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Ask HN: Where can I find a software job that helps society?
103 points by scottalpert on Nov 12, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 103 comments
I've tried many different things in the corporate world and entrepreneurship.

I've enjoyed it, but I'm pretty jaded by the usual stuff. A job with social impact--something that makes someone's life better--would be the right thing for me now.

Any thoughts on convenient ways to find these? Some sort of board or listing?

Consider just getting the highest-paying job you can and then giving as much as you can afford to the most effective charities you can find.

http://80000hours.org/ http://80000hours.org/earning-to-give http://www.givingwhatwecan.org/ http://www.givewell.org/ http://home.centreforeffectivealtruism.org/

This makes sense if you believe that the organizations you support are already optimized to turn money into impact. It is often the case with young organizations that bringing exceptional talent to the team is more important than getting an incremental dollar.

Although this makes practical sense, maybe OP is more motivated to work for companies that make society better versus large corporations that pay a lot.

Pretty sure each answer reveals a bit about each of our value functions (and what we read on-line). Here goes:

ProPublica http://www.propublica.org/about/jobs

Maplight http://maplight.org/content/jobs-at-maplight

Sunlight Foundation http://sunlightfoundation.com/jobs/

Rootstrikers http://www.rootstrikers.org/

resource.org https://public.resource.org/

Code for America http://codeforamerica.org/

Engineers Without Borders http://www.ewb-usa.org/

EFF https://www.eff.org/about/opportunities/jobs

Nexleaf Analytics http://nexleaf.org/contact-us

Thanks! That's a good list. Some are non-profits looking for volunteers, some are non-profits or for-profits looking for employees.

But I'm wondering if there is some sort of job listing or board that brings together all the salaried jobs (sorry, gotta eat), that help humanity directly in some way.

I don't know how many tech related job listings they have, but you could look at http://www.idealist.org/.

This is their mission statement:

"Idealist connects people, organizations, and resources to help build a world where all people can live free and dignified lives.

Idealist is independent of any government, political ideology, or religious creed. Our work is guided by the common desire of our members and supporters to find practical solutions to social and environmental problems, in a spirit of generosity and mutual respect."

Yes. http://reliefweb.int/jobs

Edit: You'll most definitely want to avoid the big organisations. Also, right now you could join about any NGO and get sent to the Philippine, small NGOs usually work as meritocracy. And networking is key in this field.

Have you questioned yourself, why so many people try to help you to help other people? =) There is hope in humanity, aside from politics, there are human beings who all want each other to help each other. Embettering the world. I wish you best of luck. Hope to hear back from your experience in a a Blog or on HN.

Add to that list:

Telecoms Sans Frontieres http://tsfi.org

I'd never heard of these guys. Telecomix does similar things, but with more activism and politics involved.

I don't know where specifically to look but these organizations are doing cool (and positive) things with tech:

Raising political awareness and transparency - http://sunlightfoundation.com/ - https://www.govtrack.us/ - https://www.popvox.com/

Defending rights in the information age - http://www.fightforthefuture.org/ - https://www.eff.org/

Alternative fundraising: helping the little guy raise money - http://www.indiegogo.com/ - https://www.wepay.com/

Facilitating online activism campaigns - https://www.change.org/ - http://front.moveon.org/ - https://secure.avaaz.org/en/

If you are interested in getting your hands dirty around the world, you might checkout Engineers without Borders[1] or the Peace Corps[2], or one of many similar non-profit organizations that employ skilled people to help others around the world. You might even volunteer with the Red Cross to help victims of the typhoon in the Philippines.

On the less philanthropic end of things, there are a host of organizations solving problems in the biomedical world. From hospitals to biotech companies, there are many possibilities. I've found working in this space incredibly fulfilling, especially given that I've had a chance to see patient cases where we can make a difference.

[1] http://www.ewb-usa.org [2] http://www.peacecorps.gov

Volunteering's good. I do it. But ya gotta earn a living somehow.

And yes, biomed is a good space to do well while doing good.

http://unos.org/ - primary mission is to maintain organ transplant lists.

