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Ask HN: How has volunteering helped you grow?
192 points by kuro-kuris on Apr 24, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 133 comments
Hi HN, I enjoyed volunteering teaching children to code back at university and during the holidays I like gathering food for homeless people. What kind of volunteering has helped you grow the most? What kind of volunteering do you find the most fulfillment from?

Discussion about volunteering software skills online: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13678952 I am looking for something more physical or personal in London. Feel free to get in touch to chat more about volunteering, we can grab a coffee if you are in London.




I’d accidentally ridden into a Critical Mass Cycle protest ride in London around 2010. Ended up setting one up in Bath, that ran for a bit and started attending the local cycle campaigning group. A respect ride held in honour of a young man that was killed in a hit and run however became something bigger than a Friday night protest ride, and I was the main speaker at a large ride held in his honour. It was rather humbling.

After that I was asked to be chair of Cycle Bath and over the last 3 years I’ve taught myself about transport, helped the council win millions in funding, and made cycling a key agenda item locally. I’ve learnt a lot about social media, public engagement and how to work with councils.

My proudest moment was cycling along a towpath I’d fought hard to have upgraded to a 4 season wheel friendly surface, even having police protection at a meeting, and seeing people in wheelchairs using it. It brought home that much of the cycle advocacy is just about making public space easier for people, particularly kids and people with mobility issues, to get around independently.

Recently I created a transport tube map for Bath and this resulted in a national series of workshops teaching people how to make this key campaigning tool for cycle advocacy groups and even some council officers.

I’ve begun to apply my IT skills to analyse UK Census 2011 commuter flow data and model modal split flows within the city. This piece of work might go national in the next couple of weeks due to some of the analysis I’ve been able to do. (Cycling and Walking can be hugely under-represented in the stats that councils use for transport planning.)

I’m now thinking of running for council in 2019 and hopefully getting the transport brief. It’s considered a bit of a poison chalice but personally I cannot see a better way to help improve the city which has been my home for the last 16 years.

If somebody had told me in 2010, that that one cycle ride home would have lead to this, I simply would not have believed them. What I will say is that I almost wish I could get paid to do this full time, but thankfully IT consultancy seems to give me the time to do this for now.

[edit] A lot of what I've written on the subject can be found here https://cyclebath.org.uk/author/awjreynolds/


Thank you for keeping me safe, on the bike on and on foot. This sort of advocacy and hard work really does impact a lot of people and lets them do things they have to (get to work) and things they want to (go to the country park for lunch) much easier and safer.


You're more than welcome and the thanks are very much appreciated.


That's a fantastic story. Life is full of little coincidences like that, it is rare that you can trace the outcome so precisely to a single event, this was one fortunate accident, but I'm still really sorry that someone died in order to put that protest ride in your path. Even the darkest of clouds can have silver linings.


That's fantastic! I recently joined the Dublin Cycling Campaign and we want to do things like this - as you mention, the map at https://cyclebath.org.uk/map/ is an inspiration.


The tutorial is really useful http://www.cyclinguk.org/guide/make-tube-map-cycle-network but it does use the colour scheme before I switched to something that matches IAN 195 http://www.standardsforhighways.co.uk/ha/standards/ians/pdfs...

You won't believe the amount of time it took to get the wording right on the legend :D Spent hours with Jonathan from GMCC and Cycle Nation coming to the right wording. Colours are also colourblind safe.


Oh one other thing. Currently working on a simplified Bath map focused on Travel Time comparing bicycle to eBike. https://docs.google.com/drawings/d/1ZH9cEOlb9BcYADH3SSf6X2lo...

Going to be released as part of an article I am writing for the local paper on the impact buying an eBike has had on my life. TL;DR Was able to go from a two car family to one, no longer use buses or taxis.


As I was reading your post, a nurse from a local hospital called and told me that my brother was in the ER after crashing his bicycle. He was biking to the National Institute of Health where he is in a traumatic brain injury study. He was hit by a car while riding his bike (without a helmet or health insurance)in 2013. Today he has insurance and was wearing a helmet:)


That's great! I find cycling & its place in society to be a really interesting subject, & one which I take part in (cycling is my main mode of transport), encourage & engage (member of Leeds cycling campaign) with in a fair few ways.

As a software dev, I'm particularly interested in the ways in which you found to apply your techical skills to the subject. What other ways do you you see of using those to further improve matters?


It started by looking at http://datashine.org.uk and the sister commute site http://commute.datashine.org.uk/

From which I derived this spreadsheet (ongoing) : https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1zSLXKO0zRBHeHcunKv5B...

I then downloaded WU03EW MSOA data into this fusion table: https://fusiontables.google.com/DataSource?docid=1sNyIr6EGEE...

From which I've extracted values I am interested in.

However I find it painful to work with.

I now have a city to msoa lookup as well as the population centroids from the datashine commute site (thanks to them for providing them to me)

I am now looking at commuters within a city, those coming from the outside, as well as those travelling across the city.

In particular I'm seeing modal split analysis which indicates 100%+ levels of cycling than being used by the council for transport policy. This may be down to the fact Bath and North East Somerset is a mixed urban/rural county.

I need to find MSOA population densities per km2 (have a source please link!) to be able to determine if there is a correlation between low density and car use. (I suspect it is true given our poor public transport.)

I've now downloaded all the data into a Postgres db to allow me to play with it better and want to paint a national picture.

Once I have this done at MSOA level I want to look at doing this at LSOA level as the accuracy is that much better.


That's awesome.


Let me share my story how volunteering has changed my life!

I was studying BE(Four Year Study) at a college in India before 2 years. I was not impressed by studies and I am a lazy guy too. I just want to do something which makes me happy.

(During my third year of study) I started going to hostel library to read newspapers (only to read current news, cinema, politics etc.., especially not something useful). I started liking reading as it gave me a good feeling and something which feels good inside.

I started observing that there is the only librarian who manages the entire library and he makes more than an hour every day after the working hours to arrange the newspapers in shelves and the books.

Something struck me to help the librarian after the working hours. I just started helping by arranging the newspapers and magazines regularly.

The librarian started becoming my friend and I was able to get new friends and every evening we started to make debating on current issues and a lof of stuff like that.

I started feeling happier and some responsibility in myself.I started reading books and magazines. I was feeling I was growing by inside.

Finally, the day came for applying for the post of "Library Secretary". Librarian asked me to apply for that but I had hesitated. But I applied.

I was interviewed by the college principal committee and got selected as a "Library Secretary"

Things to note from my story

1.You should not be in a profit oriented mindset. That is against volunteering I feel strongly. 2.Volunteering will increase the responsibility and provide a nice platform to learn the environment especially people. 3.It will groom you without you noticing it 4.You will make a network which may or may not be useful. 5.Finally you end up something good


I personally don't find any fulfillment from volunteering, nor do I really grow in any direction. But that doesn't bother me. I have a few hours per week usually dedicated to tutoring kids from schools that are not so great. It seems to help them and I have a few hours to spare.


It is great that you do so and I think it does provide some minimal "fulfillment" to you. Your last statement says it all, "It seems to help them". That is the fulfillment. It doesn't always have to be life shattering and completely consuming. I always aim to just make the world better than it was yesterday. If we all did that, who knows what might happen? :)


think this is a great statement in this ego driven world! it is not always about "us", it is ok to do things for someone else, even without any direct benefit.


I volunteer in a large, well known organization.

We always try to filter out people that want to join for selfish reason as they usually turn out to be bad volunteers.

E.g. people try to work on something to gain exposure and then drop everything when something more interesting comes up or they receive criticism.


Even if you don't feel fulfillment from it, it's awesome that you don't mind contributing in that way. Many more kids need it than is evident, usually.


This is awesome.


I'm one of those people with loads of ideas stewing at the back of my head. They come and go (out of fashion) but one idea stuck around for more than five years. It's an edtech for children, so by the end of last year, I decided that maybe I should take the plunge. Plus I was getting bored of freelancing for corporations. First step is to find out whether I actually like to work with children - because I think that's important even though it's edtech - and whether the assumptions I made were sensible enough. My dream is to make reading (English) as universal and enjoyable as possible, particularly for disadvantaged children.

