[–] tryitnow link

I couldn't disagree more. There's a lot of jobs that add little to no value. In a fictional efficient market economy that conforms to neoclassical assumptions, sure, every job is value adding. But does anyone believe that that is the world we live in?

It's comforting to think that just going to work and doing your job is actually contributing to something, but I just don't see how that can be generally true and definitely not universally true.

Even if we just measured contribution in purely capitalist terms, e.g. shareholder value, I don't think your claim is true. I think there have been several studies showing that the average company destroys shareholder value on net. It's likely that a lot of employees in such companies are also destroying shareholder value. And this is just shareholder value - to say nothing of the value destroyed for other stakeholders.

Yes, it is possible to lead your life in such a way that even if you work very hard, you're still a net drain on humanity.

Sorry, but we have to think much harder about how we can create a net positive contribution.

We need to go beyond high school guidance counselor nostrums like "work hard! study hard!" and really struggle with the issue of how we can contribute.

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[–] peacetreefrog link

"It's comforting to think that just going to work and doing your job is actually contributing to something, but I just don't see how that can be generally true..."

I can't imagine how it would NOT be true. Say you buy something from the store. Presumably you're getting more value from it than it costs, if you weren't, you wouldn't buy it. Same with a company. If an employee provides more value than their salary, it makes sense to hire them. Otherwise it doesn't. Sure it's not perfect and wages are sticky and people skate by etc, but you have to be pretty cynical to think most people aren't providing net value at their jobs. Maybe we have a different definition of "contributing to something."

Also:

"...there have been several studies showing that the average company destroys shareholder value on net."

Maybe I'm misunderstanding something or this is a typo, but how could this be true? Shareholder value isn't an abstract concept like love or blue, it's the number of shares in a co*their price. The SP 500 is not negative.

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[–] Old_Thrashbarg link

> I can't imagine how it would NOT be true.

You can make money while damaging society. Some (possible) examples are employees working at: - a tobacco company - company that supplies oppressive regimes with tools (software and military hardware) to stay in power - company peddling some kind false medical treatment - tax lawyer helping people find loopholes - lobbyist working to increase regulatory capture in favor of their company

> you have to be pretty cynical to think most people aren't providing net value at their jobs

Yes, I agree. But note that you can provide net value to your company, but detract from society as a whole. Even so, I'd say the majority of people are adding value to society: plumbers, mechanics, pilots, engineers, most lawyers, some politicians, etc.

But there is a spectrum of how much you contribute ranging from way in the negative to way in the positive. There's also jobs that contribute nothing, but don't really hurt. Day Traders come to mind, they do high-frequency money sloshing, but don't really change anything.

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[–] trevyn link

I honestly think it is very difficult, if not impossible, to assess the individual value of rank-and-file work to society as a whole.

It is easy to build something and say "this helped family X, or this powered Y homes", but there are so many externalities that are simply hidden. What if family X is part of Nation Z, who is about to start thermonuclear war W?

It's just a guessing game at that point. It seems that most people ignore it under the guise of "well, I do the good that I can", but it's false comfort, IMO.

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[–] brenschluss link

Sure, it may be an educated guess, but we have to try.

It's better than the alternative, which is to assume that any job that pays (and thus is from a company that earns profit) has equal impact or externalities with all other companies.

A lack of clarity shouldn't be an excuse for not trying.

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[–] developer2 link

>> the majority of people are adding value to society: plumbers, mechanics, pilots, engineers, most lawyers, some politicians

I agree with the rest of your comment, except for the above quote. The jobs you listed do not make up the majority. It's interesting that you only list trades and educated workers who earn above-average wages. A plumber can earn in one day of overcharged labour what it takes a worker in the service industry a week or longer. Pilots, engineers, lawyers, and politicians certainly do not belong as part of any definition of "majority".

The majority of jobs are in the service industry: fast food joints, real restaurants, retailers, etc. More than half of service industry jobs could vanish overnight, and consumers would get along just fine. These companies and jobs don't exist out of a necessity to serve society; they exist only because employees can be paid a tiny percentage of what they are worth (and in some cases being forced to live off food stamps), while the corporations rake in billions. These companies aim to make the easiest dollar possible, with no effort put into providing a service anyone actually needs. A job does not benefit society simply because a company manages to sustain itself by maximizing its own profits at the cost of taking advantage of employees.

If we could shut down every fast food joint (ex: McDonald's) and bottom-feeding retailers (ex: Walmart), and find positions for all those employees doing something more beneficial to society, that alone would make a huge difference. Those two companies are the tip of an enormous iceberg. These companies are not a "necessary evil", as if without them there would be no jobs. These corporations perpetuate the status quo to benefit themselves - society is an externality.

The capitalism we practice today will never improve upon this situation. The only incentive is for corporations to take the entire cake, offering services people think they want (they don't even really want them), rather than services people need. Things will never change without a major shift in the way we view economics. Perhaps if the next major plague takes out 50% of the population, we'll be forced to return to basics.

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[–] peacetreefrog link

Yes, I meant I can't imagine how that's not true in general, I know there are many specific contrary examples. Agree about the continuum, I think we're fortunate that most ways to make a living are on the net positive spectrum.

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[–] erikpukinskis link

You are correct about the starting conditions. A company with no revenue will devote close to 100% of its resources to creating value for customers.

But as it grows revenue, shifting resources to protecting its revenue stream starts to become lucrative. Employees spend some of their time providing value to customers, and some of their time protecting the "moat" around the company.

The percentage varies quite a lot, but I think there are lots of places where it's quite high. And within a company you may be acting in a role that's almost 100% moat protection, even if your coworkers are providing value directly. Without you, other people at other companies would provide that value directly, you're just helping to ensure that it happens under your shareholders' brand.

It goes meta, because then you have companies whose product is just moat protection services for other companies.

And it goes meta in the other direction too, down to the individual employee level. When you have no experience, you devote 100% of your energy to providing value. Once you have credibility amongst your coworkers, it makes sense to start shifting some of your resources to maintaining that credibility. This can become pathological in the same way, with entire companies whose product helps employees at other companies appear more credible to their peers. E.g. PowerPoint.

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[–] droithomme link

"as it grows revenue, shifting resources to protecting its revenue stream starts to become lucrative"

I have a lot of nice blue chip stocks that don't do that. Companies that not only pay me dividends far greater than any savings account, but the base value of the stock increases as well. None of these companies are tech or speculative stocks. They are solid big corporations manufacturing real things that people buy to live. Maybe it's essential. Maybe it's artificial cheese and soda pop. But it's something regular people buy at the corner store or the equivalent. And there's lots of them. And this activity is essential in some way for them and nothing about the transaction is misrepresented or unreasonable.

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[–] erikpukinskis link

Soda pop seem like the best possible example of a business that has worked hard to build a moat around itself, to the detriment of its customers. Those companies work hard to make it hard for people to change their lifestyle. I would be surprised if even half of revenues went into the product itself.

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[–] tryitnow link

On the first point: Behavioral economics has taught us that life is just a lot more complicated than that. You're referring to fairly simple econ 101 models of human behavior. There's also principal-agent problems. Maybe you create value for your bosses career prospects, but does that mean the stuff you're working on is creating value for the company? Or is just creating the perception of value? Executive tenures are very short - they may or may not be creating long-term value.

On the second point: this could happen a variety of way. For example, shareholder value is destroyed when there are positive returns, but those returns are worse than what could be realized from equivalently risky positions. Another way of thinking about this is that the return on capital is less than the cost of capital, resulting in a net negative return. Another way this could happen is if shareholder returns follow a power law where only a handful of companies (e.g. Amazon) create outsized positive risk-adjusted returns whereas most companies generate negative returns or positive returns at an unnecessarily high risk level.

So, yeah, just because someone pays you doesn't imply you're actually doing something worthwhile.

This is kind of personal for me because I spent way too many years under the mistaken belief that just because I was getting paid I was doing something worthwhile. I would hope others avoid the mistake I made.

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[–] matt4077 link

In a perfect, free, fair, well-informed market economy all economic activity happens because it helps someone.

However: In that very same perfect system, the individual is also compensated for exactly 100% of the added value.

If they then spend it on personal consumption, they capture all the value of their work for personal benefit.

Society is improved by that exact amount only if you include that workers well-being in the calculation. Otherwise, it's exactly zero.

But the effective altruist community has already come up with a perfectly valid yet somewhat disappointing answer: "earn to give", i. e. try to make as much money as possible, then spend as much of it as possible on others' wellbeing.

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[–] soVeryTired link

By your logic I can make the world a better place by selling heroin to schoolchildren.

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[–] specialist link

"There's a lot of jobs that add little to no value."

Creating wealth vs transferring wealth.

I've tried to choose jobs that have some value add, some win/win angle. Alas, it hasn't been that easy.

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[–] streblo link

> We need to go beyond high school guidance counselor nostrums like "work hard! study hard!" and really struggle with the issue of how we can contribute.

I think your argument is just as reductive as the parent comment. If we're going to come up with a definition of 'value' that actually helps people make good decisions about how to spend their time, then its too simplistic to say 'all jobs create some value', but it's also too simplistic to say 'the average job is destroying value'.

I honestly think the reason most people don't try to do more good in the world is because it's just really hard and complicated to tell what's good/valuable and what's not.

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[–] TeMPOraL link

It's a good one, but the caveat is stronger than you mention. Just because someone wants to pay you for something, doesn't mean it's good to society. Some things are unambiguously socially harmful - cigarette industry, gambling industry - but there are also many things that are harmful by perpetuating waste of resources and man hours. Be wary of zero-sum games, where your effort goes mostly to cancel out the effort of others. Some areas of adtech come to mind, for example.

So in short: use judgement. There's a lot of social good to be done in mundane jobs - but just because someone is willing to pay for something, doesn't mean it should be done.

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[–] unclesaamm link

This is the most neoliberal thing I've ever read. No, doing nothing will not make the world a better place. And no, our mindless slide into capitalism-in-all-things is not actually good for most people. For one, see the Clinton Foundation's disastrous neoliberalization of Haiti (touted as a success because it "raised people out of poverty"): http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/05/clinton-found...

In fact, by working for a typical VC-fueled tech company, you're probably helping a few very rich people extract rent more efficiently from a greater number of people. Your best bet for social impact is to do the exact opposite -- get involved in left politics, find ways to show solidarity with people who are being hurt by the Uber-ization and Airbnb-ization of the world, and use your tech skills to counter those effects.

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[–] 3131s link

Exactly.

> you're creating value and "bettering our species" just by doing something that someone is willing to pay you for

^^^ The thought process that lets HNers sleep at night.

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[–] chongli link

Have you ever witnessed the anger of the good shopkeeper, James Goodfellow, when his careless son has happened to break a pane of glass? If you have been present at such a scene, you will most assuredly bear witness to the fact that every one of the spectators, were there even thirty of them, by common consent apparently, offered the unfortunate owner this invariable consolation – "It is an ill wind that blows nobody good. Everybody must live, and what would become of the glaziers if panes of glass were never broken?"

Now, this form of condolence contains an entire theory, which it will be well to show up in this simple case, seeing that it is precisely the same as that which, unhappily, regulates the greater part of our economical institutions.

Suppose it cost six francs to repair the damage, and you say that the accident brings six francs to the glazier's trade – that it encourages that trade to the amount of six francs – I grant it; I have not a word to say against it; you reason justly. The glazier comes, performs his task, receives his six francs, rubs his hands, and, in his heart, blesses the careless child. All this is that which is seen.

But if, on the other hand, you come to the conclusion, as is too often the case, that it is a good thing to break windows, that it causes money to circulate, and that the encouragement of industry in general will be the result of it, you will oblige me to call out, "Stop there! Your theory is confined to that which is seen; it takes no account of that which is not seen."

It is not seen that as our shopkeeper has spent six francs upon one thing, he cannot spend them upon another. It is not seen that if he had not had a window to replace, he would, perhaps, have replaced his old shoes, or added another book to his library. In short, he would have employed his six francs in some way, which this accident has prevented. [0]

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parable_of_the_broken_window

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[–] azernik link

To take this to a less absolutist neoliberal place - find a for-profit job where you are actually creating value. A service that saves low-income people money when they use it, that helps small (like, actually small) businesses become profitable, etc.

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[–] steven_noble link

Sometimes yes -- sometimes no.

Yes, if you're creating better entertainment, but furniture, better toys, better gadgets, and people are willing to pay for them, you have made the world better.

But people are also willing to pay for weapons, for software that helps them to violate the privacy of others, for financial products that promise much and deliver little, for products that have addictive properties from sugar to gambling to everything else.

So, yes, just building things that other people want and getting rich in the process CAN be a good thing to do. But it is not AUTOMATICALLY a good thing to do.

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[–] uhtred link

Surely it depends on where someone spends the money they earn doing their job?

If I earn a good salary but I buy nothing but fast food or the cheapest (factory farmed) meat, cheap clothes made in sweatshops, expensive gadgets from companies that exploit workers, own 3 gas guzzling cars, have 5 children, vote for politicians who enjoy waging war on on other countries, how am I making the world better?

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[–] justforFranz link

"that's how most of the world's wealth is created" Most of that wealth simply goes to the top 1% and stays stuck there.

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[–] TeMPOraL link

Be that as it may, enough of the wealth remains with the 99% to make parent's point valid (with caveats applied).

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[–] simplicitea link

The goal is a 'normal job' which encourages me to learn through it's end impact. Further the goal is to take skills learned through developing for impact rather than profit and build something to draw enough of a salary on which has a disproportionate impact compared to it's cost. I want to be the driving factor, not be payed by or pay the driving factor.

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[–] TeMPOraL link

Please don't get discouraged by some of the negative comments here. You're not the only one searching for high-impact ways of helping out with the skills one has. I strongly believe opportunities like that exist, even if they're hard to identify. I also believe there's work to be done in making those opportunities easier to find.

Feel free to e-mail me if you ever want to talk about this further (address in profile).

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[–] anigbrowl link

Sounds like half-reading Adam Smith but OK

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[–] TeMPOraL link

Please expand.

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[–] anigbrowl link

Well it's true that simply participating in the market helps to create value, viz the famous quote about it ot being from the good will of the butcher and baker that we enjoy our meal, but from their acting in their own self-interest. But Smith also mulls the need for regulation (due to market participants' habit of rigging markets to suit producers over consumers) and the downsides of pursuing pure efficiency (eg after praising the gains that come from the division of labor at a pin factory, he goes on to point out that getting people to do the same job over and over all day isn't good for them over the long term).

Smith was a very thoughtful economist but people have a bad habit of cherry-picking his work to suit their own needs while ignoring the bits that would constrain them.

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[–] JamesBarney link

Norman Borlaug(Saved a billion lives) had a net worth far less than Martin Shkreli(poached a billion dollars from the sick).

So I would be very surprised if compensation is directly tied to societal value.

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[–] ChuckMcM link

I think Bill Gates is an interesting data point here. For a lot of his life he was reviled by many, and yet in the past 15 years he has used his wealth to do great good.

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[–] peacetreefrog link

Agree that he's done a ton of good with his charitable giving, but point is that he bettered humanity (probably even more than his charity) even before that with Windows (giving the masses an easier way to interact with computers, allowing individuals and companies to create other valuable things in turn), the whole software not hardware paradigm (led to rapid development in terms of the type of programs and functionality people had access to), and Microsoft Office (Excel and Word == a ton of social value). Obviously he wasn't personally responsible for all that, and also became a multi billionaire in the process (and is giving most of it away, kudos) but even if he kept it all, that's all benefiting humanity and creating social good.

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[–] erikpukinskis link

Disagree strongly.

By killing Netscape he set back the computer industry by a decade or more. If Gates hadn't used anti-competitive tactics, and he had just accepted, say, a 60% share for Windows, we would have reached where we are much quicker.

We benefit immensely from the presence today of multiple strong operating systems, Windows, Android, iOS, MacOS, Linux, and Chrome are all great offerings that force the other players to be better.

Windows languished during its monopoly decade, and we were all stuck with it. Why did it even take until iPhone 3G for there to be a widespread online software store? Because Microsoft profited from Office being the biggest, most profitable box on a shelf with a bunch of other boxes, and having that boxed software be the only place you could direct your attention on a PC. Steve Jobs could start an online software store because Apple was barely selling any software. They had nothing to lose. Gates had the world to lose.

Look at where peoples' attention goes today. That's what Netscape was promising. Now imagine if Gates had let that happen in 1995.

And Word and Excel were clones of existing software. Microsoft had about as much positive impact on the tech industry as Baidu is having now. Baidu probably has more users than Gates ever had.

