Hinrichs returns from The Valley to Lincoln, ‘where it’s going to happen’

After two decades spent in Silicon Valley, Bob Hinrichs came home to Lincoln last summer, and he believes the city is ready to foster a flourishing tech scene of its own. "I lived through the 90s in California, and it was glorious," said Hinrichs, who works as the chief technology officer for two coastal companies:

Bob Hinrichs moved his family back to Lincoln last summer after spending the previous 20 years in the San Francisco Bay area. Photo by Kate Ellingson.

After two decades spent in Silicon Valley, Bob Hinrichs came home to Lincoln last summer, and he believes the city is ready to foster a flourishing tech scene of its own.

“I lived through the 90s in California, and it was glorious,” said Hinrichs, who works as the chief technology officer for two coastal companies: ISL Consulting, based in San Francisco, and Clear Metrics, based in New York City. “I’d like to do that again, and this time, this is where it’s going to happen.

“My companies, and I personally, are extremely interested in increasing our presence and activity in Lincoln. I’m in the process of getting to know people here, and we are looking into ways that we can do that.”

I visited with Bob in person and via email about his observations of the Silicon Prairie and the latest projects he’s working on. Below are some excerpts from our conversations.

On how he got into developing technology:

“I went to San Francisco to attend law school at University of California Hastings College of the Law,” Hinrichs said. “I went through the whole process, but the pull of technology as an interest ended up being overwhelming. While waiting for my bar results, I met David Ferguson, who is still the chairman of ISL, and the two of us decided to apply ourselves to web development. That was 1994. I never ended up practicing law. But my obsession with programming and the potential of computers and information technology goes way back to my days fiddling with the Basic Programming cartridge for the Atari game system (and shortly thereafter an Atari 400, a pretty awesome machine in that day). That would have been circa 1979, I suppose.”

Hinrichs works in his home office. Photo by Kate Ellingson.

On Time Shutter, an iPhone app that Hinrichs is working on with ISL Consulting:

Time Shutter is an app for the iPhone,” Hinrichs said. “Time Shutter’s goal is to deepen the experience of the dimension of time and history as you visit a place. It is a mobile app, and website, that relates historical information and events at places, by tying information — some written by our staff, some user-generated — to a geographic location. (Below: screenshot from timeshutter.com.)

“An example: you begin with the map, which plots all of the points of interest. It’s a great tool for planning your walk through the city. If you are on location, you can find a nearby place of interest or landmark, and explore its history, as though the city were a living museum exhibit. Then take it a step further: pull up a vintage photo of the location where you are standing from 100 years ago, and by using an adjustable transparency feature, line up your shot precisely with the historical photo. You can also contribute your photo to the website, where you can see the images transition through time. The website actually shows the points laid out on a map from 1915.

“This is a good startup because it does evolve around a passion that one or two of us had, and so the economic sense of it wasn’t primary. It was more of us thinking that this would be very cool to have this on an app and we think people would like it.”

The iPad app for Time Shutter will be released in the next few weeks. The next Time Shutter app to be released will be New York City and then most likely London and Paris.

On moving back to Nebraska:

“The No. 1 reason I would say is probably lifestyle,” Hinrichs said. “The catalyst within that category would be the kids and the schools. People here in Lincoln — I don’t know if I can speak for the whole Silicon Prairie region, but definitely Lincoln — maybe (some) of them know how good they have it, but many of them don’t actually know how incredibly great the school system is here and the kind of education that the kids are getting. It goes beyond that, into the community and the sort of environment that’s provided for families. … it goes into business and the ability to make connections — access to important people is incredible. It shocks me on a regular basis how you can talk to the movers and shakers of the community or the city or beyond.”

On the difference between Silicon Valley and the Silicon Prairie:

“I believe this region has its vision and priorities straight (foci on education, culture and innovation), and the means (fortitude, generosity, cohesion and common sense) to bring the vision to reality,” Hinrichs said. “Of course we will never become Silicon Valley … but why would we want to? I think we can become something that is uniquely our own, and fit for the 21st Century. It’s unpleasant to say this, but I doubt that California has the means to retain the degree of prominence it reached in the latter 20th Century. While living there, I could see the signs of this and experienced the reasons.

“The Silicon Prairie is clearly in its rising stage, and people here are getting it. In the last few years, many limitations that created the concentrations of tech startups on the coasts have evaporated. Whether your work involves collaborating with wide parts of the globe, or with well-educated and hardworking people from your area, this is simply a great place to live for so many reasons. Personally, I want to be in the place where I can best contribute and be a useful part of the ecosystem.”

On what’s next:

“It’s been just a few months, and I’ve met some incredible people here with great ideas,” Hinrichs said. “I expect to find a way to work more with people here, either by building a team, assisting people, or starting something of my own that pulls my coastal interests together with this area. It’s still too early for me to focus my laser on exactly what will come together. I’m not in a hurry to leave this early stage though.”

Hinrichs also wanted readers to know about the local Drupal group he’s involved in. He says the Nebraska Drupalers Group is a great place to get insight into the rag-tag world of open source development.

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