2 minute read

I was recently asked to present as part of the Northwestern Alumni Webinar series. The topic: How Volunteerism Can Impact Your Career.

Find a youtube link to the presentation recording here.

Long-Term Volunteer Experiences

Over the past 2 years I’ve participated in 2 long-term volunteer opportunities. The first was volunteering as an AP Computer Science teacher at a Chicagoland high school with the Microsoft TEALS program for the 2015-2016 school year. The second, which just wrapped up a few weeks ago, involved TA’ing a web development bootcamp on Northwestern’s Evanston campus.

These experiences accellerated the development of both my technical and soft skills, in ways that are difficult to achieve purely on the job.

Developing Skills Outside of Work

First off, they were both essentially part time jobs on top of my full time engineering gig, so I definitely got a lot of practice managing my time effectively.

Additionally, both of these experiences allowed me to practice soft skills that are difficult to develop on the job, but are critical for success and advancement on a technical team. For example, I now have hundreds of hours of practice explaining technical topics to non-technical audiences. I employ this skill at work daily, during meetings with our product or business teams when we are estimating stories or scoping a product roadmap. It’s a critical skill, but is difficult to practice in a “learning environment” while at work. It’s usually practiced in a “performance environment” on the job.

Make Volunteerism a 2 Way Street

I saught these opportunities out, they did not find me. I was looking for ways to grow outside the workplace, and picked volunteer opportunities that would not only allow me to positively impact those that I worked with, but would also benefit me personally through skill development.

This turned volunteerism in to a two way street, benefiting all involved in different ways. I found it was more motivating, and easier to make the long term commitment, when I knew I was also getting something substantial out of the experience.

If you haven’t made the jump in to the world of volunteerism, I’d suggest looking for opportunities similar to mine. Look for ways to donate your technical skills, whether through teaching, consulting with non profits, or giving presentations to interested parties.

Everyone is in a technical field, not just those who work in STEM. When my sister talks to me about her Art History thesis for Grad School, it sounds to me like I imagine me talking about the latest Javascript Framework sounds to her.

I’m certain there are opportunities to leverage the technical skills you’ve developed to benefit your community, it just might take a bit of searching to find out how!

Find slides from my presentation below.