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[–] peacetreefrog link

1. Even a monopoly provides social value, though not as much as competitive market. See: http://www.csun.edu/~hceco008/c11d.htm

2. I'm sure Microsoft's competitive tactics had something to do with it, but it also sounds like Netscape had it's own problems: https://www.quora.com/Why-did-Netscape-lose-ground-to-IE

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[–] anigbrowl link

Almost every comment you're leaving here seems based on a Just World Fallacy, which is very close to survivor bias. It's easy but misleading to look back at the good aspects of the past and derive a teleological theory that ignores opportunity costs.

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[–] ChuckMcM link

I think 'bettering humanity with Windows' is open for debate. Some would argue that Windows, and the security problems it brought to the Internet, was the enabler for the single largest source of income for criminal enterprise outside of the drug trade.

Now it is much more nuanced than that, network based criminal activity has existed since the invention of the telegraph, but I would be willing to wager even on a per capita basis of Windows, Mac, UNIX, and 'other' users of the network, it stands out.

That said, those days are largely behind us (caveat Wannacry and poor update policies) and I consider properly patched operating systems from all of the major vendors to be credibly defended from exploitation. I reason to that point of view by using the price offered for 'zero days' as an indicator of the challenge of finding them.

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[–] Jabanga link

Windows contributed to global productively enormously.

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[–] cestith link

It didn't do that by being Windows. It did that by being nearly ubiquitous so that software could be written to a known thing. That could have turned out to be OS/2, but Microsoft played unfairly there. It could have been one of the Unix platforms, but AT&T, Microsoft, and others played unfairly there.

It's really the IBM PC platform, IBM's willingness to sign a non-exclusive contract for the OS, and the success of the early clones (Compaq, AST, etc) making DOS so common that raised productivity so much. Whatever OS had shipped on them would have grabbed the market share DOS and Windows did.

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[–] Jabanga link

Windows was also much more usable than what was common before it, ubiquity aside. The Office productivity suite was also very good for the time, and represented a major advancement in the state of the art. It's easy to take what Microsoft provided the PC world for granted and assume another company would have provided it if it never existed, but I don't think it's fair.

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[–] simplicitea link

| poor update policies

which ones? forcing them or not forcing them?

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[–] lkbm link

Neither.

1. Bundling them -- it should be trivial to turn off all non-security updates while still getting all security updates.

Counterpoint: There might be no unambiguous distinction between security update or non-security update.

2. Not having them. WannaCry was so bad because Microsoft stopped providing security updates for a system that's still widely used.

Counterpoint: It seems odd to insist Microsoft continue to provide updates to a fifteen-year-old system they end-of-lifed three years ago. Should we be able to force them to keep providing updates indefinitely by steadfastly refusing to upgrade?

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[–] ChuckMcM link

In the wannacry event the policy of not applying updates was contributory to its spread. So 'not forcing them' being the less good choice.

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[–] simplicitea link

The way it was explained to me was that Microsoft low-balled the market on Office and pushed out the innovators who built the individual pieces and were able to do it because they had a fat bank to lean on. I buy the argument that Excel and Word provide exceptional value to society, but I'm not convinced that Microsoft was entirely necessary for that to happen. Then again, windows, task manager, recycle bin, start menu, etc. etc.

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[–] afpx link

The fact that this is the 'top' comment made me stop reading anything further. Wow - decadence.

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[–] jugularkill link

iugiug

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[–] imjustsaying link

The obsession with doing visible social good comes from a certain part of society, reinforced by academic advisors and admissions criteria as a requirement for advancing into the next academic tier.

Nevermind that by merely participating in a marketplace as a service provider or consumer you're providing a social benefit; that benefit's just not as easy to understand and doesn't get you any vanity points.

But if you're on a mission trip carrying a third world orphan in a microloan-built vaccination tent while on the phone with companies asking for food donations, you're just the most selfless person ever - clearly such charity is just an innate part of who you are.

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[–] TeMPOraL link

Not everyone here has grown up in US academic culture. I for one have formed my desires of helping others long before I noticed anyone rewards that in any system (not to mention that my country's education system doesn't put much focus on volunteering for social causes).

Also, spending time on understanding the benefits coming from participation in a marketplace leads one to conclude that the market doesn't address all human needs promptly enough, and is not itself beyond creating many great problems.

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[–] simplicitea link

If you took a few minutes to consider that I may be a completely different person than the one you're conjuring up, you might have something more useful to say.

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[–] peacetreefrog link

Well said. I'm certainly in favor of people being free to decide how they want to spend their time and money, but I think you could make the argument that a lot of these visible social good activities, e.g. starting a the upteenth and one non-profit to provide clean water in third world countries, could very well be doing less "social good" and wasting more resources than someone donating their salary or even engaging in regular marketplace activity.

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[–] TeMPOraL link

You could make that argument, and indeed many are. For instance, the effective altruism movement is all about evaluating that argument. The real question isn't if, but when participating in the market is an effective way of helping. Similarly, a good question is the one OP is asking - are there effective ways of helping directly with tech skills, and if so, what are they.

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[–] peacetreefrog link

Just read all the top line comments here. Interesting that no one had mentioned the one thing that has probably done the most to "better our chances as species" in the last few hundred years, and has helped hundreds of millions in India and China get out of backbreaking poverty and accumulate some wealth. And that is...

Work hard, accumulate skills, and become better at your normal job. Even if you're not writing open source software to help local governments in third world countries have free elections and fight malaria or donating 50% of your salary, you're creating value and "bettering our species" just by doing something that someone is willing to pay you for. In fact, that's how most of the world's wealth is created.

Not saying you shouldn't volunteer or donate your salary (I personally try to donate a decent chunk of my salary to givedirectly) but -- unless you're a nigerian hacker or malware developer or something -- just because you're getting paid or working on something that isn't an absolute necessity doesn't mean you aren't doing social good. Just something to think about.

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[–] wchest link

This. There are many incredible organizations doing great work in the code for good space, and not solely in the non-profit or government sectors.

I’ll second the reference to Code for America. I have a colleague who did their fellowship and learned a ton while working with some great local governmental agencies. They’ve also recently launched a job board to curate high impact mission-driven jobs and jobs with local government entities: https://jobs.codeforamerica.org/.

I’d also encourage looking at B-Corps: https://www.bcorporation.net/. These are for-profit companies that include positive social impact alongside profit as determinants of success. I work at TechChange, which is a B-Corp. If education and capacity development are your passions, we at TechChange are building a SaaS learning platform that empowers organizations around the world to make their training more effective. We are working hard to push the limits of traditional online learning and are looking for talented folks to help us achieve this goal: https://www.techchange.org/careers/.

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[–] daguar link

Hi! I lead engineering on Code for America's work building services improving the social safety net, so happy to answer any questions. I'd also mention that we're hiring directly for teams at CfA building large-scale services serving the most vulnerable Americans.

My team works on radically improving access to the food stamp program, a massive anti-poverty program, but one with only about 65% of eligible Californians enrolled — we've found a lot of that gap is because the process is really difficult.

If you apply in California, this is the online experience — 200+ questions, 50+ screens, a lot of confusion: http://citizenonboard.com/snap/ca/#2

So we operate a much easier online application which is mobile-first (~50% of search traffic for "food stamps") and which takes on average 8 minutes to complete — you can try it out at https://demo.getcalfresh.org/

And we're hiring:

- Senior Engineer (Ruby/Rails, TDD, pairing): https://www.codeforamerica.org/jobs?gh_jid=502640

- Product Manager: https://www.codeforamerica.org/jobs?gh_jid=652829

We also have a superb team working on safety and justice, namely with the goal of safely reducing incarceration. For example. They operate services that:

- Make it much easier for people to clear their records when the law allows (invaluable for re-entry and getting jobs)

- Allow case & probation workers to text with folks in the justice system and help them do the pre-trial diversion things that keep them out of jail/prison and help them with resources

They're also hiring for a Senior Engineer role: https://www.codeforamerica.org/jobs?gh_jid=525208

Happy to answer any questions about these!

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[–] lippytak link

I worked with @daguar for 3 years on this and he is the best and the team is the best. I encourage folks to apply!

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[–] tyrust link

Are all of these jobs at the same location SF? The jobs page (https://www.codeforamerica.org/jobs) lists locations "Headquarters", "San Francisco, CA, United States", and "San Francisco Headquarters" as if they might be different places.

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[–] daguar link

Oh, odd! Yeah I'll get that fixed.

Yes — San Francisco (SOMA) is the location for all of those.

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[–] wand3r link

Do you get any push back on this from the state/gov? Cynically; I can see this process being intentionally obscure and difficult to dissuade people from applying and receiving aid.

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[–] daguar link

Great question! Overall I'd say our gov't partners are incredibly supportive.

A lot of why these processes are hard are not by intentional design, but rather by _unintentional, non-design_.

What do I mean? It's that these systems evolve over time, via massive waterfall IT procurement processes, and you often have someone (say, one county, or one unit) who proposes to add one more question because it makes it better for their unit or a subset of users.

Iterated over years and years — and with no systemic actor responsible for pushing back and saying, "but this creates more burden for the majority of users" — you get overwhelming user experiences. Sometimes I've jokingly called this the "no feature left behind" approach.

What we do is basically design & build a service that puts users at the center, and when someone wants us to add something ask ourselves, "will this help people quickly and easily get through the benefit enrollment process?"

It's essentially applying "products are about saying no," just to a domain where there's currently no one there to say no.

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[–] simplicitea link

Actually, to follow up -- you mention simplifying the process to be easier on the user. Are myriad of questions one must laboriously answer to enroll in EBT programs a matter of... legislation? taxes? I would imagine that the questions have to do with honing in on a complex placement within the law which determines benefit levels. How do you go about simplifying a process which requires a large number of distinct data points by law or by census design?

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[–] daguar link

That's a fantastic question. There's a few strategies we've used to build a service design that deals with those things:

1. After the initial application, the next step is a phone interview where they're going to ask many of the same questions and verify information anyway. So what we do is focus on the 10-15 questions that make getting someone to that interview as quick and efficient on the gov't side as possible, as well as prepares the interviewer with the best information.

For example, there are complex rules around income and expenses (earned/unearned, self-employed, utilities, child care expenses) but we basically have found that the best situation is — since they'll be talking with someone who knows those rules extremely well — focus on the basics: who's in your household, do you qualify for expedited (emergency) service, etc.

2. Many of those ~200 questions really CONDITIONAL on some (eg, do you have a felony? do you have a felony for DRUGS?) —— but candidly many online gov't forms are just the digitization of paper forms (which obviously can't do conditional showing easily.)

3. We've found that there's a ton of low-hanging fruit. For example, we have an easy way for clients to take pictures of documents they need to submit from their phone (these days, these are often SUPER high quality, even on low-end devices.) We send those to counties via secure e-mail, which means it comes instantly. This has been so successful in one county that they're now using this document feature across ALL programs (health insurance, cash aid) and actually asking clients to send in documents WHILE they're on the phone with them, meaning they can hold for a second, check the email, see the pic, and issue the benefits immediately (rather than waiting for them to mail/fax/scan and upload after creating an account.)

Overall, we've found that despite that "intrinsic complexity," there's still a huge space for simplification just using what computers — and web sites — are good at.

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[–] mars4rp link

you should include postings from http://www.calhr.ca.gov/ . there are tons of programming jobs there in different classification.

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[–] daguar link

Thanks! It's a little confusing because we have 2 job boards — one for CfA, and one for jobs in gov't (that one is https://jobs.codeforamerica.org/ )

We already have some State of CA jobs on there, but I'll pass along this link to the folks who run the gov't job board!

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[–] scelerat link

I agree with this comment. A friend of mine is a programmer taking a year off of work to volunteer for a refugee aid organization to analyze and improve their databases. It's important work, not necessarily sexy, but helps these organizations do their work. In the end he's likely to emerge a better programmer along with a body of domain knowledge.

It helps to actually be passionate about the field.

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[–] vijayr link

can you share the organization name?

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[–] simplicitea link

Thank you for the Code for America recommendation, checking them out now

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[–] germinalphrase link

Jennifer Pahlka, the founder of Code for America, has been making the rounds lately.

Good conversations on both the Econtalk podcast [0] (which I know is an HN favorite) and the Long Now Foundation [1].

Procurement sounds absolutely awful at the federal level; she makes a compelling case for how needed modern software design and development processes are in providing effective and cost efficient government services.

[0]http://www.econtalk.org/archives/2017/05/jennifer_pahlka.htm... [1]http://longnow.org/seminars/02017/feb/01/fixing-government-b...

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[–] oddlyaromatic link

Through the Code For Atlanta group I was able start a project with MARTA to make some things better about paratransit customers' access to up to date ETA info for their rides, which is currently a pain point for many customers. The code for America idea is awesome and stuff really does happen!

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[–] astrange link

MARTA seems like they could use some hardware donations - for years the "next train" screens were broken and the announcement speakers on the station platforms were totally unintelligible. Maybe a better use of time would be starting a guerrilla group that fixes their stuff without asking?

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[–] ajdecon link

Honestly, I think the most effective thing to do is find an organization doing social good, who is hiring programmers, and go work for them. There are plenty of non-profits and governments that do a ton of good, and employ developers to work on their web sites and infrastructures. A good friend of mine is a developer for the ACLU, for example.

There are also organizations like Code for America that do open source work with local governments. Since those projects are open source, you could probably volunteer your time and contribute to those. Or simply volunteer in a non-developer capacity! :)

Doing actual social good -- helping people in ways that will actually solve their problems, understanding the consequences of changing their lives -- requires a ton of context and communication. I think it's very, very difficult to do so without either dedicating most of your time to that cause, or working closely with an organization that is already doing so. (E.g., volunteering for a food bank is a lot more effective than just picking up food and distributing it on your own.)

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[–] pc86 link

Is "Facebook without advertisements" really the bar for social good now?

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[–] TeMPOraL link

In some way it is. One can't deny that social networking has pretty huge positive impact on communication and creative output. It would be better if it didn't come with surveillance capitalism in the same package.

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[–] simplicitea link

Why not? If we're being realistic and ideal simultaneously, one recognizes the immense social impact and shift driven by Facebook, as a social media platform as well as a lexus of modern web programming, at the same time as one recognizes that the user is the product to be sold and could imagine the potential negatives of that paradigm. So why not?

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[–] 3131s link

If an ad-free, privacy-friendly social network actually managed to replace Facebook, that would be an enormous social good.

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[–] ljw1001 link

My idea was that Google+ should have run ads from the beginning, but donated all profits to some large but approachable goal like eliminating polio. This could have undermined Facebook's drive to create an alternative advertising ecosystem, while giving G+ some hook to encourage people to switch.

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[–] incompatible link

It would be an improvement, but probably not enough to convince many people to switch to it. The network effect gives Facebook too much of an advantage.

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[–] kolbe link

yes. the world would be a much much better place had a non-corporate version of facebook had become facebook.

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[–] simplicitea link

I'm not convinced yet that a non-profit is capable of doing what Facebook does. I'd love to read about it if you have any lit on the topic.

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[–] kolbe link

I doubt anyone has ever written anything on the topic. Keep in mind that non-profit is not the same thing as non-revenue. Also, replicating facebook isn't necessarily what I'm talking about, but instead seeing whatever sorts of applications would be developed in the presence of altered incentives.

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[–] falcolas link

Warning - strong opinions ahead: Provide services and tools without the strings attached.

That is to say, provide email services that don't mine data for profit. Provide a social interaction space that doesn't attempt to manipulate moods, opinions, or sell its user's eyeballs. Provide an aggregation service with strong filtering tools in place of strong moderation. Provide a code repository with great tooling that doesn't include value judgements. Provide anonymous, secure communication between parties. Make mobile applications that provide wanted services without the in-app purchases, ads, or profiling.

The downside is that you're unlikely to get paid for it. You'll probably even lose money on it. In some cases, you'll even face legal pressure to stop or change.

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[–] nyargh link

People are going to shit on the parent comment - but honestly, anyone with more than a few years of experience in a tight tech job market is going to easily be in the top decile of earners. The highly-committed individuals that do the brutally hard work on the ground for non-profits or NGOs make a pittance in comparison. Committing a quarter of your salary would pay the entirety of theirs. Consider that for a moment.

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[–] anigbrowl link

That's great but you have to consider the social cost of the day job, which the parent comment assumes to be neutral even though in practice this may not be the case. I think the OP's real question is how to pick ethically efficient employment, not how to make money in order to be more charitable.

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[–] simplicitea link

I guess I have the advantage of starting out with close to a decade of low wages doing something that I enjoy ;)... I'm definitely attracted to billboard tech wages -- but I really could get by pretty comfortably with half were I building something I had faith in.

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[–] nyargh link

The premise that NGOs need tech more than they need money is shaky at best.

