Serving at USDS: Robbie Holmes
In this blog series, we share the stories of USDSers. Find out where they were before USDS, why they joined, the challenges they face, the impact of their work, what life post-USDS may be, and what they’ll miss most. Hope you enjoy meeting them!
Robbie Holmes, He/Him, Software Engineer, U.S. Digital Service at Department of Homeland Security, from Brooklyn, New York
Kelsey Hastings, USDS: What’s your background and how did you end up at USDS?
Robbie Holmes: I have 23 years of experience. I started out working in state (NY State Department of Social Services) and city government (the Human Resources Administration for the City of New York), from the help desk up to managing a network operations center. I moved from IT to development and into private industry working for Sony Music, Zagat Survey, Google, Johnson & Johnson, IDT Telecommunications and Phase2 Technology. My roles spanned from individual contributor to manager and eventually director of engineering. Two years ago, I read a blog post about Obama’s Geeks and was hopeful that this was a group of folks that aligned with my values, and I can report that they are :).
KH: Why was this an important factor to you joining USDS?
RH: The blog post talked about the problems that were encountered when trying to assist with Healthcare.gov. The way that this was described and tackled was very straightforward and practical. The issues weren’t over inflated and were tackled one by one — this situation matches the USDS value “Find the truth. Tell the truth.”:
We expect our people to be humble, not quiet, and challenge the status quo wherever data supports it. As has been said before, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts.
It is something that I talk to USDS candidates about often. Not every problem we encounter is a super complicated engineering task, but solving the problem right in front of you.
KH: Let’s talk about imposter syndrome. What is it and how have you dealt with it in tech?
RH: For me, imposter syndrome is a person feeling like someone is going to believe that you aren’t qualified or don’t have the skills to do the job, basically a fraud. Also, maybe staying at a job that you should move on from because you are undercutting yourself in the application and interview process for new jobs. I try really hard to stay connected to local technology communities, through meetups and events. Through listening to podcasts I have been able to stay current in topics that allow me to talk about solutions and technologies. If you are person that learns through reading, listening, or watching, do what works best for you, so you can continue to grow in your field. Be a lifelong learner, because if you know the nomenclature and verbiage of a technology you can feel more confident in your interactions within your job or community.
KH: What advice would you give someone who is dealing with imposter syndrome?
RH: Try to learn one thing at a time. Don’t spread yourself thin by trying to learn multiple things at once. I have told folks on a project if you feel comfortable with all aspects (language, libraries, frameworks, etc.) then consider trying to use something new that you are interested in learning — be that a tool like IDE or text editor, a new library of framework, or applying a new paradigm.
KH: How has your work at USDS made an impact?
RH: The first thing I worked on was helping to launch a digitized version of the 10-10EZ form at the Department of Veterans Affairs (a form that allows veterans to apply for healthcare benefits). We were building a mobile-first responsive application that was replacing a hosted PDF that only worked in Internet Explorer 8 and below and Adobe Acrobat 7.5 and below. From our assertions less than 10% of veterans could submit the previous version of the 10-10EZ form. By making a modern, mobile-first, responsive online application we saw an increase of almost 10x the submissions within the first 3 months of the new version going online.
Over the last year I have been heavily focused on interviewing and assisting the talent and recruiting team. I am hopeful that I am impacting the future of USDS.
KH: What do you want to do after USDS and what will you miss the most?
RH: I want to continue to help folks after leaving USDS. I am intrigued to see what will be able to engage me and feel as impactful as my time here! I’ll miss the people that I work with. This is an amazing group of humans that are technically great and also emotionally engaged. USDS is a diverse group of folks who I am hopeful will continue to crisscross my life and career in my post-USDS life!
The best of technology.
The best of government.
And we want you.
We’re looking for the most tenacious designers, software engineers, product managers, and more, who are committed to untangling, rewiring and redesigning critical government services. You’ll join a team of the most talented technologists from across the private sector and government.
If you have questions regarding employment with the U.S. Digital Service, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and visit usds.gov/join.