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Veterans & The Data Center Industry with Kirk Offel, CEO of OVERWATCH Mission Critical
Veterans & The Data Center Industry with Kirk Offel, CEO of OVERWATCH Mission Critical

By Rhett Gill · 11/10/2021

A History of Kirk & How He Started OVERWATCH

Kirk's background is in the U.S. military, serving as an electronics technician aboard the USS Memphis until the turn of the century. After getting out of the Navy, he started looking for career paths to plug himself into. He worked as a field service engineer while simultaneously getting his Bachelor of Business Management degree. Because the role involved traveling from site to site, he got to witness the building of multiple data centers and tech businesses in the early 2000s.

After graduation, he became the Southwest Regional Project Manager at EATON. Towards the end of his tenure there, he was diagnosed with cancer. As he was battling against the disease, he vowed to strive for something much bigger than his management role. With whatever time he had left, he wanted to master the skills that would put him on top of the industry.

He skipped around for the next few years, learning what he could from each company or contract as he went: EDSA Micro, HP, Modular Power Solutions, CyrusOne, NOVA Mission Critical, and Aligned Energy. He had opportunities to work with some of the best companies in the industry. He was also fortunate enough to remain healthy in the process of gaining this experience.

When Kirk had learned everything he could, all the while making some excellent industry contacts and lifelong friends, he was ready for the next step. In 2015, he became the Co-Founder of Data Center Austin Conference (DCAC). From there he didn't look back.

Later he expanded his grasp, becoming the CEO of OVERWATCH Mission Critical, which recently celebrated its second anniversary. Around half the staff is ex-military, driven and mission oriented. Sometimes their skill sets didn't apply directly to the industry, but their tenacity allowed these recruits to adapt to their new, fast paced industry even though it has such a high learning curve. One of their first clients, Compass Datacenters, helped them to set up the diversity and apprenticeship programs that shaped OVERWATCH's culture.

Why Does Ex-Military Apprenticeship Matter?

The common thread that runs through the soul of every ex-military person is drive. They spent years with concrete routines and long work hours, sometimes upwards of 100 hours a week even outside of combat environments. Transitioning to civilian life can leave these veterans without direction.

There’s a mental health crisis for a lot of veterans, with military suicides being four times more common than combat fatalities worldwide. Civilian life is simply a different universe. Direction and purpose are the keys to bridging these two lifestyles successfully.

Whether these veterans have experienced trauma during their service, or whether they’re just experiencing a massive culture shock that leaves them questioning their purpose and identity, a disciplined framework needs to go hand in hand with an understanding environment. This is why ex-military apprenticeship is so critical. It provides an all-important lifeline that will help them to achieve reintegration more successfully.

Key Trends Seen at DCAC

Kirk talked about the event this year, the sixth one that has been held, was when everything really seemed to come together. The team focused hard on finding people who were outliers or disruptors so that they could present new ideas and visions.

This year their focus was on getting the powerhouse speakers to build bridges between their vision and people in the audience who have to make that vision a reality. By pushing the industry leaders to explain how their outlook applied to the various roles throughout the industry, there was much more engagement.

The trends that were spoken about at DCAC included smaller footprints, higher densities, and an industry that continues to grow at an incredible rate. The impact of diversity was on show as well, with every race, sex, and creed in attendance. Everyone was talking about a huge need for new talent, and Kirk in turn urged them to look at ex-military as a resource.

The Pains of Expansion

When asked about industry growth, Kirk said that he thought that the next plateau hasn't been reached yet. He noted that people will continue to use more and more data as technologies like AI, virtual reality, and quantum emerge over the next few years.

The problem will be delivering those expansions. Putting aside the need for a broader talent pool for a moment, there are certain logistical realities that need to be faced. After worker safety, schedule is everything. Annoy the wrong person, and someone else might shoot past you on the priority list for critical hardware, tacking on months to any given build.

In the past, bottlenecks to data center expansion were things like batteries, generators, and UPSs. These days it's a lack of building materials like PVC, door frames, roofing... any one of which might include several months worth of lead time. In the very near future, availability and time to deliver is going to trump low cost in a lot of markets. The race to the bottom doesn’t matter if it tacks on an extra two quarters until operability. People will pay more for speed.

What’s the Next Big Trend?

Kirk said that he is stunned by the amount of talent coming into the industry. The 'big brains' are getting spread across all levels of leadership, with everyone getting more educated and pushing boundaries.

The biggest change might be that these folks will have a powerful voice since they tend to question the status quo. And they won't just ask how to accomplish something, they’ll ask ‘why’. If the answers aren’t good enough, they might simply forge ahead and find their own way. That's a huge shift in the industry.

The byproduct will be a pool of ideas that will enable everyone in the industry to benefit... as long as the creative and innovative people behind those ideas take the time to explain, teach, and connect with others.

Visit the OVERWATCH Mission Critical website to learn more about Kirk and his team.

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