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[–] simplicitea link

I wouldn't know but I'd venture that makes sense... Thanks for the perspective.

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[–] nyargh link

My $.02 - good for you for asking the questions. Don't stop there :)

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[–] undefined link
[deleted]

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[–] vivekd link

I'm suspicious of the notion that throwing money at problems can solve them.

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[–] TeMPOraL link

To quote 'Eliezer, this is how adults solve problems. Professional specialization has huge leverage. If you can find a way to use your professional skills to help society, go ahead and do it. If you can't, it's more effective use of your time to leverage your professional skills into money, and then use that money to fund professionals helping society directly.

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[–] nyargh link

You throw money at people who have the domain knowledge and are actively solving the problems.

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[–] jonnybgood link

This is where due diligence comes in. You throw money at people and orgs who are good at solving those problems.

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[–] Houshalter link

But it's pretty hard to solve a problem without money. There are a lot of people out there already trying to solve problems. But not enough giving them the money they need to do so.

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[–] westbywest link

Agreed. Money can't buy everything, including experience and awareness gleaned from personally facing the problems such NGOs target. The knowledge accrued could demonstrate value later.

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[–] TeMPOraL link

True, but you need to consider what you care about more - to have the problem solved, or to solve it yourself? Or to put it differently - do you care about increasing utility, or your own fuzzy feelings?

Either of those goals are good, but they're better done separately. See also: http://lesswrong.com/lw/6z/purchase_fuzzies_and_utilons_sepa....

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[–] simplicitea link

I'll admit that I didn't read the link that you shared. However, I'd like to assert that I feel fuzzies yield utilons to the individual in a similar manner as utilons yield fuzzies, each requiring refinement in their acquisition to be optimal. I think it's a more-grey area than your comment or the title of the article you linked implies (having not read said article).

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[–] TeMPOraL link

Please read it, it's not long. In the article, utilons refer to the utility your help brings, and fuzzies to the feelings they generate in you (which indeed you can see as utility for you, but you could also count it separately).

The point of the article is that if you optimize for utilons, fuzzies and status points separately - e.g. by doing one thing for maximum utility, and then another for maximum fuzzies - you'll be more efficient in all of them than if you try to find one thing that maximizes all three at the same time.

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[–] popeshoe link

If you're on HN you're probably also conscious of your philanthropy being used for the maximal good, in which case you may be interested in projects like https://www.effectivealtruism.org/

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[–] siquick link

Thanks for posting

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[–] lazerwalker link

I went through a similar period of soul-searching as the OP (or so I would imagine) back in November, and this is the conclusion I ultimately came to.

Even if you're willing to take e.g. a 50% paycut to write code at a nonprofit, you're likely doing more good taking the obscenely high-paying industry job and donating that half of your salary, as unsexy as that is.

Which isn't to say there aren't meaningful social problems that technology can solve, but rather that the cost/reward curve is often suboptimal if you're optimizing for impact.

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[–] asciimo link

50% is a conservative estimate. If you are a software engineer in the SF Bay Area you can expect a 75% pay cut or more.

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[–] nowarninglabel link

Hmm, depends on the non-profit, but in tech-forward non-profits we are often only about 20% below market for most positions: https://www.ctosforgood.org/

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[–] bjelkeman-again link

Is CTOs for good US only?

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[–] nowarninglabel link

Not by design, but by circumstance yes. I'm sure we'd be open to folks joining from other nations though as long as they could travel to our once-a-year in-person meetup.

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[–] undefined link
[deleted]

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[–] simplicitea link

And yet, there must be a supply of hackers to which you donate that money.

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[–] bluetwo link

This is exactly the advice a sociology professor in college gave to the sociology majors.

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[–] tacostakohashi link

A sociology professor advised sociology majors to work as programmers?

That's much better advice than I'd expect from a sociology professor, if I'm to be honest.

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[–] bluetwo link

Yes. Any high paid job actually. Point being don't do this solely because you "want to make a difference".... making a lot of money at a different job and giving to causes you care about is a legitimate way to make a difference.

I always thought that was interesting.

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[–] bjelkeman-again link

One can do that. But I'd like to believe that I make a bigger impact in actually applying my skills directly to the problem.

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[–] vlaaad link

...Unless it's advetising. Or Uber. Or government wanting you to implement yet another freedom-restricting bullshit.

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[–] patja link

I believe that over time your environment shapes you. I agree that you should devote your working hours to something more than shareholder value or increased clickthrough rates. Sure you can pull down the big bucks working on the next version of biological warfare weaponry and make large donations to Red Cross or whatever, but not without a personal toll.

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[–] davidcbc link

Or do work for those places if you don't find them morally questionable.

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[–] TeMPOraL link

A better rule is: just don't take a job in which your negative impact on the society will be greater than the positive impact of the money you donate.

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[–] romanovcode link

> Or Uber.

There are plenty of companies 10x worse than Uber. Hivemind.

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[–] falcolas link

That there are worse companies than Uber doesn't make Uber good, or even worth working for.

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[–] romanovcode link

But pointing it out makes OP look like he just read some clickbait titles two weeks ago and is now some cringey Anti Uber SJW.

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[–] falcolas link

I think it makes the point that there are some cases where the cost of negatively impacting society is not worth the benefit of making more money to give to charity.

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[–] beachbum8029 link

Ummmmmm but Uber made the world a better place? (for me anyway)

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[–] falcolas link

Did it make your world a better place, or just add a bit of convenience whose cost was distributed to people you don't know?

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[–] paulgb link

Well, the benefits are also distributed to people I don't know, so this type of accounting is tough.

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[–] Kiro link

Disrupting the taxi mafia has definitely made the world a better place.

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[–] falcolas link

Did the "taxi mafia" encourage a class of laborers who sleep in their cars for less than a minimum wage while depriving them of any kind of protections normally associated with employment?

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[–] Epenthesis link

...yes?

Are you really unfamiliar with how medallion owners used to treat their drivers?

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[–] falcolas link

Perhaps I have rose colored glasses, but the "sleeping in the car" problem seems new. But I could very well be wrong.

That said, how are we really in a better place? Same problem, different master.

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[–] pc86 link

There is an early NYT article (early in the context of Uber's lifespan) detailing a day when a cab driver in NYC ended up paying his employer a few hundred dollars for the privilege of working that day. This was after all his fares for the shift.

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[–] falcolas link

> But what if drivers don’t make enough to cover their rental charges? The company has clearly considered this possibility, as it’s included in a program FAQ. “No problem,” Uber says. “When you pick up your vehicle, Enterprise will take your valid credit or debit card to place on file. In the event of a difference, Enterprise will automatically charge the outstanding balance to the card on file.” See? No problem.

https://qz.com/563622/ubers-new-car-rental-program-for-drive...

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[–] TheOneTrueKyle link

Wished Uber was around when I was sleeping in my car.

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[–] vlaaad link

Sorry, I said Uber a bit provocative. I meant companies doing unethical things and asking you to do unethical things.

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[–] TeMPOraL link

Which Uber is definitely a good example of, but I agree it was a bit provocative :).

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[–] streblo link

I work in advertising and I don't think it's immoral or unethical.

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[–] andreasgonewild link

Advertising is about creating artificial problems and needs, making the world a shittier place for profit. Maybe pulling your head out of your ass would help?

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[–] tacostakohashi link

Work as a programmer for whoever will pay you the most. Invest, and donate money to causes you care about.

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[–] mkohlmyr link

Party neutral?

They list MoveOn as a key partner: https://github.com/ProgressiveCoders/functions/issues/196

This document clearly states the organisation is founded by Berine Sanders supporters: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1P8iL3kTWO0Y9aYe8lndcUWTJ...

And they built something called the "Resistance Calendar", containing events like: https://tockify.com/resistance.calendar/detail/384/149523120...

I mean for the most part it seems to be stuff I would support (personally), but to call it party neutral is at best true by way of technicality.

I doubt you find many Republican events on that calendar. Of course, I wouldn't expect to given the name of the group, but let's not play games and pretend it isn't partisan?

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[–] dismantlethesun link

The non-profit is neutral because it will create applications for all party/political affiliation causes.

So it'll make an application that supports primarily republican causes too.

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[–] debacle link

"Progressive" tends to mean "liberal."

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[–] undefined link
[deleted]

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[–] lesingerouge link

And if you're not American?

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[–] archgoon link

Then liccbb's suggestion doesn't apply to you. Look through the other comments and see what you can find. Or you can consider looking at the organization that liccbb is talking about, and see if there exists something similar in your own country, or start your own movement.

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[–] llccbb link

I have posted this before, countless times, but techies who want to volunteer their skills and knowledge to advance the democratic process should think about joining the PROGRESSIVE CODERS NETWORK[0]. They are a non-profit that helps organize and direct volunteer coders, programmers, designers into open-source political projects. They are about connecting and facilitating projects, not dictating what projects should be. They are party-neutral, but seek to empower the people and provide tools for running successful campaigns and being engaged as a citizen.

If you can take away the need for millions of dollars to run a campaign then policy makers aren't beholden to the few wealthy supporters that helped get them elected.

They help connect volunteers to projects that range from building an open-source voter database to an Uber-like app that helps the mobility-limited get transportation to vote. They are extremely transparent and always interested in growing the network. Many members of the network are engineers, product managers, or independent coders.

[0]http://progcode.co

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[–] darwhy link

Definitely seconded. They also have an excellent pamphlet with the evidence-based advice on how to be successful at whatever job you have, including advice both general to life and specific to work: https://80000hours.org/career-guide/how-to-be-successful/

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[–] simplicitea link

I'm skeptical of the premise (sounds self-helpy) but I'm gonna check it out. Thanks for the recommendation and I'm completely open to being wrong!

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[–] simplicitea link

I'm skeptical of the premise (sounds self-helpy) but I'm gonna check it out. Thanks for the recommendation and I'm completely open to being wrong!

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[–] chrisfosterelli link

Check out 80,000 hours: https://80000hours.org/

They have a bunch of interesting research, online articles, guides, and a book. The entire website is focused around how to make a difference with your career in a way that aligns with your own goals. It's a great resource.

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[–] tomglynch link

I'd like to get involved in this kind of thing in Melbourne, Aus. I'm already a campaigner, but hadn't thought of contributing in a technological sense! I think I'll get in contact with the others I know and offer to help out!

Cheers for the insight!

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[–] awjr link

I'd look at the 2016 http://www.abs.gov.au/census data set and see if you can start playing around with some of the data sets within there.

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[–] awjr link

As a cycle campaigner I am using my programming/data/design/socialmedia skills to present information to decision in better ways.

1) https://cyclebath.org.uk/map/ This one has gone national and is up for a Creative Bath Innovation Award.

2) Using Census 2011 Data I've created a healthy cities and towns league index as well as spatial analysis on commuter behaviour. (6M people drive to work, of which 3.5M live within a 20 minute cycle ride) https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B4YARJgso6IxRjd1ZlNDZklGaX...

3) Worked with Bath Hacked and Strava to deliver a year of cycling in the city of Bath strava.bathhacked.org

4) Get involved in your local tech4good meetup.

Do not start from a "hey where can I use my skills for good?". Start with "I am passionate about X, what can I do to help X in anyway?"

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[–] Jemmeh link

https://github.com/HospitalRun

Open source, modern software for charitable hospitals in the developing world.

Find some open source projects for some issue you care about. The medical community could use a lot of help, anything that automates some part of their job means medical staff is available to help more patients. There's a lot of room for automation in this field.

Personally I think anything in renewable energy, sexual education, and poverty alleviation are good highly effective causes to get behind as well.

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[–] bradyo link

This is the dream. OpenStreetMap is another great example of such an idea. To take it a step further, I'd encourage setting the non-profit up as a worker's cooperative. Just imagine all of the big companies out there organized as open-source, co-operative non-profits. We could kill a lot of redundant work, retain people's privacy, and really empower the employees of these companies to ensure the company works on things they believe in.

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[–] devrandomguy link

Tools for automating the mundane tasks of running a co-op, sounds like a great idea for a project. Something along the lines of the GNU tool suite.

How does one build and maintain a co-op? Could anyone recommend a book on the subject, that covers a variety of nations or regions?

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[–] bradyo link

I'm not sure about resources for starting a co-op outside the US, but here are some resources I've found on how to start a co-op. Web searching will find more.

- https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14135068

- https://electricembers.coop/pubs/TechCoopHOWTO.pdf

- https://www.coops.tech/

- Tech co-ops mailing list: https://npogroups.org/lists/info/tech-coop

I talked briefly with this co-op whose set up in Europe and seems to have members from all over, so they might provide good insight: https://camplight.net/

Also, talking to nonprofit founders, I've heard that starting a non-profit yourself can be pain in the ass. However, you can essentially outsource the management of the nonprofit to another nonprofit via 'fiscal sponsorship.' Web searching for that will bring up more details. For example, http://grayarea.org/incubator/fiscal-sponsorship/. I met the founder of this organization that started providing fiscal sponsorship recently as well: http://blog.hacker.fund/fs/

And finally, there are actually some co-ops that are trying to make this process easier. For example, this co-op alternative to kickstarter: https://snowdrift.coop/ and this co-op that makes software for making decisions within co-ops easier: https://www.loomio.org/

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[–] simplicitea link

If you're located somewhere near Seattle, I would recommend going in to Central Co-Op and trying to talk to them about their story and business needs.

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[–] Mz link

There is absolutely nothing inherently morally superior in making it a not-for-profit. Lots of not-for-profits have serious problems. I wish making life better were as simple as "well, just make your business X format and you are suddenly on the moral high ground!"

You should not make your business idea a not-for-profit out of the idea that this is somehow inherently morally superior. That is a bad reason to do so. Some types of work or goals are better served by a specific model. Some things are best served by having it done as a public good by the government, such as police and fire. Some things are well served by the not-for-profit model. Some things are well served by a for-profit model. Some things are well served by a co-op model. None of those is inherently morally better for all goals all the time.

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[–] kolbe link

Insomuch as I never proved using a not-for-profit is best for many of the use cases that we are currently using the business model for, you also didn't in any way demonstrate that we are doing it correctly. I think Wikipedia alone offers great evidence that we are underutilizing the nonprofit model. What evidence to you see for companies remaining moral in the face of shareholder pressure for profits?

These structures are not inherently moral as you said, but they do offer distinct incentive structures for their owners and employees. And there are plenty of ideas today that get called business ideas that could easily be better crafted outside of a corporation.

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[–] Mz link

Corporation and business are not synonymous. You can own and run a business that is not incorporated, thus there are no shareholders. In fact, most businesses are not incorporated.

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[–] kolbe link

My opinion: take whatever idea you have for a great company, but make it a non-profit.

Other than maybe e-mail, wikipedia is the best thing to come out of the internet. And its creator may not be a billionaire oligarch, but he has a GREAT life. If you can set aside a need to be filthy, needlessly, pointlessly rich, then maybe turn your next idea for a social network or a communication platform or whatever into a non-profit. It's amazing what types of products can be built for this world when you're building for the world, and not the shareholders.

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[–] simplicitea link

Since you mention a YC-like fund for activism projects, and at the risk of breaking a rule i may not be aware of (let me know) I'm gonna quote myself and hope you are interested or know people who may be interested

" OP here, actually floored by the rapidity and variety of responses. Thanks HN.

I'll take this opportunity to float an idea that's been kicking around in my head for a long time. The premise is to:

1) (this is almost certainly the easy part) build out a platform that is like a two-way khan academy - teacher and student, with at least the teacher having a tablet and a stylus that function well, sharing a digital blackboard, with a video chat optional -- where a student of something in a relatively privileged situation teaches a student of the same thing in a relatively less privileged situation -- where the sessions are stored and rewindable, both video and blackboard input.

2) the hard part; selling it as something to invest in and driving it to a point of having an endowment behind it, like Harvard's endowment, that allows the service to pay for moderation of student-teachers something like $12.00 USD an hour to teach, while subsidizing well-chosen students to have to pay something like $2 an hour to learn

it's been an idea for a passion project for a while "

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[–] jaronherad link

Do you have books or examples (or books detailing examples) that you can recommend w.r.t. this comment? "most social change gets done by small groups of people, and many of those people aren't technical. And usually it leverages certain moments when people happen to be paying attention, and makes the most of those."

Thanks!

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[–] holmesworcester link

I work at fightforthefuture.org and I've thought a lot about this.

My first answer is to develop your skills to the point where you are strong on design and UI/UX, not just coding.

I say this because we've worked with some people who have this ability, and they're extremely effective as activists once they focus on a mission.

Aaron Swartz is one person who had this ability, but you don't have to be a genius polymath to be good at this, and Aaron wasn't amazing at visuals and design either. (He was good enough at it though, which was what mattered.)

