10 great places for techies to 'pay it forward'

Why not kick off the New Year by putting your awesome IT skills to work for the greater good? Here are just a few of the many organizations that can use techie assistance.

techies pay it forward
Working for the greater good

IT pros are all about adding value these days -- for their departments, their companies and their customers.

But some tech folks are taking the value proposition a step further, using their skills to impact more than just the bottom line. As you make your resolutions and firm up your career goals for 2014, why not consider giving back by volunteering with an organization in need of technical prowess?

Here we profile 10 tech professionals and the organizations with which they volunteer. Have a look through for inspiration, then tell us in the comments section where it is that you like to pay it forward, IT-style.

Code for America
Code for America

Code for America (CFA) is best known for its year-long, stipend-funded fellowships, but CFA's volunteer-run brigades represent an opportunity for techies to contribute locally in smaller chunks of time.

Who they want: Developers, designers, researchers and those who can help with documentation.

Volunteer profile: Graduate student and freelance developer Rebekah Monson helps run Code for Miami, a Miami-Dade County brigade that meets weekly. Current projects include an app that helps people follow bills through the legislative process.

"There's a huge need for better technology in our cities, and we're good at that stuff," Monson says. "We want to share to make our cities better."

The American Red Cross
The American Red Cross

Given its global reach, the Red Cross relies heavily on technology to deliver its diverse services.

Who they want: People with strong social media skills to serve as Disaster Digital Volunteers to monitor and report on activity during disasters -- for example, tweeting out shelter locations. Volunteers may also be tapped for tasks onsite like setting up satellite terminals.

Volunteer profile: Erin Link honed her social media skills as a health promotion and wellness coordinator at Illinois State University. She decided to put them to use after witnessing the need for information before, during and after tornadoes. "It takes a village to monitor and respond to online traffic," she says.

Blacks in Technology
Blacks in Technology

Greg Greenlee, a systems engineer at data center provider Appica, started Blacks in Technology four years ago to create a community for African-Americans in the tech field.

Who they want: Technical professionals at all levels, and from all ethnic backgrounds, as volunteers and/or members. "Everybody benefits from cross-cultural exchanges," Greenlee says.

Volunteer profile: Ayori Selassie, a product manager at Salesforce.com, discovered Blacks in Technology via Twitter and now helps out with business development, alignment and organizational strategy. "I want to see a new stereotype emerge of African-Americans being obsessed with problem-solving of all varieties -- technical, business, social and cultural," says Selassie.

ReAllocate
ReAllocate

ReAllocate's mission is to connect world-class tech volunteers with organizations working on projects with "high social impact," explains executive director Kyle Stewart. That connection can happen virtually or via real-world "hactivations." Current projects include building a maker skill-training center for the homeless in San Francisco and designing an electro-voice module for wheelchairs.

Who they want: Programmers, developers, designers, business strategists and project managers.

Volunteer profile: John Clarke Mills, co-founder of San Francisco software company Zenput, sees ReAllocate as a chance to bring his entrepreneurial skills to nonprofits, particularly in helping organizations build scalable infrastructure. Mills is currently helping build out the ReAllocate software platform to connect volunteers with organizations in need.

Random Hacks of Kindness
Random Hacks of Kindness

Random Hacks of Kindness is a global community committed to "building practical open technology for a better world." The group facilitates collaboration between individuals, communities and organizations, including sponsoring hackathons where volunteers build apps.

Who they want: Technologists of all varieties.

Volunteer profile: At her first RHoK hackathon in June 2012, Mathilde Piard, a social media manager at Cox Media Group in Atlanta, presented three ideas for apps to help engage citizens in civic life. Teams decided to work on two of her ideas, and one app -- which collects residents' ideas for redeveloping blighted properties -- won first place.

The Community Corps
The Community Corps

The Community Corps helps connect technology professionals with nonprofits, schools and individuals to work on everything from developing an organization's technology strategy to updating websites and mentoring students.

Who they want: Technical professionals at all levels.

Volunteer profile: As Steve Murphy, a partner at DM2 Software Inc. in Vancouver, Wash., approached his 60s, he started to look for places to volunteer. "I was looking to give back, and I want to keep my technical skills up." Murphy has donated some 2,000 hours to Community Corps so far. He works virtually, mostly helping nonprofits update their websites with new functionality, such as the ability to accept donations online.

VolunteerMatch
VolunteerMatch

VolunteerMatch connects technologists with organizations in need and also uses volunteers to help expand its own operation. "Our [goal] is to build marketplaces that make it possible for more people to make an impact in their communities," explains spokesman Robert Rosenthal.

Who they want: SEO and analytics experts, Web and mobile app developers.

Volunteer profile: Kristen Berman is a co-founder of Irrational Labs, which helps companies understand and leverage behavioral economics. For VolunteerMatch, she works with the organization's product team on user experience issues, aiming to encourage more potential volunteers to make a firm commitment. "It makes sense to share [my] expertise with organizations that couldn't otherwise afford our services," Berman says.

Hack for Change
Hack for Change

Hack for Change sponsors a national day of civic hacking and encourages local and regional groups to continue work year-round. In both cases, volunteers come together to work in teams developing apps that enable communities and governments to better serve their residents.

Who they want: Coders, project leaders, designers, subject matter experts and testers.

Volunteer profile: Cox Media's Mathilde Piard, who also volunteers for Random Hacks of Kindness, helped organize Govathon, Atlanta's citywide hackathon. The most recent Govathon drew more than 130 attendees who worked on 23 projects. When local technologists address local problems, Piard says, "You have people who have some stake in seeing [an app] through to completion."

Highground Hackers
Highground Hackers

Started after the December 2012 Sandy Hook massacre, Highground Hackers brings together developers, entrepreneurs and investors to tackle different areas of public concern, including gun violence, suicide prevention and youth outreach. Speakers provide insight into specific problems, then join volunteer teams to develop solutions. The group aims to hold one hackathon every quarter.

Who they want: Developers and subject matter experts, including professors and researchers.

Volunteer profile: Sarah Seegal, a freelance UX expert, joined a recent Highground Hackers team working to build a platform in Facebook to serve up a risk behavior survey to teens. "If you're looking for impact," Seegal says, volunteering tech skills delivers the biggest bang for the buck.

LocalWiki
LocalWiki

Launched in 2004, this grassroots effort aims to collect and share knowledge about local communities. "We believe that this vast collection of local knowledge should be created by the people who know it best -- individual community members working together," says LocalWiki managing director Marina Kukso.

Who they want: Python and JavaScript programmers, UI/UX folks and designers.

Volunteer profile: Seth Vincent is a freelance designer and programmer who also has a background in journalism. "I enjoy opportunities that combine my interests in sharing information and writing code," he says. Vincent and friend started a wiki for Olympia, Wash., in December 2011. About a year later, he created SeattleWiki.net after moving there.

techies pay it forward
Where do you volunteer?

These great organizations, and the individuals who volunteer with them, are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to needing pro bono tech talent.

Tell us in the comments section below where you like to pay it forward, IT-style. 

Pratt is a Computerworld contributing writer in Waltham, Mass.