So off I went to South East Asia. I volunteered at a semi-Montessori school for poor and refugee kids for three months. To talk about the experience will take much more than a single post, but let me just say that without it, I would still be feeling that I'm so clever of thinking about this idea when I was actually faffing about. The reality of poverty and hardship came down like a ton of bricks. I saw clearly the barriers that the children had, for just being born in the wrong place at the wrong time. And the usefulness of books and the Internet stuck out like ... they're essential, they're the only fair chance these kids can ever get. (One thing I also learnt is that mobile phones are practically universal, poor or not.)

So that made the idea all the more urgent. And another thing that I never expected to pick up was that I gained a lot more confidence - I'm the shy type who would shake and get sick just thinking about presenting in front of my team - but in those classrooms, man, it's merciless, and plus you love those kids and have the ultimate responsibility to manage them ...

I wouldn't say that this fully prepared me for the CEO job but it's definitely a strong stepping stone for me :) And those memories really stay with you forever. So if anyone's thinking about volunteering - because this feeling doesn't occur but in specific times - I highly recommend you to go for it. It will at the very least teach you how to give without expecting anything back in return.


Would like a detailed blog post on this! I am just starting out my career and would want to do something like this.


> detailed blog post

When I'm actually churning the product, yes that would make sense! I'm currently sharpening my skills, I thought I had it still in me (art-making) but apparently not. Well they did say that edtech is a long game - that's my half-full cup anyway!

Good luck with finding the right pathway. Since it's early stage (I'm assuming that you've just graduated?) just follow your instinct. Even if you turn out to be wrong it's OK, plus you can always adjust course :)


Thanks! Been working for an year now (graduated last year), just want to try out new things! :)


Until recently, I volunteered as a coach for my local school district's Science Olympiad, in the middle school division. My first year they asked me to work with one of the aviation events. I'd never really had an interest in flight, and certainly not to the extent that I could teach others about it.

First lesson: middle schoolers (think 11 - 14 years old) will test your patience in new and completely unimagined ways, if you don't have kids of your own. They will also surprise you in a bunch of wonderful ways too. I had to learn how to corral their attention, navigate their relationships with each other, and motivate them to actually get stuff done. Turns out it was great training for being a supervisor later on :)

Second lesson: I had to learn about flight, more than I'd ever before, and figure out how to teach it. I don't think I did this very well, to be honest, but five years after graduating school it was nice to teach myself something that wasn't tech-related.

Final lesson: I had to learn to accept there were things I could not fix. As an engineer and inveterate tinkerer, this is hard for me to come to terms with. Even in the affluent area I lived in, and with kids who had all volunteered for this after-school activity, we had kids with serious home issues, kids whose friends were dealing with hard personal problems, and at least one violent outburst. I saw the kids for ninety minutes a week; the best I could do was make a welcoming and safe environment for them. That has never really sat well with me.

My job changed, and now I travel too much to coach anymore. It's my biggest regret about the change. I miss working with those kids.


yes, coaching (and teaching in general) has great bang for the buck and tends to return as much as you give. it helps to have a good understanding of the subject (not necessarily expertise), but if not, in many cases, you can (re-)teach yourself the subject a little ahead of the students.

but the more important lessons come from learning how to manage a team. managing (much less leading) is hard. it develops your empathy muscles. it forces you to be nimble and creative. you'll feel a sense of failure and accomplishment at the same time. but children are so forgiving and watching them learn and grow fills you with a sense of pride (i volunteer coach basketball and i love it).

this sense of pride and self-esteem is a hidden benefit that not many people talk about since it seems so selfish, but it's real benefit to consider.


> the best I could do was make a welcoming and safe environment for them. That has never really sat well with me

As a child of a kindergarten teacher, this is the constant truth that both breaks every teacher's heart and motivates them to try harder every day.

Title I schools are tougher. Kids who get themselves up and to school, if they come at all. Kids without access to clean clothes. Kids who don't have access to a solid meal outside of school breakfast / lunches.

I can't find a link offhand, but I know I read that some school districts around the country are beginning to co-locate social service points of presence in community schools to good effect.


I'm a search and rescue volunteer for Nevada County, near Tahoe, and I love the shit out of it. I've been fairly active in my community in one way or another, mostly because it's a good way to meet good people and to offset the regular disheartening misery of online interaction, but search and rescue people are some of the best folks I've ever met.

Nevada County does an excellent job of training its SAR members and is generally well-equipped, especially for a rural county, and respected, so I'm fortunate that that's my first exposure to SAR.

Whether it's 3 a.m. Wednesday morning or 10 p.m. Saturday night or 6 a.m. some other morning, in town or 30 miles into the woods, a bunch of people will show up with smiles and coffee and bright uniforms and do whatever needs to be done to get the job done.

I spent three of the last five days putting down a pile of miles by snowshoe, searching for a missing aircraft. We had air national guard, civil air patrol, CalOES, and SAR crews from counties around the state (and one from out-of-state).

There's all the usual stuff that I benefit directly from -- I've received a lot of training, including medical and specialized skills but also in incident command, and SAR in our area pretty well checks off my "regular physical exercise" box -- but the greatest benefit to me by far is the time I've spent with those good folks. It's the perfect counter to all of the shitty cynicism that's so rampant everywhere these days.

Bringing the lost, sick, and injured back home, locating evidence in difficult cases, and even retrieving the deceased are all rewarding of course too.


Is this something that would be compatible with a typical 9-5 job? Sounds like you need to be somewhat on-call. Can you be a weekend on-call volunteer?


You can, and a lot of folks do just that. It can be exhausting though -- put in a full work week, then put in 12 hours on a weekend call-out (12 hours is not atypical for larger searches, depending on your area), then back to work again.

Some employers are good about allowing time for this sort of thing. I recently sold my business and went back to a part-time grownup job. I can generally run off to a search as long as I clear it with my supervisor and make up my time later.


I did Peace Corps (US overseas volunteer program) a few years ago in my mid-20s. I spent three and a half years living and working in Burkina Faso in West Africa. I was teaching basic computing (think kids who have never touched a computer) and training other (Burkinabe) teachers to do the same.

I helped to build two computer labs using funding from various French groups and trained one teacher intensely to the point that he was able to run the curriculum himself. I know that it lasted at least a year after I was gone but unfortunately haven't kept up since then.

Anyway, life in Burkina taught me a hell of a lot about myself, patience, culture, language and communication, community and a whole range of other things. It has deeply defined who I am now and was incredibly valuable for me. I still, however, struggle with the question of whether or not I recommend such programs to others.


Can you elaborate on why you're not sure on giving the recommendation to programs like the Peace Corps?


Apologies for the delay getting back. I started to respond to this a couple of times yesterday but it's kind of tough to answer and I kept getting sidetracked.

Basically, I feel like my time in Peace Corps did more for me than for the people I was there to help. I struggle with that a bit and it makes me wonder if the PC approach is truly valuable.

On the plus side, I introduced hundreds of kids to computers, provided more advanced training to 50+ adult professors and left at least one person with the necessary tools to run a computer literacy class. I did the most in my third year (an extension of the normal two year stay) largely because I finally had a decent grasp on the culture and understanding of how to do things in a more sustainable way. In fact, my decision to extend was mostly because I felt like I hadn't really done "enough".

But even that felt like so little in the end. I remember at one point discussing with PC leadership in Burkina implementing a program to teach IT to university students training to be teachers and when I think back I really wish we could've worked that out. Unfortunately it never came to fruition and I heard a few years ago that PC Burkina shut down the whole IT program. Likely many of the labs we maintained and lesson plans we built are collecting dust (we were only the second wave of IT volunteers at the time).

PC is very different from country to country and it seems like kind of crap shoot whether or not one can really have a sustainable impact on anything. PC provides a very good structure for the volunteer, but it is ultimately all on the volunteer to figure out how to execute programs. This can be absolutely great for some people and terrible for others. I fell somewhere in the middle and knew volunteers everywhere in between.

Without really knowing a person (and other country PC programs) it's difficult for me to decide how to judge the overall program and mission.


Volunteering has taught me a lot about being a servant and a leader.

I've spent a lot of time -probably thousands of hours- volunteering, so it has been a significant investment of my time, but I'd do it all over again. Not only is it very rewarding, but it can develop your character and leadership abilities in all kinds of positive ways.