Ideally, you should be able to speak persuasively online, using text, code and design creatively to get your message across. But as a minimum you should be able to build a prototype from your own vision, get the UI/UX to a point where you're happy with it by iterating, and QA it yourself.

There are a few reasons for this, but the main one is that most social change gets done by small groups of people, and many of those people aren't technical. And usually it leverages certain moments when people happen to be paying attention, and makes the most of those. So you won't have a big team, and being able to do most things yourself lets you respond quicker.

If you have that, I'd try your hand at working on some issues that interest you, either directly, or showing up at an org you admire and seeing if you can help.

We're setting up a space for volunteers, and also a YC-like fund for new activism projects that emphasizes the need for technical founders: http://fightforthefuture.org/ateams/

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[–] ISL link

B Corps don't always stay B Corps when they get all grown up: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2017-05-18/the-barba...

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[–] hooverlunch link

Worker co-ops usually have provisions in their bylaws to ensure they stay co-oops. This is to guard against the issue you allude to here.

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[–] sz4kerto link

Exactly. :)

Shameless plug: we at https://www.patientsknowbest.com/careers.html are also hiring and are a B Corp -- our mission is to give patients control over their own medical data.

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[–] numlocked link

Work with mission-driven businesses. B Corps[0] are a good place to start. There's nothing quite like coming to work every day with a group of like-minded folks who want to make a dent in the universe.

My company, www.grove.co, strives to help families making it easy to buy sustainable products vs. conventional CPG. It seemed a bit crazy when we started, but now literally thousands of families get sustainable products from us every single day. It's hard to make a big impact on your own, but organizations and companies can do great things.

[0] https://www.bcorporation.net/

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[–] delormev link

Volunteer for DataKind (http://www.datakind.org/), a charity that connects "data professionals" (in the broad sense of the term) to charities who have problems to solve and the data to solve them, but not the resources to do it!

They organise different types of projects: DataDives, which are hackathon-type events and focus on data exploration and analysis; and DataCorps, longer term projects (a few months), where a team of volunteers will team up on a more project for the client charity.

They are looking for volunteers for a wide range of roles, including data scientists, programmers with experience with ML, dataviz experts, project managers, etc.

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[–] sheraz link

Yes, evil capitalism.

You know, don't want to think you actually think that. Perhaps you meant, "fight the negative outcomes sometimes found in capitalist societies."

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[–] arglebarnacle link

Honestly the idea that capitalism itself systematically causes inequality is not a crazy thing to believe. You obviously don't agree and that's fine, but it's not the case that every smart person believes the "negative outcomes found in capitalist societies" can be resolved without a fundamental change in the underlying system.

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[–] thomastjeffery link

My thought process:

Inequality causes capitalism. Liberty allows inequality. Those "negative outcomes" come from inequality, not capitalism. Fighting capitalism is a workaround. It's an appealing workaround because the "underlying system" is centralized, and inequality is not.

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[–] sheraz link

Can you expand on how capitalism is an outcome of inequality?

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[–] thomastjeffery link

I just reread my post, and noticed that I wrote the first sentence completely wrong. It's too late to edit, so here is what I meant to say:

Inequality does not come from capitalism. Liberty allows inequality. Those "negative outcomes" come from inequality, not capitalism. Fighting capitalism (socialism) is a workaround. It's an appealing workaround because the "underlying system" is centralized, and inequality is not.

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[–] thomastjeffery link

It is not.

The negative effects of inequality are free to do harm in a society with capitalism. That does not make capitalism the cause of those effects, it simply means that capitalism does nothing to prevent them.

Socialism does (claims to) do some things to fight inequality, but that does not mean I must prefer it to capitalism.

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[–] Mz link

Lots of people completely take the material blessings of capitalism for granted and totally believe capitalism is evil. It rarely dawns on them that their high quality of life and the luxury to fret about things like social good (instead of survival) is a direct result of so called capitalism.

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[–] TeMPOraL link

Yes. But this is about as stupid an attitude as believing capitalism is a pure God-sent miracle and everything it does is only wonderful. The market economy brought us the age of unparalleled prosperity worldwide, but it also has serious problems worth addressing. One can talk about the drawbacks while at the same time being grateful for the positives.

(Personally, I believe market economy has been much more beneficial to society in the past than it is now - simply because it's running out of "low hanging fruits", and the disconnect between its implicit values and what humans would generally like to see is growing.)

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[–] Mz link

I'm sorry, but I said nothing about it being pure God-sent miracle. I find that to be a wild misinterpretation of my point.

Generally speaking, you need a certain level of material security to worry about more abstract things like social good -- or even sexual pleasure. Lots of stuff I have read indicates that people in wealthy countries have a great deal more sex and talk and think about it a great deal more than those struggling to get something to eat. It is something of a luxury good. Ironically, the complaints about being a member of the lonely hearts club is generally an indication that you already have some baseline amount of your needs met well enough to bother to notice what you lack in that regard. People who are poor or oppressed enough typically spend all their time worrying about resolving whatever their largest problems are and spend much less time thinking about things like love, sex or romance.

Maslow's pyramid and all that.

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[–] TeMPOraL link

I didn't mean to put things in your mouth. I read your comment as complaining about an extreme anti-capitalism position; I wanted only to complement that with an example of extreme pro-capitalism position that I also frequently notice here.

You're 100% right about the hierarchy of needs (and about my baseline need satisfaction too; I can bitch about the state of the world exactly because I have somewhat stable income, health, safety and social sphere). I'm not disputing that. But since there are people who have those needs satisfied and are free to worry about more abstract things, is it wrong for them to ask how can they contribute so that more people reach that level of Maslow's pyramid (or, alternatively, so that the whole world won't go deeper into shit than it already is)?

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[–] Mz link

Rebutting the idea that capitalism is pure evil has nothing at all to do with suggesting that people should not be seeking to make the world a better place.

So, perhaps we should just let this be as we seem to be talking at cross purposes.

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[–] TeMPOraL link

Fair enough.

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[–] lotyrin link

I don't think it's unreasonable to be consequentialist about it and short-cut that, especially if done tongue-in-cheek.

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[–] ljw1001 link

a co-op is a business venture, and so is a form of capitalist organization. But I think your point is that some forms of capitalism are more aligned with societal good than others, and that we can make different choices.

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[–] hooverlunch link

Join or start a tech worker co-op!

First, one of the best ways to do social good is to fight capitalism. Just by working at a worker co-op, you're doing this. Many tech co-ops are also built around resisting other oppressions like racism, patriarchy, etc.

Second, many co-ops (e.g. http://sassafras.coop, the one I work for) work on lots of social good projects.

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[–] cosinetau link

This is an understated answer. It's not enough to be a strong engineer, solving problems well often means having a lot of context from several backgrounds and experiences.

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[–] swalberg link

Leave your programming at work. Find a cause you believe in or a political candidate you think will do good, and volunteer for that. Knock on doors. Call people. Do research. Organize events and people. Donate money. Change other people's minds.

A lot of these social good things need people to get involved, not software to be written.

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[–] nyargh link

This. We have had a horrible track record with tech volunteers, in part because our mission is not tech-centric, so they don't get any glory. It doesn't mean there isn't anything for them to do - it's just that the story isn't about technology ... or them.

There is a mountain of boring, yet critically important work waiting for people to just roll up their sleeves and pitch in.

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[–] Fomite link

Yeah, the last hackathon-type thing I was at, we had a few projects that desperately needed a little bit of TLC from someone with solid programming chops to help push them forward.

Instead, we ended up with half a dozen prototypes of new projects solving problems no one had.

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[–] nyargh link

Yep - that's been our experience with hackathons as well :(

"Oh goody, a bunch of half-finished abandonware ..."

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[–] Senderman link

I'm pretty sure the original post is asking what's in that alleged mountain.

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[–] nyargh link

Go ask the people doing the work - not the folks looking to enrich themselves by "disrupting" (read: injecting software into) every industry imaginable.

I mean this is Y-Combinator after all, not exactly a hub of philanthropy.

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[–] Mz link

Long experience suggests they probably are not.

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[–] TeMPOraL link

Why? I have exactly the same question on my mind as OP, and I'm definitely not thinking about yet another bullshit mobile app that'll save the world.

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[–] Mz link

Because long experience tells me that it is inherently hard to see and measure the disasters you prevented. This makes it incredibly hard to feel like you are accomplishing anything and harder still to convince other people you are actually adding value.

Y2K was supposed to be a global meltdown. There were people who prepped for that like a coming apocalypse. It was prevented and many people remember it as "Ha! Can you believe those fools ever believed we were in real danger?!"

No one gets up today and goes "Oh, thank god they fixed that and I am not living in the Y2K post apocalypse! My ATM still works and life goes on!"

I was molested for 2.5 years as a child in part because my mother stopped being a homemaker and began doing paid work outside the house. The direct cause and effect connection is extremely clear to me not only due to first hand experience but because of extensive reading on the topic. This is part of why I was a full time homemaker until my sons were 19 and 16. No one ever molested them. There was damn little opportunity for anyone to get them alone. I made sure of it.

I get straight up told I just got lucky and do not actually know shit all about preventing bad things from happening. When I try to share such information to help other people I basically get told "Shit happens. You can't stop it. Quit blaming the victims."

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[–] nyargh link

Sorry to hear about your experience, but you make a very salient point and I also agree that you made an enlightened (if hard earned) decision regarding the best thing you could do for your children.

In my experience there are thousands of people doing the hard work day in and day out, quietly holding the line. It's a constant effort and constant tension, but for those who won't settle for anything less than revolution - that sort of work, no matter how vital, just isn't compelling enough. I personally find the prevalence of this kind of attitude very disturbing, although I suppose it is just human nature in the end - perhaps with a bit of celebrity/hero worship thrown in.

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[–] Mz link

I try to assume they just don't see it because it is hard to see.

I also have a serious medical condition and have gotten off all drugs. I am routinely told I am crazy, making that up, it is a tall tale, my success is because my condition is mild, it is wild coincidence...etc etc...and I cannot possibly actually know anything useful. People who don't think I am straight up crazy and have acted on my suggestions have said things to me like "I fed my child like you suggested and they are in the ER less, but they aren't taking fewer drugs." What they mean is the child still needs the same maintenance drugs. They completely miss the fact that fewer ER visits means fewer antibiotics and other drugs, thus fewer ER visits means their child is taking fewer drugs.

Even people who have it clear in their mind that A prevented B have difficulty measuring the things that have not happened. They still mentally minimize the value of the accomplishment. It takes real and significant effort to try to quantify in a meaningful way that "We prevented X amount of catastrophe with our work." It is much easier to see lives saved by an ambulance than lives saved by the local gym or the local organic grocer.

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[–] TeMPOraL link

> It takes real and significant effort to try to quantify in a meaningful way that "We prevented X amount of catastrophe with our work." It is much easier to see lives saved by an ambulance than lives saved by the local gym or the local organic grocer.

Maybe something could be done to help / teach people to better quantify it (caveats about Goodhart's law notwithstanding)?

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[–] Mz link

I have a zillion little blogs about various things that interest me (but, wait, there's more! I also leave comments like the ones above in various online forums!). Maybe over the course of the next 30 years, my writing shall become popular and this issue will substantially change.

:-)

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[–] TeMPOraL link

Well, maybe you could aggregate some of those comments like 'edw519 did :). His "best of"[0] is actually a pretty solid reading about programming and entrepreneurship.

[0] - https://v25media.s3.amazonaws.com/edw519_mod.html

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[–] TeMPOraL link

I'm very sorry about your experiences, and at the same time thank you for sharing them.

Here and elsewhere in the thread you make really good points about prevention and about non-obvious benefits of mundane things. That said, within the context of the topic, I can read your remarks in two ways:

1/ Helping society is much less obvious than it looks at first, so just drop the whole techie do-gooder savior attitude and get back to your job.

2/ Helping society is much less obvious than it looks at first, so please think about this space hard, and make sure to look at the unsexy, non-obvious places.

I'm not really sure which of the two you mean more, but I'll choose to read it as 2/.

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[–] Mz link

Or, 3, it can be read to mean exactly what I said in my first remark:

I think the best social good comes from fostering a more civilized environment.

There are myriad ways to foster a more civilized environment. Pick whichever one fascinates you and go with that. Some people find snails endlessly fascinating. Others find computer security endlessly fascinating. Both interests have potential to be used to further the greater good.

Just because it is boring to you or me doesn't mean it will bore everyone. Sometimes it helps to have a larger perspective, like the story about the two brick layers. When asked what they are doing, one says "Building a wall." and the other says "Building a cathedral!" Both answers are equally valid, but I bet the second guy is a lot more jazzed to go to work in the morning.

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[–] nyargh link

NGOs are not simply biding their time waiting for the next Tech Messiah to come along and save the world. Their tech problems are terribly boring and mundane.

We deal with this all the time. Well meaning techie comes along with a bunch of ideas, none of which are particularly compelling and all require a ton of work (on both sides). When we don't immediately do backflips, they disappear. Rinse, repeat.

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[–] TeMPOraL link

It's good that you mention this and it's an important datapoint for OP's question. That said, I don't think OP gave any indication anywhere to dismiss them as fly-by-night techie seeking social status. There are people (myself included) honestly asking how they could maximize their positive impact on this world, especially using the skills they already have.

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[–] nyargh link

Yes yes, #notalltechies - but as stated above, best thing you can do is to take your wildly disproportionate capacity for earning, do the due diligence and find a group worth sponsoring.

edit:

Let me explain why donations like these are particularly valuable for orgs that survive on donations. Every bit of grant money comes with a huge amount of donor service attached to it, from the initial grant writing, to metric collection, to reporting and presentation - then the hassle of having to do it all again next year and hoping you still have the donor's attention. Of course all of these things take away from your core mission, and sooner or later you are wasting huge amounts of time doing fundraising and donor service.

If you find under resourced people doing effective work for a cause you believe in, a no strings attached gift at the right time can be a huge relief.

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[–] TeMPOraL link

As someone currently running a nonprofit (a Hackerspace), I can sign under what you wrote. Grant money is utterly annoying to secure and requires spending huge amounts of time that would be better spent on actually doing the things the organization exists for.

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[–] Mz link

I think the best social good comes from fostering a more civilized environment. Sure, we need things like fire fighters and EMS. But keep in mind that fire fighters also try to do fire prevention. Sometimes, people get so focused on how to be a hero (metaphorically looking for the best way to fight the worst conflagrations) that they overlook opportunities to do more valuable though less "sexy" prevention.

Anything that helps feed people well or better, promotes germ control, reduces social friction in some way, helps marginalized peoples earn a living or helps people of limited means access basic decent housing promotes the social good. But those things are often not the heroics people have in mind when asking this type question.

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[–] santiagobasulto link

We do that everyday. Maybe indirectly, but we're making a lot of things way more efficient. Information is a huge part of our nature, since the first days, and we're the main collaborators to simplify the access to information.

Said that, you can also think "smaller". Teach someone how to code, and it might be a complete life changer. I run a coding school and we offer free sits for people who need it, and we're greatly satisfied. We've seen students working for McDonald's, for 10 hours per day making just minimum wage, move to a software company with a $+90K salary and changing their lives completely.

Share what you know, try to fix the problems that humanity faces. Don't try to do everything just by yourself. But your "tiny" collaboration ads up.

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[–] andkon link

Honestly, most of the skills I've learned in building products for people can be used to make tech that has a social purpose. First, you find a problem. Then you find people who can honestly tell you if your solution will actually work. Then, you do the hard work of building what you're gonna build, and seeing if it can fit at the locus of how things are actually done.

That sounds vague, so an example might be nice. I travelled to Oaxaca recently and toured around a bunch of palenques (mezcal distilleries) to see how folks did their work. It sounded like there's an enormous problem with overcultivation of maguey — a plant that needs 30-some years to mature in some cases. I thought maybe an app that could identify + track maguey would help. I talked about it with folks, and realized that the problem isn't that they don't know where the plants are, or that they don't know how long they should grow for. It's that there's too much demand for what the ecology can bear, and a lot of it gets carted off to Jalisco to fill tequila bottles before it's mature.

In that light, an app for identifying + tracking maguey isn't really gonna help. But now I have the contacts, they know I want to help, and we can keep talking about what they're working on. Maybe it'll line up. But it's uncertain. And frankly, that's how this stuff works — whether you're building something in the hopes of getting into YC, or building something to help out humankind. Just because you can earn a paycheque writing code doesn't mean you can identify and fill a new need with that same skillset.

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[–] jjhale link

For an in depth talk about the affect of directing your salary to charity check out the following Tech Talk by Toby Ord: "How Many Lives Can You Save? -- Taking Charity Seriously"

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iGCVRA7T7FE

They talk about using the metric of "how many lives can be saved" with your cash.

