"When I get a phone call from someone who says, 'I've tried this, I've tried that, nothing has worked and you're my last hope,' " Holmes says, "now that's a great challenge."
Holmes is chief engineer in the Media Systems Design Department of the Office of Instructional Development in the College of Letters and Science. Working with his staff of two, he designs, fabricates, installs and maintains a campus-wide network of media classrooms. DVD and VHS video players, cameras, monitors, audio setups, lighting systems, computers logged onto the campus network and the World Wide Web - a media classroom can involve almost any equipment an instructor might need to deliver a state-of-the-art lecture on any subject taught at UCLA.
His forte is problem-solving, which includes everything from overcoming seemingly unresolvable incompatibilities between complex pieces of equipment to devising solutions to a computer networking problem - all while keeping pace with ever-evolving technology and staying within budget limitations.
Holmes' hands-on helpfulness and vast technological know-how were applauded when Chancellor Albert Carnesale recently bestowed upon him this year's Staff Assembly Excellence in Service Award.
"It was a total surprise," says Holmes, whose colleagues surreptitiously nominated him for the award.
A Los Angeles native, Holmes describes himself as a "motion picture brat." Numerous members of his family worked in the technical sides of the business. Holmes spent many a childhood Saturday on the studio lots at 20th Century Fox, where his father was a property master. "I've been around technology my whole life," Holmes says, "and I took to it."
While still a student at North Hollywood High School, he took an entry-level engineering job at NBC-TV. He also immersed himself in learning about hardware at weekend seminars.
Holmes joined UCLA in 1967 as an engineer in the unit now known as the School of Theater, Film and Television. A dozen years later, while considering a move to 20th Century Fox, he was invited to the Office of Instructional Development to embark upon the then-new endeavor of making classrooms technology-friendly.
"Even though the pay was not nearly as good as Fox, this sounded much more interesting," he recalls.
"When I began, educational technology didn't really exist as a field," he says. "If an instructor wanted to employ any kind of technology, including slide projectors and overheads, it was like pulling teeth to get anything to happen in the classroom." Today, UCLA is a leader in the use of instructional media.
Holmes often takes work home, including some of the 65 technical journals he subscribes to. He also enjoys spending time with his partner of 18 years, Rafael Ortiz, who works at Universal Studios. One of their favorite pastimes is driving trips through the American southwest. "We stop at every little town there is, every little strange place along the highway."
But wherever Holmes goes, work is never far afield - even when he heads out on 15-mile weekend hikes in the northeast San Fernando Valley.
"A lot of these walks, frankly, are brainstorming sessions for me, thinking about a particular problem," he says. "I keep a little pad of paper in the car and when I get back, everything in my brain I will dump out onto it."
"My work is with me most of the time," he admits. "But I don't mind."