Dying to take a break from the books and sink you teeth into some real world business problems? Or are you looking to get enough experience under your belt to move from phone-based tech support into server or network management? You may need to look no
further than a local non-profit.
Volunteering can be rewarding on a number of levels. Of course, there’s the altruistic side of helping further a cause you believe in and getting the resulting karmic high, but there’s also the opportunity to gain valuable experience solving day-to-day problems in a live office.
Over the last year, I’ve volunteered my IT skills at a handful of places.In every single case, the IT infrastructure was a mess.It was usually set up by a revolving door of well-intentioned amateurs who were “good with computers.” This desperate IT need is a great opportunity for anyone looking to put some real-world problem solving onto their resumes.
In my first volunteer experience, I went in to merely install a traffic filter. A quick hour’s worth of work, right? Wrong. Upon inspection of the environment, I realized that, to do things “right,”I’d have to start over. I ended up re-engineering the entire network so there’d be consistency, no rogue DHCP servers(!), and documentation for any poor schmuck that came after me. For someone building out their
Beyond putting your knowledge into practical application, working at a non-profit will teach you how to creatively solve problems with a limited budget. From what I’ve seen so far, non-profits have very little money either granted or budgeted for IT. This forces you to solve problems, not with the resources that you wish you had, but with what is laying around. You may have to Frankenstein a file server out of the PC graveyard, or build your own Linux router. “Getting by” creatively is a skill that will serve you time and time again over the course of your career.
Once you get your first non-profit up and running smoothly, you can tackle the next one, and just keep going. Just like in the for-profit world, a string of good deeds and happy “customers” tends to build a reputation. Pretty soon you’ll have solid connections and references that you would never have had access to had you just sat on the couch and frittered away all that potential volunteering time. You can then leverage those contacts and accolades in your job search, or even use them as a launching pad for starting your own IT consultancy.
Volunteering is a win-win. The non-profit gets its technical problems solved by a pro, and you get some solid career and resume-building experience. And in the end, it just feels good to help people, and the non-profits are always grateful.