You won't get rich, but you'll have money left over after paying your bills.

Vision statement

To promote long, healthy and productive lives for persons with organ failure by promoting maximized organ supply, effective and safe care, and equitable organ allocation and access to transplantation.

Mission statement

To advance organ availability and transplantation by uniting and supporting its communities for the benefit of patients through education, technology and policy development.

I work for a public safety agency in Southern California and we have a medium size IT organization within it we have a small developer core that help design and build applications. These applications are used daily to save people's lives. It does not pay much but at the end of the day you go home knowing that the work you did helped saved someone's life. Not sure where you live but if you are interested, I can point you in the direction of the listings.

Does any of this get open sourced for other departments to use?

Yeah, almost all of it is shared with other departments for free if others are interested. For the most part lot of it is internal to an organization and the business practices and technology differ from agency to agency and as a result lot of it does not implement well. But lots is shared.

That's awesome. Thanks for the response.

Why should one help society? Is this your thought or is this a thought that arose out of what other people taught you over the years? For example, you may think that you want to be "good". If so, you should first start by defining "What does it mean to be 'good'?".

The danger of skipping this process of thinking for yourself is that you may spend many years in a direction that you may ultimately feel dissatisfied with. That's how conditioning works : parents, teachers, and society teach you what is "good" and "bad" and you basically choose the red pill or blue pill without realizing that there could be pills of many other colours (or that you could swallow BOTH the red and blue pills and go, "Hmm..that's interesting...", as one cartoon based on "The Matrix" shows! :-) )

There are several alternative directions that your thoughts could flow in once you start this introspection. Just as an example : by society, you probably mean, "the society of humans". Why are humans the only society to be helped? Isn't all evidence pointing to the fact that we are killing off the planet, including several species A DAY? Maybe the rest of Earth needs your positive energies more?

Find a nice high-paying job and as quickly as possible ensure that you:

- have as much private insurance as you need

- are debt-free

- can provide for yourself & your family upon retirement

Being financially independent is the greatest gift you can give to those who depend upon you, & to the rest of the society in which you live.

awesome advice!

Take a look at VC portfolios and look through industries that might appeal to you -- education, health, poverty, law, transportation, etc. You'll find companies attacking the norm openly from the outside, growing quietly through the industry core, or creating entirely new areas to explore.

I work at Knewton (not as a software engineer, though we have many of those) because it seems so obvious once I thought about the state of formal education on this planet and how far we can take it.

Knewton is an education technology company quietly laying the groundwork for a future full of digital educational materials (lessons, quizzes, MOOCs, mobile apps, etc.) that offer differentiated learning experiences driven by deep personalization. We've built an adaptive learning infrastructure that will power any learning environment.

The core teams are mixtures of software engineers, data scientists, and teaching experts developing the world's leading models of how students learn and how to help them.

We can predict a student's quiz score before they take it. We can predict whether someone is on target to finish in four months based on all content, possible paths, and a history of student data to compare against. We can recommend the next 5-minute activity that most efficiently moves a student toward a learning objective set by a teacher in a third-party learning product. We can sift through wrong answers to determine whether a student lacks proficiency, disengaged, forgot, or simply encountered a poorly formed question. And we're just getting started.

Education -- K12, higher ed, language teaching, vocational training, professional certification, adult learning -- is one of the biggest industries in the world. We are already partnered with some of the world's biggest names, including Pearson, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Macmillan, Cambridge University Press, and more.


Now, before you down vote me consider they have been instrumental in making knowledge accessible that generally just couldn't be found. They're likely to be on the leading of eliminating most traffic deaths with their self driving cars, and they're providing free Internet to the world with Loon.

Big and successful companies across the industry are doing great things and having amazing social impacts.

Yes, been there, done that. I'm all in favor. But now, I want some of those warm fuzzies....

So I take it you're aware of the concept of buying good feelings, and true positive impact separately? http://lesswrong.com/lw/6z/purchase_fuzzies_and_utilons_sepa...

