Calling all techies: Donate your skills

"We have technologists who say, 'I want to get involved but don't know how." - Brian James Kirk, co-founder of Technically Philly.
"We have technologists who say, 'I want to get involved but don't know how." - Brian James Kirk, co-founder of Technically Philly.
Posted: April 11, 2014

Philadelphia has droves of young tech heads who dream of starting the next Facebook or Twitter, and many are flocking to the sessions of Philly Tech Week, the four-year-old event created by a company that itself qualifies as a startup: Technically Philly.

But this year, Technically Philly co-founder Brian James Kirk is focusing on something beyond his usual promotion of entrepreneurship and networking. At 8 a.m. Thursday at Temple University's 1810 Conference Suite, his website-and-event company will unveil its new initiative, the "Commit Pledge of Service." The idea: push the technologically skilled to donate help to nonprofits that desperately need it.

Kirk says 25,000 people are expected at this year's Tech Week events. Even if some are tallied more than once, that's a lot of energy to harvest, he says.

"We have technologists who say, 'I want to get involved but don't know how,' " he said Wednesday. "If you ask any nonprofit, you'll hear they're always looking for another set of hands." So Technically Philly decided to play matchmaker.

Giving back, to be sure, is hardly a new idea in the tech world, where talk of technology's transformative power can sometimes border on the mystical.

All those bucks you dumped on balky old Windows programs - or must spend to replace old Windows XP computers now that Microsoft has quit supporting the 12-year-old software? At least some has been given back to the world through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Younger tech heads follow the same generous spirit through hackathons, such as those promoted under the rubric of "Random Hacks of Kindness' Hacking for Humanity."

Kirk doesn't minimize their value - his colleague Christopher Wink helped run Random Hacks' June Philly hackathon, won by a tool aimed at helping parents locate after-school and summer programs for their kids. But Kirk says hackathons alone aren't enough - a belief echoed by many in the nonprofit community.

"There are public computer centers in Philly that literally need someone to help with basic word processing or resumé skills," Kirk says.

Other organizations need help with website design, coding, blogging, and social media. To volunteer, visit commitpledge.com, where you'll see who needs what and be asked for a specific commitment of hours.

Words of encouragement come from Anthony Pisapia, associate executive director of Tech Impact, who says the pledge dovetails with the mission of his 10-year-old Philadelphia nonprofit.

Tech Impact offers IT services to nonprofits with foundation and business support, including software donated by Microsoft. With a staff of about 25 people and a $2.2 million annual budget, it provides some services on a break-even basis and gives away others free or below cost. Hundreds of volunteers have helped with tasks such as refurbishing old computers, and he's confident more will step forward.

"We have some tremendous IT talent in the region, and I'd love to see these folks giving back," Pisapia told me.

He says there are risks, such as harm caused by volunteers who overstep their skills. And he worries about leaving nonprofits in the lurch. The need for assistance never stops, he says. "You can't just fix something one day and have it work forever."

Pisapia says Tech Impact can help in those situations, one reason it decided to partner with Commit. "If you can't be there the next day for the nonprofits, we're a place they can call."


jgelles@phillynews.com

215-854-2776 @jeffgelles

www.inquirer.com/consumer

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