I started my volunteer experience at a homeless shelter in the Chicago area. It got me out of my comfort zone and challenged me to face difficult, often confusing situations that I was very unprepared for. At the end of the day, it constantly challenged me to simply be a servant of others without expecting much of anything in return.

Since then I have volunteered a lot at churches, in the foster care system, crisis pregnancy centers at and other non-profits in my community. This has given me a ton of experience working with people and dealing with people issues. I'm a programmer by trade, but a people person at the end of the day. I have found this invaluable in the business world. Most of my leadership experience has come from volunteering in non-profits. Much of my leadership style has also been developed from that experience. I've been recognized as a very uniquely skilled leader at my company and there's no doubt I owe it to my volunteer experience, so I'm thankful for that and would highly recommend finding meaningful ways to give back to your community.


I was a volunteer firefighter from about 1992-2002 or so. During that time I attained my NC Fire and Rescue Commission certification as Fire Instructor II with qualifications to teach Firefighter I&II certification classes, LP Gas Firefighting and Incident Command. I held ranks from probie to Assistant Chief and was acting Fire Chief for a few months at one point.

So, how did I grow from all that? Well, I got a lot more comfortable operating in front of crowds, teaching and delivering content, as a result of teaching FF classes.

I also became generally more stoic and mentally "tough" if you want to call it that, since on the fireground you don't really have the luxury of freaking out and being super reactive to things. You learn to become very pragmatic and adopt a mindset of "this is the situation as it is, now let's figure out what to do about it".

And on a related note, it taught me the importance of what firefighters call "size up" which basically just means doing a quick, but reasonably thorough, assessment of a situation at the earliest possible moment, in order to avoid surprises. Example: on a house fire, if a crew go in on an attack line to do interior attack, and nobody does a 360° sizeup, you may miss the 500 gallon propane tank next to the back wall, which is being impinged on by fire. Result: BLEVE and possibly injured or killed firefighters.

And while in the business world you're not usually dealing with anything where people's lives are on the line, sizeup and those kinds of things are still important.

Anyway, I did that for about a decade, but then I moved and got into the meat of my "proper" career and don't really have time for firefighting anymore. I haven't been doing a lot of volunteering lately, but the one thing I'd like to find time to get involved with is the Literacy Council. My mom was a volunteer tutor when I was a kid and I kinda always wanted to do that.


I was touring High Voltage Software once that had a team working on a firefighting educational simulator (looks like it was called FLAME-SIM) that I got to watch for a few minutes.

The 360 degree sizeup was one of the first things they had you do when you arrived on the site of the fire in the simulation, IIRC. Apparently they thought it was important enough to include as well.


Not to be too cynical, but in my case volunteering resulted only in troubles and no growth at all. What I ended up beside some singular cases was fighting with people that internally resigned on something, accumulated bad habits but still narcissistically viewed themselves as perfect. The most brutal outcome was that the people I helped for free and dedicated a lot of time to improve their life, changed for much worse once they "saw the light" and their life improved - from a resigned person turned into a self-confident predator, throwing away most of human decency, trying to outright buy me or boss me. I really started to be cynical that perhaps there is a reason they were down and it was for the better... Then there are a few romantic, pure souls that are taken advantage of by everyone around them, ending up in the bottom - those are rare pearls that make it somewhat meaningful.


Interesting. What kind of volunteering did you do (homeshelters, recovery...)?

My experience has been that you can only help people that really want it, (but don't know yet how to achieve what they want, but at least know that they need change).

As the old saying: "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink", you can't help somebody that really doesn't want to change themselves.


Open source development, editing public wikis, and making useful Youtube videos don't ever seem ever seem to be mentioned or recognized as volunteering, even though its beneficial impacts on society can be much larger per time spent.

Why isn't this form of volunteering recognized or promoted as such? Are the people who trumpet the benefits of volunteering (often teachers, academic administrators) simply behind the times, or is this simply not the kind of volunteering that these kinds of people themselves enjoy?

I am led to believe that it's not just that they're behind the times, but that it can be explained by a personality preference. After all, publishing research papers that provide a public benefit has been around a long time, but this is never mentioned as a form of volunteering.

Is volunteering in the visible social sense simply more tangible and understandable, hence its broader adoption than behind-the-scenes volunteering that can provide a greater benefit? Society's tendency to pressure smart people to undergo visible demonstrations of virtue rather than undertake activities that provide a net greater good has bothered me for a long time.


I think people tend not to think of editing Wikipedia as a long term time investment. YouTube videos don't feel like volunteering to me because more often than not it's a job. And open source development probably just wouldn't occur to most people because most people aren't developers.


As an American from an immigrant family, I owe so much to the volunteer mentors, teachers, coaches, and community activists that volunteered in programs I was in growing up in New York City.

It eventually led me to go to college, then on to work as a NASA engineer and for many startup companies afterward.

I've personally volunteered in NYC, LA, Spain, Brazil, mostly in the homeless, substance abuse, and prostitution/human trafficking related causes.

I believe we exist to give to others. Now more than every people are looking to make a real difference.

That's why I've quit my day job and started

http://BeADoer.IO

A place to connect with other like-minded people, and rally support around social causes. We're making it super easy to get involved with shaping policy, volunteering, and fundraising.

I'd love it if you join the list in anticipation of our launch since anyone on here is the kind of person that can help us shape this thing and make a huge impact.


> I believe we exist to give to others.

Absolutely! This is a great mindset. Many successful people advise this. One example is Tony Robbins. Any ideas on what prevents more people from trying it out?


If I can help with your article in any way, please let me know!


This is great! Can organizations use your site?


Great. We need more things like this.


I loved volunteering at an overnight shelter for homeless men, which I did for about 5 years. After the very first night, I realized that I had done more to address my anxiety about homelessness in this single gesture than I had achieved in the prior 30 years of giving spare change to panhandlers. Most homeless people are not panhandlers, and lots of panhandlers aren't homeless. A lot of homeless people were injured on the job an can no longer work, and a large portion of them are veterans, and of course there are a huge number of severely mentally ill people. Maybe the thing that left the biggest impression on me was the loneliness of the homeless.


Wow, bless your heart. Such an uplifting story. What did you learn that could be an insight applied to helping address the issue of loneliness?


I'm from New Zealand and I'm currently living in Thailand volunteering for an anti human trafficking organisation, rescuing children from the sex trade.

I was thrown in the deep end and had to quickly become a Salesforce administrator and developer, I'm now running two Salesforce orgs, as well as all the other stuff we have going on.

I've found it an amazing exercise -- I've grown in patience, understanding of other people, time management, etc... as well as all the new technical skills I've learned.

I was amazed at how doable it is as well. My wife and I have two young girls (5 and 3), and although we were hugely daunted to begin with, we've coped pretty well. As long as you (the reader) have some ability to roll with the punches, I'd give it a go, you'll probably surprise yourself.


Working to stop human trafficking, especially of children, is on top of my list of things I'd want to work on. Can you provide more information about this org, and how effective they are? What kind of roles are available. I'm natural talents are technology and working with children (I've worked in preschools).


The org is called Destiny Rescue -- https://www.destinyrescue.org/

We've rescued just over 2,000 children since we first started in 2011. I've been involved for about a year now. There are all sorts of roles available, have a look at the positions on the site.


My main volunteer effort is Walkstarter ( https://www.walkstarter.org ) a free platform to help public schools raise money more efficiently through walkathon fundraisers. I built, support, fund and maintain the platform and my goal is to have it in use by every U.S. public school.

The platform is on track to hit $1 million in funds raised in the next 30-45 days. It's very gratifying to work on code and features that result in a tangible benefit -- increased funding for education. It has taught me a great deal about the vast disparities in education funding between affluent school districts in the Bay Area versus struggling school districts in other parts of the country. It is sad that we spend so much more on weapons than education.

Soon, I will launch GoalStarter, a variant of Walkstarter for schools that have all kinds of other -athons for fundraising such as Spellathon, Musicathon etc. I am also working on integrating RFID tags so when kids walk laps, the arduous task of recording laps walked per kid can be automated.


Very impressive, on multiple levels.


Not something just anyone can do, but I was a full time missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for two years. I became much more outgoing during this time, and developed a greater love for other people and a greater understanding of those in different situations and with different viewpoints. My appreciation and admiration for diversity was increased.

