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programming with purpose.

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So here we find ourselves {programmers} being incessantly pinged by recruiters and fawned over by non programmers. "Damn we are important" is what runs through our heads.

We spend our time typing into a computer debating about whitespace, editors, and optimal data structures while systematically producing and testing code.

– rinse and repeat –

A question tho.

Why are we spending our time writing apps to {insert 99.5% of startup ideas here}.

  • Because they can make us lots of money?
  • Because we like the ownership of making something that lots of people use?
  • Because of our egos?
  • Because we like to make things?

What is the end result of what we do, it most likely can be found in the aforementioned list.

Why are we not helping others, saving people, preventing people from dying. Instead we eat our sushi and drink our 10$ cups of coffee. Without a thought to what our skills could do to help others.

  • @sam_saccone

Comments

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    woodwardjd

    That's why I co-founded our company: to use my skills to improve accessibility of quality education. I'd rather try and fail at that than succeed in building another social photo sharing application.

    Thanks for sharing.

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    jacaetevha

    That's one reason why I work for @Samasource. We're working to impact women and youth in poverty, to teach them the skills they need to gain access to dignified work. The work they do for us enables them to support themselves and their families in ways they could have never imagined.

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    jamesduncombe

    I must admit, I think about this. I wonder about what applications an Arduino (for example) could serve for farmers in the third world (water management or some kind of automation), how a little bit of tech could have a massive impact. Oh course, this doesn't just apply to the third world. There are numerous applications for tech much closer to home that aren't yet being utilised to help people. Personally, the biggest kick I get from programming is the thought that (hopefully) something that I've built is making someones life that little bit better. But there's more to do as you pointed out...

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    bsimpson

    "We" don't help others, save people, or prevent them from dying because there isn't any money in it. It is a monetary society, and you can't have a strong sense of ethics when everyone is out to maximize profit. 1% of the population owns 40% of the world's wealth. The amount of money we spend in the US on our military is enough to send every teenager to a four year college.

    Open source, the shining example of selflessness, really only works when people contribute to it for their own selfish reasons.

    Technology is what the world needs to address poverty, lack of education, and prevent diseases and deaths. We are fortunate to be a in a field that disrupts the guardians of the status quo with new inventions. Now we just have to apply it to the social problems in the world.

    So why haven't I reached out to help others that are less fortunate? I don't have an answer that absolves me of my ethical responsibilities to do so. Its a shame our government won't, and the "can't do" attitude has trickled down to me. Thanks for the call to wake up.

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    thrashr888

    Part of the reason might be similar to why you never get a response to an email sent to more than two people. The rising tide of technology has lifted all industries and there is, in fact, many people working with tech to make the world better. So even though there's not enough people working on the problem, perhaps it makes us feel better knowing that someone's working on it and we're more okay with not doing it ourselves. A lot of these random start-ups can actually help people, they're just mostly inaccessible to the general public because they don't know about it until it hits the mass market. Otherwise, there are people out there using all this junk we create to do some good.

    I completely agree that no one wants the pay cut when everyone else is jumping from company to company trying to maximise their earnings and experience. You feel like if you take a few years to work on something that actually matters, you're effectively taken your self out of the game and screw over your future. Plus, living in SF can make you feel poor even with a six-figure salary, so everyone here is constantly striving for more.

    Personally, I've always wanted to start an after-school computer lab and tutoring space. I have no excuse for not already starting that instead of working on my random stupid web-app ideas at night.

    These are really just excuses though, so thanks for the reminder. There are true opportunities out there, so it's not just taking one for the team. A follow up post with a few concrete, practical examples of where we can help would be awesome. I think that things like working for Kiva or Charitywater, working with that Obama tech dream-team, or helping a local non-profit, are very doable when brought to people's attention. We've known as far back as Socrates that personal knowledge creates personal responsibility. :)

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    ltcmddudefellah

    I would say lack of information contributes to it. If I made a decision to spend 5 hours a week working on some sort of non business software to help people in the ways you intend, I would have no idea where to start. I wouldn't know the second* thing about finding a place that needs pro bono programming help.

    I was actually having this discussion the other day when I was talking about how unnecessary Vine is but how Twitter's purchase of it probably made some people very happy. The idea of "Instagram but for video" was bound to make someone money so people tried to do it. Another reason for it though is that it was not hard to do. Anyone with a mac and an iPhone can attempt to build the next big iOS app that gets bought out. If you want to improve water quality or make better medical devices to save lives, you can't exactly bang that out over a weekend in your text editor. In addition to having to know something about the field you're trying to get involved in, you have to have access to equipment or some way to make the better equipment you're dreaming up. This is not to say it is impossible, but it becomes much less accessible which is why fewer people work on these problems.

    *The first thing would be to use Google but I'm not exactly sure of what search terms would be effective.

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    hellogerard

    I don't quite buy the premise. There's plenty of great software written by bright software developers out there that is helping others and saving lives. As a developer, you can choose to spend your time on building photo sharing sites, and that's fine, but you don't have to.

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    luisbebop

    Best post I've read from a developer in years ;) Kudos!

    about.me/luisbebop

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