By Josh Hendler
To the thousands of highly skilled tech workers who have been laid off in recent weeks, and those worried they may be next: The nonprofit sector needs you.
Logical problem-solvers by nature, technologists aim to optimize inefficiencies and identify new pathways for success. Drawn to the boundless opportunities offered by the early titans of tech, technologists have developed the world we know today, driven by a natural desire to connect the dots, identify and solve complex problems, and devise creative solutions.
With a highly sought-after skill set, technologists have been in demand for decades—the best and brightest scooped up by Silicon Valley’s unicorn du jour and established Big Tech organizations. These roles can offer a proving ground of excellence, a beacon of stability, and the best financial option for emerging talent.
However, even in the past few weeks, it couldn’t be more apparent that times are changing. A massive pool of highly skilled technologists are grappling with a seismic shift across the industry. The rapid decline of techno-optimism has forced tech industry workers to reckon with their futures: how they want to contribute to society and where their talents can create impact. Now more than ever, there are a multitude of opportunities outside of traditional tech roles, creating a pressing need for technologists who want to solve some of the world’s hardest and most urgent problems.
In moments of crisis, technologists have responded, from building infrastructure to support Ukrainian democracy to creating tools to minimize the spread of COVID-19 to optimizing resource distribution after a natural disaster. Today the challenges ahead of us can be overwhelming, but the opportunity is huge—and we’re confident that you can meet the moment. This is the time to optimize technologists’ work for future generations.
In all of these efforts, business is essential. Private industry has created many of the resources used to help people live better lives. We work with business partners in many things that we do, and the wealth that we work to distribute for public good was built through business.
However, working in business is not the only way to do such things, because social impact is not the primary purpose of business. If you are interested in mitigating climate change, reforming the judicial system, or even improving foster care, your skills are urgently needed. The solutions to natural disasters, the degradation of democracy, widespread famine, and protecting vulnerable people during deadly conflicts cannot wait. Technology alone cannot solve these most pressing challenges, but you and thousands of other technologists are a crucial—and missing piece—to scalable solutions.
Historically, impact organizations have not necessarily created the most welcoming environment for technologists. They have paid less than for-profit roles, and entrance into the nonprofit sector or public service can seem unclear. Not-for-profit groups have also sometimes been rigid with their recruitment framework, hesitant to hire people without mission-related experience.
The good news, though, is that these former barriers are lowering. Many across the philanthropic and nonprofit world have caught on, from the federal government to conservation organizations, seeking out tech workers to improve outdated systems—and compensating them competitively. While nonprofits in particular have more work to do, the tides are shifting and opportunities abound.
Such resources as All Tech Is Human, U.S. of Tech, U.S. Digital Response, Fast Forward, Tech Jobs for Good, and Design Gigs for Good are helpful starting points to explore full-time, part-time, and volunteering opportunities in the impact sector. These organizations have put together job boards, talent pools, guides, and virtual and in-person communities to unite technologists who aim to make their mark for the good of society.
While this is a challenging time, technologists have the power to create meaningful change, improving the lives of others as well as their own, at an unprecedented scale.
I urge you to consider social impact for your next role. The world needs you, and the time is now.
Josh Hendler is managing director of technology and impact at Schmidt Futures. He previously served as a partner and chief technology officer at Purpose, a global movement incubator.