I was in Utah and southern Idaho, a place that as it turns out is very different from where I grew up in Southwest Missouri. I interacted and discussed religion regularly with former Mormons, preachers in other Churches, atheists, and others. I tried to find ways to serve and help them, we would frequently see someone moving or working in their yard and just stop and ask if we could help out.

I was also involved with coordination of efforts across many different groups and areas. This was a great experience for someone as young as I was to learn about leadership and working together with many people of different backgrounds to accomplish a larger goal.


That is an amazing personal experience. I had similar when younger on Christian-organized "Medial Missions". Reflecting on these trips now however, I must say I am ashamed to have participated in the spreading of...to put it the most bluntly...superstitious nonsense. It's becoming even more evident to me recently how non-harmless the mystical beliefs I was condoning are and the role large role they play in the social climate and political outcomes in both our and other countries (for example: Trump and the first FARC peace initiative failing in Colombia). It was hard to reconcile the life-changing nature of those trips for me with what I now see as their counterproductive aims.


I started a prayer group for people dissatisfied with mainstream religion and hosted it in my conference room on weekends. The response was overwhelming.

Although it was a group effort, I ended up doing every job at one point or another: scheduling activities, speaking and writing, leading services, teaching classes, preparing meals, doing the website and communications, printing all the materials, arranging the furniture, even playing the piano.

It was just like running a business with all its ups and downs, with profits paid to the heart, not the wallet. There were no "metrics" to this endeavor so I really don't know how others' lives were affected, but I imagine and hope that they're still paying if forward.

Biggest surprise: how much I grew by giving. My people skills got so much better that they (almost) caught up to my tech skills. Now I feel like I can handle just about business situation.

My favorite night ever was when my mother came and said, "I'm so proud of you."

Best "job" I ever had.


In high school I coded for some MUD games for fun.

I wasn't thinking anything like "This will look great on my resume" or "Wow, C, so elite". More like, "How can I add this new fireball spell? Which similar code can I copy?"

Before you know it, things like pointers and memory management were second-nature. Skip ahead a decade and a half, when I left academia for industry, suddenly those silly gaming days are more important than my university years!!


Every summer I spend a week volunteering at a summer camp for kids. The camp is structured to be extremly low cost, so they hire a minimal skeleton staff for the summer and rely on volunteers to run each week.

I started when I was 16 and have gone every summer. I credit my volunteering with nearly every one of my soft skills since it's a lot of work to entertain 85 11-13 year olds for a week.

I'm very good at presenting because I have spent years public speaking to particularly hard audiences. If you don't captivate an audience of 13 year olds they will let you know. I am much more patient and flexible from years spent working with kids. I'm a pretty introverted guy and don't usually want to be front and center, but I have developed a whole camp persona I can slip into anytime I need to command a room.

Sometimes it rains and you need to spend a few hours inside. Sometimes an activity you think was going to be really fun just doesn't work. No point in getting frustrated about the weather or an idea that didn't pan out, just change to the next idea and keep the fun going.

11-13 year olds can be extremly cruel to one another and these kids haven't learned to control their emotions and responses yet. Calm, patient listening goes so much further than just trying to fix whatever problem they are bringing to you.

My time at camp has been hugely rewarding and I'm certain I wouldn't have gotten my current job without the skills I learned there.

To my dying day the best idea I will ever have is plunger olympics, which is tons of olympic events performed with toilet plungers. There is plunger toss, plunger lacross, and plunger luge where you lay on a skateboard and pull yourself along with plungers to name a few. The crowning events are synchronized plunging and the plunger regatta in the pool. The kid who wins each event keeps a plunger as the prize and we open and close with lighting the campfire with a burning plunger.


I am currently on a table with local health care organizations to improve trans-related health services in the area. I also give workshops to trans/non-binary/gender-diverse individuals as well as cisgender individuals that work with them (HR, psychotherapists.) Right now this amounts to about an evening's worth of work every week for the last 5 months.

Last spring I mentored young women (high school age) who were interested in getting into STEM. Teams of students were basically making a mini-startup, including coding an MVP, business plan, etc.

The work I get most fulfilment from is working with trans/non-binary/gender-diverse individuals directly, in particular with workshops that discuss normalized attitudes that have a detrimental effect on well-being.

Has it helped me grow though? No, I wouldn't say so. It's just things I do because it has to be done.


That experience hasn't changed you at all? It must have informed you in some way that could have led to some internal growth or least changed or re-enforced existing beliefs


Oh yes, I'd agree - it's improved my understanding of where HR / mental health professionals / emergency department / health care workers are at. I personally define growth as emotional growth, and in that way this hasn't done that.

For me personally, personal growth has come from processing unfortunate experiences (getting beaten, being harassed on the street, having loved ones be beaten, having a partner overdose, being there for friends who deal with loss by suicide, etc.)


You don't have your email set so created an anonymous account just to say thanks for doing what you are doing, it really really matters and means a lot


I volunteer at the local park with events, gardening, maintenance and cleanup and generally try to be useful. I'm there 3 times a day walking my dogs anyway so its pretty much my back yard and a good way to show my appreciation for it because it really changed my experience of New York for the better.

The best part is I've had to deal with a lot of people from all walks of life, especially during large events and it's helped me become a much better and present communicator. I've never had a knack for small-talk but this has really changed since forcing myself into situations where I have to get out from behind my computer, chat with people and build a rapport with the community. This has translated into professional benefits too and I've become much more comfortable giving presentations and speaking to audiences - something I couldn't have imagined a couple of years ago!

I'm also part of a dog rescue organization and am regularly trying to find forever homes for abused, neglected or death-row dogs. Animals don't have a voice of their own and i'm very particular about placement so its been fulfilling to know these doggos have ended up in a better situation after often cruel starts by human hands.


Several years ago I started doing computer help/repair for seniors. Eventually people insisted on paying me a little for my time. Now, with no formal training, I've been working in IT for over five years.

Some of the neatest tricks I use day to day I figured out while trying to fix a particularly vexing problem on some little old lady's desktop.

I also feel like it's given me a great perspective on how non-technical users interact with PCs.


Last year I've started a course on youtube about building products with javascript [1]. The initial idea was to make a free open source course for people who are already comfortable with language, but don't know how to start building things. The coolest (and unexpected) part was the questions I got from all sorts of people - they made me go into the details a whole lot more than I ever did just working on things. And, of course, all the gratitude from people is quite satisfying too :)

[1] https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL_gX69xPLi-ljVdNhspjZ...


Volunteering with my Church at the community service centers that help the homeless allowed me to interact with a large swath of the homeless population around where I live. Not only did this give me a better understanding of the challenges they face it turned many of them from 'that guy on the corner' to actual people I know and know me.

Having that level of understanding helps dispell myths about what is, and what is not, possible in terms of helping these people. It also gave me an idea of how cruel and debilitating mental illness is on an individual's ability to function.


I did a year of remote CS teaching for kids in Kentucky with Microsoft's TEALS program. Great experience. I actually used to be a teacher so it was nice getting back in that mode. Teaching is also a great way to practice breaking down technical subjects and making them understandable. It really helps with soft skills - communicating with non techies, constructively criticizing people, making complicated ideas simple - all those things improved for me after a year of working with those kids.


I was a volunteer with TEALS last year, and I agree with the improvements in soft-skills, particularly the constructive criticism piece. It is a careful art to give a student constructive feedback while simultaneously keeping them motivated to continue with the course material. I have found this skill to be invaluable in my day-to-day, and I credit my time with the TEALS program for developing it.


I spend my Tuesday and Wednesday evenings at a parrot rescue/sanctuary. It's a lot of work, but it's great de-stressor and counterbalance to staring at computers all week.

A couple weeks ago a guy accidentally drove his car into the side of our building. He hit and collapsed a couple cages, and hit a gas line, but by some miracle none of the birds were seriously injured. Things have been pretty hectic lately, there's been no shortage of work to be done since the accident.

http://www.twincities.com/2017/04/05/avian-sanctuary-trying-...

I'm not sure how it's helped me grow, aside from the common things like making some friends and helping me feel a sense of meaning and service. Mostly I do it because I love birds and hanging out with birds.

