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May 16, 2024 51 mins
Victoria Guido hosts Robbie Holmes, the founder and CEO of Holmes Consulting Group. The conversation kicks off with Robbie recounting his initial foray into the tech world at a small web hosting company named A1, chosen for its alphabetical advantage in the white pages. This job was a stepping stone to a more significant role at Unisys, working for the state of New York's Department of Social Services, where Robbie inadvertently ventured into civic tech and public interest technology. Robbie shares his career progression from supporting welfare systems in New York to becoming a technological liaison between the city and state, leading to a deeper involvement in open-source solutions. His journey through tech spaces includes developing websites, diving into the Drupal community, and eventually establishing his consulting business. Robbie emphasizes the serendipitous nature of his career path, influenced significantly by community involvement and networking rather than a planned trajectory. Additionally, Robbie gives insights on the impact of technology in public services and his stint with the U.S. Digital Service (USDS), where he contributed to significant projects like Robbie promotes the value of community engagement in shaping one's career, stressing how connections and being in the right place at the right time can lead to unexpected opportunities and career pivots. Follow Robbie Holmes on LinkedIn (, X (, Facebook (, Instagram (, or GitHub ( Check out his website at robbiethegeek ( Follow thoughtbot on X ( or LinkedIn ( Transcript: VICTORIA: This is the Giant Robots Smashing Into Other Giant Robots podcast, where we explore the design, development, and business of great products. I'm your host, Victoria Guido. And with me today is Robbie Holmes, Founder and CEO of Holmes Consulting Group. Robbie, thank you for joining me. ROBBIE: I'm so happy to be here. It's great to talk to you, Victoria. VICTORIA: Yes. I have known you for a long time now, but I don't know everything about you. So, I thought I would start with the question: What was your first job that you ever had? ROBBIE: My first technical job, I ended up working for an internet web hosting company called A1 And note the A1 because it came first in the white pages. It was a really small web hosting company run by a man named [SP] Maxim Avrutsky. I worked there for about six months before I submitted my resume to an online job forum. That's how old I am. And it ended up in the hands of Unisys, where I eventually worked for the state of New York. VICTORIA: Wow [laughs]. So, what a journey that you've been on to get from starting there, and what a marketing ploy back in the day with the white pages. So, tell me a little bit more about how you went from that first job to where you are today with having your own business in consulting. ROBBIE: Yeah, I wasn't even aware that I was jumping into the sort of civic tech space and public interest technology because the job I ended up with was working for New York State in the Department of Social Services. And welfare is federally funded and distributed to states and then states to localities. And New York City and New York State have a weird parasymbiotic relationship because over 50% of the welfare in New York State goes to the five boroughs in New York City. So, so much of my job was supporting the welfare system within the city, which was run by the human resources administration. So, that just led to this cascade of me, like, getting invested in supporting that, and then eventually jumping over to the other side where I worked for the City of New York. And at that point, I ended up becoming sort of a technology project manager and almost a tech liaison between the city and state. And I was out in the welfare centers, helping get the job centers up to a new application called the Paperless Office System, which was a client-server app that was a wrapper around welfare. All of that ended up leading to me finally making it to the network operation center for the City of New York, where I started replacing expensive solutions like HP OpenView with open-source solutions like Nagios and another open-source solution that provided an interface. And it really opened my eyes to the idea of open source. And I had really paid attention to a lot of open-source operating systems. So, I was kind of just a general tech nerd. And eventually, I started building websites, and that led me to the Drupal community in New York City, which was sort of this cascade that led me to communities. And I think that's sort of a through line for my entire career is I don't really think I ever had a plan.
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