To me, volunteering and giving back within the development field is something that is incredibly important. I spend a lot of my personal time volunteering at local events, offering to help any other coder newbies I know who may need it, and seeking out new opportunities for ways I could volunteer more.
I’ve been asked by a couple of friends why it’s so important to me to do these things and really for me it comes down to two main reasons: paying it forward and advancing equality.
Paying It Forward:
I can say without a doubt that I would not be a developer today if it weren’t for a couple of people in the local area that spent their precious free time to help introduce me to tech.
When I was first considering going into development I was trying to teach myself in my free time while working around 60 hours a week at my full-time job. I knew that I had enjoyed creating some basic web pages in the past but had some serious doubts as to whether I could actually make a career out of development.
Going to a free “make a ruby website in a day” event in my area called Rails Girls completely changed my life. Not only did I get exposed to Ruby (a language that I found infinitely more enjoyable then the Java I had learned in high school) but I got to meet some fantastic developers that really changed my opinion of the profession. I honestly thought of development as a trade off, get a cool job but be resigned to working with not-very-cool people who will probably look down on me for being not only a newbie without a Computer Science degree but also as a woman of color in a white-male dominated field. Rails Girls was full of such nice people, both men and women, helping all of these newbies to learn that it was very encouraging.
Additionally, as I got to talking to one of the organizers I really got to get a better picture of what life was like in the day-to-day job of a developer and realized that memorizing theories and algorithms was very rarely involved, which was a relief to me. He highlighted the fact that learning to code meant you had the creative freedom to make all of your ideas come to life (and also help others make their ideas come to life) and that to me was an amazing selling point.
Just 10 months later I’m now a professional Ruby developer and on the organizing board for RailsBridge Triangle, the local organization that spun off of that Rails Girls effort. Every time we hold an event I think about the opportunity to change one persons life like mine was changed and it makes all of the time and effort involved in planning these events absolutely worth it.
The other main reason that volunteering is so important to me is because I believe helping under-represented groups enter the development field is a real opportunity to advance the cause of racial and gender equality. Often we do so much talking about how we can help reduce the pay gap, how we can address poverty in minority communities, etc, but most of us take very few concrete actions to make this happen.
Getting women and minorities into tech feels like a real way to change peoples lives and help make the world a little more equal. This is a skill that, while difficult, is very learnable and with just a few months of self-study or a coding bootcamp can result in a career that’s incredibly rewarding and pays well. While certainly systemic inequalities are to blame for the wage gap problem overall, helping a few people in my community improve their career and economic standing feels like a tangible way to combat inequality locally.
In Downtown Durham, where I work and many of these volunteer events are held, there are several primarily Black communities where the median household income is between $15,000-$20,000. The area is experiencing a surge in tech investment and many new startups and development jobs are being created here. If trends continue, within 10 years many of these neighborhoods will be gentrified and current residents will be forced to move from homes they’ve lived in for decades. If in the next 10 years I help even one person in this type of situation get into the tech field and actually benefit from the investment in Downtown Durham instead of being pushed out by it, I’ll consider all of the time I’ve put into volunteering to be well worth it.
So, those are just a couple of reasons why volunteering within the local development community is so important to me. We’re all busy, but life is about finding your priorities and balancing your time accordingly. For me, giving back to the community that has given so much to me and advancing the cause of equality are well worth the sacrifice.