Lately I've been really interested in https://techsolidarity.org and wondering how to get involved in that (or something like it). If anyone in the Twin Cities area is also interested in such a thing and wants to team up, send me an email at nated at posteo dot net.


I taught a class in Boston on how to program with python, just kind of basic introduction to the language and making simple programs for people who had never done it before or needed help learning.

It deepened my own understanding of python substantially as I prepared for each class by making sure I understood things completely so that nobody could surprise me with any questions like "Why was `self` designed to be implicitly passed but not implicit in declaration?" etc.


So why was `self` designed to be implicitly passed but not implicit in declaration?


That is a divine mystery of python, child.

We are not to understand it's meaning, but to understand it's glory.


Panera deals with leftover breadstuffs by donating it to charities. Just walk in and ask about their "Dough Nation" program: sign up under a recognized organization and pick a day of the week you can reliably pick up leftovers at close of business. I've been doing it for years, taking about an hour a week to pick it up, keep it overnight, and deliver next morning to a local church's public food pantry distribution. Personally, it's a way to (in a sense) donate hundreds of dollars of food weekly with just an hour + $2 gas per week; the food is otherwise wasted if not for someone merely transporting it. I also get to teach my kids about charity; easy to take them along to see and "help". A real "bang for the buck" volunteering job; not sure it helps me grow so much as help others grow with little effort on my part.

Another is randomly volunteering at "Save The Horses" locally. In a high-tech world, helps one to stay grounded by working on a farm; this being a volunteer-run farm rescuing unwanted farm animals, they need people for unrelenting litany of feedings, cleaning, walking, brushing, repairing, decorating, collecting, ...


I helped file taxes during the tax season here in the US, for the past four months. It was specifically targeted towards low income families. I was definitely able to learn some of the economic effects of the current healthcare system, especially from the penalties. It was definitely out of my bubble, and wouldn't have known a lot about how many ways the low income families are trying to earn to make ends meet, even at a very old age.


How can I find a similar type of volunteering effort in my area?


There are a few organizations which do this, including United Way, Goodwill. I did this through United Way. Here is the link to find volunteering opportunities near your area, http://www.unitedway.org/get-involved/volunteer


I've been volunteering since 2013 for a non-profit that teaches high school students in underserved areas how to code [0]. Here's what I've gotten out of it:

* I'm having an impact: there are people pursuing CS in university because of me. I (along with my coteachers) managed to make programming fun and rewarding for them so much that they saw it as a future. That feels good. Makes me feel like I'm making a difference.

* I'm a better communicator: distilling somewhat complex concepts into engaging lessons has made me a better talker. I'm more precise and efficient with my language - oral and written.

* I get to network: the non-profit I volunteer for is a magnet for all the kind of people I want to hang out. The volunteers that I get to serve with are talented developers & designers who care about the world around them. They work at awesome places and solve interesting problems. Most of all, they're just generally nice people.

* I'm a better programmer: teaching forces you to know your stuff. Even though I teach the basics of HTML, CSS, & JS, that foundation is a lot stronger for me.

[0] - https://scripted.org/


The most fulfillment would be where it actually gets results. The first hackathon I went to, I made a simple app according to specifications. I was willing to polish up some features after the event and put it into production, but multiple emails to the organization's contact went unanswered.

I almost didn't attend the event again, but the second time, my project went into production and is still going. The organization was manually copying data from their donation site into SalesForce, and I wrote a small script to do it daily. (The donation site has a "connector" for SalesForce, but apparently it didn't work for them)

I'm currently doing something longer term with an organization I found on UN Volunteers. I was expecting to add features according to specifications, but they wanted ideas for how to improve the app. How about more content? "We don't want to add more content." How about multilanguage support? I was thinking I'd be adding one or two languages, and suddenly he has 19 translators lined up. sigh


I somehow fluked my way onto a pro-bono project at my previous employer which was a UI/design-ish project. (To claim/highlight the volunteer-ness, I'll highlight that I worked many optional (read: unpaid) hours... :-p )

Now I'm considered primarily a UI dev (big fan of full stack though...) and I love it all :-)

(I'd not done any UI before.)

That's a very concrete example, but I love volunteering, in particular finding something I love that I can twist to help others...

eg I now design and maintain a few websites because I now UI better than I ever did before.

Personally, I like to find "volunteering" that aligns with my day-to-day life/interests/passions :-)


I volunteer, but not for anything related to software development.

I'm an ASL (Assistant Scout Leader) for a scout troop in London. I enjoyed my time in the scouts as a kid, and i figured if i was only able to enjoy it as others gave up their time, perhaps it's time I pay it forward.

Turns out, it's been incredibly rewarding. In our career we tend to spend loads of time inside, and this has got me out doing active things (camping, canoeing, even skiing.... lighting fires, hiking, etc) that I'd never do off my own back.

But even greater than that, it's started to teach me how to be a leader -- not through exercising raw authority, but through coaching and mentoring young people together as part of a team. Sometimes i don't know the answer and i have to work it out with them!

I think that's a direct mapping to being a good senior/lead developer there -- it's helped me immensely, and sometimes I've felt less challenged by my Scouts than I have by my dev team!

Thoroughly recommend it to anyone considering volunteering.


I started off in Canada as a Cub leader. I was very hesitant because I didn't see myself as "good" with kids that were not my own. Took me about a year but I grew into it, eventually being the Akela of the pack. Since then I moved to the troop level, and after moving to the US, I'm an ASM with a BSA troop.

It's very rewarding to help young people discover the outdoors and help them on their path to being young, responsible, adults.


Also an ASL (in Scotland) and can confirm that it is incredibly rewarding helping to shape young people's approach to leadership and teamwork.

It's very hard and can consume A LOT of time (to a detrimental effect on my career no doubt) but I love the sense of community and fun that the young people get from it.


Did you start as an ASL or at a lower position in a troop? Any tips for someone who wants to do that same?


Not OP but, in the UK ASL is the lower position. This https://h2g2.com/edited_entry/A17719527 is a good summary of all the structures.

Some groups have "adult helpers" but generally that's avoided as it suggests the parent will only be there fleetingly in which case spending the training resources (mainly time) is not efficient.


Yep -- you can help out, but as soon as you figure out if it's for you, your first "appointment" is ASL.

It's essentially what you want from it -- don't consider them "levels" but different roles. They're all volunteer after all!

I don't want the added responsibility of having to lead the entire section so as an ASL, I'll plan and lead 1/3rd (ish) of the weekly meetings, and do some of the day to day with the young people on camps, but my SL handles the longer term planning, balanced programme prep, and so on.


When I was in college, I spent 3 years building a site for an organization that I was in which was active on campus. By the time I graduated after having served as a director of 3 different committees and president once, I'd built the site into a tool that ran the entire organization.

My entire career and employment came from that experience.


I used to volunteer as a paramedic.

I learned a lot about medicine and I got to see quite a few, mostly not so happy facets of life. It definitely was a worthwhile experience and a fulfilling task. It also still pays off in everyday life. Medical emergencies in public are surprisingly common and it's good to be able to help.


I volunteer as a FIRST robotics mentor, specifically as a programming mentor. I find it incredibly rewarding to see students go from zero to programming hero (from their teammates' perspective). Also, as a web developer, I like the challenge of writing code for a robot.


+1 for FIRST. I'm hooked for life.


Not the same kind of volunteering, A&E (car crashes, domestic abuses, etc...). Will push you several planets far away from your comfort zone and teach you how develop a strong sense of empathy and respect, make the most of your resources, stay creative and cold, split complex problems and order it by priorities, and find an aceptable solution (fast!) in extreme and often psychologically complicated sceneries.

Not easy. Very frustrating often, very tiresome and depressing (You will feel often like a superhero that do not have any useful superpower to show; balancing in the frontier with impostor-syndromeland...) but is a real, ruthless, teacher and can be incredibly rewarding (not to mention the nice adrenaline rush at 4am, also).


I volunteered through high school and some college, roughly 5 years, as a firefighter. It really changed me, I learned so much about responsibility and teamwork. It was and still is the only job I would do for free and put 100s of hours into for free.


