Altruism in the job hunt

I've recently accepted a job at MIT's Office of Digital Learning which I'm quite excited about. The bulk of the work is done in open source on GitHub. We're working on a stack I'm familiar with (Python/Django) but are also actively using newer technology I'm interested in (React/Docker).

Technology choice wasn't the actual reason I chose this job though. I've been gaining a bunch of experience over the past few years in product and engineering. First at Google, where I first started to understand what product was about, then later at Sprint.ly where I got to see first-hand how it's done by Joe Stump. The next stop on my career path would have naturally been somewhere leading an engineering team at a venture-backed startup. I certainly have enough industry connections to make that a reality (and I'm thankful for that!).

Like many others I know, I've grown to want something more than a paycheck and some equity. I wanted the bulk of my work to go to helping improve the lives of society, not lining the pockets of people who already have a bunch of money. When I went looking for jobs that fit this mold though, I had a bunch of difficulty. Many of the connections I had were in the startup industry. Further complicating things, I was looking for jobs in Boston, MA where I didn't know many people.

The result of my research was that there are three different sectors where you can do this sort of society-benefiting work: non-profits, government and education. During my search, I spoke with folks at all three.

On the government front, there are some really interesting new endeavors that you might not have heard about. The Department of Digital Services is where my buddies Alex and Nick work. They're doing work for some systemic infrastructure problems that the government is facing. Think of things like the healthcare.gov debacle, which that group helped solve. There's another, similar, organization called 18F where my friend Julia works. I strongly considered working for 18F (and might again, in the future). They're an internal consultancy within the government. They've worked on some neat things like a dashboard showing the TLS support for various .gov domains as well as speeding up freedom of information act requests.

The world of non-profits is a large one and they span the breadth of humanitarian efforts. It's difficult to find non-profits that are also technology companies. The one I spoke to was edX.org, which provides education to people on the internet for free.

The realm of education is ultimately where I landed. Part of that is to be expected, given that there are more than 100 universities in Boston. My team at MIT (who's hiring) does work with the aforementioned edX.org team to provide free education to the masses. We also support the teaching staff at MIT by building online tools like helping students synthesize time intensive and error-prone experiments in biology class.

If you're like me and you find yourself yearning for more to your daily working life than shipping widgets or further perpetuating the Silicon Valley status-quo, consider these alternative industries.