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The Humanitarian Side of Computer Science
Are there opportunities out there?
Science magazine recently covered Begoña Vitoriano Villanueva’s story about how she embarked on a career that is doing something practical to eradicate the social inequalities between the developed and developing worlds. Vitoriano is a mathematician, but she’s working to develop two computer tools alongside two colleagues at a university in Madrid, Spain. The first is designed to guide logistics during humanitarian efforts, determine the magnitude of a natural disaster and the extent of its consequences speedily. The second aims to help humanitarian agencies distribute food, water and medicine more effectively.
Vitoriano’s story is just one example of the many individuals who work in programming, computer software development and technology innovation to humanitarian ends.
The Humanitarian FOSS Project is a collaborative, community-building project that was started by a group of computing faculty and open source fans from universities and colleges in the US. The goal of the organization is to build a community dedicated to building and using free and open source software to benefit humanity. That means helping feed needy people in Haiti, delivering supplies to earthquake survivors in China, or managing medical care for malaria victims in Rwanda. For information about their undergraduate internship opportunities, check out their website at hfoss.org.
So are there opportunities for computer scientists and information technology boffs in the humanitarian arena? Certainly. In fact, it’s one of the most versatile careers to be in.
Computing for good combines technology and activism in their work as an agent of change at the Georgia Tech College of Computing. They have ongoing projects you could get involved with, so check out their site at computingforgood.wordpress.com.
For a larger project, have you considered Google? They develop almost everything, of course, including medical technologies, infrastructure technologies. Tesla Motors and their electric cars might be an interesting choice. Or you could check out heruko, an open course company and cloud application platform who could benefit from your skills. And monitoring the companies that that Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation donate to could be a smart move so you’re kept abreast of all the concerns doing great work in this world. But don’t forget that there are thousands of NGOs and other smaller organizations out there to help you gain experience and hop up the humanitarian IT career ladder.
When it comes to jobs, a simple search brings up some interesting options. Intellectual Ventures (IV) Lab, for example, is currently searching for a Desktop Systems Specialist in Washington State, USA. IV Lab working on the very beginning stages of an invention, refining the technology to demonstrate its potential for commercial and humanitarian use. The Desktop Systems Specialist should provide accurate and prompt technical support for all desktop PCs, laptops, printers, desk phones and all other devices, provide customer support and other tasks. A degree in a related area and 2-5 years of experience in the field or related area is preferred, as well as other general skills like strong customer service and communication skills. This position seems like an interesting way in get in the door at a company like this.
Nothing could be truer than to say that a Masters degree can take you a long way in the humanitarian field. Choosing a path related to the global nature of humanitarian work is also an option for you to consider. For example, the Masters in Information Systems Management (Managing Global Software & Service Supply Chains) at Walden University offers you an in-depth understanding of the role technology plays in achieving an organization’s goals. It’s designed for IT professionals who would like to develop advanced management skills and strengthen their knowledge of IT systems in a global marketplace based on best practices in outsourced and offshore development.
The MSc in Software, Systems and Services Development in Global Environment course at the University of Oulu, Finland, is a two-year full-time program that provides multidisciplinary knowledge of software, systems and services development in a global context.
Or perhaps you’d like to focus on the social side of IT, and do a Master’s program in Social Information Systems at the Open University of Cyrus, where you can develop the skills needed to understand and improve the interaction between people. Information and technology. You’ll have the opportunity to deeply study the collaboration between end users, collective intelligence, social interaction, the design of social information systems, advanced web technologies and programming, the design of educational software and many other fascinating modules as part of the course.
Ready to get stuck in? If you are highly motivated to get started but find the personal statement of purpose writing process a bore, we’re here to help. Just shoot us an email and we’ll be working on your admission application in a jiffy.
Although computer science is one of the fields poised for exponential job growth over the next several years, there’s a glaring lack of women entering the field. Since 1984, the number of computer science degrees awarded to women has steadily declined, and today only 13 percent of computer science graduates are female. Accordingly, top jobs in the field are male-dominated. A recent study by technology outsourcing and recruiting firm Harvey Nash Group found that out of 166 U.S.-based technology firms that replaced their CEOs last year, only six appointed a woman for the position.
It’s clear women aren’t pursuing technology careers, but why? According to Gloria Townsend, a computer science professor at Depauw University, it’s one of the most promising fields for female students to study. “There is a predicted shortage of technology workers by 2018, and women are especially courted for their ability to manage projects and teams successfully,” Townsend says. “Just as the early 1980s was a wonderful time for women to enter the field of computing, 2012 holds even more promise as a stepping stone to a technological future.”
Computer Science is now the motor of our world. This field is changing the way that we think about education as well as technology, with endless possibilities for advancement in our century.
New communications systems are especially critical to countries that are struggling to develop economically. Cell phones have continued to represent an advanced and dynamic communication revolution. Of even greater importance for the future, however, is the way in which a fuller integration into the world economy through Internet participation is on the horizon as well in many areas that are in desperate need of economic development. The importance of this for the Developing World can hardly be over estimated.
“From a very young age, we need to give girls the confidence to take risks and make a few mistakes,” she adds. “As a programmer your whole day is pretty much fixing your own mistakes, so we need to teach girls they don’t have to be perfect, and just outright encouragement for girls who are good at problem-solving.”
Julie Gill, a recent Pace University computer science graduate who now does web development and tutoring for Mathnasium, a math learning center for kids, says her father was a programmer and encouraged her to learn.
“When I was a little kid, he sat me down in front of a computer and said, ‘Why don’t you learn how to program?’” she says. “Throughout school I did various programming languages, never in a class but just on the side.”
Her aptitude eventually led to a scholarship for computer science, but she says that if her father hadn’t been a programmer, it’s unlikely that she would have pursued the field.
“This career path would never be recommended to you,” Gill says. “Girls and their friends at school aren’t talking about computers. In elementary school, when the computer breaks, teachers will often choose a boy to come help.”