Ah, and here I was looking for an example of LessWrong being neoliberal in outlook!

You can't presume that the exploited-away surplus-value or negative externalities from your high-paying-donate-to-charity job actually exceed the good you're doing by donating to charity with the proceeds of your work. Warm fuzzies are, at the very least, a reasonable guide to doing work that's relatively sure to be relatively purer good.

My life would be better if someone built some kind of revenue-per-advertisement optimization system.

I'm just saying.

Wait, what exactly would you need? I've been working for about a year now on an application which determines optimal (i.e. profit/revenue maximizing) advertising keyword bid values. It's nearly finished now! Is that something you could make use of?

That's called google adsense

There's my http://meaningful-jobs.fiveyearitch.com (so long as you are in the US).

We've got jobs in medical research, green energy, and others.

Nice selection of "meaningful jobs." But the listings are US only (though the other features have international support). When will you expand the "meaningful jobs" to the UK?

scottalpert, you might consider another part of that site, http://open-source.fiveyearitch.com

I'd say that writing open source is another kind of positive social impact. You can do that in your spare time, but if you can do it on the job, all the better.

Looks good!

Jobs that help humanity should be touting it directly -- a major selling point.

I'll see what good stuff I find there.

I imagine that when you're considering a career move, it can be helpful to hear the perspective of the people looking to hire you, so I'll venture an answering as the Executive Director of a nonprofit. We use Tech as tool #1 to serve our mission and are always looking for devs, ux designers, etc. There's no natural place I would "obviously" go to find devs who are interested in social causes. The talent market lives mostly in word of mouth, although we do post periodically in craigslist or on the job sites like linkedin and monster. In general, we do go to hackathons, socially-oriented accelerators and incubators (such as CivicX, code for america, or even the hub), and we post job listings at the universities. It's not a very robust set of cause-specific work. At the same time, we're in a race for talent just like everyone else, so when we're looking for people who can truly accelerate our impact, we try to poach talent. The pitch goes something like this: "You're obviously doing awesome stuff at company X. Why don't you put your considerable talent to better use and help us change the world for real?"

If I can make a suggestion, if you can get a sense for what cause(s) you care about most (education? health delivery? poverty alleviation? something else?) and start to explore the organizations serving those causes, you'll certainly find your way to a job posting here or there for an organization that truly excites you. And excitement is what makes a good match when you're doing work that makes the world a better place. Good luck.

(edited for grammar)

How about bringing teachers better tools for their classroom? I'm working on this project because I feel like education is the solution to most things in the world. Over 1.2M student dropout of high school yearly in the US alone...we're working on taking the load of teachers, so they can focus more on the art of teaching and engaging their students. http://studysoup.com/careers

Well if you can donate your time and want to do something different, meaningful and help build a product from the ground up which will save lives of some of the most vulnerable people in the world every day? - come and join us!

An early stage human rights start-up (the founder has just spent five years at another human rights startup which he helped setup and is now a market leader) in East London (still in the fun garage shed stage!), is looking for a mobile app developer or CTO. (Also people with associated skills such as LAMP, UI/UX, HTML5, etc would be great)

The start-up focuses on addressing a significant gap in the security of human rights organisations, journalists and activists - through the use of a web and mobile application. It builds on years of cutting-edge security operations in this field.

With the product features and business plan nearly complete we are looking for the right person to bring us to the next technical stage. Ideally you will be in London but remote working is also a possibility.

Interested? Drop a mail to secfirstmd@gmail.com

Many projects that aren't NGO-driven or obviously built around the general idea of helping society could fit this role.

For example, we run a CSE (comparison shopping engine) that, while it is a successful commercial project, we like to also see as helping society by saving people time and money (or, if you're into class warfare, distributing wealth from merchants to customers) and also giving smaller merchants a fair chance to compete against huge advertising budgets.

In the same way, some other projects help society by breaking existing cartels (e.g. taxi apps in cities like Vienna where taxi dispatch fares are extremely expensive and basically negotiated between a few large providers).

