The IT Do-Gooder
Volunteerism, donating one’s time, energy and potentially one’s funds to support a cause has always been a part of the American lifestyle. Whether it be under-the-radar philanthropy in the form of an anonymous donation to a charity or the more grassroots approach of standing behind a soup kitchen counter during the holidays, Americans give back quite a bit. But in the past few years, celebrities have made it fashionable to be unselfish and enjoy the warm, mushy feeling of helping one’s fellow man.
While I personally wonder about some Americans who insist on giving their time and efforts overseas when we’ve got plenty of the same problems here at home that could use some attention, I applaud their efforts for the simple reason that people everywhere need help, every little bit counts and all of it is connected in one way or another. For the IT professional, the benefits of volunteering (or what we’ll call “do-gooding”) are not usually star-studded, but are still ripe with great feelings and tangible rewards.
Act as a mentor: Remember how clueless you were back in the day? If you were like me, you were probably so clueless you didn’t even realize you were clueless. Acting as a mentor, and helping a younger professional make his or her way up and around the career ladder, can mean sharing your personal experiences, doling out professional advice or sharing your time to teach some young techie about new technology or a few old-dog tricks that have served you well over the years. And while you’re helping others, you may learn something yourself.
Donating equipment: Technology, thy name is gadgets. More importantly, thy name is new gadgets! Technology enthusiasts and the cyclical nature of invention that characterize computers and their assorted accoutrements mean that IT pros are always investing in the latest greatest technology. Donating to organizations or other groups in need of basic equipment can be a good way to contribute. You may even help the planet since that old equipment won’t make its way into a landfill somewhere, and depending on your donation, you may qualify for a tax write-off—just in case the warm fuzzy feeling isn’t quite enough motivation to engage your do-gooder button. TechSoup.com and ElectronicsRecycling.org are good sites to visit to find out the best ways to make the best of your old PCs. Microsoft and Educational CyberPlayground also can help.
Volunteer/consulting: If you’re a new techie donating your skills to a school, a church or a not-for-profit can be an ideal place to showcase your ability to engineer cost-effective, operations-savvy mechanics in a real-world environment and help people in need at the same time. Not only are you getting experience working with the real equipment or a potentially new technology, you’re gaining employment leverage. You’re honing your interpersonal and project management skills, potentially familiarizing yourself with budgets and generally getting up close and personal to a business. This is what IT employers want—for you to know their company and find the technical solutions that will enhance and ease business operations. When you’re interviewing, you can point to something tangible and say, “Yes I did that. My certification in X Y or Z really helped because A B or C. The project also enriched my skill sets in D E or F as I managed this project from initial planning through to its implementation and follow up.” This is always better than saying, “Yes I read that book, took that course or earned that cert (but that’s all).”
If these reasons aren’t enough to consider doing some good for your fellow IT professional, consider this: If your IT do-gooding attracts the attention of the United Nations or the Global Youth Action Network, there is always a chance that you’ll meet a supermodel or a pillowy lipped actress.