By almost any measure, the last several years have been difficult ones for many people, thanks in part to the sluggish global economy and painfully high unemployment numbers. While there are signs that the global economy is on the rebound, the simple truth is that many people, businesses, and organizations are still struggling.
That’s why I decided to write this article. The market for skilled IT professionals seems to be a healthy one — with a number of exceptions, obviously — so how can IT professionals spread the wealth by helping those out that are less fortunate than they are? I personally know many needy people and non-profit organizations that could desperately use some IT help, so being able to connect skilled IT professionals willing to donate their time and skills to those in need seems like a logical next step.
The Need for IT Volunteers
I asked Petri readers (and some folks on Twitter) to let me know what they thought of volunteering and IT, and I received many emails and Tweets in response. Several emails I received stressed the need for IT volunteers, and described just how important they are to the daily operation of many organizations.
— Jeff James (@jeffjames3) June 20, 2013
“I am a former Flotilla Commander [in the US Coast Guard Auxiliary ] and I had a volunteer…who spent many hours of her spare time building our Flotilla web site,” wrote David S. Penney. “The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) sends these volunteers to a Coast Guard C-School at no cost to the volunteer to qualify for these positions.” Penney also described how important the work of volunteers is to the USCG, pointing out that “…some of these positions also provide opportunities to assist the active duty or ‘gold side’ USCG in setting up information systems…[volunteers] worked alongside uniformed Coast Guard ratings to man a command post at Sector Upper Mississippi River in St. Louis [during Hurricane Gustav].”
Reader Duane Bodle also stressed the need for volunteers, pointing to special needs programs at schools that often need IT support outside of traditional school budgets. “The wireless infrastructure is key to providing so many badly needed services and both elementary schools and special needs resource rooms are dead last on the priority roster.”
Ken Moore, who works at the United Way in Nashville, said that his non-profit organization is always looking for IT volunteers. Lately, Moore says that they’re planning to migrate Linux servers and could use volunteer Linux expertise. “Here’s the problem…[our IT team doesn’t know] anything about Linux, and now we’re going to have to convert [those servers] to Windows Servers. It would be nice if I could contact someone local about it, with being charged a bunch.”
In addition to non-profit organizations, many churches are in desperate need to volunteer IT support as well. “Churches in particular don’t have a lot of cash for IT,” writes Jerry Esquible. “I’d really like to find out where I can get used equipment and donate to some of these poorer schools [ as well].” Esquible mentioned that he’s seen large corporations sell or auction off used equipment that could be donates to school, churches, and other charities. “I need to start asking more questions about how I could get those three-year old PCs and servers and recycle them for churches and schools that have PCs that could be 10 years old.”
Want to Volunteer? Check Out These Resources
So if you’re interested in volunteering, what are some resources that you can turn to to donate your skills and experience, and/or donate IT hardware and software? Here are some resources, with a few suggested by Petri IT Knowledgebase readers and folks on Twitter. Note: If you know of any other good IT volunteer or charity resources that I haven’t listed here, please add a comment at the end of this blog post and I’ll add them to this list.
Petri IT Knowledgebase reader Kim Bugayong suggests VolunteerMatch.org as a resource to help find people and organizations that need volunteer IT help.
One website that several readers suggested as a volunteering resources is volunteer match.org. “This isn’t specific to IT, but I’ve steered quite a few people to volunteermatch.org,” writes Kim Bugayong, the VP of IT for Wine Warehouse. “It’s a pretty good site where you can pick a cause that speaks to you, and see what kind of commitment is needed.”
Connecting Up (Australia and SE Asia)
While several IT volunteering resources are focused on the U.S. , Frank McAteer mentioned ‘Connecting Up’ as a good resource for IT professionals in Australia and SE Asia. “‘Connecting Up’ coordinates hardware and software suppliers (Cisco, Symantec etc) to provide stuff [to charities and non-profits] very cheaply ,” McAteer said. “We’re hoping to upgrade all our switches this year with their support. Microsoft is also a donor, but they have have stricter conditions regarding donations, and we are excluded as we provide nursing care to people in their homes.”
Other Volunteering Resources
- Hackers for Charity – “We solve technology challenges for various non-profits and provide food, equipment, job training and computer education to the world’s poorest citizens.” – http://www.hackersforcharity.org/
- Idealist – Job board/volunteer resources primarily for non-profit organizations – http://www.idealist.org
- JAARS – IT Volunteers for Bible Translation – https://www.jaars.org/what/it
- NetSquared Local – Web service for finding local volunteers – http://www.netsquared.org/local
- Volunteer.gov – General volunteering – http://www.volunteer.gov/
- Voolla – Web platform for matching volunteers with charities – http://www.voolla.org
Building Networks, Connections, and Skills Through IT Volunteering
While the main focus of any volunteer effort is giving assistance and support to people and organizations in need, IT volunteers should also consider at how the experience of volunteering can bring other tangible benefits besides the satisfaction of helping others.
“When I first started [at the United Way] I didn’t have any IT certifications,” says Moore. “So, how do I get the job? A good friend of mine recommended me. I have learned a lot since then, and have now my 2 cert’s of CCT (Cisco Certified Technician), and Network+. I am now studying the ICND1 (CCENT) v2.0, the new Cisco exam requirements.”
Mark Benevento has a similar story, and related how volunteer work helped him develop his IT skills. “When I received my A+ Certification in 2011 I was working a full time job that wasn’t in IT. To gain experience I started asking various non-profits if they needed basic PC repair and maintenance work done, at no cost to them except for replacement parts, ” says Benevento. “…it was a great way to get real world experience and it felt good to give back. I’m currently working on my Network + certification and continue to volunteer for a few organizations that truly need help and can’t afford a full time IT person. I’m still not working full time in IT but have gained great experience and contacts through volunteering.”
Petri reader Burke Dykes volunteered his time and resources at a senior center with needs for IT hardware and expertise, and found himself getting more deeply involved over time. ” I set up their network ( I previously had no experience in that area) when their umbrella organization was unable to get it to work, so I was forced to do a lot of studying to make up for my lack of experience,” Dykes says. “Over the years I’ve worked with the senior center I’ve twice written successful grant applications to replace all of their computers and peripherals, served twice on their board of directors and [gained enough experience] to server on other boards. I don’t have to add that I have gained many friends and the great satisfaction that comes from being of help to others.”
Companies Making a Difference
In addition to individual IT professionals volunteering their time and resources, many businesses are making volunteering a part of their corporate culture. Solve IT is a Denver-based IT consulting company that has created a volunteer program — called the “Solve IT Series” — that, according to Solve IT’s Tasha Pierce — “…seeks opportunities to assist and support people and organizations in the Denver metro area.” Pierce explained via email that the company has partnered with Rocky Mountain Cancer Assistance as a corporate sponsor, and that Solve-It’s Director of Business Development has joined the board of that organization as well.
IT Volunteering: How You Can Help
So if you’re an IT professional looking to donate your time and experience, what’s your first step? Perusing the links and suggestions in this article is a start, and you can also join the new Petri IT Volunteering Google+ community group to share ideas, requests for help, and volunteering success stories.