I spent time volunteering at a community service organization in San Jose, California, specifically focusing my time on their rental assistance program for local low income residents. The gist of the program was providing assistance with one month's rent to people who encountered some sort of emergency that would otherwise have left them homeless. My responsibilities included meeting with applicants for the program, understanding their emergency, working through a monthly budget with them to ensure they could pay their rent going forward, and verifying their story.

Having grown up in an upper-middle class family, I gained a whole different perspective on the struggles people face making ends meet. I've always been politically liberal, but my ability to empathize was categorically different after spending time volunteering at this organization.

Equally important, though related, was getting a better understanding of the needs of people in my local community.

I raise this issue here because many people on this site are transplants to tech hubs throughout the U.S. and worldwide and we often live in our little bubbles in our respective communities. I cannot stress enough the importance for all of us to learn about the communities in which we live, outside of our little bubbles, and offer our talents to improve the lives of residents of our local areas and make these communities better places to live.


Scouting binds together a broad range of educational and community service opportunities worldwide.

Both youth and adult members of Scouting develop leadership skills. Among these worldwide opportunities is the Wood Badge, whose curriculum varies country to country.

Here in the states, Wood Badge includes training on servant leadership, mentoring and business ethics -- concepts that help the adult leader better serve Scouting youth, but also offering broad practical applications in the workplace.

You'll need to check locally, but many Scouting programs also include opportunities in skills training and career exploration for youth.


I volunteered a lot when I was young. It honestly taught me that need is infinite and I am a finite being, and just because someone is blind, disabled, etc DOESNT mean they won't take advantage of you.

When I volunteered for the blind, they'd always ask if I could come around several times a week, "it would make such a huge difference"

When I volunteered for the disabled, the disabled folks would literally hand me a list of tasks to do by the end of the day, and then micromanage the repairs I was doing.

When I volunteered for schools writing software (25 years ago) it was "make this 8086 with 512k of ram do magic!"

When I help people now, it's on my own terms, and the rule always has to be the the help provided is effective. You need mentoring"? Great. You're blind but you don't wanna live with your family so you think I should come over several nights a week after work to help with things? That's your families job, not mine. You're broke and need money buy your baby diapers, but your babies father has a nicer laptop and newer phone than I do? Stuff it.

As f*ed up as it sounds, most of the people I dealt with felt ENTITLED to my time.


Before I entered the tech space ten years ago, I had won some scholarships because all I wanted to do was public service either through the government or non-profits. For me volunteering was initially a way to increase the CAS credits (an IB requirement in high school), but eventually morphed into probably the BEST way to feel good and to recharge. I don't know what it is, but being community-focused activates something in the brain that is different from the more hedonistic side and helps re-center all my efforts at work. I'm weird I think though - most people don't actually care about helping the least among us and I can understand why. It's literally all cost, but somehow if you do it, you get this great sense of accomplishment and if you do it with friends, it's even better.

For me, the following volunteer activities are great: 1) Group activities, like building housing in the bay area - Habitat for Humanity cannot keep tech from at least literally building housing for San Francisco despite the local community not wanting us to. Other group activities include meal preparation, food bank help - I strongly suggest organizations like OneBrick

2) mentorship/tutoring - it's quite rewarding when you can teach someone something. You know that it'll live with them for a while and you've literally touched a human life

3) Donating - I know people hate this, but if you do it, it's probably more important than you just putting a little bit of your time.

In general, I think of volunteering as really a form of consumption actually which benefits society


I'm on the organizing committee for a yearly STEM event for high school students in the local area. We host a day long event every spring with a bunch of local businesses and colleges. It's a rather successful event that leads to a lot of networking and makes a lot of students stand out to local businesses, so it opens the doorways for internships and job opportunities, as well as opens a dialogue between students and prospective colleges.

We are by no means a large city, but we are a decently sized Midwest town with a lot of companies that fulfill a lot of different roles. Students don't know about many of these businesses, so they learn about what exists in the immediate area and it fosters an organic growth between schools and business. Some students are already locked into Ivy League schools, and others aren't sure what they want to do in life, so it's a great opportunity to meet students from all walks of life and see what their interests are, as well as were students are headed.

I personally got my foot in the door at the event a few years ago with a company solely because I asked about internship opportunities for high school students, and although I have since moved on from that place, I still help organize the event because it is such a good opportunity for students.


I volunteered to start/run a podcast for the Linux Mint community[1]. I helped host, edit, and hosted the site from 2009-2011. I stopped at episode 50 because I had a kid and went back to school. Near the end of 2010 there was a call for writers for a website I was reading at the time[2] and it even paid money ($20/article). I had no writing experience except for random posts I put on my personal blog at the time. I was told later that a main reason they hired me was because of my podcasting experience.

Because of the podcast I got plugged into more of the Linux community and started attending and occasionally speaking and volunteering at my local Linux conference[3]. A couple years later I was looking to make a jump from low level manager to sysadmin. I had no professional sysadmin experience but I had these two "hobbies" I put on my resume which ended up landing me the job.

My first year at the conference (2008?) I met some people who I got along with and saw them almost every year at the conference for ~5 years. In 2014 they asked if I was looking for work (I was) but I had only been a sysadmin for ~10 months and had no other professional experience outside of helpdesk roles and manager. They hired me because of my pitiful 10 months of experience and all the additional areas where I showed expertise (podcast, writing, speaking).

I've been at the new job for 3 years now and my name is in movie credits for Oscar winning films which is something I would have never expected. I've grown a lot in every new opportunity I've been lucky enough to have.

[1]: http://mintcast.org [2]: https://www.howtogeek.com/author/rothgar/ [3]: http://socallinuxexpo.org/


I've been a First Aider (on and off) since University days. I've been a First Aider at Work for quite a lot of the time as well. Never had to treat anything too serious but it's a good skill to have.

The change to my life came when I met my wife, whom I taught in a first aid class. One thing led to another, and a couple of decades on we're still happily married with kids.

Speaking of kids, I went in and helped get a CodeClub up and running at their school a couple of years ago. It is insanely gratifying to pass on my passion for technology to the next generation, and the quality and variety of what they come up with is amazing. It helps it was a lesson/club that they were all interested in attending (it was an optimal club after all) but any time I've done that it has been so rewarding. CodeClub has now merged into the Raspberry Pi foundation and is going from strength to strength - if you're interested in getting involved as a parent or a teacher then check them out.

Finally I also founded the DocklandsLJC user group, with the support of my prior employer. This was a great way of organising technical speakers to head over to the Docklands and lend their time for the benefit of attendees for free - I owe them a lot of gratitude, because if it weren't for those speakers we wouldn't have had anything. It also led to me being a representative on the JCP and ultimately giving a presentation at JavaOne last year, which was well received.

My advice is to be passionate at what you do and do things for the enjoyment of yourself and others. You'll never be able to predict where it will go but the outcome will always be beneficial in the long run.


I wanted to bring a different perspective to what everyone else has been sharing.

I volunteer with a program assisting refugees from Syria. I met people who have had to undergo the worst that humankind has to offer. I met men, women, and children who have been shot, amputees, children suffering from PTSD, etc.

I learnt of stories of 10,000 missing children, some of whom were taken from the beaches of Greece by smugglers. Some of them would put themselves in the human chain of people assisting refugees disembarking boats.

I had to come to terms with refugees who acted selfishly and had learnt to hoard everything they could get their hands because that's how you survive living in refugee camps. I judged them, then felt guilty about judging them.

I am yet to find anything positive coming from this experience. It screwed me up. I went through panic attacks and had to get therapy.


Here is the thing to know about volunteering: you get out of it only as much as you put in.

Back in 2010 I founded a local volunteer organization[1] for young professionals. The idea was to go above and beyond regular volunteering (although we did plenty of that too) and use our professional skills to organize and run larger projects. It was an avenue for personal and professional growth as well as scalable positive impact.

I worked non-stop getting this organization off the ground for over two years, to the point where it became a second job on top of my day job. In the end it seriously burned me out, but I'm proud to say it was a huge success and is alive and well today, despite the fact that the original leaders (including myself) have moved on.

I also learned a lot about the challenges of starting something from scratch, and it's how I originally got interested in startups and ended up joining HN. I apply the lessons I learned from that experience seven years later, in areas that are often completely unrelated.

