Returning NOVA Student Shifts Gears to Enter Data Center Operations

August 25, 2023

Renee Ibanez worked as a certified dental assistant for 16 years. She recently returned to NOVA to retrain and retool to prepare herself for a career in the exploding field of data center operations. After hearing about NOVA’s Data Center Operations Program from friends, she decided it was the career change she was looking for.


Ibanez returned to NOVA in the fall of 2022, and through the College she quickly began a paid internship as beneficiary of the Potomac AFCOM (Association for Computer Operations Management) internship scholarship. So far, she has done three paid internships, consisting of five weeks each, with Digital Realty, Google and Iron Mountain. 

NOVA’s Data Center Operations Program trains students for entry-level positions in the rapidly expanding data center industry where they can work as technicians, operators and technologists in data centers and companies that support them. 

Tell us a little about yourself and your background: 
I grew up working on and fixing things with my father, uncles and brother. I have always loved working with my hands fixing and creating things. 

I have a previous AAS degree from NOVA and am a returning student. I was a dental assistant for 16 years, and after that, I moved into practice management for about four. However, I realized I wanted a career change after working for 20 years in healthcare. 

My friend whom I used to work with told me what her husband did for a living – and how much he loved it. She told me to take a class her friend taught at NOVA, and I saw this as an opportunity for me. If you think about it, I was sort of a “tooth mechanic,” and now I have migrated those skills to data center operations. 

What brought you to NOVA? 
After hearing about the program, I took a class that Professor TJ Ciccone offered for Data Center Operations and started at NOVA in fall 2022. I loved learning about the different aspects of the data center industry and fell in love with the idea of working in this field. 

What are you studying at NOVA? 
I will be completing the AAS degree for engineering technologies – specializing in data center operations. 

Tell Us About Your Experience at NOVA, i.e., professors you’ve liked and friends you’ve met: 
I have made friends with a lot of people in the class, the industry and throughout my internships. The class was intimate and inclusive, and when you spend a lot of time with folks during those classes and internships, you get to know all of them well. We all bonded over sharing our new opportunities and, eventually, for most of us, new job offers. Professor Ciccone is a wonderful teacher, and he makes sure you are 100% involved all the time! 

Tell us a little bit about your internship experience with Potomac AFCOM: 
I spent five weeks with Digital Realty through Northern Virginia Community College in the winter of 2022. In the summer of 2023, I joined the AFCOM program and spent five weeks at Google and five weeks at Iron Mountain. All of these were paid internships allowing me to earn money and learn at the same time! 

What would you tell a student coming to NOVA? 
The first step is the hardest, but it turned out to be the easiest thing I have ever done. For me, going to school was easy because, not only did I find some people to do it with me, I had the best teacher and mentors along the way. Everyone is very helpful and accommodating in this program. They want to see you succeed and they do everything in their power to make it happen for you. 

Learn more about NOVA’s Data Center Operations Programs here.

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