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Paying It Forward

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How does one change the world? One random act of kindness at the time.

It’s one of my favorite movie quotes and one of the things I try to live by. In our current society, it’s sometimes hard to realize the impact such a random act of kindness makes to another person’s life. I’m not saying it’s an easy thing to accomplish, but it always starts with the littlest of things.

But I’m a software engineer. I work with computers everyday and it’s what I’m good at and most of all passionate about. I like to believe most of us software engineer are like that. It’s however hard to do random acts of kindness when it comes to doing IT related stuff. The moment you fix someone’s computer, you’re from then on ‘the guy that fixes all my computers’. The essence of a random act of kindness is that it is transient in nature. When I do something like cleaning up an virus-infested PC of someone, that person tends to ‘expect’ from me that I’ll fix any other issues too out of kindness. But then it’s not random anymore and therefor defeats the purpose. It’s when an act of kindness becomes the gift that is expected to keep on giving.

I’m quite good at developing basic websites that can be easily maintained. A website for a butcher, a baker, that kind of stuff. Nothing fancy, but aestetically pleasing and usable. Purely informative and insubstantial to the business itself. But those are companies that make money. They can afford buying a website like this (cheap as simple websites like these are). But there are a lot of organizations out there without the financial means to build a decent website. The ironic part about this is that a website IS important to those organizations. When doing passive fundraising, people look at the website in order to get information. It is a sad reality that organizations without a decent website don’t attract that much attention and ever more sad is the fact that they represent some important volunteer organizations, like homeless shelters, animal shelters and food and healthcare programs for the poor. Most of these organizations have websites, but they are poorly designed and unattractive.

I often think I should do something about this. I’d be more than happy to build an entirely new website for one of these organizations. But like I said earlier, the dangers lies in what could happen afterwards. The best case scenario would be that the organization is thrilled and you’re able to hand over the website to their webmaster. Worst case? They love the website but their webmaster doesn’t and you’re sort of forced into maintaining the website. In that case your random act of kindness becomes a temporal black hole in danger of sucking up a lot of otherwise free time. I’m willing to put a lot of time into a project like this but only because I want to and not because I have to.

However, the concept can be widened to other areas as well. For example, most animal shelters I know off still use paper and pen to record the information on their animals. I’d be equally interested in writing an application that would help them alleviate some of the administrative burden. Last time I visited a animal shelter I would have died to have more information on some of the animals there. What if there was a simple plaque that had a QR code that we could scan and that would redirect us to a nice page that contains everything there is to know about that animal. That same information could be used by visiting vets or volunteers.

The ultimate solution would be that you could do this with a group of software engineers. This way you could balance the workload and handle the occasional change to a website. But it’s hard to find people willing to ‘pay it forward’. If anyone knows of such an organization, please leave a comment. I really want to do this, but I don’t want to have a bad feeling afterwards because someone is taking advantage of my good intentions. But just imagine what would happen if we, software engineers, all sacrificed one or two hours a week to ‘pay it forward’. And what would happen if we open-sourced that work?

I’m not that naive to think that altruism is the only reason why someone would participate in such a task. But then again, it’s called paying it forward. No act of kindness goes unrewarded. My experience is that your payment will not be what you were expecting but it will always be equally rewarding. Sometimes a smile or a grateful hug is all you need.

I have hope.

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Published at DZone with permission of Lieven Doclo. See the original article here.

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