With Linux for Ladies, Rackspace Aims to Bring More Women to IT

San Antonio—The tech industry is notorious for its boys’ club history, problems with misogyny, and gaps in pay equality between men and women.

In San Antonio, cloud computing giant Rackspace is leading one effort to help turn around the persistent gender problem in tech. Three years ago, Rackspace opened a technical career school called Rackspace Open Cloud Academy, which offers a nine-week training program that is open to the public and meant to help people learn how to become computer system administrators or to work in network operations.

As a part of that training effort, Open Cloud Academy started a subprogram that it has offered every summer since the academy started, which is focused on attracting more women to IT work. Called Linux for Ladies, the program offers each participant a full-ride scholarship—the tuition for Open Cloud Academy costs $3,500—to attend the school. Just last week, a group of 15 women graduated from the latest class of Linux for Ladies, which teaches them how to become a Linux system administrator.

“One of the goals is to diversify what IT looks like, and to get women more involved and to create an environment that is more welcoming and more comfortable for them,” says Marcus Benavidez, the academy’s operations manager.

Founded in 2014, Open Cloud Academy operates outside of Rackspace (NYSE: RAX) as a separate business, though the company’s administrators and instructors are Rackspace employees. It was created to fill the need Rackspace had for entry-level system administrators and network administrators, as well as to provide training for other businesses looking for similar workers, from startups to more established businesses, Benavidez says.

About 400 people have graduated from the academy, and about 45 percent of graduates find work at Rackspace. Overall, some 72 percent of graduates are working in IT, Benavidez says. Part of the interest Rackspace has in running the academy is helping transform San Antonio into a greater tech hub, he says. The academy is located in San Antonio’s downtown, in the same building as tech co-working space Geekdom, which was also established by Rackspace Chairman Graham Weston.

“We were never really considered a tech city, but we want to be considered a tech city,” he says. “We’re on that verge.”

In Linux for Ladies, more than 100 women attended an information seminar at the start of the summer. To qualify for a scholarship, a person has to live in the city of San Antonio or in one of the districts encompassed by Bexar County. There are also ways to qualify if the applicant is considered underemployed or unemployed, Benavidez says.

The scholarships are funded primarily through a San Antonio economic development organization called Project Quest. The city’s government provided the organization $400,000 to promote IT jobs, Benavidez says. That funding will typically cover as much as 100 percent of the scholarship, though if the full $3,500 isn’t funded by Project Quest, Rackspace will cover the rest, he says.

By the time the Linux for Ladies program began in late May, those 100 interested women had been whittled down to 15, and they graduated on July 29. The group graduated with about 20 other students from the Open Cloud Academy summer class, including three women who paid the tuition to be trained in network operations. As the name implies, Linux for Ladies only teaches students Linux system administration.

In order to attend the Open Cloud Academy, as well as to participate in Linux for Ladies, students must be 18 years old and have a GED or high school diploma. They also need to earn a certification from the Computing Technology Industry Association (called the CompTIA Network + certification) that verifies they have basic IT knowledge and skills to work in the industry.

Rackspace offers free courses to help people gain the certification and to get an idea of whether they would like to attend Open Cloud Academy, Benavidez says. With the variety of training programs available in tech, from coding schools to cybersecurity programs, Rackspace wants potential students to feel comfortable with their potential career switch, he says.

“It’s for individuals looking to change career paths, looking to get into technology,” Benavidez says. “It’s a way for us to fuel the industry with tech talent.”

David Holley is Xconomy's national correspondent based in Austin, TX. You can reach him at dholley@xconomy.com Follow @xconholley

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