[1]rotaractlb.org


I've been involved in volunteering both in schools and at local community theaters in various capacities, mainly because my kids have become involved in theatre. I've done a lot of different stuff: front of house/ushering, some fundraising, food service, and set design and building. Given that my real job has me sitting behind a screen, the thing I've loved the most is just doing something completely different, working with people (both adults and kids) of very different walks of life with different interests and goals.

The set building has probably been my favorite overall. Lots of hard, manual work, using power tools, driving the truck, sourcing various items (props and sets often fall under the same team), learning how to make something come alive from just a pile of 2x4s and plywood, and coming together with people who are also just there to help as well as people who do this for a living is really fun in addition to being fulfilling.


I have two volunteer gigs that I work.

In one, I'm a member of the board of directors for my condo association. There is a certain amount of growth involved, but ultimately there are a lot of politics and personalities that affect how the board works. We've accomplished a lot, but you can really see who's in control and who's just there because they thought it would be cool or something.

In the other, I volunteer as a stagehand (jack of all trades, master of none) for a community theater. I've learned a ton about the world of theater and have a new appreciation for the effort involved in putting on a production. There is a huge culture of making do with what you have, and the things that we've accomplished are incredible. Everyone involved is willing to teach the volunteers new skills, provided that they're willing to learn. This is definitely the one that's given me the most growth.


Formal volunteering is for resumes and networking. I recently stepped down from four years "volunteering" to run a group within the ABA. I call that work without pay ... same too for the legal clinics i ran during law school.

It is only true volunteering when your name isnt on paper. Once things become formal, once power structures develop, then different mental states take over. Watch for "volunteers" who are only there for thier ego. They may get the job done, but are not growing in any good way. (See wikipedia and most f/oss efforts.) Watch for this within yourself whenever you volunteer your time. You may be helping, but not always growing as a person.

The best volunteer work is done anonymously and totally without power structures. Pick up some trash on occassion. Babysit so a stressed-out young parent can get some sleep. Dont organize something so a crowd will clap for you.


The first five years of my career could be called volunteering. I worked like a demon, got paid peanuts and in return learned lots and made a couple of people very rich. The work I liked most was working with artists on installations. But that paid $0.

Retrospectively, I probably learned more than I would have if I had enrolled in CS at the time and met a lot of interesting and capable people (quite a few of those I'm still in contact with).

Even if a good part of this was probably better termed as abusive relationships instead of volunteering there are few ways in which I could have gotten the exposure to technology that I did. And even if I only supplied the brains they still had to get me the toys to do the work with and those I would not have been able to afford for at least another decade.

So, from an income perspective this was wasted time, but from a learning perspective it was fantastic.


I volunteered overseas in a developing country as an IT consultant. I was responsible for building a new website for a school, looking at their IT costs (I was able to stop 50% of costs by removing unused services) and training of staff.

It was an amazing experience which allowed me to learn a lot. I grew a lot as a person, but I noticed two areas professionally/semi-professionally grow. One was that I noticed was outgoingness, I become a lot more outgoing because of my experience and better at socializing. The other area was being in an environment with severe limitations on bandwidth and availability, taught me to take a lot of problems like page size, etc. seriously.


I am bachelor student now and I have started volunteering with food raising for homeless in my home city, but the thing that learned me the most was student union - i was chair of student union at my department - (i'm not sure if it counts as volunteering - in my country -Poland- student unions do a lot, too much in my opinion). What I have learned: leadership, how to motivate others, how to negotiate with authorities, how long it takes and how many rooms you have to visit to get funding for some event, how to run events, promotion, even some graphics (or rather - where to find cheap tools to create fancy leaflets or posters ). Before I was quite shy and of course at some point I still am , but I have really exceeded my interpersonal and time management skills, I got some experience in law issues- stipends, for example ( at my uni it was student union who was responsible for that ).

Though it's not as rewarding as helping homeless or children, and in my opinion we were doing the donkey work , I am glad I have spent this time there, because it have me experience , contacts and sometimes satisfaction of organising something that other student enjoyed.

Also, I was volunteering at international classical music festival in my city - it was really great - you get tickets for free for almost every concert, the atmosphere is amazing and it's also experience for interpersonal skills. Once I was a pilot for small orchestra and I had amazing time going there and back by bus talking with musicians about their experience and basically everything, we even had a little party on the way back. In the bus ;) these types of events lets you get into fancy banquets, meet some famous people (i talked to really great director ) and also - contacts.

Now I am volunteering in hospital to get some experience as patient assistant - we help patients find themselves in our big and messy hospital.

To sum up - it is really rewarding, but it costs time. A lot of it. I think you might learn most of these things somewhere else, where you are paid, but also you have more responsibilities and it is harder in the beginning. And of course - poeple you volunteer with are usually really interesting and become good friends !


In theory, volunteering should help with growth. I would love to say that volunteering has improved my social skills, and has helped me network with others.

I think in an ideal world I should be able to say that. This has prompted me to think about where I am expending my energy and time.

Presently I'm happy with one of two things I am putting my time and energy in to, it provides me with unique challenges, and should, in theory, allow me to improve my social skills and networking. Sadly the latter parts seem to require extra effort on my part, but I recognize that it /should/ be providing that opportunity.

The other... not so much.


tl;dr: I took a month leave of absence without pay from a highly coveted position in a competitive workplace to volunteer in Louisiana for the American Red Cross after Hurricane Katrina, in 2005. I risked a hard-earned position in the company to do what I felt was the right thing. To this day, it remains one of the most important decisions of my life that I've grown from ever since.

In 2005, I was two years into my career from university as a programmer in a highly coveted position for a company, in the American northeast, that was at its peak. something profound happened that began a new.. dimension.. in my life that hadn't existed before but since defines an important part of who I am today: Hurricane Katrina devastated the American gulf coast. I worked incredibly hard to earn my position in the company and dedicated myself entirely to my career. Yet, the country was dealing with a major catastrophe and I felt that I could contribute in a positive way to the effort if I were to get involved. I could have easily donated but chose not to. Donating felt like an excuse not to do something more meaningful. Instead, I decided to volunteer for the American Red Cross.

This is a long story that isn't suited for a HN comment but is one I've wanted to share for a long time. If anyone would like to read this story, please let me know as it will give me the incentive to finally blog it.


I offer an hour of mentoring time to anyone who has a school project, is thinking about changing the focus of their computer science career, or wants to talk about the tech they are using in their projects. I have a web page on my site with directions for getting in touch with me, and what information to provide up front. Many more people have taken me up on the offer than I expected when I started doing this a few years ago.

In my career, several people really helped me with advice, sometimes just listening, etc. and I want to do the same thing for other people.


I'm a computer science teacher for a prison on occasion. It's a degree granting institution. My fellow professors do it for money, but I work at a megacorp so I just do it for free.

You'll really hate the prison system when you're through with it, but it's better in my state at least since there aren't any private prisons. I find the way the inmates can't get internet access to be crazy and it makes teaching rather interesting.

It's not personally fulfilling, I'm just happy to help give people a second chance.


Grow, I can't say.

I did find it instructive helping out as a baseball coach when my son was young. There I learned (I thought) why the American school system puts the cutoff for a passing grade somewhere around 60: if you give a child something he can do 2/3 of the time, he may remain engaged in the task; 1/3 of the time, he will be bored and frustrated. I guess it did teach me something about teaching.

These days I teach ESL to adults one night a week during much of the year. I wonder at times whether academic tutoring of children might be more useful.


> if you give a child something he can do 2/3 of the time, he may remain engaged in the task; 1/3 of the time, he will be bored and frustrated.

Ironic considering you volunteered to coach baseball, where _failing_ 2/3 of the time at the plate is considered a high achievement.


Ah, but how many outs are actually on balls put into play? A strikeout per inning is a pretty good ratio for a pitcher. Also, batting averages tend to be a lot higher at lower levels. But mostly I was thinking of fielding here.


Volunteering has helped me to better understand there's more to life than money.

I knew it already, academically. But having the opportunity to actually do it... it made the idea more real, more concrete.


That's a really beautiful way of putting it. Do you experience more happiness when you help others? I've found that to be the case personally.


I have a pretty umm... interesting... history. MANY folks were a good influence in my life. My hope in my particular venue of volunteer work is to help affect some of the same change in the lives of others. It's most definitely rewarding.


