AFCOM intern Mitchel Rifae solidifies cybersecurity interest at CyrusOne
For Virginia Tech rising junior, computer science major and soon-to-be cybersecurity minor Mitchel Rifae, everything happens for a reason.
“I think that it’s a great way to look at things if maybe not everything’s going positive,” he said. “It’s just a good way to be optimistic for the future.”
The 20-year-old Leesburg, Virginia, native had his moment of serendipity when helping his neighbor, who just happens to be Northern Virginia Community College data center operations professor Thomas “TJ” Ciccone.
“I just let him know what I was doing at Virginia Tech with my computer science background, and I’m grateful to him for giving me the opportunity to join the AFCOM internship program,” Rifae said.
Ciccone is a big proponent of the Association for Computer Operations Management’s (AFCOM) summer data center internship program. The data center industry currently has a labor crunch and skills gap that require rethinking how the sector recruits and attracts burgeoning talent. AFCOM wants to help bridge that gap, advancing data center and IT infrastructure professionals through delivering comprehensive and vendor-neutral education and peer-to-peer networking to its members around the world.
An internship is a fantastic way to learn more about the industry, its needs and its opportunities. CyrusOne is proud to partner with AFCOM’s Potomac Chapter and offer paid internships to train and inspire the next generation of data center professionals. We believe internships are a vital part of any company’s talent pipeline and often the launching point of a great career, providing insights and experiences academia rarely offers while earning a degree. Our interns get one-on-one assignments, career mentoring, weekly check-ins, progress reports and long-term mentorship.
Rifae spent two weeks with CyrusOne, first in operations, where he shadowed executives and tried to ask as many questions as he could and absorb as much as he could.
“The best part about that first week was that Robert Smith, senior director of operations, allowed me to sit on some meetings and I could actually see the behind-the-scenes and all the different moving parts that you don’t get to see as a normal employee,” he said. “You get to see the potential of CyrusOne and what the future holds. It’s just very promising. The data center industry itself is just vast.”
During his second week, Rifae joined the service delivery team.
“We went to multiple different sites around the Sterling [Virginia] area, and I was able to see the differences and similarities between data centers,” he said. “I got to go through some of the blueprint diagrams about the electric systems and the one-line diagram specifically. You don’t really get to see all these different parts and wires that are connected to this data center, and it’s interesting to trace the source of the power to how much power comes into the facility, how much is used, what efficiency all these moving components run at, and how to optimize a huge data center.”
While the complicated blueprints certainly appealed to the computer science major, he also enjoyed the meetings.
“I loved seeing those meetings and the different moving parts,” Rifae said. “It’s crazy to me because I have a hard time keeping track of so many things, and Robert does a great job with it. Being able to try to follow in the example he set would be great.”
Rifae wants to work in the data center industry because he has a passion for the IT field, and he has always been interested in developing and managing new technologies. Additionally, he wants to work in an in-demand industry that has the potential to impact society. But even he wasn’t prepared for how much his internship would open his eyes to what the industry is really like.
“What really surprised me was the future of the data center industry,” he said. “The amount of land being bought right now and the amount of power going into these places is just incredible when you look at the numbers, compared with a neighborhood or something along those lines, just to see the difference in power.”
After graduation in 2024, Rifae wants to remain in Northern Virginia.
“The amount of data centers in Ashburn and Sterling by the time I graduate is going to be incredible,” he said. “I would love to work on servers, if possible, but I’m also interested in cybersecurity. That would also be a great opportunity if I can somehow get more information on that and continue to go down that route.”
In fact, his internship helped clarify his career path.
“I kind of always knew I wanted to go into an IT-based field, but this internship has piqued my interest in cybersecurity just for the simple fact that when you walk into a data center, you see all this physical security,” he said. “You’ve got to go through all these gates, you have to have a badge, and they’ve got to know who you are and where you are. So that only makes you imagine – how do they protect it on the internet side of things, the cybersecurity side of things?”
And he’s grateful for his time at CyrusOne, getting to actively learn and grow.
“When I first got in there, they were prepared for me on the first day with a plan, with a company laptop and with a workspace. Other internships said, ‘You’re an intern; just sit in the corner and watch,’ basically. CyrusOne got me involved, and that is something I really appreciate.”