ABSTRACT

People admire doctors and rescue workers and marvel at the possibility of saving someone's life -- something that few of us would ever achieve. And yet at the same time, we routinely hear that for a small sum of money we could save someone's life in a developing country and this scarcely impacts our behaviour. There is an important disconnect between these two attitudes and it has serious moral implications. I will speak about the evidence which shows that we really can make a tremendous difference by giving, and then explore the moral case for giving much more than we typically do. I will then look at the great disparity in effectiveness between different charities and show how choosing where to give can be even more important than the decision to give in the first place.

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[–] timpark link

UN Volunteers ( http://www.unv.org/ ) has a Technology development section. ( https://www.onlinevolunteering.org/en/opportunities?f[]=fiel... ) A lot of it is web work, but there's sometimes app development.

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[–] stult link

I don't know where you're located, but in the US, the HMIS was intended to serve this purpose. It hasn't for a variety of reasons, but especially because it isn't easy to use so only trained intake specialists use it. Beyond just poor design, the legal requirements for privacy and non-discrimination make intake and data tracking a fraught activity. Also homeless people will frequently avoid giving accurate biographical information to avoid denial of services. So those are two major obstacles you will face.

Tracking homeless individuals is an incredibly challenging task, even without considering the tech. For example, my girlfriend works in macro-level social work primarily focusing on the homeless population. (She and I are data geeks so we talk about this a lot). She currently works at a shelter where they are trying to identify the homeless citizens who cost hospitals and medicaid the most money, because there's some insane distribution of costs such that something like 1% of the patients account for 90% of the costs. She can't get any cost data from hospitals though, because they refuse to disclose it, even anonymized. Medicaid only has part of the data at best and the government officials there haven't been responsive to her requests. So she can only get the cost data by getting individual clients to sign consent forms. Which is methodologically troublesome because she only has access to the clients that happen to come to her shelter and many of the highest cost patients are specifically those who don't go to shelters and instead end up in the hospital due to exposure/hypothermia/etc. Point being, she can't get the necessary data in the first place, never mind that she doesn't have anywhere to store it.

Beyond tracking individuals, the data problems in the field are enormous and I think that may be where you can make the most difference. Even within her one agency, she can't get a lot of the basic data to evaluate programs because the agency has not invested any money in tech for 15 years. Primarily because they can barely afford to stay open. So they've got tons of legacy systems with data scattered around. No one knows where anything is, and even if they did know where to find data, they wouldn't know how to aggregate it or display it in a useful manner.

This is a common problem for community services organizations. They are chronically underfunded and tend to be run by people with little expertise in tech. And the staff tend not to be much more qualified. My girlfriend asked their in-house accountant for a list of expenses related to a specific set of grants the other day. The accountant sent her a part of the general ledger, which is incomprehensible to anyone who isn't familiar with accounting (and it was the wrong part, but that's another story). She also went to a program director and requested some demographic data that was required for reporting under the grants. Turns out he hadn't been collecting it.

Anyway, my point is that it would be helpful for many of these shelters and agencies to have a consolidated information system. So, for example, they can enter information about a grant they've received, including important dates and reporting requirements. And then have some tool to ensure that the program director is aware of and meeting those requirements.

So far, my girlfriend's biggest data/tech success at this agency has been a project I helped her code. The head fundraiser has to fill out a ridiculous number of grant applications every month. They are all in PDF and mostly request the same kinds of information (agency location, purpose, intended use of grant, etc.). So we wrote a program that takes a canned set of responses and automatically inserts them into the PDFs, so that the fundraiser only has to enter answers for non-standard questions. It then auto-updates their grant tracking system. It's cut down on the time they spend processing applications tremendously.

It would work a lot better if there was an integrated information system from which we could pull a lot of that data automatically, because currently it requires the fundraiser to keep the underlying data store up to date manually.

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[–] cprayingmantis link

I'm working on an application that will allow organizations to better keep up with the homeless. From what I've heard a lot of folks who are chronically homeless difficult for a single individual to keep up with so it often takes a team to keep tabs on them. Sometimes information isn't adequately disbursed through the whole team and it leads to knowledge that goes nowhere. My idea was to create an app that works as a single source of truth allowing all workers to update on an individual and raise issues. Probably just going to make it donation oriented unless it really takes off and I need to acquire an operating budget.

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[–] inlinestyle link

You should check out Popcode! (https://github.com/popcodeorg/popcode). It’s is a free OSS online IDE used by https://scripted.org to help kids in under-resourced high schools learn HTML/CSS/JS.

The big focus is helping students identify and fix mistakes in their code in a friendly and approachable manner.

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[–] zubairq link

Programming is only a SMALL part of doing social good. Find a problem you care about first.

For us we wanted to help people who were skilled, but ended up washing dishes, as they did not understand the Danish culture. We made NemCV.com to make them CVs in 2011. The website is now defunct, but since we cared about helping people we turned into a real life event to help people and has helped 1000s of people into a better life here in Denmark, and continues several times a month to this day:

https://www.meetup.com/get-your-dream-job/

So, find the problem first, and then spend time helping and make an IT tool IF needed!

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[–] mmesh link

Find a local nonprofit or other organization you like and ask them what tech help they need. Many small nonprofits are starving for IT resources, either for financial or cultural reasons.

It's not glamorous, but if you're willing to volunteer your time helping with an org's Wordpress site or making sure everyone is educated about phishing and 2FA, you can make a meaningful impact in your community.

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[–] EnFinlay link

This link will be of interest to you: http://worrydream.com/ClimateChange/. It's a long read, but it's packed with ideas.

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[–] ungzd link

Get involved into development of free software, preferably that can be used by people and other free software developers, not just corporations building "cloud services" (i.e. graphic editor, not js framework).

"Fixing world with software" nowadays cynically means just "to build closed platform and seek for rent".

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[–] iagooar link

Totally agree. This is a field I'd like to explore and see where I can help improving it.

Also, everything that has to do with food is tangible and understandable by every single person in this world.

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[–] rojobuffalo link

I think the most basic and overlooked thing is food. Eating well, reducing waste, and sustainable production are areas with huge opportunities. Energy and food are fundamental for improving quality of life; and they're also the human activities with the largest negative externalities to nature.

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[–] zubat link

Fix ordinary problems.

That is to say, there are probably hundreds of things, off the top of your head, that bother you and probably bother others. To the best of your ability choose one that you have a clear "thread to pull on" - as in, there is an action here you could take that might not be elegant, might not scale, be politically heated, or put you in a position beyond your understanding, ultimately require a team or need financing. But you could do it NOW and not just dream about it, consequences be damned. When the potential is scary like that, that means you actually hold a lot of leverage to unleash new forces, just by starting on it and not stopping.

Most of software isn't like that: it's predictable in its design, it automates a thing that was done slower or less effectively before. It fits into the system and stays within the lines. So you also won't find many examples for the particular thread you're pulling on, and that's expected.

If you do this and it's something you personally care about and will pour heart and soul into, you're doing about as much as anyone could hope for. You won't and can't get all of it right - but what people need isn't perfection, so much as a vehicle that will last well enough for the journey.

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[–] matthjensen link

https://www.github.com/open-source-economics/tax-calculator

Open source tax-calculator for tax policy analysis. Used by many policymakers to inform their decisions about tax policy via the TaxBrain GUI (https://www.ospc.org/taxbrain). Influences decisions that affect hundreds of millions of lives.

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[–] mythrwy link

If we go looking for what truly betters our chances as a species I'm not sure we'd like the answers we'd find.

And I'm pretty sure most of it would fly in the face of just about every conventional human morality (which comes about largely for self serving purposes in my opinion).

Our horizons of view are necessarily limited by the narrow slice of space and time we occupy and the culture in which we come to conceive the world. We can break out a little from time to time but for the most part we can't separate our innate ideas of "social good" from that which more objectively probably is better for the species.

I understand the sentiment. I thought about it a lot. As I got older I realized the important things in society are the little things. We are individuals, there are millions of us. We generally won't dramatically alter the course of history but the way we treat others personally, the way we conduct our affairs, our character as individuals, that's what makes up a society. We have to eat and drink. It's part of life. So we sometimes have to do things that we'd rather not. But we can try to minimize our negative impact.

Also I think we partially got where we are right now because some of our ancestors were basically beasts who killed the competition and took their women. And if that hadn't happened at some level regularly we'd probably still be swinging from trees and eating seasonal fruit. I'm not sure I want to know what the implication of that is. But I try to live in peace and stay balanced which means not worrying about saving the world all the time. Because it truly cannot be saved but maybe you can be. And a few others.

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[–] vok link

Work to make widely-deployed software more efficient. For open source software, anyone can help with this. Data centers are ~2% of U.S. energy consumption [0], and that will probably grow.

[0] http://www.datacenterknowledge.com/archives/2016/06/27/heres...

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[–] austenallred link

> The HN demographic is spectacularly disinterested in the well-being of humanity.

Wait, what?

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[–] darwhy link

You can see it in the many comments claiming that working at an ordinary day job or donating your income to charity is akin to the social good asked for by OP. It's a failure of imagination to assume that you can do more good for the world as programmer #9001 at Facebook who donates some of his income to effective altruism than as a programmer who adds all of her value to some other cause. A good programmer making 100k contributes far more than 100k value to the company she works at, so why not find a charity to which she can contribute similarly?

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[–] ska link

   It's a failure of imagination to assume that you can do more good for the world as programmer #9001 at Facebook who donates some of his income to effective altruism than as a programmer who adds all of her value to some other cause.
It's obviously a failure of imagination to believe this is not possible either. I'm not saying it is the clearly or always the best outcome, but it's clearly possible.

Consider law, for example. To use round numbers, biglaw mid-career in NYC could target $500k/yr, and plenty of lawyers are working for non-profits at $50k/yr. So one could choose to take the $500k/yr, plus donate enough to a non-profit to hire two people full time. Now you have 2x your "more than x value".

The numbers in tech are actually not much different, for certain skill sets. It's also important to remember that skill sets are not fungible this way. I could be really good at something HFT or OR companies really want, but only middling at what a non-profit needs. This affords a sort of arbitrage opportunity.

Another option - chase a high paying career for 10-15 years, retire with a modest but secure income, move to a cheaper location and volunteer the remainder of your working life to charities.

etc. etc. be imaginative.

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[–] austenallred link

> You can see it in the many comments claiming that working at an ordinary day job or donating your income to charity is akin to the social good asked for by OP.

If OP doesn't see donating to charity as interest in the well-being of society then let's just admit that the parent isn't so much concerned about whether or not HN is interested in the well-being of society so much as if HN wants to contribute to the well-being of society in the same way the parent would. Thus, parent really should say, "HN doesnt seem to agree with my particular persuasion as to how one creates well-being in society."

Donating to charity is, almost by definition, interest in the wellbeing of society.

Also, if you're going to be paid $100k at Facebook that means the value you provide is >= $100k to Facebook. It does not mean that your work is objectively worth $100k anywhere you could go. There's some correlation, of course, but I think given the context it's an important distinction to make.

As an aside, it's entirely possible for me to imagine a scenario in which the most beneficial thing one could do for society is utilize the scale and reach of Facebook. I doubt that the vast majority of the work at Facebook is that specifically, but it's certainly possible to imagine.

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[–] eeZah7Ux link

> Donating to charity is, almost by definition, interest in the wellbeing of society.

...or dodging taxes while getting good PR and also giving jobs to people in your own country (instead of elsewhere)?

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[–] maxerickson link

It isn't a tax dodge.

The cost of the donation always exceeds the tax benefit.

People do things like setup foundations and then appoint people to work for them, but that still doesn't allow the money to be kept without paying taxes on it (the foundation has to engage in bona fide charitable activities to maintain tax status).

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[–] falcolas link

It's crudely phrased, but the quantity of posts which show up in opposition to anything that helps society at large at the cost of profits is remarkably high, and getting higher as time goes on.

All anecdotal, of course.

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[–] austenallred link

I'd say that HN seems extremely interested in the wellbeing of humanity. That's all anyone talks about. The disagreements are over what methodology is most likely to reach that ends.

My guess is that parent sees comments that recommend a different means to the same end we all generally believe in, and views those as disregard for humans.

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[–] eeZah7Ux link

"making the world a better place by selling $service" is usually hypocrisy rather than a matter of methodology.

Same goes for making a service cheaper at the expense of the workers and the list goes on...

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[–] BeetleB link

>"making the world a better place by selling $service" is usually hypocrisy rather than a matter of methodology.

You can't be binary about this.

In many situations, selling a service has made the world (or at least a city/country) a better place.

Private cell phone service in many developing countries, for example. I know countries where, before they came in, people would have to wait years to get a landline (some in excess of 10 years). Private companies swooped in and gave people access (at least those who could afford it). Imagine how limited your life would be if you didn't have any phone (and that includes no Internet).

Sometimes giving to charity is better. At other times, it's non-sustaining and you need some kind of profit model. Both can benefit society.

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[–] eeZah7Ux link

...and that's why I wrote "usually".

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[–] NoGravitas link

Indeed. Go read the comments on the "My Family's Slave" article from a few days ago. A large proportion of them were supportive of slavery, or at least identified strongly with the slavers rather than their victim. Furthermore, the admins apparently disabled downvoting of comments, and detached strongly anti-slavery subthreads.

HN and the HN demographic are strongly interested in preserving/advancing a particular social order; one that is largely detrimental to most of humanity.

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[–] krapp link

> Furthermore, the admins apparently disabled downvoting of comments, and detached strongly anti-slavery subthreads.

I checked that thread, and the detached subthreads appear to be either tangential or uncivil. I see little evidence of the pro-slavery agenda you allude to.

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[–] julianmarq link

> Go read the comments on the "My Family's Slave" article from a few days ago. A large proportion of them were supportive of slavery, or at least identified strongly with the slavers rather than their victim. Furthermore, the admins apparently disabled downvoting of comments, and detached strongly anti-slavery subthreads.

Both of these are outright lies. You can dress them however you want if you dare to reply but these are lies.

And why bother? It's not as if everyone can go check the discussion and see that these are lies. Weird.

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[–] throwanem link

GP appears to use a very idiosyncratic metric of such interest.

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[–] ska link

In my opinion, the HN readership is far too diverse to accurately make any such narrow statements about.

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[–] MichaelMoser123 link

I just took a quick look at these communities: how exactly are /r/socialistprogramm and /r/anarcho_hackers furthering the well being of humanity? For what i see its all about fringe politics (meaning that they keep themselves busy)

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[–] weberc2 link

Disinterested or differently-interested?

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[–] NoGravitas link

This is almost certainly the wrong place to ask this question, unfortunately. The HN demographic is spectacularly disinterested in the well-being of humanity. Try /r/socialistprogrammers or /r/anarcho_hackers on Reddit.

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[–] sethbannon link

I really like the UN's Sustainable Development Goals as a guide for "the world's biggest problems". See them here: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/?menu=1300

Luckily, these days there are an abundance of ways you can 1) make money, 2) work on interesting problems, 3) work with amazing people, and 4) do social good. You used to have to choose 2 or 3 of those things, but no longer. I run a nonprofit organization that highlights these opportunities: http://impact.tech/

I also run a VC fund that supports these sorts of startups. You can see an example of the companies we back here: http://www.fifty.vc/companies/

If anyone is considering jumping into the social impact startup space, feel free to drop me a line and I can help you navigate the opportunities. First name AT the URL of the nonprofit I mentioned.

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[–] Senderman link

Get involved in what; where?

Unspecific suggestions like this are the reason people get lost and resume the attitude you're deriding.

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[–] nyargh link

That is an exercise left to the reader. Find groups that interest you and are effective in their mission. Ask how you can help and follow through with your commitments. Be humble and aware that initially you will be taking not giving as they expend resources to spin you up.

Or as mentioned above - just donate some of that sweet, sweet cash that tech workers are making hand over fist compared to nearly every other occupation.

> Unspecific suggestions like this are the reason people get lost and resume the attitude you're deriding.

Yes, surely those people bear no responsibility around their personal level of civic engagement.

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[–] Senderman link

> Yes, surely those people bear no responsibility around their personal level of civic engagement.

"Those people" started this thread and asked for specifics.

> Find groups that interest you and are effective in their mission.

That's what the poster is doing.

I don't disagree with your sentiment; the answer to "how do I do good?" isn't just going to be handed to you. I suppose I was prompted to jump in because I think somebody might otherwise confuse your comment for being a useful answer to the original topic.

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[–] nyargh link

> I suppose I was prompted to jump in because I think somebody might otherwise confuse your comment for being a useful answer to the original topic.

Doing the lord's work, right here ...

