In this upbeat #Nomad Futurist podcast, Ron Vokoun, Director of Critical Facilities for OAC Services, shares his dynamic story with Phil and Nabeel, shedding light on the world of data center construction — from construction management to finding the right skilled tradespeople, building teams, being an owner’s rep, and advocating for the customer.
After an initial attempt at engineering studies and a stint as a laborer on a construction crew, Vokoun obtained a degree in construction management at the University of Nebraska. After graduation, he worked in Oklahoma and Texas on water treatment plants. His next opportunities took him to LA where he worked on local fiber loops, and then to Denver to work for SP Telecom, a builder of telecom networks that morphed into Quest Communications.
Vokoun was tasked with putting together a staffing plan for Quest. Lacking extensive resources, he reached out to department heads he knew from university and to friends and friends of friends to build a team of forty-seven people. Vokoun speaks with pride about the team, many of whose members became lifelong friends.
“It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences…the energy of that group was amazing. It was just so much fun to see people figuring things out and building at warp speed…It’s guided so much of what I’ve done ever since in terms of how to look for the right mindset and the right culture.”
Vokoun stresses the importance of diversity in terms of fostering an inclusive approach to problem-solving that leads to better outcomes and a stronger design.
“We had such a diverse group in terms of age…back in the late nineties, 30% of our group was female…. 35% would be defined as minority. We were diverse before it was really a thing.”
Diversity includes bringing in people from other industries to get unique points of view.
“I love when we bring someone in that’s never worked in a data center and they’ll start by saying, ‘this is probably a dumb question’ and I would say at least half of those dumb questions lead to Aha moments!”
Vokoun is a strong believer that curiosity and a learning mindset are important personal attributes and that if you give people a chance, they will find a way to succeed.
He discusses the serious challenge facing the critical infrastructure industry in terms of securing adequate human resources as the older generation retires.
“The issues we have now are going to be compounded because we’re going to need to build more data centers…the labor issue, and not just in management, but in terms of craft and construction workers.”
Vokoun points out that the trades are more respected in some other parts of the world and stresses the importance of emphasizing the incredible opportunities for skilled tradespeople in the data center space.
“If you have data center experience, you have probably five job offers in the next month if you want them.”
Ron Vokoun is a 34-year veteran of the construction industry with a primary focus on Digital Infrastructure. As Director of Critical Facilities for OAC Services, Vokoun leads a team of construction professionals representing multiple clients in the build out of their data centers. He focuses on scalable, energy efficient, water conscious, and sustainable data center solutions with the lowest Total Cost of Ownership. He is also an author and blogger writing about the intersection of data centers and sustainability.
Vokoun has successfully managed large projects and programs globally and has lived and worked in Nebraska, Texas, Oklahoma, California, Colorado, Japan, Washington, Arizona, Minnesota, and South Carolina. He has a B.S. in Construction Management from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Vokoun was awarded the certification of Designated Design-Build Professional by the Design-Build Institute of America and is a LEED Accredited Professional with a specialty in Building Design and Construction.