On the other hand, there may be projects that pretend to help society by educating about various issues, but in fact are pure marketing web sites with the aim to promote particular vendors.

So if you cannot find anything NGO-related (with acceptable pay!), look for commercial projects that help society in a broader sense.

I think open source can be an important tool for socially beneficial projects. Since open source tools are free, they can be accessed by anyone. Since they are open, they can be modified easily to suit local needs. By removing the cost of intellectual property, products leveraging open source software can be cheaper and thus more accessible. In the long term, open source makes it more difficult for companies to develop monopoly positions due to their control over this software and thus helps to prevent the problems that follow.

I think working on open source software within a suitable good cause niche would be a good fit. I can't really think of any examples where you could easily find a paying role, but I'm personally inspired by projects like Open Source Ecology, Open Street Map and Wikipedia. I work in the library world, where I try to use and contribute to open source software whenever possible. It's not revolutionary, but it's okay.

It sounds like you need to focus your job-hunting efforts on charitable organisations. Phone those orgs and ask to speak with the people in charge of software development.

In the meantime you could volunteer as a programmer - it's a niche that is growing rapidly.

http://socialcoder.org (UK based but international)

Disclosure: I run it

http://www.idealist.org/ is the classic outlet for nonprofity jobs. I've found all nonprofit tech jobs to be incredibly unchallenging though, so if you are motivated by hard problems and engineering challenges then you've got some serious job hunting ahead of you.

Hey, Mozilla! We're fighting the good fight! http://careers.mozilla.com

Edit: Fixed the link

Pretty sure the URL should be: http://careers.mozilla.com


Etsy.com! We're hiring, and we're turning a great many creative people into small business owners.https://www.etsy.com/careers

There are several accelerator programs that focus on social impact. (Full disclosure: I work for Impact Engine.) You could check these out. Many of these startups are looking for talent:

Impact Engine - http://theimpactengine.com/ Greenstart - http://greenstart.com/ Hub Ventures - http://hub-ventures.com/

Hope this helps!

I am leading the technical team at Healthify. We are a seed stage HIT startup based out of NYC tackling the social needs (e.g. food access, domestic violence, living situation) of patients (mostly Medicaid). We have a strong business model and are ready to grow our team. If you want to code for the greater good (RoR stack), visit healthify.us and send Dan an email with your resume, Github profile, and cover letter!

This isn't a job, but if you follow #hack4good on twitter or geeklist's hack4good feed (https://geekli.st/#hack4good ), there are some cool projects going on around social good. Most recently there was a hackathon around the typhoon that hit the Philippines.

I've been involved in volunteer projects. Ideally, I'd like to be able to do this sort of thing all day long.

I just found my job[0] through stackoverflow, but I second the recommendations of idealist.org. If you're in the NYC area, you might also want to check out developersforgood.org.

[0] - http://www.donorschoose.org/jobs

We're hiring at Purpose! Open source rails platform: https://careers-purpose.icims.com/jobs/1057/lead-architect%2...

Considered working for http://www.mysociety.org/ ? (They're hiring http://www.mysociety.org/jobs/)

The natural food and natural products industries are on fire right now. Double-digit yearly growth. A lot of companies that serve this space are growing fast, and a lot of new companies are popping up to meet needs, and even a lot of conventionally-focused companies are turning in that direction.

By "natural" products I mean organic food, fair-trade products, allergen-free products, green products, and so on. There is a lot of money being made in these markets right now, but it's undeniable that many of these products help some people lead better lives (even if it's just the ability to eat a wider range of foods without worrying about e.g. gluten contamination).

Work for a medical device manufacturer, or something similar in health care.

I have a BSCS and I work in SWQA for a medical device manufacturer. Most of us carry around patient testimonials in our badge pouches that were given to us when we hired in. The testimonials can be overwhelming when you really think about them.

If you were going to code here, you'd want to be good at C++ on embedded systems. There are probably other technologies at other places.

Peoples' lives are often literally saved by what I work on, and at least vastly improved. It feels pretty good, and helps keep my head straight when I have the inevitable encounter with BigCo administrative nonsense that goes with the territory.

