This is a super highly opinionated subject, so I'm very curious what other people's thoughts are on social good in tech and software. Let me know on Twitter.
This is one of those urges that’s constantly in the back of my mind but resurfaces aggressively in the wake of tragedy and political turmoil.
In the back of my mind, and often at the front as well, I know that much of software development is just making random widgets whose soul purpose is to enrich you or another person and provide some, usually incredibly minor, service to others. There’s not really much social good there, there isn’t much thought to academically, scientifically or fundamentally advancing the field of software development, logistics, networking or online sociology. Similarly, I know that 99.9% of cyber security is just securing the assets of the rich so they can continue getting richer. It’s an inherently conservative field of study, and the areas where it has pushed the field further have in most cases been coincidentally arrived at in the constant journey to maintain status quo.
This… bugs me.
I’m of the opinion that we need to be pushing for more than just maintenance of status quo and the further enrichment of already ludicrously wealthy people. We have all of the resources of the internet at our fingertips, yet we’re building things that don’t really help the world move forward in any meaningful way. I’m speaking more of software development, especially in the entrepreneurial space, but it’s the same in cyber security. It’s a maintenance of status quo to continue the world that we live in now by filling it with junkware widgets who are really just serving as an investment vehicle and mode of exchange in an increasingly volatile loan-based venture capital economy.
You might be (angrily, self-defensively) saying “Well Mitch, tell me what you’re doing then, since we’re all unenlightened!”
No, not really. I’m doing the same thing.
I had this realization this week in the existential crisis that hit me after the Uvalde, Texas shooting. Almost two dozen dead in a school, the majority of them 4th grade children. I looked at my son and daughter and burst into tears several times this week. My wife and I can’t stop talking about it, both of us just absolutely devastated at the tragedy. A billion thoughts rushed my head, but one of the ones that’s really bugged me is this realization that I might be building cool widgets (and making a lot of money doing it) and maybe I’m doing some meaningful good in the world of cyber security, but am I solving problems on the scale of almost two dozen dead kids?
Am I solving problems on the scale of the rise of fascism and authoritarianism worldwide?
Am I solving problems on the scale of global climate change?
Am I solving problems on the scale of global, or even local or national, liberation and protection of marginalized people?
… or am I just building widgets?
I think that’s why the last couple of projects I’ve worked on have fizzled out in my head. Like, sure, I’ve still got the code, I might launch them at some point, but they genuinely are just fun little widgets whose only real good in the world is maybe tossing my a couple bucks of MRR. They’re uninspiring to me after I get past the point of them being academically or technically interesting. They’re not solving an interesting or useful problem in the grand scheme of things.
The reason this comes up every single time there is a major tragedy is that the tragedy serves as a reminder of what is important. Protecting children. Global liberation. Climate change. Pushing the fields of computer science, technology, climate research, sociology, politics and logistics forward. Making changes in the world so that the place you leave your kids is better than the place you grew up in. It’s a way of jerking me out of the fog and showing me “hey, you’re working on some neat little widgets there, but here’s what really matters.”
So, now I just have to figure out what I’m going to do and how I’m going to change to make the change I want to see in the world.