Volunteering Can Boost Tech (and Your Career)

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You’ve probably heard that volunteering is a great way to do good while also impressing potential employers. This is true for people who work in communications, human services, and similar fields, but you might wonder how to incorporate volunteering into a technical résumé. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways volunteering can both boost your tech skills and make you stand out to employers.

In recent years, the tech industry has become more concerned with diversity than ever before. Tech giants and local ventures alike have invested heavily in educational nonprofits, hoping to cultivate a diverse array of young techies. Getting involved with one of these organizations is a great way to boost your résumé while also making a difference.

Volunteer-teaching girls to code is part of Kathy Andersen’s long-term plan to become a better Project Manager. “I need to learn more about programming fundamentals and I need to give back to the community,” she said. Andersen volunteers with Girls Who Code, a nonprofit that provides young women with coding opportunities.

Nonprofits like Girls Who Code and CoderDojo have chapters across the country, while local nonprofits with similar missions exist, too. From summer camps to after-school coding clubs, there are plenty of ways to get involved. Don’t have a kids-specific coding nonprofit in your area? Luckily nonprofits like Code.org publish entire curricula so that you can start your own.

Kids aren’t the only ones who can benefit from technical learning. If you would prefer to work with adults, try checking for opportunities through your local library or senior center. Many libraries and senior centers offer digital literacy courses for getting adults up to speed with today’s technology. These courses are often taught by volunteers. Whether you’re an instructor or an assistant, you can make a big difference in the life of an adult who may find tasks like formatting a résumé to be challenging or frustrating. Educational outreach shows employers that you are passionate, committed, and skilled enough to articulate your knowledge.

If teaching or mentoring isn’t right for you, another option is simply volunteering your time to streamline a nonprofit’s daily operations. Many small nonprofits don’t have dedicated IT people on their staff. Something as simple as configuring an email client, networking computers, or building a website can make a huge difference.

Tech pro Josh More said that offering discounted freelance work to nonprofits helped him build skills that led to a career in information security. “I learned a lot about Linux internals, Perl programming, and database work,” he told us, noting that the database skills in particular catalyzed his career.

Finally, if you have the time then you might consider long-term volunteer options. Code for America provides one-year service opportunities where fellows can work on government service projects, complete with a competitive $50,000 stipend. If that’s too much of a commitment, then you might consider ongoing contributions to Humanitarian Free and Open Source Software (HFOSS) instead. Many HFOSS projects harness technology to solve problems in developing areas of the world. Volunteering on one of these projects indicates not only that you are committed to solving problems with technology, but that you are able to navigate complex projects as part of a team.

Technical volunteering offers many benefits. Educational outreach shows that you are passionate about your tech knowledge and can share it in ways that will diversify communities of tech professionals and tech users. Providing volunteer services for nonprofits helps you learn new skills while also supporting a mission you care about. Contributing to free software as a long-term volunteer demonstrates that you can work on complex, ongoing projects. No matter what your interest, there are plenty of ways that you can do good while polishing your tech résumé at the same time.

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