A long long time ago I watched a TV program asking for money and volunteers to go to 3rd world countries. At the moment I had nothing to lose so I called. It turned out that they didn't really want volunteers and asked me for money that I had not.

Later I offered free services to a couple NGOs as a programmer or system admin. Again I was asked for money instead.

So actually I don't know about growing with that kind of volunteering, but I surely learned some lessons.

I was a mentor for a year in Coder Dojo, that was different and much more satisfying.


I started editing Wikipedia, rapidly got drawn into about 1000 volunteer organisational jobs and was one of the earliest press contacts. This taught me valuable lessons about how to do PR that turn out to be directly applicable to talking to users and business units as a sysadmin, and surprise that my beep-boop techy job can reasonably be described as about 50% PR and that emails to users are best written like you're writing to a friendly but skeptical journalist :-D


I helped organizing stuff for student's union waay back in university while studying. Great environment to make mistakes and learn from them. You have skin in the game because you don't want to screw up and make your friends mad, yet the risks for all stakeholders are fairly minimal - all the while the scale is large enough for all sorts of scale and communication based maladies kick in that really don't appear in a small tight knit group.


I volunteered to as a parent governor at my local primary school. Now I'm 3/4s the way through my teacher training year -- new Comp Sci teacher in the making.


No. I drove some refugees around in germany, to bureaucrats and back home. No warm and fuzzy feeling. No lvl up on kharma. No everlasting friendships. Just strangers, going to strange places and then home (which is now germany)- basically another day in germany. Very anticlimatic. Just humans. In the end it where just wasted days, in which i could have done open source stuff. Build something. Created anything.


You could join the RNLI. You would learn seamanship and paramedic skills. It would be pretty tough in London though, I think you would encounter quite a few dead people in and around the Thames so you should think about how this might affect you. https://rnli.org/what-we-do


I volunteer for my nearest Parkrun regularly. It has helped become part of a local(ish) community, something that is otherwise difficult to do in London and other big cities. Due to the local demographics, it's well populated by people who are in tech anyway, but it's a good way to branch out of that a bit, and get to know people from different walks of life too.


I have been volunteering on and off for some years in shelters, local ONG active in environmental field.

I can't say it helped me grow personally but it sets me apart in some conversation. It's more like a badge of honour or some cheap way to get recognition from my peers and others. Quite sad but that's not why I entered volunteering anyway :).


Not technology related. I started volunteering as a little league coach when my son started playing tee ball.

Despite knowing almost nothing about baseball or coaching, it's been really rewarding and a big learning experience for both the kids and I. It puts things in perspective.


I currently try to volunteer as much as possible for Coalition for Queens (http://c4q.nyc).

It is so awesome seeing people will little to no tech background learn to program and see the things they develop.


With regard to volunteering in general, I grew up as part of the BSA always volunteering my time when I could and it helped me grow my teamwork skills alongside my ability to openly speak with others, eventually earning the rank of Eagle Scout!!


I volunteered one year in a school with CodeClub in the UK. I loved every second of it and working with kids is both extremely rewarding and challenging. It can test your patience but it will teach you to work with other in a unique way.


I spent about 3 years volunteering at a mentally disabled people charity: its mission was to try and help through sports, basically leading workouts at different levels in a large gym in the winter, and at a track & field track in the summer, in order to help them burn some energy and feel better in general.

It gave me a much stronger appreciation from having been lucky enough to be born without genetic impairments, and exposed me to a lot of very harrowing situations. The one I remember most is probably one where the son had some sort of progressive genetic condition where when he was young he was fine, but over the years he was losing more and more functionality (speech regression, physical control regression) he was in the mid-late stages of the disease when I was there and you could see his father remembering how he was earlier, and trying to cherish the current state of his son, while knowing what was to come and that he was going to lose him.

I think everybody who talks about "pulling oneself up by their bootstraps" and "anybody can do it via hard work" would benefit from seeing that unfortunately we are not all born equal, and that you can work as hard as you want but if you're not lucky enough to be born with the right body, in the right place at the right time, it won't mean much. I remember there was a friend of a friend that came by sometimes, he didn't have a mental impairment at all (he was super super sharp, and wrote amazingly well, I think he was actually published) but he had little control over his body (stuck in a wheelchair, drooling, could not talk at all) and was able to communicate via a jury-rigged typewriter since he was able to more or less move one hand. He definitely understood very well what was going on and his predicament, but he was still able to make something of himself and (mostly) have a positive attitude.

When I see all the sports people that say "I succeeded because I wanted it more than my competitors and I worked super hard for it", it makes me think that quite a few of the people I volunteered with worked super hard to run with significant impairments that made their gaits anything but normal, and week after week they would train to get better, but obviously they would never win a marathon or anything. Every elite athlete when asked first thing should say "I am so extremely lucky to have been born with my genetics, I worked hard, yes, but so does everybody else"

And dovetailing on what I was saying above: I also was shown time and time again that just because two people have the same disability, it doesn't mean they are the same, or that they want the same things, or that they need the same things, a significant disability sometimes makes you not see the rest of the person, but they are still there.

It definitely was a very important experience in my life, and definitely very recommended for everybody. I made quite a few friends while I was there and many years later I still wonder what happened to them.


Thanks for taking the time to describe your experiences, i found them very touching to read. It reminded me of my own recent volunteering experiences, which also happen to be with disabled children.


no problem and thanks for your volunteering!


I've met diverse groups of people working with non-profits or charities. I hope to work in that industry later in my career so it's helpful for building connections.


I did Peace Corps and it was the most valuable experience I've ever had from a personal growth perspective, and others too.


If I really feel a connection (hard to describe) to a project, or to its people, I do not mind the money and do it for free.


It made me much more cynical about non-profits in general, and grant writing specifically.


I have benefitted from being a volunteer for a long time, the great degree of transferrable skills:

ENTREPRENEURIAL ATTITUDE DEVELOPMENT: Volunteering is great in that the barrier is incredibly low to make things happen. Want to see something happen? Go do it, or better yet, learn to do it with others. You generally don't need permission to start your own thing and make a difference if you don't see something happening.

LEARN TO ALWAYS ADD VALUE, FIRST: Volunteering taught me to add value first, unconditionally. Volunteering is a habit that can be practiced to the point of it being second nature, and that's when it gets really special.

ORGANIC NETWORK DEPTH: Through adding value always, a side effect, volunteering gradually grew my network through similarly practicing people who over time think of you as you think of them. I genuinely have an interest in people and curious enough that I can be sincere about giving a shit about others.

Most people think of networking as primarily a professional thing. Networking helps you volunteer much better too, when you have a track record of getting things done and successes under your belt with a group of people - if need arises, a group of you can move into the realm of community organizing and not just volunteering.

COMMUNITY ORGANIZING: When you learn to work with people that can't always work with others - this is a highly transferrable skill. Beyond this, creating approachable opportunities for others to volunteer who can only see their time as x hours a month is very powerful, if you find this something you want to do. Direct and transferrable parallels to startup growth.

LOOKING BACK (and forward).. you get a track record. You know you can learn anything, build and direct towards things.

An odd thing to look back and see that you start to forget the things you have work on because you get the real gift of volunteering - an ability to be a doer and use it in other areas of your life.

My volunteer experience is as odd as it is varied, and I get to be able to use a lot of it in my professional life, from the small things of helping where needed at a table, whether it's event planning it's starting a tiny conference and growing it to 300 people for many years, or learning the logistics of organizing a parade for over 20,000 people for a decade, and recently organizing tens of thousands of meals for volunteers during a disaster fire, I have picked up valuable skills such as being a driving force in raising funds (totalling in the hundreds of thousands) for universities, food banks, and other disasters.

It doesn't matter if the volunteering role is big, or small. Small things that are meant to click, do, and you get to serve something that hopefully will out live you for 5-10-20 years.

I'm studying what's different about the positive volunteer movements that seem to last a very long time (and outgrow the founder and continue on for 50-100 years.)

So far, I sense it's about the ability for future volunteers to have the experience of depth and quality of connections, not quantity. You have nothing to lose but your time volunteering, and it's often a better way to spend it than to do nothing at all with it, or expose yourself to a little wider world.




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