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[–] Senderman link

> Doing the lord's work

It's called "social good" nowadays.

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[–] nyargh link

Support the people already doing important work - get away from the egocentric "tech will save the world" attitude that is so endemic to our industry. Just get involved and see where you can help.

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[–] perlgeek link

Something I recently heard on a podcast:

Teach Python to girls in Zimbabwe: https://www.zimbopy.com/become-a-mentor

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[–] bjelkeman-again link

I wouldn't be so pesimistic. We started an organisation that builds open source cloud data systems used among other things to track drinking water infrastructure and sustainable food production in Africa and Asia. We started from scratch and we now work with 20+ governments, 200+ NGOs and several UN organisations. We are probably not extremely gifted, but more like middle of the road startup geeks. Still we make an impact.

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[–] Svenstaro link

This is going to sound pessimistic at first but hear me out: Unless you're extremely gifted in many ways and super resourceful, you're not likely to make any noticeable impact on the species.

However, you can still make a big difference for groups much smaller than the whole species (and I think that's actually preferable from a human point of view because it's more tangible). The world is full of problems that could easily be solved by good software. This is especially true in industries that are usually not very technological by themselves.

Depending on your current network you might have gotten to know an industry or two that is not strictly technological. If not, ask your friends who do not program software all day and ask them what problems they have at work that they find annoying and try to come up with a software solution for that.

Once you do that, convince their bosses that it saves them more money to pay for your software than to do things the old way.

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[–] java_script link

Join the Democratic Socialists of America's tech committee! [0]

[0] http://www.dsausa.org/tech_committee

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[–] sorrymate link

I would also like to mention the Humanitarian Toolbox www.htbox.org/

The goal is to help humanitarian organizations solve technology problems with open source solutions. This excellent group of people are developing solutions to common problems like logistical, and communication issues that help improve humanitarian aid.

You can see the source code on their github: https://github.com/htbox/

If you are interested, you can hear more about it by listening to Richard Campbell on this podcast and many others like it: http://www.podcastchart.com/podcasts/herding-code/episodes/h...

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[–] welder link
[–] Frondo link

If you want to do social good on your own, pick a cause you can get excited about and look for meetings in your town around that cause. Go to those meetings for six months and get to know people. Talk to them and find out what problems they're facing, and brainstorm with them ways tech can solve those problems. Find the most curmudgeonly people in that community and work with them until you've won them over. Now you have an idea! Make it, refine it, and when you launch, your local community around that cause will be able to promote it to like-minded folks elsewhere.

Simple, but takes a lot of time, patience, listening, and humility. You can't go in thinking you have the answers, it's got to be a collaborative process.

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[–] teddyh link

FSF's High Priority Free Software Projects list:

https://www.fsf.org/campaigns/priority-projects/

• Free phone operating system: https://www.fsf.org/campaigns/priority-projects/free-phone

• Decentralization, federation, and self-hosting: https://www.fsf.org/campaigns/priority-projects/decentraliza...

• Free drivers, firmware, and hardware designs: https://www.fsf.org/campaigns/priority-projects/hardware-fir...

• Real-time voice and video chat: https://www.fsf.org/campaigns/priority-projects/voicevideoch...

• Encourage contribution by people underrepresented in the community: https://www.fsf.org/campaigns/priority-projects/contribute

• Free software and accessibility: https://www.fsf.org/campaigns/priority-projects/accessibilit...

• Internationalization of free software: https://www.fsf.org/campaigns/priority-projects/internationa...

• Security by and for free software: https://www.fsf.org/campaigns/priority-projects/security-by-...

• Intelligent personal assistant: https://www.fsf.org/campaigns/priority-projects/personalassi...

• Help GNU/Linux distributions be committed to freedom: https://www.fsf.org/campaigns/priority-projects/help-gnu-lin...

• Free software adoption by governments: http://www.fsf.org/campaigns/priority-projects/free-software...

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[–] ouid link

Social utility is not easy to define. The main problem is that it's impossible to speak for all timescales at once. Particularly when you take some sort of norm on all the individual utilities. This sounds overly technical, but I have a point.

Don't work towards maximizing the utility of everyone, it's nonsense. People aren't that cooperative, even. Work towards bounding the minimum utility. There's lots of social and physical extinction events that humanity faces. Even if you have nothing directly to contribute to these problems, perhaps you can realistically contribute to the welfare of other people who are contributing to these problems.

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[–] nyae link

Check out one of Data for Democracy's projects and see if you'd like to contribute to any of their open source work: http://datafordemocracy.org/

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[–] j45 link

I've volunteered technology skills for a long time for social and community causes. Tech assistance ends up often starting as a secondary way to assist and first beginning with non-tech volunteering as a way to learn about problems. It's interesting how much more we can get done if a social enterprise/cause had the right tools and I invariably end up helping with something if I just get involved as a volunteer.

There's some important things that can make a lasting difference, beginning with ensuring there's something you care about, possibly obscure, but important, for possibly a long time. A big part of this is learning about what the issues are and their impacts.

To help pick a problem or area you care about.. there are things that you are naturally drawn to and can't help yourself with.

It's not a bad place to start looking for problems (and other people trying to make a difference) you care about and want to add value to is an important consideration.

Why? The most important thing I experience is the importance of always adding value first, and finding a way to do it. It simply opens more doors and opportunities than anything else I've ever experienced.

From a tech perspective, many social enterprises, groups can benefit from basic mobile apps or tools for the people they work with. The skillset here isn't the hard thing to find, it's a willingness to learn and only then solve problems even if they aren't new or interesting but deliver great value.

If you can help someone save a few hours a week with 10-15 minutes of making an excel sheet, it is a greater help and a start.

All big problems begin as and consist of a lot of smaller problems.

A secret of finding interesting projects that can grow, is that the willingness to solve small problems, because small problems leads to large problems on their own. Almost all of my multi-industry experience is due to the transferability of solving similar problems.

With this in mind, social good can happen independently, with a group, from an initiative at work, and not just exclusively from working with non-profits. Help where no one's helping and you'll find lots of opportunities to add value.

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[–] Alex3917 link

Join the Progressive Coders Network: https://www.progcode.org

There are a ton of projects you can jump on aimed at helping to get progressives elected and enact progressive policies. For those not familiar with progressive politics (or at least not beyond Bernie or whatever), the basic idea is to make it easier for people to get involved with government. For example, making it easier to to figure out which elections you're eligible to participate in as a candidate and/or as a voter.

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[–] davidmooreppf link

Our non-profit builds Councilmatic - https://www.councilmatic.org/ - free & open-source tech for city-level civic engagement. Closing the feedback loop with local government, accessible tools for community dialogue.

But in my ten years' experience, here's what I see as the biggest potential for tech for social good: open data standards for constituent communications. Breaking public messages out of the current silo's of individual e-mails, e-petitions, social media, civic tech apps, and issue advocacy platforms. Making possible open structured data on real public priorities and policy preferences in every Congressional district. This never took off because government offices haven't wanted such a level of participatory democracy, and because existing advocacy groups haven't wanted to share membership lists and enable peer-to-peer organizing - it would undercut the business models of e-petition companies and legacy advocacy vendors and VC-backed civic startups. But making public opinion info more free and open for analysis could push forward reforms that have wide support, and are stymied by the current U.S. two-party system: http://www.participatorypolitics.org/open-data-infrastructur...

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[–] strokeswan link

> What problems do i work on?

1. identify the main threats to mankind

- degradation of biodiversity, for humans, animals, and flora (climate change, pollution, over-production, you name it)

- nuclear damages (power plants, bomb, wastes)

- natural causes (meteorites, earthquakes, volcanos, solar flares)

2. analyse the roots of those (examples)

- technical limitations

- economically not sustanable

- pursuit of profit

- natural but avoidable

- natural and inevitable

Do a maximum of research for those points, and pick a cause that motivates you the most.

I, as a developper would personally aim to protect the internet, to have a free and truthful network to share knowledge.

With knowledge and science we can aim to have a global awareness of our impact on humankind's future.

I'm striving for a ressourced based economy, and leave that capitalistic aberration that the Gross domestic product (GDP) is coming from the amout of money spent, which means the more you consume (food, equipment, energy, health care, ...) the higher the GDP will be

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[–] splitrocket link

Blue Ridge Labs @ Robinhood.

We have a yearly, paid, 5 month long fellowship in Brooklyn for mid-career engineers, designs, and product managers that combines human centered design and Lean Startup to build tech ventures that fight poverty.

https://joinpropel.com came out of our fellowship and just raised a seed round from Andreesen Horowitz.

Our website: https://labs.robinhood.org

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[–] tahw link

Join wikileaks and their ilk in the fight to uncover and unravel the conspiracies that are preventing progress from advancing in "first world" countries!

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[–] darioush link

how is it free if you have to pay for netflix?

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[–] whatwhosdis link

Program whatever the heck you want to program but stop eating meat while doing it.

Check out the documentary Cowspiracy (free on Netflix) to see what I'm talking about.

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[–] tonydiv link

Teach kids how to program! I view it very similar to "teaching the (wo)man how to fish."

I'm working on the 1st live online school that teaches kids to code. It's nearly impossible for parents to find teachers locally between 4-7PM, especially at a reasonable price, so come help :)

http://block.school

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[–] claytoncorreia link

If you’re looking for a job where you can do good as a programmer, we’re always interested in speaking with talented people at Chimp. Our platform, chimp.net, is built to dramatically improve the human experience of participating in charity by helping people, communities and corporations to make bigger impacts on causes they care about.

I personally have been at Chimp for over 5 years. I can tell you that it’s a pretty amazing feeling to come into work every day, sit in a comfy chair, wiggle my fingers on a keyboard and, as a result, help get hundreds of millions of dollars flowing into the charitable sector. All while getting paid a competitive salary at a stable company that’s poised for massive growth.

If this sounds interesting, checkout https://chimp.net/careers or email jobs@chimp.net if you don’t see a role posted that matches your skill set. Again, we’ll always connect with talented people that we think we can work with.

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[–] Theodores link

You need to develop this for a market that will pay you for it. Then you 'fork' your code for your favourite causes.

In the world of retail many companies have to train sales staff in third party dealerships, this can be with lots of site visits and with those staff doing some away day thing. The reason for this sales training is so products can be demonstrated and those sales converted by knowledgeable staff.

So you find your market in this type of a business and solve the challenges. There will be plenty in keeping company staff trained and on-board, with a long-term relationship with them selling stuff they get training updates about. You tailor your solution to different verticals and when you have a base product that can be tailored to your customers you then do your project version as that 'base product'.

So maybe do this the hard way, put in some time being that person that does company training materials, build out whatever is needed for doing that much, much better, pioneer it with the company that you work for, and on their clock, put in a lot of work needed to build out the backend and support needed for your big idea, then leave to polish it off knowing you have a commercial version out there and proven to be good (hopefully!).

Whilst you are doing this you might also want to help or support those around you on a friendly basis rather than as part of an organisation. Just being a friend to an elderly neighbour, having time for them and being willing to help them get their teevee plugged in correctly is pretty good. You can also be there for others that have problems of the mind or of the body that you are glad you are not afflicted by. Through maintaining friendships and looking out for a few vulnerable souls from different walks of life to yourself you can learn immense things about the human condition. You can also change people's lives with money and learn the nuances of that. There are no tax deductions or medals for making charity something you do informally, the whole world is not going to care if you walk the old guy's dog for him every morning.

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[–] srikz link

You may want to explore this with the folks at freecodecamp. I feel it aligns a lot with what they are doing. I wanted to suggest you to check their initiative to build apps for NGOs as part of the process of graduating from FCC (maybe bypass the learning part and directly contribute?) but this may be even better.

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[–] simplicitea link

OP here, actually floored by the rapidity and variety of responses. Thanks HN.

I'll take this opportunity to float an idea that's been kicking around in my head for a long time.

The premise is to:

1) (this is almost certainly the easy part) build out a platform that is like a two-way khan academy - teacher and student, with at least the teacher having a tablet and a stylus that function well, sharing a digital blackboard, with a video chat optional -- where a student of something in a relatively privileged situation teaches a student of the same thing in a relatively less privileged situation -- where the sessions are stored and rewindable, both video and blackboard input.

2) the hard part; selling it as something to invest in and driving it to a point of having an endowment behind it, like Harvard's endowment, that allows the service to pay for moderation of student-teachers something like $12.00 USD an hour to teach, while subsidizing well-chosen students to have to pay something like $2 an hour to learn

it's been an idea for a passion project for a while

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[–] _asummers link

Machine learning is pretty popular right now. With obvious applications in things like biology, you can go into things like gene research (see CRISPR) or AI. Could even go embedded and do medical security things to prevent the next WannaCry.

A recruiter shot a job across my email a few months back about using technology to get people more active in government. Depending on how you feel about government, that could be taken to any number of applications, with some company filling the niche along the way.

I work in education, myself, and I find that pretty rewarding. Being able to use technology to help teachers do something even a little bit easier is a good feeling.

Even though these scenarios are very different, they all help advance individuals and the species in their own micro and macro ways. Tech is useful everywhere, so decide who you want to help, and find companies that exist to help those people and go from there. And if you don't find a company there, then maybe you have your YC interview already cooking.

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[–] grblovrflowerrr link

IDK about helping the species but maybe contribute to open source software in one of the following?:

Disaster Management Software EMS Software Assistance software for the blind,deaf,etc.

Of course, not everything becomes magically better from software's involvement. There might be some good opportunities in robotics, robotic medical care and elderly care especially come to mind.

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[–] staltz link

Hint: help the Scuttlebutt P2P project https://www.scuttlebutt.nz/. It can be used for social media in areas disconnected from the global internet, through gossip replication of social feeds. Can be quite useful for communities in Syria, Amazon, and Africa.

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[–] FrozenVoid link

Kick start the singularity by writing the first recursively-optimizing generic AI? Probably with some new kind of neural network that is fast and versatile enough for all problem domains. An neural network that can extract features of its own design and improve on it with some external metric, test improved copies of itself to solve other problems. AIs that have human-level of intellect would advance science and technology, without any human-level limits. Though such AI would have to be pro-human by design: e.g. https://www.reddit.com/r/frozenvoid/wiki/ai/super-intelligen...

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[–] medialab_eyi link

We think about how to do this from the MIT Media Lab as well. In that vein, we recently launched Cortico (www.cortico.ai), a non-profit with a strong software engineering focus working on issues of the public sphere.

Oftentimes, research code that has clear social good potential ends up never getting deployed. We're trying a new form of creating social good opportunities from within the academic setting and through a non-profit vehicle managed like a Bay Area tech startup. I think we'll start to see more entities like this emerge.

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[–] jancborchardt link

My partner is doing an incubator program called Social-Digital Innovation Initiative: https://sdinnovation.org

The basic idea is to bring together a person who knows of a specific social issue, and a tech person who wants to help solve it. Together they are the core team and are helped to work on their project, form a non-profit, get conmections etc.

At the moment the program is piloting in Berlin. It's planned to expand to Hungary, Austria and ideally other areas. If you are interested, drop by at one of the barcamp/unconference events or check out the website. :)

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[–] lbearl link

Come look at Transplant Connect: https://transplantconnect.com/

We make software which facilitates the organ, tissue and eye donation process in partnership with a number of other organizations and non-profits. It's really rewarding work.

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[–] gkop link

Thanks for mentioning Binti! We help people become foster parents and help foster care agencies approve foster families. More foster families means vulnerable children can get out of group homes and into family homes, where they're more likely to have a good experience. With the help of Binti's web software, social workers spend less time doing paperwork and more time helping families, so they have a greater impact and are less likely to leave the field.

We're needing generalist full-stack engineers, as well as lead engineers in the areas of data, devops, and security: https://binti.com/binti-careers/

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[–] qt31415926 link

This is such an amazing post! So resourceful, thank you so much.

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[–] bradyo link

I recently went through a job search focusing on organizations doing social good. Full disclosure, I now work at Remix (https://www.remix.com/jobs) and we're hiring! We're a for-profit founded by a collection of former Code for America fellows helping to improve cities.

I have a list of resources that I collected while I was searching as well:

- The Fast Forward accelerator's tech nonprofits job board and directory. This is easily the most extensive list I found: https://www.ffwd.org/tech-nonprofit-jobs/, https://www.ffwd.org/tech-nonprofits/

- The YC-funded non-profits (subset here https://github.com/smartergiving/open-data/blob/master/v0/fu...)

