SMC Launches Cloud Computing Certificate in High-Demand IT Field

Career Program Incorporates Content from Amazon Web Services and AWS Educate Initiative

Students from Roosevelt High School in East Los Angeles at Santa Monica College’s Center for Media and Design on Stewart Street. They are part of a cohort taking classes in cloud computing. (Photo Credit: Amy Gaskin)

Koda Kol, a computer science instructor at SMC, teaching Computer Science 79A: Introduction to Cloud Computing. (Photo Credit: Amy Gaskin)

(left to right) Jose Castro, David Aguilar, Estefania De Luna, and Abel Guillen in a computer lab at SMC’s Center for Media and Design during a cloud computing class. (Photo Credit: Amy Gaskin)

May 9, 2018

SANTA MONICA, CA—Santa Monica College (SMC)—California’s leading transfer college to the University of California and a top provider of affordable career education in Los Angeles—has created a cloud computing certificate, which incorporates content from Amazon Web Services (AWS) and AWS Educate, Amazon’s global initiative to provide students and educators with the resources needed to accelerate cloud-related learning.

Cloud computing—which delivers vast data capacity to organizations of all shapes and sizes without requiring expensive on-site servers—is widely considered the biggest growth arena in technology today. It is also set to open a world of opportunity for Santa Monica College students, in one of the highest paying IT fields.

In just 15 units, SMC’s Cloud Computing Certificate gets students ready to pursue a career in cloud computing, and introduces students to AWS technologies. AWS courses cover programming, database management, security, and other essentials.

"At Santa Monica College, we take great pride in the many options we offer students seeking to be career-ready—or upgrade their professional skills—in over 80 fields of study," said Dr. Kathryn E. Jeffery, SMC Superintendent/President. “The new Cloud Computing certificate is an example of SMC’s responsiveness to industry needs, and is a testament to our commitment to provide our diverse student body opportunities to succeed in high-demand and emerging career fields."

Dr. Patricia Ramos, SMC's Dean of Workforce & Economic Development, said that Santa Monica College teamed up with AWS Educate to provide SMC’s diverse student body with key skills needed to secure job in the tech industry.

"This collaboration with AWS Educate enabled Santa Monica College to develop model curriculum that could be shared and replicated at 19 other community colleges and their partner high schools across Los Angeles," said Ramos. This groundbreaking 15-unit certificate, which SMC piloted in 2017, received funding from the California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office through the state's Strong Workforce Program (the program allocated $200 million annually for California's community colleges to expand and strengthen career technical education programs). SMC is leading the California Cloud Workforce Project, with $2.5 million in multi-year funding for the participating Los Angeles community colleges and high schools.

"This makes the effort to grow a talent development pool for cloud computing professionals one of the largest of its kind in the nation," noted Ramos.

Numerous technology companies and other businesses in the region share enthusiasm for this new program. In addition to SMC’s collaboration with AWS Educate, Silicon Beach companies Reliam and Onica are partnering with SMC to ensure the mutually beneficial success of its program and students. Both Reliam and Onica have helped refine the curriculum and plan to offer SMC students internships beginning in summer 2018. They are also working with SMC on a “career day” and “hack-a-thon” event to help give students additional real-life experience and opportunities to make connections with future employers. As SMC’s cloud computing program grows, additional partnerships are expected to follow.

SMC is currently offering the certificate’s courses online, and in the traditional classroom setting to high school students. “We’re working with Roosevelt High School in East Los Angeles,” said Howard Stahl, who chairs SMC’s Computer Science and Information Systems department. “This community outreach helps us at SMC add the veritable ‘cloud’ to the aspirational horizons of motivated students.” The high school students are transported to SMC’s new Center for Media and Design campus to spend their Saturdays experiencing and learning the cloud and the potential it offers.

“It’s great that Santa Monica College is putting this program in place, because AWS is going to be one of the most important technology platforms of the next 20 or 30 years,” said Simon Anderson, CEO of Reliam, which manages cloud services and consults in the sector. He compares the growing move toward cloud computing with other standard-shifting technologies, such as the shift from mainframe to desktop computing, and the advent of the internet and web-based applications. Cloud computing is growing dramatically, says Anderson, because it frees companies of the need to operate their own data servers and storage on site.

Thanks to this revolution, he adds, “we have great opportunities for young, talented, ambitious engineers and cloud operations team members to come join us.”

Onica, which also provides cloud services and is an AWS premier consulting partner, is SMC’s other major industry partner in creating the certificate and ensuring its offerings meet actual needs. Since both businesses are experienced in serving clients’ needs, they also provide SMC with the customer’s perspective in tweaking the certificate’s focus, notes Natallia Beliakova, Onica head of operations.

“We can explain what is really important and what matters less,” Beliakova said. “So we add the real-life customer experience to what students are being taught.” Of Onica’s plans to participate in hackathons to help students hone their skills outside the classroom, she adds: “They can talk to the people who are at the forefront of cloud implementations every day and really get the answers they need to prepare for their careers in the cloud.”

The demand for such experience will only grow in the years ahead. The popularity of AWS has already made the AWS Certified Solution Architect certification among the most prized in the industry. AWS Certifications are the highest paying, most sought after certifications in the IT industry today, according to a March 22, 2018 article in Forbes (Columbus, Louis. “15 Top Paying IT Certifications in 2018”).

SMC instructor Vicky Seno, who teaches some of the certificate’s more advanced courses, holds the AWS Certified Solution Architect – Associates certification and is dedicated to helping her students earn it too. “There are a lot of cloud providers, but AWS is definitely the leader,” she said. “And it’s constantly being updated, so keeping the material new is important.”

With 20 years of IT experience, Seno has seen numerous changes in the industry and is confident AWS is here to stay. “I’ve been around long enough to know how hard it was before cloud computing,” she said. “I can’t say enough good things about AWS, because everyone benefits from it.”

Coming to the program with a professional background in software testing, student Jason Baldoni appreciates the curriculum’s real-world approach. “I really like the labs and that they keep you up to date [on] new developments with AWS,” he said. “[SMC] gives you lots of hands-on training.”

Baldoni also looks forward to applying for the corporate partners’ internships so he can build experience and put the knowledge he’s gaining to work. “After getting the SMC Cloud Computing Certificate, I want to work as a developer or something along those lines,” he said. “I know that with Amazon and other companies close by, there are lots of opportunities to learn how to help businesses use AWS.”

Forty-five students are graduating with the newly launched program this spring, with another cohort right behind. From there, the sky’s (literally) the limit as even more businesses — and SMC students — take to the cloud.

“SMC is definitely ahead of the game academically,” Beliakova said. Both the college and its corporate partners are dedicated to keeping it that way.

For more information on the Cloud Computing department certificate—and other computer science offerings at Santa Monica College—check out the department’s website or email Howard Stahl at

Santa Monica College is a California Community College accredited by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).

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