5 Questions for Deborah Carter on San Antonio's Growing Tech Sector
Those who know Deborah Carter will not be surprised to learn that she’s been named one of the San Antonio Business Journal’s Women in Leadership honorees for 2018; the accolade is just the latest for Carter, an indefatigable champion of San Antonio’s blossoming tech scene who has spent the last decade helping people “find their pathway to success and find success in their careers.”
Carter, who after ten years with Rackspace is moving on to become the director of Bexar County’s Workforce and Economic Develop Services department, was instrumental in launching the Open Cloud Academy, which offers boot camp style IT training to help fill talent gaps at Rackspace and other tech companies. She's a founding member of TechBloc, a local grassroots group that pushes for local policies to attract and retain knowledge workers. As part of TechBloc, she helped shepherd CAST Tech High School, the city’s first applied science and technology charter, from drawing board to reality.
She’s no stranger to receiving accolades for her work. Her Rackspace human resources peers recognized her with its “Infinity and Beyond” award in 2009, she was named by the Alamo Region of the Texas Workforce Commission Employer of the Year in 2012, given Bersin by Deloitte’s What Works Award in 2014, and was named San Antonio Business Journal's Tech Titan for 2015.
“She’s really a foundational member of what is becoming a thriving, sustainable tech and entrepreneurial ecosystem in San Antonio, one with a real focus on equity,” said Amir Samandi, who serves as CAST Tech High School’s business liason and mentor coordinator, who nominated Carter for the Business Journal’s Women in Leadership honor.
The Rackspace blog sat down with Carter to learn how her career has evolved along with San Antonio’s tech scene.
Congratulations on being named one of the San Antonio Business Journal’s Women in Leadership honorees. What does this accolade mean to you?
I am so honored to be recognized and it was a bit of surprise. I found out when my social media blew up. For me, it was a humbling reminder of how many people recognize the amount of effort I put in every day. Their notes of appreciation brought me tears of joy. Then I attended a cocktail event hosted by the Business Journal and Broadway Bank for all of the honorees, which was fantastic — and so now I’m connected in a special way to these other amazing women leaders in the community.
Your career is devoted to helping others find success in their careers. How did that come about?
I actually had a start-up! I was a realtor, and my husband a broker; we launched our own business in 2005. At the time, it was difficult to go online to look at apartments. We started Sir Lease-A-Lot to provide a more efficient option. I would go to available properties, took photos, scanned in floor plans. Setting that up, we needed a hosting provider.
We chose Rackspace, and my husband fell in love with the organization. He’ll be celebrating 13th year here very soon. He kept coming home super happy. Three years later, I began as a training coordinator, a job I didn’t stay in long, but one that spoke to me, because I knew even then helping others was a passion.
For several years I worked to expand Rackspace University’s offerings and partnered with Alamo Community College to offer technical training by leveraging SDF Grant funds. In 2013, I launched Open Cloud Academy along with my team to provide a pathway for community members to enter IT careers.
I’m also a Gallup Strengths Coach, and I teach “Intro to Strengths” at Open Cloud Academy. It’s such a great tool. For example, responsibility is my number one strength, and it’s really true. I take full ownership of anything I sign up for. When people ask me to get involved, sometimes I have to give the fanatical no, because I commit so deeply.
Why did Rackspace launch the Open Cloud Academy?
By late 2012, Rackspace was in a predicament. It was getting difficult to find qualified talent in San Antonio. Hunting for talent was getting more expensive, as we were having to relocate people; we also found those hires had a lower retention rate. So we started to look at the programs we’d already developed with Rackspace University, to see how we could create something external to develop the talent we needed.
In March of 2013 we launched the Open Cloud Academy, with short term, boot camp-style learning tracks. We began with Linux Administration and Network Administration training; we’ve since added a Cyber Security track. We also strategically focused recruiting efforts towards veterans and women to support diversity in tech.
Students come from a variety of backgrounds, but we have three main types. The early starters, coming straight out of high school; recent college graduates seeking tech certifications and finally, career pivoters, those who are transitioning out of the military, for example, or financial services — their jobs are often being replaced by technology.
OCA partners with Project Quest, a 26-year-old intensive job training program in San Antonio that offers tuition assistance to OCA students; in 2014 the Department of Labor granted OCA $6 million as part of its TechHire initiative. President Obama and Megan Smith, US CTO, recognized Rackspace for being a “trailblazer” in IT workforce development. In addition, City of San Antonio contributed $400,000 in 2013 and $200,000 each year since for tuition assistance.
What impact has Open Cloud Academy had on Rackspace and the community?
We have so many great stories. Like the guy who delivered Dominos to a group of students, and now works as a level 1 tech at WP Engine. He is one of the 64 percent of grads whose tuition was sponsored by Project Quest. Then there's the veteran who was working at Home Depot because his clearance had expired. After graduating OCA, he interned at Rackspace for on the job experience, then landed a full time position with 22Century as a cyber defense operator.
For Rackspace, it’s a continuing source of talent. Two-thirds of OCA grads who get jobs at Rackspace fill what we call critical skills positions; our time to hire is reduced and the attrition rate is lower.
OCA occupies the 5th floor of the Rand building on Houston Street, which has really become ground zero for San Antonio’s tech and start up scene. We’re right below the co-working space Geekdom, and all our students get complimentary memberships. Geekdom started about eight months before OCA, and their work complements our efforts greatly. TechBloc formed some time later, bringing together even more of the city’s growing tech scene.
We were the second tech-related organization to take up residence in the Rand, and now the entire Houston Street corridor is filled with tech and other co-working spaces for tech — OCA provides qualified talent for all those companies. We don’t guarantee employment, but we do guarantee an interview.
What’s your best advice for women in tech who want to be leaders?
Raise your hand. Don’t be afraid — if you see a cool project out there and you want to participate, ask to be a part of it, don’t wait to be chosen. I’d also say it’s important for women to tell their story, something that was difficult for me. It felt like bragging. But then I took a step back and realized, the story I’m telling about myself is also about my team and the entire organization, and that lifts others up as well.
Create your own personal board of advisors, people from whom you can get very honest feedback. It’s an informal thing, but I do have those special people I know I can get honest feedback. Networking is really important, so cast your net wide, get involved, get to know people.
A leader from Rackspace I really respect once told me that his dad would tell him the only thing that’s fair in life is that we all have 24 hours in each day, and we can, for the most part, choose how we want to spend those hours. Every day, I have the opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life, and that’s really what fills my bucket. I try to make the best out of each day I can.