Amazon HQ2 prompts more cloud computing degrees

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Print this page by M.J. McAteer
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The Washington metro area has an enviable problem: It has one of the highest concentrations of tech jobs in the country, but nowhere near enough qualified applicants to fill them.

In the past 12 months, says Chad Knights, provost of information and engineering technologies at Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA), more than 30,000 area job postings have mentioned “the cloud,” the term for software and services that run over the internet. Out of that number, 5,500 specifically requested cloud-solutions architects and 500 required it.

“We have a lot to do,” says Steven B. Partridge, NOVA’s vice president of strategic partnerships and workforce innovation. “We needed to triple the number of graduates in the next five to 10 years — and that was before Amazon arrived.” By 2030, Amazon estimates, it will have added 25,000 employees to its HQ2 facility in Arlington, expected to grow to an extraordinary 38,000 by 2034.

Meeting such unprecedented demand is requiring an unprecedented approach — at speed — and NOVA, George Mason University and Amazon Web Services (AWS) have risen to the challenge.

In the months since Amazon announced that it would build its East Coast headquarters campus in Northern Virginia, the three institutions have joined forces to fast-track the establishment of a bachelor’s degree in cloud computing that will produce graduates needed to fill all those well-paid positions that are going begging.

Last fall, NOVA began offering the Cloud Computing Specialization of the Information Systems Technology Associate of Applied Science degree. “We just call it the cloud degree,” says Knights — for obvious reasons. Thirty students enrolled in its initial class, and 112 are in the program now. By next spring, NOVA expects to have 300 cloud-degree students.

They will be able to transfer their credits to George Mason, which will begin offering classes in cloud computing this fall and will launch its degree program in 2020. That ability to transfer credits saves NOVA students an average of $15,000 to $20,000 in overall college costs.

Both NOVA and GMU are working closely with Amazon Web Services (AWS) on their curricula. “AWS identified the skills and competencies successful employees must have, and our faculty designed the courses,” says Michelle Marks, Mason’s vice president for academic innovation and new ventures.

Students at both NOVA and GMU will be working in Amazon virtual classrooms using “the exact tools that a pro would use,” Knights says. These tools will not be exclusively applicable to Amazon, either, but will help staff other local tech giants such as Northrop Grumman, Micron and ManTech.

“What’s good for Amazon is also good for the companies, organizations and governments of Northern Virginia,” Marks says.

Ken Eisner, director of worldwide education programs for AWS, has been pivotal in the collaboration that is producing these new degrees in cloud computing. “It’s inspiring to see the amount of collaboration that is going on,” he says.

“This,” he says, “is not a once in and out. This is a model for the rest of the world.”

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