An appeal for impact

last updated 2016-11-10

As technologists, we have the privilege to exist in an era hungry for tweets, likes, cars that drive themselves, apps for exercise, sites to share other sites — and that gives us the opportunity to choose what we work on.

This is a simple appeal:

Make sure that what you spend 40+ hours a week working on — pouring energy, thoughtfulness and concern into — has impact.

We know that technology has already had a profound impact on social interaction, but instead of working to change our lifestyles, we need to work to change lives.

There are two paths: A mentor of mine once told me that in order to have the most impact, they would use this technology boom and amass wealth to then donate and redistribute. They may very well be right, and their success has allowed them to build a school and help whole communities.

The other path to impact is more direct. Find an intersection — the convergence of a cause and your skill sets — and pour everything in.

Don’t quit your job to be a “digital nomad.” Don’t start a company just to call yourself a founder. If you’re a technologist, you’re in the right place at the right time. Solve a real problem.

If you do choose the first route, consider recurring donations to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Natural Resources Defense Council to name just a few.

If you want to be more direct, find an organization tackling the toughest climate problems. Look at the members of Greentown Labs, the previous classes of Imagine H2O and non-profits like The Nature Conservancy and Trout Unlimited— they need technology to push forward. I strongly recommend Bret Victor’s webpage What can a technologist do about climate change? which in part inspired me to quit my job to {upstream tech, work on these problems}.

Consider the technological needs of education. Bridge International Academies uses incredible technology to bring high quality education to “families who live on less that \$2 USD per day.” Panorama Education, Ellevation Education and Better Lesson are all trying to help harness data to make our schools more effective for their students. Khan Academy has made an education accessible to anyone, and they’re hiring like crazy. At the very least, volunteer at an Hour of Code near you.

Check out OpenCounter and Code for America. See if you can help The Last Mile, an organization that “prepares incarcerated individuals for successful reentry through business and technology training.” The Electronic Frontier Foundation is looking for a new Front-End Web Developer!

Whichever of these routes you take, the world will be a better place because of it.

Compiled 2024-04-21