When Robert Abiamiri ’00 stepped onto the field for his first practice as a Baltimore Raven, he was overwhelmed with gratitude. After an injury nearly ended his football career at the University of Maryland, he wasn’t sure he would ever reach the dream he’d been chasing since he was a kid. In 1996, when the Ravens came to Baltimore, Rob was already sporting a purple jersey on the field at Mount Saint Joseph, so it felt only natural to set his sights on the hometown team. That opportunity finally came in 2005.
Rob landed on the Ravens’ practice squad during the 2005-2006 season and played alongside a dominant starting lineup: Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Adalius Thomas, Chris McAlister, and Jamal Lewis, to name a few. After the 2006-2007 season, Rob was allocated to NFL Europe, a developmental league for younger players needing additional game experience. Another injury cut his season short, and Rob started looking towards his future after football.
“Whether your football career is two years or 20, you have to have a game plan for what comes next,” Rob explains. “My family took academics very seriously growing up—that’s why we were at Saint Joe. I got degrees in economics and criminal justice at UMD and had a solid foundation to fall back on.”
Rob had completed several internships at law firms in college and even during the NFL offseason. However, he quickly realized that he did not want to be an attorney. He always had an interest in computers but had been intimidated by the idea of pursuing a degree in computer science while balancing the demands of being a student athlete. In 2008, he decided to go back to school to pursue his passion. He enrolled in a continuing education program at Georgetown University and earned several certifications that propelled him into a career in technology.
After a one-year stint at a technology firm in Annapolis, Rob came across an opportunity to join a Department of Defense (DoD) contractor as a network engineer. When he signed on, he knew there would be some travel required. It wasn’t until he started that he learned he would be traveling to Afghanistan.
“It’s amazing how much you learn in that environment, when you’re planning operations and leading teams out in the field,” Rob says. “When I was working for the firm in Annapolis, if you forgot something, it was no big deal. You’d just come back the next day. But if you forget something doing an operation out there in Afghanistan when someone’s life is on the line, that’s a completely different situation. You learn that lesson pretty quick.”
In the six years he spent working for the DoD contractor, Rob worked his way up from network engineer to deployment manager. Then, in 2015, another door opened. A former colleague reached out about an opening at his company, encouraging Rob to apply. After a grueling interview process, Rob landed a job with tech giant Facebook, Inc. While it may seem like a big career change, from the blazing hot deserts of Afghanistan to the climate-controlled data centers of Facebook, the mission and values that drive the work aren’t much different.
“When I was in Afghanistan, I was able to work with and meet a lot of the local people—interpreters, drivers, people helping get us through checkpoints—and you really build relationships with them,” Rob explains. “There were a lot of locals who really appreciated the work that we were doing to try to keep the country safe, but I found that many people didn’t have access to information beyond what they were exposed to in their day to day. The mission at Facebook is for an open and connected world, and that really resonated with me coming from the DoD.”
As a data center connectivity manager, Rob and his team are responsible for building out the network infrastructure for Facebook’s Virginia-based data center. They install and maintain the fiber-optic cabling that connects the buildings together underground, as well as the cabling within the data center that connects the servers to the internet. “We basically connect the infrastructure that allows Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and all our other apps and services to be available to the world,” he explains.
For most, the word “Facebook” conjures images of scrolling newsfeeds and the little blue icon that connects friends around the globe with a single tap. When you hear Facebook, you think Silicon Valley innovators, not Ashburn, Virginia, engineers. But data centers are the driving force behind those apps and services enjoyed by billions of users, and they are unsurprisingly massive. The Virginia campus consists of five buildings, totaling more than 2.4 million square feet. Facebook has 13 campuses in the United States and a handful more overseas.
“Every Big Tech company is playing the same game; it’s the race to build more capacity,” Rob says. “We are in the business of trying to expand and bring the internet and connectivity to other parts of the world and be able to deliver our apps and services to the masses.”
For Rob, as an athlete, the game never really ended, it just changed. And the same hustle and drive that got him out on the Ravens practice field has stuck with him throughout his career as he now chases another dream: worldwide connectivity.