Volunteering Your IT Skills

There is a lot to be said for running a small software business (just me, with my wife doing some of the admin). For a start it gives me a great deal of flexibility, which I used to spend 2 months travelling abroad with my family last year. It is also low in stress, as I don’t have any employees to manage (my wife manages herself!). But even with some consulting work, going to the occasional conference and running some face-to-face training courses, I was starting to feel a little bit isolated after 13 years working mostly on my own. At that time the news was full of heart-rending stories of the suffering of refugees trying to flee war and repression. I don’t like the way the world is heading at present and wanted to do something to help these people in whatever small way I could. So I started volunteering at a charity for refugees and asylum seekers in my home town.

I initially tried to avoid doing computer things for the charity. But it quickly became clear that my IT skills were much more useful to them than anything else I could offer. Consequently I have been sorting out various IT issues, teaching people basic IT skills and have built them a simple CRM and reporting system, based on Airtable. Replacing the previous paper system with an electronic one is saving the staff and volunteers a lot of busy-work, which frees up their time to do more useful things. It is also giving the charity a lot more insight into how they are doing. And it has got me out from office and meeting some really great people who I wouldn’t have met otherwise. Win-win. Sometimes I feel spread a bit thin with my various work, charity and personal commitments (which is partly why the blog has been a bit quiet recently) but overall I am very glad I started volunteering.

So, if you are feeling a bit isolated, consider volunteering for a local charity. I suspect many small charities are desperate for volunteers with IT skills. Even if you are a programmer with quite specialist skills (like me), it is easy to forget that you are still an IT systems god compared with 99% of the population.

7 thoughts on “Volunteering Your IT Skills

  1. andyuk2010

    Another good place to volunteer your IT skills are some libraries. I used to do this helping a lot of oldsters get up to speed with using email, Word, spreadsheets and so on. One guy in his late seventies got so into it he was writing his own little scripts at the end of it!

    1. Andy Brice Post author

      For 3 years I volunteered teaching programming to primary school children. It was very rewarding when some of them really ‘got it’.

    1. Andy Brice Post author

      Offering a room to a stranger is admirable, but can lead to problems. But if you volunteer you might get to know someone well enough that you feel comfortable giving them a room.

  2. Olly Balmer

    Don’t forget your invaluable hours spent with the Lawn Code Club either Andy!

    For those who would like to pass on their IT skills on a volunteer basis, I believe from personal experience that there can be nothing more rewarding than leading an IT club at a school – with the icing on the cake if your son/daughter is part of the class.

    To “dip your toe in” – Secondary schools are always on the lookout for IT professionals to man stands at careers fairs for an afternoon or so.

    At the grassroots level, Code Club (https://www.codeclub.org.uk/) provides a network of support and a worksheet based syllabus for local primary school after-school clubs, initially introducing Scratch (https://scratch.mit.edu/) – a graphical drag & drop IDE/language – to 9 – 11year olds. Advanced classes include learning python via the turtle drawing library and also playing with Pis/Arduinos etc.

    At the secondary school level, there is a considerable push from the Government to get students to learn Cyber skills (aka more advanced IT skills than are currently on the GCSE syllabus – working in Linux, Hex/ASCII manipulation, HTML et al tricks and fails, basic cipher/cryptography and general practical problem solving through trivial programming). Various programmes are available for which schools need IT professionals to act as mentors or after-school club leaders eg: Cyber Discovery (https://www.joincyberdiscovery.com/), Cyber First (https://www.gchq-careers.co.uk/early-careers/cyberfirst.html), Cyber Security Challenge (https://www.cybersecuritychallenge.org.uk/)

    You will need a current DBS certificate (the new name for CRB) before being able to take a class/club – these are easily gained by becoming a STEM Ambassador (https://www.stem.org.uk/stem-ambassadors).

    Be careful what you wish for – expect to get your whole arm, not just your hand bitten off if you offer your help to a school!

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