Interview with Russell Castagnaro, President of Hawaii Information Consortium.

Hi Russell. Please tell us about the Hawaii Information Consortium (HIC). I know that it has a rather unusual funding model.

russellcastagnaroThe Hawaii Information Consortium specializes in self-funded eGovernment. That means we typically get no up-front money from the State or County to develop, maintain, and host our applications. Instead, our software is funded by transaction fees. $1 here, $3 there, and the fee is based on the value of the service and the volume that we have.

We are also proud to be selected as one of Hawaii’s Best Places to Work for the second year in a row. Our employee benefits include paid family healthcare, competitive salaries, 401K matching, wellness and fitness programs, volunteering, company hikes, beach outings, pau hana activities and celebrations. We do all we can to empower a healthy, entrepreneurial, solutions-oriented company culture.

What are one or two current, interesting, and/or high profile projects?

hicehawaiigov_largeWe always have a fair number of high profile projects. We are still making tweaks to the nation’s first fully electronic Marriage and Civil Union system, launched on Jan 1, 2012. We are revamping all of the hawaii.gov sites with a new template, implementing a state-wide Tuberculosis Clearance application, an electronic procurement system, and a 100% electronic tax filing system that will allow individuals and tax preparers to process, file and pay for individual taxes without paper. (Believe it or not, it does not exist already!)

What do you think about Hawaii as a place to do high tech?

The three biggest problems for Hawaii and tech have always been:

High cost of living. Housing, food, fuel, energy….. It is exacerbated significantly by relatively few class-A public primary schools leading to the decision to send children to private school.

Lack of critical mass for a diverse, sustainable, tech community. Some would argue this is the biggest factor. There are smart people here, but it is too hard to stay and there are many other opportunities in other places. Brain drain is real! This means startups can’t mesh, tech companies can’t find folks, and companies look to the mainland for help.

Business is decidedly anti-local. For whatever reason, many local companies look down on local tech companies. In some cases, they see local firms at worst as third-rate alternatives or best as potential competitors who are not to be trusted.

What would be your advice to ICS students who are interested in working locally in high tech? How can they be best prepared?

Get an internship or do some freelance work to get real-world (no offense) experience. It is hard to find a job doing simply programing. If a candidate can show experience taking a business solution from Inception to Production to Deployment, that is great.

I also encourage mock-interviews. I have personally interviewed some candidates from UH and HPU over the years who had complete confidence breakdowns in an interview. Don’t let that be you!

Anything else you’d like us to know?

As a student and soon to be employee, you are the designer of your career. Find the things that you really like and make sure that you excel at them. If you end up at a job where a supervisor says not to do something that you are really interested in, remember he (or she) does not necessarily know more than you just because they’re responsible for your paycheck. Keep up your research, do side projects, and make a move if they continue to ignore your interests.