- The well-known non-profits: Mozilla, Wikimedia, Khan Academy

- https://twitter.com/goodtechjobs

- Code for America is hiring, takes fellows, and has a government job board: https://jobs.codeforamerica.org/

- Tech co-ops: https://techworker.coop/members

- https://www.fossjobs.net/

- Angel list nonprofits: https://angel.co/nonprofits

- Some other random social good orgs that I found were hiring in the SF area or remote: Open Whisper Systems, Binti, Nuna, The Human Diagnosis project, Bayes Impact, Nava, GovEx, Democracy Works, The Guardian Project, The Internet Archive, EFF, Exygy, Open Law Lib, Angaza, Fight for the Future,

- An article written by the co-founder of Bayes Impact for techcrunch: https://techcrunch.com/2017/04/25/a-call-to-action-for-tech/

- Civic Makers (http://civicmakers.com/) has a newsletter highlighting civic news

I also second the progressive coder's network.

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[–] rnmp link

I work at a matchmaking platform that connects nonprofits with professionals of all kind who are willing to volunteer on projects. http://www.catchafire.org/

Sometimes our nonprofits post iOS/Android prototyping projects, for example.

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[–] stefek99 link

Shameless plug: https://astralship.org

Converting chapel from 1838 into visionary environment to realise human potential and heal the planet.

No more BS jobs but flow state, peak performance, deep focus, quality work on projects that truly matter.

(I did my fair share of man hours stuck in chair, now making conscious deliberate effort to set free)

Another good resource: https://80000hours.org/

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[–] purrcat259 link

I started a project to link charity streams to 3rd party charity fundraiser websites to allow better exposure of the cause and the fundraiser progress in real time.

I'm currently working on version 2 which returns a lot of stastical information, allows for graphs and better statistics to be shown on stream overlays and a back end console for auditing and reporting purposes.

I am currently breaking up each part and exposing them over HTTP APIs to allow future integrations and to allow the system to scale for large streaming events such as Special Effect's Gameblast.

The gaming for good initiative is ripe for new tools and services, as there are very few players in this space, to the end where I thought that I was the only one with this idea up until a few months ago.

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[–] undefined link
[deleted]

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[–] simplicitea link

What is a problem that you have recently defined and solved?

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[–] shawndimantha link

We solve a variety of problems, but one example is physician burnout, especially in primary care. We've implemented technology enabled behavior change initiatives that help primary care practices implement and maintain evidence-based habits like team based care and ensuring staff operate at the top of their license meaning more time with patients and less time with paperwork for physicians and creating a more sustainable environment. There are other areas we address in primary care like patient access to care, quality care gaps and more that we break into smaller chunks. Our overall focus is on dramatically improving the performance (quality of care, cost) of the healthcare system piece by piece at an increasing pace, starting with primary care and eventually moving to different focus areas like high need patients.

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[–] shawndimantha link

We are taking a technology driven approach to improving the US healthcare system at the Peterson Center on Healthcare, our goal is to improve the quality of healthcare accessible to all, reduce the total cost of care our system bears, and improve the experience of healthcare professionals delivering this care.

Feel free to let me know if you have any questions, on HN or by email at sdimantha(at)petersonhealthcare(dot)org.

Here is one of the engineering roles we are recruiting for (more to be announced later) - http://petersonhealthcare.org/careers/software-engineering-t...

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[–] Casseres link

One option is to contribute to a cryptocurrency. Being able to store one's money without the use of predatory banks and cheaply transfer money to places without good banking infrastructure will lift people out of poverty.

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[–] jtalbot link

If you're interested in using your developer skills to help social impact organizations engage their communities, I'd love to talk. At twilio.org we connect volunteer developers with nonprofits and social enterprises that need your help building high-impact communication tools.

Our current volunteer developer initiative is called Voices for Democracy, and is focused on creating tools to advance the discourse between people with their elected representatives.

If this excites you, or if you'd like to learn more about other opportunities to use your skills for good, check out twilio.org and send us a note.

Thanks for starting this awesome thread.

-Jacob from twilio.org

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[–] garysieling link

One simple thing is to volunteer your time to build websites for non-profits, which I've done.

If you have time, you can also build a useful side project.

For me -

Youtube and Reddit give a lot of weight to popular content. If you're trying to learn new ideas, videos with conspiracy theories, popular speakers, and things people already know dominate search results / subreddits.

My project (https://www.findlectures.com) recommends high quality content, but across as much topic variety as I can find (discourages ignoring speakers based on demographics or them not marketing their talks well).

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[–] undefined link
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[–] sophacles link

I can't link directly to the talk (or i can't figure out how...), but I enjoyed a short talk about this topic at shmoocon this year. If you go to this page:

https://archive.org/details/ShmooCon2017#

Then go to video 20 (friday night firetalks) and skip forward to 1:31:55 theres a talk called "You can do the thing".

tl;dw - Theres a lot of help that can be done by finding local orgs that you agree with, and offering to modernize their websites, help manage IT, and so on.

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[–] TheAntiEgo link

At Helpwith.co we're focussing on facilitating something that seems very simple and obvious, but is often very difficult to achieve: One person teaching another person what they know.

We believe that peer-to-peer, community driven, education is one of the best ways that our small team can meaningfully impact the world.

The more effectively we can disseminate meaningful information, while also building connections between people, the easier it becomes to solve every other world problem.

Always looking for more collaborators, so feel free to email me: John@helpwith.co

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[–] RichardHeart link

72hrs later: "In ‘Enormous Success,’ Scientists Tie 52 Genes to Human Intelligence" https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/22/science/52-genes-human-in...

So I guess that suggestion is less exciting.

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[–] RichardHeart link

Humans are executed data. The blueprint of life has never been more like computer code. Ben Horrowitz believes where data touches biology is where there's ton of profit waiting. Pick a SENS initiative and see where you can attack it with software. Human Longevity Inc is using machine learning I think to figure out what genes actually cause what pathologies.

It would be interesting to point at the genes for the heritability of IQ for giggles. We are all data, the meat is what matters. The life you save may be your own.

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[–] andmed3 link

As a programmer you have knowledge which can guide you to make a donation to organization that does something important for many people. They just don't realize that, but you do. Donate to EFF that fights for net neutrality, or some other organization of your choice. And just do your normal work, to have money for that. Thats the way I prefer personally, yesterday I have made my first donation, ever. And kind of proud of it.

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[–] asheikh link

Join #YesWeCode

https://www.yeswecode.org/

#YesWeCode is a national initiative to help 100,000 young women and men from underrepresented backgrounds find success in the tech sector

https://www.yeswecode.org/

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[–] simplicitea link

Do you have any recommendations for exploring what you call hyper-local work? I currently cook food for a living but even that, with it's immediate (feedback lol) to the local community, is a service that comes as a premium to people who don't need help. Where do you look for projects that fit your worldview as a programmer? Are there any groups of people based in Seattle that you'd recommend getting in touch with?

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[–] undefined link
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[–] fimdomeio link

I would love to have the opportunity to explore the concept of hyperlocal. Using the web to help bring local communities closer together. Never really had the opportunity yet.

I myself, work mainly on projects related to museums, culture, green economy... In the projects I accept I try to find a balance between money I can get and how I view it as work for the greater good. A very hard balance and a very subjective one.

Also have some friends that are a lot into open data which is also an interesting area to explore.

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[–] iammiles link

I know a few people who have contributed some of their time weekly teaching less privileged kids the basics of programming. I always thought that was a great thing to do.

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[–] LostWanderer link

I am working on restarting tech from the ground up in rural places. It always amazes me on how phones get so easily addictive but hardly have much utility values.Like recording the environmental changes or just simple information dissipation to their peers would do wonders to help them. Something i have been very interested in the use of local languages in developing areas in spreading of their rights and information

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[–] caseyohara link

PrintReleaf is a platform for automated reforestation https://printreleaf.com/

We measure paper consumption for businesses, equate that to forest impact, then automate the planting of those trees back into the environment at planting projects around the world. We're always looking for talented designers and developers that want to do social and environmental good through technology.

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[–] meesterdude link

I had the exact same thought, a few years back. I believe there is a vast amount of untapped human potential that languishes in self-defeat. People that, with just a little help, could right themselves and unleash all sorts of good on the world.

so, I'm trying to help people make cognitive and behavioral improvements in their lives with my side project (http://willyoudidyou.com)

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[–] asmt3 link

Consider working for NGOs like ours - International Alert. In our case, we use software development to analyse data and build mobile apps. Android is particularly sought after skill in the (economically) developing world. Follow me on https://twitter.com/alanthomson to hear about job opportunities. (... when Twitter starts working again!)

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[–] pwne link

https://www.drivendata.org/

"Data science competitions to save the world"

OK, the tag line might be a bit much, but here's a snippet from one of their current competitions:

Your goal is to create better models to estimate populations for hard-to-reach sites in the Antarctic, and thereby greatly improve our ability to use penguins to monitor the health of the Southern Ocean!

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[–] undefined link
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[–] ianai link

OP is asking for what problems to work on, not projects/etc. there is a difference there.

I personally think we need better ways and more people to know about better ways to aggregate social preferences. If people knew about alternative voting methods they might entertain using them. You could work on coding implementations that would introduce the masses to alternatives.

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[–] msadowski link

What kind of projects can you help UN with? I've been thinking on donating some of my time and skills for the past month and would be more than happy to help. I'm a robotics engineer but I can also program.

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[–] xysmas link

I have recently started volunteering my tech skills (I'm a data scientist for a well-known tech company) to the local chapter of the ACLU and am exploring volunteering for a UN subsidiary who desperately needs the help. If you are interested in potentially working to help the UN project, message me.

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[–] msadowski link

Probably not exactly what op had in mind but I took interest in a humanitarian hackathon organized by a CERN group The Port(http://theport.ch/) in Geneva, Switzerland. I'm hoping I can take part in it this year.

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[–] jerf link

I'm sort of intrigued at your belief in the existence of "social action" that somehow manifests without any individual doing "anything" to "help". As if it is some sort of ontological force that exists independent of the individuals participating in it?

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[–] valarauca1 link

I incorrectly worded my post. And placed too much focus on the individual, when I was as attempting to stress the individual AS A software developer.

But nonetheless I do agree with the final output.

An individual is largely incapable of doing anything ALONE. Only thought organized and mass action are things accomplished on societal scale.

Change requires work... this is physics. A large change requires a lot of work. If your force is too small (an individual). You may never over come friction.

If you want social change, you need organization.

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[–] TeMPOraL link

Organizations are made of people. People in organizations do things, and the sum of those things create change. Some of those things need technology, or could be done much better if technology was applied to them. OP is looking for such people and organizations in which he could help by doing the things that require or benefit from technology.

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[–] qntty link

I tend to agree with you, but somehow seeing someone else say what I feel made me realize that this is the wrong way to think about the issue. Individuals can do exactly what they can do, and it isn't nothing.

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[–] valarauca1 link

>Individuals can do exactly what they can do, and it isn't nothing.

Effort exerted without results is technically doing something. You are burning energy. But you are not making change happen, you are NOT doing work.

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[–] qntty link

The flaw in this way of thinking is hidden in your assumption about what counts as "doing something." You talk as if the only thing that counts as doing something is what you call "change", which means "changing the way that other people (people with more resources than you) act". It's true that engaging in political action to change the way that other people act is an effective and important part of doing good. The government and large corporations control most of the "surplus" resources in the world and it's foolish to pretend otherwise.

But to approach the problem of "doing good" with the mindset of "the only thing that I can do is to ask other people to make the world a better place" is selling yourself short and in my opinion an anti-democratic way of thinking.

Individuals can do exactly what they can do. You can volunteer at a school, you can start a community garden, you can help just one person in your life who needs it. This counts as doing good, and without the kind of community that forms from lots of people spending their time with others, you have to ask yourself why you should care about the political action at all. Far too much political action today is done out of self-righteousness or anger, rather than out of love. If you've forgotten how to love a stranger in your private life, you may have forgotten how to do it in your public (political) life too.

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[–] valarauca1 link

You don't.

The idea you can _do anything_ to _help_. Is mostly a myth people repeat so they don't constantly feel like shit for doing nothing in the face of mass social injustice by which they are (partially) the benefactors.

If you want social change, you need social action. Anything short is just rationalizing your guilt.

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[–] mjburgess link

That's assuming "giving people what they want" is inherently good, or worse, the only good. It is neither.

People getting what they want is neither good nor bad; it is effective at distributing resources. But this is distribution isnt inherently good either (effective != good).

We don't need to define "Good" in order to observe this. Very few definitions by anyone, let alone OP, produce this equivalence.

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[–] johan_larson link

I agree with you. It's quite possible to make money doing pernicious things. It's even possible to make money legally doing pernicious things. And that's why I'm setting the bar considerably higher. Note my words: "useful problem", "reasonable price", "treats ... fairly".

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[–] NoGravitas link

This is precisely what I meant when I said this was the wrong place to ask. Thanks for providing an example.

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[–] TeMPOraL link

No. This is you not understanding that while this answer has huge caveats attached to it, it is also a solid point worth talking about and taking into account. A lot of "mundane" jobs are actually socially beneficial in some way.

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[–] johan_larson link

You have a job, right? If your employer solves a useful problem for its customers at a reasonable price, obeys the law and treats its employees and suppliers fairly then it is doing good and you are doing good through it. Do your work conscientiously and go home happy.

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[–] leoreeves link

I'd recommend http://dotimpact.im/, it's part of the Effective Altruist movement—people who want to do the most good with the time/money/resources they have.

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[–] eriknstr link

Contribute to the Tor Project, aka The Onion Router.

https://www.torproject.org/getinvolved/volunteer.html.en#Pro...

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[–] SolubleSnake link

DTOcean is an interesting piece of open source software, to help engineers install renewable energy equipment offshore (wave, wind, tide).

https://github.com/DTOcean

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[–] droithomme link

> I want to apply what I know to better our chances as a species and/or as individuals.

As an individual how are you doing? Is your life in order? You're doing OK, those you love are doing well, things are good?

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[–] acd link

Social good Ideas

* Program for charities * Make Reddit style voting for political topics * Invent an econmic system that saves the planet * Work on blockchain projects for good for all * Contribute to open source projects

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[–] SolubleSnake link

https://github.com/DTOcean

An open source tool to help engineers install renewable energy equipment offshore. Wind, wave, tide (one day!) etc

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[–] fjahr link

The best you can do where success is guaranteed is to teach underprivileged how to program for free and help them improve their situation by finding a job in the space.

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[–] francamps link

If you're into political action, live in London and are proficient in THREE.js or WebGL, well, we could definitely use your help here -> www.forensic-architecture.org/jobs-internships/

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[–] rajadigopula link

https://socialcoder.org/ You can find a project that you can contribute to.Can even boast it on your resume!

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[–] leke link

I think any charity would benefit from software. You just need to contact them and ask what is taking up their time and try and simplify the process.

Educational tools are also good investments of time, IMO.

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[–] TeMPOraL link

Sure, but would be cool to know where to find some particular areas or projects to help.

This is the core problem here: I could personally name a ton of industries and endeavors that could use software to be better - but finding a particular need and someone willing to work with you on fulfilling that need? That feels incredibly hard.

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[–] dontreact link

The medical world has a lot of uses for software and machine learning.

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[–] devrandomguy link

Looks like a lot of the top-voted suggestions are only applicable to a single country. If your suggestion has a major restriction like that, then would you please declare it upfront?

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[–] jblz link

Do everything you can to advance the "open web" (or publishing & distribution of content in general) and eschew "walled gardens" (corporate or otherwise).

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[–] erlend_sh link
[–] andreasgonewild link

How about simply working on what you find interesting and sharing the results with the world for free? If more people did that, this world would be a better place.

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[–] Xoros link

I worked years ago on a project named babeltree(.org).

Don't know if it's still active, but the idea (and the founder) behind it was really about making the world a better place.

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[–] alexfi link

You can become programming teacher for startups in Gaza.

Check out: https://gazaskygeeks.com/

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[–] mulnz link

Where do you live? find things like this: http://atxhackforchange.org/

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[–] nowarninglabel link

I find your comment very interesting, because I view it somewhat the opposite. Basically, many take your statement just the way you ordered it:

#1 Take care about your own family and children #2 Do not harm others

Then, it becomes very easy to cause harm to others and justify it through the idea that one's first priority is taking care of your own family and children and that outweighs the harm you are doing to others.

Which is just to say, it's not that simple.

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[–] NumberCruncher link

>> many take your statement just the way you ordered it

I used a not ordered list. That makes it so simple.

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[–] NumberCruncher link

Take care about your own family and children. Do not harm others. It is that simple. If everyone would do that, we would be all better off.

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[–] neuronotic81 link

Read "Forces of Production" - it'll give you some background to what pressures are at play in technical roles.

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[–] dominostars link

You can also work a normal job and donate a non-trivial amount of your money to organizations working to make a difference.

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[–] undefined link
[deleted]

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[–] simplicitea link

what's digital permaculture?

