Social Impact Using Your Heart and Mind in Tech | Hacker Noon


I love where impact ⋂ tech. ML Product @ AWS Previously: ML Data Strategy @ FB, PM @ Lyft.

My generation has seen a world much less forgiving. We grew up understanding the fundamentals of climate change, and saw rising sea levels and record setting temperatures all over the world.

We listened and watched on TV stories of tens of millions of refugees displaced by never ending wars and unstable governments. Many of us have only journeyed a few years into our careers when history’s largest pandemic hit the world. It’s clear that every generation has their coming of age struggles, but I can’t help but think we’ve set a new record.

It’s easy to flip on the news or see with a few swipes on Instagram people’s frustration with the present and angst over the future. All of those data points are valid, but this has given rise to new leaders who are passionate, hardworking, and fighters for a better world. 

Despite some calling our generation apathetic, I’ve actually seen the opposite. San Francisco is a counter culture, but another way to say that is ahead of the curve.

The last several years, I’ve seen hundreds of people and gotten to know a few personally who have dedicated large amounts of their time both at work or after hours using their skills to have social impact. 

Volunteering at a homeless shelter provides a valuable service to the local community that is highly accessible.

However, there’s also other ways to contribute that require either specialized education or experience to do well. I’ve seen young adults that are software engineers in big tech, consultants at the top tier firms, and other well educated individuals take part in a movement to have social impact using both their heart, and their well educated minds.

Some common activities are developing strategies for nonprofits to design more efficient distribution mechanisms for feeding the homeless, writing fundraising strategies, balancing financial accounts, and designing tools that accelerate charitable capabilities.

It’s becoming more commonplace because many individuals between 18-35 feel an obligation to help those in need. Many contribute money to these causes, but often times more expensive than money is our time. I’m starting to see many more people volunteer time and skills too, and I think that’s a much more important sign to look at.

Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash

When I was working at Facebook, I used my late nights and weekends to partner with Social Good fund, a non-profit in the San Francisco Bay Area. We built, a platform that helps donors give appreciated stock to charities.

Donating appreciated stock is the most tax-effective way to donate. You can give up to 37% more to a charity, without increasing your out of pocket cost. We’ve automated the back office for hundreds of charities to accept stock donations. Cocatalyst is similar to a donor advised fund, or better known as a DAF, except simpler to use and designed for both donors and charities.

Donors, for the first time, can make a stock donation for almost the same amount of effort as giving through a credit card online. We also launched a donation matching program to support charities like the ACLU and Ball Project that fight for Black Lives. I personally don’t make money off of this, it’s my way of volunteering, similar to what some might do at their local church. If you volunteer with a charity these are other fundraising ideas that are interesting.

I’m a Senior Product Manager at Amazon Web Services. I lead some of the products on our Machine Learning Platform, SageMaker by day. I’ve written code at Amazon, when I was a PM at Lyft, and for my startup.

Because I had experience in both coding and solving challenging business problems, I knew that if I wanted to donate my time, it had to be one that created a lot of value. I’ve been very proud of the impact Cocatalyst has had, and optimistic about it’s potential to have even more outsized impact.

Not everyone who wants to have impact needs to create something from scratch though. There are growing organizations that help facilitate this trend.

Take for example the Ycore Network. Started by a group of Stanford grads, Ycore Fellows have to apply, and if selected, they are grouped into volunteering teams of 5. The teams are then paired with a local charity in the Bay Area.

Over the course of 3 months, they will identify a challenge the charity is facing, and craft a solution that can be deployed by the charity’s full time staff. This model is unique because it usually takes advantage of the Fellows’ core skills they learned from work or school, and applies it in a way that directly helps the community. They have had over 250 Fellows volunteer a total of 21,000+ community service hours.

Photo by Nikita Kachanovsky on Unsplash

The fact that millennials are taking the time to find creative outlets to improve society should give us optimism for the future. Over the next 7-15 years, the majority rank and file in the Fortune 500 companies will be composed of this new generation that is more aware of the systemic problems of society.

Many of those leaders will also have unique experience and perspectives, informed by their outside activities of how they can use their platform to have a positive change.

The saying goes Rome wasn’t built in a day– well neither is changing an existing system. The Hackernoon community is a unique place where there are many people that understand new technologies. Taking the time to think outside the box will create a path where we can make society and the world a better place.

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I love where impact ⋂ tech. ML Product @ AWS Previously: ML Data Strategy @ FB, PM @ Lyft.


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