine that it was going to be this quick. It’s crazy. I thought it was going to take me maybe two years, but it took me 10 months! Less than a year, and now I’m in the industry! 

What are you studying at NOVA? 
I'm doing the Data Center Operations certificate at NOVA. At the same time, I'm doing the Engineering Technologies certificate because there are only three more classes that you need to take to get both certificates. And I just said, why not. 

Tell us a little bit about your internship experience with Potomac AFCOM: 
I wish I had had this opportunity 10 years ago when I started in hospitality management. I would have 100% liked this better. But I learned a lot in hospitality management, especially about dealing with people. Since I'm an introvert, it helped me with my communication skills.   

During my internship, I learned so much. It is always nice to see in practice what you have only learned in theory. All the support I received from the AFCOM members and my internship mentor, Kevin Luong, really set me up for success to get an opportunity working at Iconicx.    

There are so many opportunities that we do not see. They involve the construction and operations of data centers. AFCOM gave me direct access to these opportunities, even when I wasn't sure what these types of jobs entailed at first. I really enjoy every day working in the industry. 

AFCOM is an association for career advancement of IT and data center professionals. The 10-week internship program lead by the AFCOM Potomac Chapter, connects students to industry partners and is centered around building the data center industry by partnering with NOVA’s IET Division and providing paid summer internships to students in the DCO programs. 

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