This article was written by Microsoft Valued Professional (MVP) and Regional Director (RD) Jay Harris as part of the Humans of IT Guest Bloggers series.
Do you have dreams and aspirations of making the world a better place? I do, too. We can make that happen together through an organization of hackathons called GiveCamp. Read on to learn more about my story in giving back to the community through my technical skills:
Turning Dreams Into Reality
For a time when I was young, I wanted to be a firefighter. At another time, a police officer. At others, a doctor, a teacher, and even President. I would dream of an opportunity to make the world a better place, and I know that I am not alone with my dream. So many of us—perhaps every one of us—have dreams and aspirations of leaving the world better than we found it. GiveCamp logo, 2020And we can! We can recycle. We can help our neighbors. And as technologists, the good news is that we can participate in programs like GiveCamp.
Contribute Your Tech Skills to Charitable Organizations
Life for a small charitable organization is difficult in our modern, technology-driven world. Like any organization, charities require email, social media, and a quality website to survive amongst the bombardment of ads and entities vying for attention. Many charity founders have that dream of making the world a better place, but often lack the technical savvy and financial budget to build a strong digital presence. For example, at your local animal shelter, public funding is typically prioritized toward purchasing dog food, cat litter and other essential pet supplies - not toward expensive technologists. This means the shelter relies heavily on the good intentions of inexperienced volunteers. The organization is appreciative of any support they can get from volunteers of course, but websites created by regular, non-technical volunteers may sometimes lack the professional polish necessary to make an impact and attract donors and even more volunteers. The website then becomes just a check-mark rather than an effective voice for the nonprofit. The dream struggles to convert into reality.
Getting Involved as a Technologist
As a technologist, I want to help. I'm privileged to have the tech skills needed to make an impact. Most of all, I want to make the world a better place. We all do. We want to help our local fledgling charity, but we also encounter struggles. How do we find these organizations in our own cities? We may know of a small handful, but most of them already have a stable digital and community presence as this presence is the source of our familiarity. And if we do find a viable charity-in-need, how do we get involved? What is the commitment? Are we signing up for a lifetime of volunteering to fix WordPress content? Will we be dragged into becoming free technical support? Will we have to provide instructions on how to reboot computers and turning the printer off and on again? The fear and the unknown often leads to hesitation. Again, the dream struggles to convert to reality.
Volunteer technologists working at Ann Arbor GiveCampGiveCamp is an organization of weekend-long hackathons for the direct benefit of a local charity, bringing the community together to convert the dream to reality.
GiveCamp organizers pair local fledgling charities and local volunteer technologists to complete projects for the charities. You may be familiar with Habitat for Humanity, with visions of local community members building a home for a family-in-need. GiveCamp is a similar idea, with local programmers, designers, DBAs, social media experts, and other technologies building a website, an app, or some other software goal. The project can be anything as long as the scope follows one rule: it must be completed in a weekend, so the nonprofit can get running on it right away.
GiveCamp has many roots within Microsoft and the broader Microsoft community. The idea was started by a group in 2007 led by Microsoft's Chris Koenig, then technical evangelist, looking for a way to channel the efforts of software developers for the benefit of the local community. The idea grew into what is now known as GiveCamp, with the first GiveCamp event held in Ann Arbor, Michigan in July of 2008 and organized by Microsoft's Jennifer Marsman. GiveCamp events quickly spread throughout the United States. Within three years, many major cities throughout the United States hosted a GiveCamp, and 2011 brought the first international GiveCamp event with GiveCampUK.
As of March 2020, 156 GiveCamp events have been held worldwide, assisting more than 1,000 global charities through the help of over 5,000 volunteers and 200,000 hours of combined donated effort.
Many dreams have been converted to reality, but many more remain. GiveCamp is always looking for more volunteers in the many cities that host an annual GiveCamp event. Ann Arbor continues to host a GiveCamp, celebrating its 13th year this September. Seattle GiveCamp will celebrate its 10th year this October. Head to givecamp.org to see which cities near you are on the schedule. And if yours is not on the list, consider organizing one in your city; help is always available, just reach out on givecamp.org or to @givecamp on Twitter.