Data Centers: Passing on Knowledge to the Next Generation of Engineers
The ICT industry is constantly changing, making it crucial for professionals to update and expand their knowledge continually. Flint offers a comprehensive portfolio of training solutions developed by and for engineers to accelerate the introduction of new technologies. Jaka Javornik, Senior Technical Expert at Flint specialises in course delivery, instructional design, content development as well as network and design consulting. For the last few years Jaka has been asked to speak to students of the Faculty of Electrical Engineering (FE) at the University of Ljubljana where he once worked as a research assistant. His lecture focused on modern data centers and their future.
Jaka, in December you spoke to students of the FE about data centers, can you give us an insight into the topics you covered?
The lecture covered modern data centers, basically explaining the components of modern data centers, and touching a bit on the direction that the industry is moving towards. Data centers are different from enterprise campus networks since they are there to serve applications. This brings a lot of challenges and solutions, with automation and orchestration on all levels really empowering the whole story. It is a broad topic that is difficult to cover in three hours. But through my lecture, students can get an overview of what is out there since these topics are typically not covered in their regular lectures.
Where do you see data centers going in the future?
Data centers are continuing down the path of automation within all of its components and on the operations and troubleshooting level. Public cloud providers have shaken up the private data center industry in recent years, so in a way, enterprises are trying to catch up. That is where a combination of knowledge from data center topics and software engineering comes in handy, so future data center engineers need to have those skills as well to be able to solve challenges.
Often, students have difficulties transferring the knowledge learned at university to the world outside of their studies. Do you feel the same way?
Universities have always been meant to equip students with enough knowledge and tools to understand a broader field of a specific study. For example, telecommunication engineers or multimedia engineers build their understanding of various fields on the mathematical and physical principles which helps them to understand how telecommunication or multimedia systems work. So, the knowledge a typical freshly graduated engineer has is really broad, which of course is an excellent basis for their future work. What they are missing is practical experience from the field and how real engineering projects are carried out. Some students will struggle with that for sure, but that should not discourage them, you cannot learn everything and gain experience overnight. What typically helps are good mentoring programs. However, in the end, it comes down to individual motivation, as well as how quickly engineers are able to use their theoretical knowledge to solve real-world puzzles.
Why is it important for you to speak to the next generation of engineers?
I try to bring a bit of that practical knowledge and experience into my lectures. That means trying to explain things in the way of: here is a problem—well, there is the solution. I believe that is how a future engineer should approach the various topics of their studies. If you understand the problems you are facing and know that there are engineering solutions out there to solve them, it hopefully gives you, firstly, a way to remember things and, secondly, self-confidence that your engineering work matters—if there is a problem, you can find a solution.
For me personally, I also like to give back to my faculty. All my professors taught me a lot during and after my studies, and I would not be able to do what I do without their efforts. So, it is also a small token of gratitude from my side. I think the Faculty of Electrical Engineering in Ljubljana has a really good program and it produces excellent engineers. I hope that through my lecture, I am adding my little piece to the knowledge of future engineers.
What kind of feedback did you get from the students and faculty on your lecture?
This year the lecture was virtual, which does not give me, as a lecturer, enough feedback to really know how the class felt about the lecture. Typically, instructors get a feeling of how a class went through questions and interactions in the classroom, which was, unfortunately, missing from the virtual delivery. However, I hope that they were satisfied, learned something new, and hopefully, I will be invited to give a lecture in the future in similar events.
As you mentioned, this was the first university lecture that you held virtually. How did it differ from the ones before? What kind of challenges come up with this new way of sharing knowledge?
All my previous lectures at the faculty were classroom-based, correct. What has really been missing this time was the “in-person interaction,” the ability to build rapport, to be able to make jokes and so on. Online teaching tools provide you with lots of options, but they cannot replace the interactions you have in a physical classroom. Teaching for me almost requires this personal interaction, human connection, that is where things can really become way more entertaining for the students and also for myself, especially when you see reactions to small jokes or stories and so on. So, everything is way more impersonal when delivered virtually. However, on the other hand, I am really happy that technology is able to support such events in times like these. But to be honest, I really hope we will be able to go back to classroom deliveries because I believe that they are way more beneficial for everybody.
You have been teaching university students and professional engineers. What are the main differences, and how does your approach vary?
There are definitely some differences. Classes for professional engineers are typically more specialized, the audience has more experience, they will ask tougher or more practical project-related questions. Also, you typically have more time to go deeper into specific topics. In a way, such an overview class (Modern Data Center Overview) is almost harder to prepare for since you have to think about how deep you can go in presenting various technologies, you try to find interesting stories to keep things lively, and at the same time you are very limited in time, and still, you need to cover a broad subject.
My approach does not really vary, I take it very seriously, professionally preparing the materials and lectures as for any class. Every audience is an important audience, and you never know, maybe somebody in a student class will take a deeper interest in the field and possibly become a data center engineer or even start thinking of becoming an instructor.
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