How are security issues handled by these manufacturers?

I do not speak with any authority on this, all I know on this subject I read on HN, and I only speak for myself: I've read that the FDA is starting to talk about security of devices on, for example, hospital networks, and that manufacturers are starting to think about it. And I haven't read, or know, a thing about implantable or other personal devices.

tldr: I don't know.

Lawrence Berkeley national laboratory is always hiring hackers: http://cjo.lbl.gov/ . I currently work there building software that helps scientists discover new lithium batteries.

We have a developer position open at http://benetech.org - http://benetech.org/?career_redirect=1

Here's a better direct link to the job: http://www.jobscore.com/jobs/benetech/engineering-leader-to-...

A few companies with a social impact who I know who are looking for talented devs. Please ping me (naysawn at artsumo . com) if you'd like to be put in touch.

Actively Learn (activelylearn.com) Moving Worlds (movingworlds.org) Vittana (vittana.org)

idealist.org is another place to look.

http://www.charitywater.org/about/jobs/ Charity Water is helping people in Asia and Africa to have access to clean water.

Watsi www.watsi.org YC-backed, crowdfunding healthcare treatments for high-impact, low-cost treatments in developing countries I'm an advisor there and came put you in touch if you'd like

If you want to improve medical education and work with doctors and contemporary web applications; there is a crack in the door with the USC-SOM as a graphics artists right now.

http://www.amplify.com/careers (disclaimer: I work here) - we make educational apps for kids

Any world-wide REMOTE engineering positions? Or maybe H1B and relocation sponsoring?

We do have a handful of remote engineers and QA folks - typically, they're employees who started on-site and then moved elsewhere, and they do visit the office fairly regularly (with frequency depending on distance) - but it is something the company is open to, though I think we prefer to hire people who can work on-site. Also, anecdotal evidence, as I don't know much about our hiring policies, I think one of my teammates is on an H1B and our legal dept has helped him navigate that.

I work at Causes. It sounds like it might fit your criteria. https://www.causes.com/jobs

I don't have any advice about how to find such jobs in general, but at Khan Academy we're changing education for the better. We need designers, devs, community managers, anybody who lives to create a great product. Full-time and interns hired year-round.

http://www.khanacademy.org/careers or email me at alpert+HN@khanacademy.org if you have any questions.

i would check out www.breakthrough.com , they are creating a platform that could help tens of millions of people deal with the stigma / difficulty of getting treatment for mental health. this is a huuuge social issue, probably 10% of the entire population of the US deals with mental illness and a lot of people are undiagnosed or can't get treatment because it is expensive, embarassing, stigmatized, etc.

Take a look at escapethecity.org.

It'd not software-specific, but they've got lot of "escape corporate life" jobs (with a focus on the UK).

You should go to Central Asian countries like Uzbekistan and build an ecosystems like Silicon Valley, promote IT industry there...

If you are creating products that people are willing to pay money for, then most likely you are being a huge help to society.

This is so true. The problem with charities is that so much money needs to be raised to pay for the people that manage the people that raise money. Then the people that spend the money raised expect to be treated like heroes. Plus charities don't pay tax so it is all a bit silly.

Compare with getting into ecommerce and working with some small businesses that don't yet sell online. For example, suppose you team up with a business in the Himalayas that sells genuine Tibetan Monkey Stones to passing tourists that just so happen to be newly wed. Put their business online so that people all over the world can buy traditional Tibetan Monkey Stones for friends getting married. Get the orders in, make people happy on their special day, help some business get more than passing trade, potentially to grow and take on new employees, everyone is a winner. No inane fundraisers needed.

yeah, you could be making zero day exploits and selling them to blackhats, deadly weapons for use in invading third world countries, financial products to help corporations avoidpayin tax. the possibilities are endless and all for the best in the best of all possible worlds!

EWOP applied to economics.

There's this really popular show called Breaking Bad that revolves around the main characters' heroic efforts to do this.

I work at http://dimagi.com and I'd say we help society a lot.

