NOVA Trailblazer Reaches Back to Help Other Women Enter Fast-Growing Field

September 8, 2023

In the summer of 2021, Deborah Castellanos was one of the first women in NOVA’s Data Center Operations (DCO) program and the first Hispanic female. Two years ago, she landed a job in the Data Center industry. Recently, she moved up in her profession after getting a promotion. She is excited to help others break into this fast-growing field, just as her female mentor supported and encouraged her. 


Deborah is leading by example and letting others know this industry is open to women. Currently, women represent only a small percentage of the industry’s workforce. Northern Virginia is the largest data center market in the country. Initially, when Deborah started at NOVA, she was pursuing a different career path, but that quickly changed.  

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background: 
I was in school for nursing at NOVA. But right as the pandemic hit, I did a complete 180. I decided I didn’t want to do nursing anymore, and decided engineering was more my interest. 

I saw the Data Center Operations program was being offered at NOVA, so I pursued it, and I haven’t regretted my decision ever since! 

Tell Us About Your Experience at NOVA, i.e., professors you’ve liked and friends you’ve met.  
When I first joined the program, there was only one other female student besides me. We quickly became friends and helped each other out. Since most of our classes were virtual due to COVID, we saw each other every other week. She became my mentor during the program and continued even after graduating from NOVA. Thanks to her mentorship, I was able to successfully complete the program and help other classmates the way she helped me. 

I believe I was the only Hispanic woman to graduate from the program in the spring of 2022. After that, more women became interested in the program, which made me very happy. Many had expressed their fear of starting the program because it was male dominated. We want women to know that they can have a successful career in this field, and there is nothing to be intimidated by or fearful of. 

One of the class requirements was to take Introduction to Data Center Operations, which was taught by T.J. Ciccone. At the beginning of the semester, he mentioned there would be internship opportunities, but if you were interested, you had to let him know beforehand. I think I let him know at the last minute, but he was still willing to work something out. A couple of days later, I had an e-mail from him. Turns out he was going to be my mentor. I was really excited that AFCOM gave me the opportunity to participate in a 10-week (paid) internship. 

Tell us a little bit about your internship experience with AFCOM Potomac Chapter: 
I don’t remember how many interns there were the year I interned; I know there weren’t many of us. I spent six weeks with Aligned Data Centers during my internship, followed by a few weeks with BVPI (Bureau Veritas Primary Integration). I eventually completed my internship with Vantage. 

The primary objective was to gain practical experience, learn more about data centers and receive job offers. Following my internship, I accepted a position with Aligned. I have been working with Aligned for over two years and I love it! Also, it’s exciting to see how much I have grown since I started. 

AFCOM has grown on me, and I will be forever grateful for the opportunity I was given. Now, as an AFCOM mentor and board member, I can help and mentor other students and help my community. 

Our organization, AFCOM, focuses on educating both current and future generations about the importance of data centers. It’s crucial to recognize that this is a rapidly growing industry with numerous career opportunities available. We want people to know there are options beyond the traditional four-year college degree, including the trades, which can lead to fulfilling career paths. Our aim is to provide education and support to help individuals explore all their options. 

Where do you see yourself after NOVA or what career pursuits are you exploring? 
Currently, I work as a critical facilities technician at Aligned. I am an active AFCOM board member in the internship mentoring program and the Philanthropy Team. After graduating from the DCO program, I decided to pursue a couple of other Career Certificates that will help me in the future. 

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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