This is the written version of a talk I did at RailsCamp – it is pretty close to what I actually said on the day, minus the heckling, discussions and answers to rhetorical questions.
So, you’re a kick-arse coder…
Over this weekend, you’ve created awesome Rails apps – or perhaps you’re such a code ninja that you’re using merb, Camping, Sinatra or Hack. Well done. You rock. Honestly.
Perhaps you’ve been doing this for years – maybe you’ve fought off Java or .NET in a previous life. You’ve made sense of XML, and twisted Internet Explorer into looking somewhat decent without too many CSS hacks.
And that’s cool. Really.
But it’s only code, right?
Alright wise guy. What’s next?
So where to from here, then? What’s next? What’s better than code?
To put it simply, although it may sound trite: Make a difference! Give something back!
And I could finish now – my message was blunt enough. You all got the point, right?
Ah, but examples would be nice. I don’t want to just lecture you with broad dreams and ideals – let me see if I can give you something to work with.
Let’s start with the basics. Release code! Let others learn from your mistakes. Let them save time using your plugins and gems. And this is also a subtle way of teaching about code.
There are less subtle ways to teach, though.
What, teaching? Like, in a classroom?
You can’t just type away on your blog and expect everyone to read it and become enlightened. You need to seek others, instead of waiting for them to seek out you.
Do people who use
font tags make you sad? Well, go teach kids how to write semantic HTML. Get them while they’re young.
Do the same at your old high school – drop in on the IT classes, and give the kids a lesson from someone who actually knows their shit. Run through the basics of firewalls. Regale them with your networking war stories (without the geek speak, though).
Be rewarded with glory, recognition, and warm fuzzy feelings.
“Well, that’s nice and all, Pat,” I hear you say. “But surely it’s still just tech. Even semantic HTML is important, sure, but it’s not really important now, is it?”
“That’s a good point,” is my reply.
So let’s think a little bigger
The world can always use some help. But it’s so big, and you’re so small, yeah?
Bullshit. Don’t give me any of those cop-out excuses. To paraphrase Mark Pesce: “We have been blessed with the biggest and best networking gear of all the hominids, and we all share the same capability.”
Did you know that all of Delicious Library’s Amazon referral income goes straight to charity?
Simple, yet effective. I think they’d be cool with you imitating that.
Perhaps you could donate that old hardware you’re not using to a school. Or, you could push 1% of your income to the NGO of your choice. It ain’t much, and it ain’t hard.
If you’re looking for a something a little different: Dean Kamen, who created the Segway, is providing electricity for villages in Bangladesh with boxes running off cow dung, and pure water for communities in Honduras. I’m sure he’d love some support.
It can be nice to get a feel for how you’re helping, though – random donations of money can seem like lip service. One suggestion of an alternative: Oxfam is an NGO that you can ‘buy’ specific items (cows, wells, mosquito nets and so on) for communities in third world countries.
So, take your slick Web 2.0 app, and build these donations into it. Perhaps as a small part of the account fees. And give your users the ability to donate more through your app if they wish. They’ll feel warm and fuzzy, and you will feel warm and fuzzy. And it’s all thanks to Rails! Or, well, something like that.
But wait! There’s more!
If you’ve got a bit of time up your sleeve (or are willing to make the time), you could donate a few months to organisations like Engineers Without Borders, or Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development if you’re under 31. Sure, it may mean you have to put up with Windows, or poke around with PHP – but it’ll be while helping out people in countries like East Timor, or Nepal, or rural Australia.
Let’s blow this taco stand!
Now, what I’ve just gone through – it isn’t the answer. There is no silver bullet, no one approach that will always work. But they’re just a starting point, a few suggestions – and if we put our heads together, I’m sure we can come up with some better ones.
Gandhi said something like “be the change you want to see in the world” – and yes, it sounds clichéd, but it’s fucking true.
Don’t sit on your arse waiting for things to be better, or people to be smarter, or code to be DRYer.
Get out there!
(Photo above was taken by Rowen Atkinson at Web Directions South 2007. Comics from XKCD. Inspiration from Mark Pesce, John Allsopp, Mike Lee and Dean Kamen. Massive thanks to all who provided feedback.)