Electronic Medical Records! http://careers.epic.com

Don't know how to find jobs like this in general, but I'd suggest checking out Nextdoor.com

One place is you can likely find software focussed on helping non-profits be more effective.

Make your life a way to have a social impact and not your "work."

check out http://rework.jobs - they are basically a recruiter for folks looking to transition to "meaningful" jobs

Get a job in trading and you can change the world.

Wanna join me? I want to remove as many cars off the road as possible. I hate traffic and I hate public transit. I want to crowdsource carpooling.

After wrapping up other projects I want to begin work on "Carpoolians.com". It'll allow anyone to enter their morning & evening commutes to work and the site will match them up with others around them who are along their route and have the same schedule so they can carpool together.

Sounds dangerous? So is cleaning the gutters and walking under coconut trees but people still do it. In fact Carpoolians is loosely based on Washington D.C.'s Slug lines (hitch a ride with strangers so you can both use the HOV lanes and not be late for work). http://www.slug-lines.com/Slugging/About_slugging.asp Hundreds of thousands have hitched rides with strangers with no oversight what-so-ever and there haven't been any muggings or homicides. And this is in Washing D.C. (double the national crime rate).

Users can enter their pick up time, general locations, return time, weather they're looking for a driver or a passenger or either, and which days of the week they need carpool services. The site will match them up from a list of potential drivers or passengers and they can make a decision based on price and their gut feeling. Trips are paid in cash peer to peer. But the site will keep an evidence trail of who's riding with whom. Members can certify themselves so they have a "clean background" aka no criminal history icon next to their picture.

Because it's peer to peer so you don't have to worry about taxi cab regulations like Uber does, but we also don't have revenue other than government and city grants. There's plenty of other startups like ridejoy.com doing transportation but they just do 1 trip. Carpoolians will focus exclusively on commutes (re-occuring trips) which make up the bulk of traffic.

It's not twitter or facebook but you can feel good knowing you can:

- Reduce emissions which lead to asthema and lung desease (people living near highways & busy roads have increased risk of both including death!).

- Reduced traffic accidents and saved lives.

- Improve productivity and save time helping the economy.

- Reduce pedestrian hits and deaths (2007-2012 over 5,700 pedestrians were hit in Orlando Florida alone.)

- Help low income people get to work without having to wait in the rain for buses.

- Helped people save money, wear & tear on their car.

- Help clear more parking spots!

- reduce government waste spent on driving empty buses back and forth (buses get about 6 miles per gallon) My mother works as a bus operator. Believe me, there is a LOT of waste. Public Transit can be an extremely ineffective, expensive, and inefficient method to transport people. Especially outside of dense cities like San Fran, Chicago, and New York.

If 4 people sign up and use Carpoolians that's 2 cars off the road each rush hour. If 150 people sign up and use the service that's about 70 cars off the road during morning and evening rush hour. It adds up very easily. http://www.howwedrive.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/cars-bu... and makes a HUGE difference in communities.

My contact info can be found in my HN profile. As you can tell I've got a few loose ends to tie up with some other projects that I'm finishing up.

check out the teams at TheImpactEngine.com Some awesome companies looking for great talent and trying to change the world.

The usual job boards have a lot of good stuff using the right search terms like 'social impact'.

Wouldn't a government contractor and helping the world be a toss up these days? I guess it's possible to have a net good overall (questionable) but it's also possible your contributions could go to spying on (or killing) citizens of the world (and for those that care more about Americans, Americans).

Palantir Philanthropy! Check them out

try binceipt.com. It committed to kill receipt book in order to reduce paper usage.



You can't. Go for a more traditional job instead. Eg: finance or law.

Hey, here on HN we never say "You can't."

I've done the finance thing, and it's got its good side. But now, I want to see how I can help more directly. And yes, it's possible.

>Hey, here on HN we never say "You can't."

We hackers are sustained by WILLPOWER, even when mocked as reckless and crazy! If there's a wall in our way, we smash it down! If there isn't a path, we carve one ourselves!


Whoever has the gold, makes the rules.

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