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[–] dragonbonheur link

Local exchange systems. Mentoring and apprenticeship forums and exchanges. Grants and sponsorship databases. Digital permaculture, hydroponics, aquaculture, aeroponics & DIY encyclopedia. Tools to fight against misleading and inaccurate information and to clarify and annotate ambiguous laws that don't benefit the population. Better corruption and dark financing graphs about people in power.

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[–] conductr link

Teach! You know you have a valuable skill, help others tap into that value

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[–] shmerl link

Replace some proprietary stuff with FOSS. That's a social good.

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[–] hwayne link

Find a nonprofit you like and offer them free tech support.

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[–] oevi link

Teach coding to children and those who want to learn it.

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[–] pplonski86 link

I agree medical/health stuff is the most strightforward. I would also add some tiny mobile apps that make our life easier and more happy!

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[–] fenwick67 link

23andme is a private company

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[–] isomorph link

OurPath maybe. 23andMe ? Medical / health stuff

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[–] tryitnow link

Improving the efficiency of biomedical research.

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[–] gregable link

How about something like US digital services?

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[–] jrs95 link

This is the right answer imo. Other options might make you feel better personally since you'll have more direct involvement, but just making as much money as you can with your skill set and donating that to the charities that are most effective will probably result in better outcomes than donating your time.

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[–] bevan link

Work on what pays the highest and then donate that money to the most effective charity. According to GiveWell.org, that charity is currently the Against Malaria Foundation, which will statistically save a life for every $3500 it receives going forward. It is ridiculously cheap to save a life that would otherwise not be saved. I highly recommend Sam Harris' interview with Will Macaskill on this topic (effective altruism).

http://www.givewell.org/charities/against-malaria-foundation

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[–] aswin8728 link

elixirlabs.org :) donate your spare time to building tech for nonprofits who could really use the assistance!

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[–] Externon link

You can do something for education.

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[–] Jemmeh link

Look at the word "energy" there are a few mentions. I mentioned renewable energy pretty early on.

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[–] simplicitea link

Curious that ctrl+f 'climate' doesn't have a single hit before this comment, at 234 comments.

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[–] Kholo link

Wikipedia and Khan Academy.

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[–] skdotdan link

Accessibility?

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[–] brightsize link

Here's one avenue for doing that: https://www.donorschoose.org/

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[–] Externon link

do something for the education

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[–] 4a60ab76 link

someone would tell you: "if you want a selfless, social work - some good jobs are, but: don't work for nuclear weapon production" (finance what (also) finance such production, healthcare that (also) heal the weapon enterprise managements desease, and so on - think this all as examples) but then a (here abstract) "other side/party" will then (because without your benefit for nuclear weapon controll software) thirst start a rocket so your decision was not real altruistic (at all men in world) because you make a "broken glass" (like in the funny nice example above https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14379040 )

so, your problem was: your data before decision were not enough and the analysis of the situation (in the whole world) not deep enough. some people will argue: so much data - never possible to make the best decision. I agree with it. But you can do some approximation and before doing an (also only aproximated) List of "good, selfless, altruistic" destinations (with view of whole world and view to some influence like climate, politics, geophysics, space-riscs ... and so on.) make a risc and a potencial map about the world. And second part construct your own priority List for this risc and potencials. Big project - but also big fun! So go web and search for science studys, travel around the globe, talk to many people, educate kids, help older people with desease - so you get a good (eventually excellent) database. Work out a mind set of gouls, of answers for the question "what is good (for my neighbor)". Your longtime values. But you will not forget the borders of your brain: for example - you are a good coder and engineer, and not so good corner speaker ... so go politics as job would not good decision, because your influence will go zero and as coder zero++ ... ;-) But you will not forget the borders of others brain: for example - you everytime check different (also antagonistic) sources of the data for your decisions. And if somebody troll you - be calm: very good input for your decision - database (part:psycho-problems)!

And think of the time of your live: its all in move, you must check in some weeks or months again and again, the same procedure .. (Will be fine: DO WHILE(true)) ask, analyse, check, do - a simple and fine procedure in a endless loop: your live. and the backup loop is: ask one more question everytime, everywhere - to everybody ... Find the position were you with your (everytime living) "database" can make the most influence to the "problem-vector" of the world. then so you also will make some mistakes, errors appeare again and again, BUT: then you are old and grey you can say: I had done best of my willnes, my power and what my brain was able to think: attempt(sic!) to change the world to a better one. A (only limited) list of my own tasks (differ already to the list of my son, friends) : - participation, transparency with (for example) openData Apps - - networking: bring together good coders amd other - identify deficites in care for older people - organise help and also change of the reasons - ... and so on the list is under construction and any bugs I must find out next days ... ;-) Wish you a good and viable decision for your dream - job! CU

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[–] formula_ninguna link

I help women become happier by making love with them. It's for free.

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[–] Millerow link

someone would tell you: "if you want a selfless, social work - some good jobs are, but: don't work for nuclear weapon production" (finance what (also) finance such production, healthcare that (also) heal the weapon enterprise managements desease, and so on - think this all as examples)

but then a (here abstract) "other side/party" will then (because without your benefit for nuclear weapon controll software) thirst start a rocket

so your decision was not real altruistic (at all men in world) because you make a "broken glass" (like in the funny nice example above https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14379040 )

so, your problem was: your data before decision were not enough and the analysis of the situation (in the whole world) not deep enough

some people will argue: so much data - never possible to make the best decision. I agree with it.

But you can do some approximation and before doing an (also only aproximated) List of "good, selfless, altruistic" destinations (with view of whole world and view to some influence like climate, politics, geophysics, space-riscs ... and so on.) make a risc and a potencial map about the world. And second part construct your own priority List for this risc and potencials. Big project - but also big fun! So go web and search for science studys, travel around the globe, talk to many people, educate kids, help older people with desease - so you get a good (eventually excellent) database.

Work out a mind set of gouls, of answers for the question "what is good (for my neighbor)". Your values. But you will not forget the borders of your brain: for example - you are a good coder and engineer, and not so good corner speaker ... so go politics as job would not good decision, because your influence will go zero and as coder zero++ ... ;-) But you will not forget the borders of others brain: for example - you everytime check different (also antagonistic) sources of the data for your decisions. And if somebody troll you - be calm: very good input for your decision - database (part:psycho-problems)!

And think of the time of your live: its all in move, you must check in some weeks or months again and again, the same procedure .. (Will be fine: DO WHILE(true)) ask, analyse, check, do - a simple and fine procedure in a endless loop: your live. and the backup loop is: ask one more question everytime, everywhere - to everybody ... Find the position were you with your (everytime living) "database" can make the most influence to the "problem-vector" of the world.

then so you also will make some mistakes, errors appeare again and again, BUT: then you are old and grey you can say:

I had done best of my willnes, my power and what my brain was able to think: attempt(sic!) to change the world to a better one. - thats it -

A (only limited) list of my own tasks (differ already to the list of my son, friends ...) : - participation, transparency with (for example) openData Apps - - networking: bring together good coders amd other - identify deficites in care for older people - organise help and also change of the reasons - ... and so on

the list is under construction and any bugs I must find out next days ... ;-)

Wish you a good and viable decision for your dream - job! CU

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[–] undefined link
[deleted]

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[–] sctb link

Could you please not get personal like this here? We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14375318 and marked it off-topic.

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[–] simplicitea link

already looked it up. do you ever find that a human response lends insight or relevant, current links that an encyclopedia lacks? I sure do.

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[–] dragonbonheur link

You know what? Thank you. You've made me question yet again why I even bother going to HN. This place is just full of compulsive arrogant hair-splitters passing for geniuses.

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[–] simplicitea link

I don't disagree with you, for what it's worth. I just don't know of a better community to ask my questions of.

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[–] dragonbonheur link

Have you noticed the word "encyclopedia" at the end of the sentence? Now try to imagine Samuel L. Jackson screaming "English, m*? Do you speak it?".

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[–] sctb link

> Please avoid introducing classic flamewar topics unless you have something genuinely new to say about them.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html

We detached this flagged subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14376783.

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[–] adamsea link

A little history-and-context-free, are we?

First, this is the text of the tweet in question:

"Any black or brown engineers wanna work at Code for America on criminal justice? Come code to keep people out of jail, it's worth it."

Your assumption that the poster is not OK with non black/brown engineers is an assumption.

I'd add, your comment is context-free and somewhat disingenuous, considering that we live in a society which has had a high degree of (and still has a significant amount of) systemic/institutional racism:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Institutional_racism#United_St...

If one wants to talk about racially targeted messages, well, there's plenty of good studies on portrayal of minorities in media (film/tv/news).

I think you raise a valid topic of discussion, but don't seem to want to put all the facts on the table before drawing conclusions.

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[–] devrandomguy link

Thank you for explaining. That tweet would almost certainly be considered unacceptable within my own society, because it reinforces division by a highly visible, but ultimately misleading metric: skin tone. I get that there is a persistent segment of the population that needs help to achieve economic and educational parity. Surely, the group targeted by this tweet could have been identified by a label that is specific to the relevant issues, and supported by logically sound metrics?

"underprivileged" is a term we use around here, and the social systems do seem to have a sensible set of filters for it: low household income, mental illness or physical disability, lack of formal education, refugee status, etc. The good thing about a label like "underprivileged", is that a person can truly overcome it and put it behind them. It does not have to be a part of their cultural identity, it is just an environmental problem to be solved.

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[–] galkk link

This assumption (that only black/brown people need to apply) is very valid and now you try to bend words to make the statement valid for everybody.

If I'll read statement that is completely equivalent "Any tall (over 6'5") for doing ABC" I would never assume that people not over 6'5" should bother to apply.

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[–] erikpukinskis link

I am a huge supporter of affirmative action, and I'm glad you're trying to do it, but you're doing it the wrong way.

Who follows you on Twitter? Do you have a big black/brown following there, or is it mostly white people? If it's mostly white people then you should just accept that's a white marketing channel, and don't go trying to find black folks there.

Now ask yourself: what parts of the Code For America community are substantially black? Do you have teams that have better representation? Do you do events that have better representation? You can reach out there, without even mentioning race, and get a higher probability of black applicants. Just send an email "We're hiring programmers of all experience levels! Please forward this to friends/post on Facebook/etc!" You'll get some good white applicants in there too! Great! Hire them! But hopefully it's a better racial mix than whatever you're getting with your existing marketing channels.

If you're a pretty white organization, you might have to look further. Look at your city. Where do black folks congregate? Where do latin american folks congregate? Go to those places, and again, just do regular marketing. Not "Any brown folks want to work for us on prison stuff?" but "Anyone want to work with us on the wide array of activities we do?"

Maybe they don't even care about prison reform. Frankly, that is a little racist. Lots of black people don't. Maybe they like your mission, they care about voter turnout or something, but they're happy to apply for a job in the accounting department.

Now you've got 1 more person of color on your team, that will make all of your future job marketing activities work better.

Please be careful here, affirmative action is not a straightforward concept, and it's easy to alienate both white people AND people of color. There's a right way to do it and many very wrong ways to do it.

Feel free to email me if you need someone to bounce ideas off of.

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[–] julianmarq link

> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Institutional_racism#United_St...

Jeez, that entry needs heavy rewrites. "Racism in the housing sector can be seen as early as the 1930s"? Really? Couldn't it be seen earlier?

And that's not institutional racism anyways; there's no public institution enforcing racism in the US. There's plenty of racism at the societal level, but it hasn't been backed by law for a long time.

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[–] d3ad1ysp0rk link

https://twitter.com/JazmynLatimer/status/864856313121054720

The initial tweet seems straightforward enough to me (as a white person); black/brown folks are underrepresented in most companies and thus they'd love for more to join. Reaching out sometimes helps accomplish that. Hiring is not a zero sum game. If targeting underrepresented folks in order to encourage them to join is this offensive to you, imagine actually having to be a minority...

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[–] threepipeproblm link

I agree with targeting underrepresented groups. What I don't agree with is statements that are (allegedly) "okay" when one race is filled in, but not okay when another race is filled in. To me, that is the definition of a racist statement... it's pretty clear that filling in "white people" would make this statement unacceptable... so why is it okay to fill in other specific races. There are plenty of ways to characterize a place as welcoming without reducing people to their race.

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[–] jayroh link

To echo a previous comment, the absence of one does not make it lesser or undesirable. This is not a zero sum game.

> it's pretty clear that filling in "white people" would make this statement unacceptable

Of course that's unacceptable because it's an implied norm and saying so explicitly is offensive.

If I may suggest? Consider it this way:

"Black and brown people are especially welcome because of their history, life experiences, and unique viewpoints towards something that has historically affected their community's everyday existence ... in addition to the more common applicants (white males)"

NOT:

"Black and Brown people: yay. White people: booooo"

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[–] threepipeproblm link

Although it sounds like they are working on some important issues, I'm not sure I'd want to work for an organization who posts racially targeted messages -- which presumably they think are ok with some races filled into the blanks, but not others.

https://twitter.com/JazmynLatimer/status/864585574581059584

It seems like non-racist messaging would be a better approach!

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[–] phoenixProgram link

the people (political people, legal people) are not a single species. there are multiple species and there is no such thing as a single dominant species. tall tales of this sort are jewish lies. the jews love to have sex with species they consider inferior and take care of their inferior offspring by using operant conditioning on society to inflict psychological wounds. they are evil bugs who breed half bug/half humans. these half-people are unable to cope with society, so the jews inflict psychological wounds on those who display real talent since the half bugs cannot stand actual competence. They hate competent people.

You can forget about the "single species" lie. Stop repeating it. That is how you can do some good for yourself and your species. Don't ask me what species you belong to.

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[–] whistlerbrk link

Besides the brevity of your answer I can't imagine a possible explanation as to why you would be downvoted. Education is by far the best way to implement positive change on a generational and self propagating basis.

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[–] lngnmn link

There are even obvious historical evidences - one should compare the impact on Upanishads and Buddhism (which philosophy has been built upon Upanishadic) with primitive, barbarian cults which are still powerful in some unfortunate countries.

The borrowings from Greeks and Romans (and in the later times British) in progressive European nations are self-evident.

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[–] lngnmn link

as a species, no less? ;)

Education then.

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[–] DarkKomunalec link

As individuals, we benefit from being in control of our computers. To maintain that control, good security is essential. So I'd say work on that, specifically on sandboxing and limiting the damage untrusted or compromised programs can do, re-writing crucial programs in languages immune to as many exploitable bugs as possible, maybe even try formal verification (for small but essential code, like OS kernels or filesystems), if you're feeling ambitious.

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[–] Jemmeh link

Sexual education, especially about birth control. Make birth control affordable. Make adoption mainstream/ preferred to having your own kids.

I agree that we have an overpopulation issue, we don't have the resources to support this many people currently. But calling people parasites is probably getting you downvoted.

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[–] cybermonkey link

Most likely that is the reson for down votes. I don't mean that in a bad way. We are what we are - invasive parasites. Homo sapiens wiped every(thing|one) out: deus, erectus, habilis etc. Overpopulation is the real cause of most of serious problems and future endangerment of our species. The king is naked.

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[–] cybermonkey link

We, as species, are invasive parasites. If you want to do some good for the future of the human kind, environment and this planet, invest your time in research about reducing human population by at least 2/3 without compromising future scientific discoveries and advances.

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[–] brbrodude link

Study anticapitalism and go on from there. I`d recommend anarchism and World History.

Ps.: In tech & programming specifically, I think Free Software is a beautiful idea.

Ps.: I`ll add, why I think this is(my original point), is that I think it's very nice to understand(or try to understand) what is the `structure/mechaniscs of the world`, I mean, to me it would be the same to study capitalism as it is to study anticapitalism(that is, the more you see how it works, the more you`ll see stuff that is flawed), some would disagree with this, of course. Contrary to what many think, ideology to me means NOT seeing reality as it is(so I'm not talking about intantile, superficial, ideas/agenda here), so I think it's absolutely fair the everybody should take some understanding of it based on people who wanted to figure out found out, even if not 100%. Since the more correct is your model of things, the better you can act on them(you can't engineer a car with wrong math, for example). To me, personally, getting my mind out of the techie neophile mindset and knowing broader and deeper stuff gives me plenty of ideas on things to do. Even more so, that since I'm using this 'footing', I can then try to see if it matches reality and goes on to have real-world effects! ;P But anyway, what I`m saying is sort of a longer road, to try to get interested and understand other topics and then look to your habilities and see what you can do with them about the other thing. That's where the project I'm trying to work on came from and it's really meant to be a drop in the ocean and a simple program etc, but it's something I really care about since it's tied to deep layers of my person and perspective on `world`, `society`, `individuals`, `species`, etc.

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