Rebecca George OBE, President of BCS and Matt Haworth of Reason Digital explore how professionalism, passion and volunteering your IT knowledge can be a real force for change. Martin Cooper MBCS reports.

 

The IT industry is big. Very big. It’s a global force that employs millions and touches the lives of a billions. ‘Right now, everybody - all of society - has even higher expectations of IT than they had before,’ said Rebecca George OBE, President of BCS. ‘There’s an expectation that IT is going to be safe, secure, ethical and always on.’

Going further, she explained: ‘Technology is the fabric of society. I refer to technology as “the critical hidden infrastructure”. Like all infrastructures, you only ever notice it is there when something goes wrong. But like all infrastructures, it is complex. They’re all multifaceted; they’ve all got lots of connections. They are complex systems. In my opinion, all infrastructures need to be created, designed and maintained by people who are professionals - people who think professionally, think ethically and think with integrity - that’s about having externally recognised accreditations and being a member of the IT profession.’ 

Bringing lasting change

Such is the scale of the IT industry it often feels like only Satya Nadella, Tim Cook, Jeff Bezos and their plutocratic compatriots have the hope and power to bring about lasting change. Not so, says Matt Haworth, a social change expert and Founder of Reason Digital.

They agree on many things, chief among them is the notion that all IT workers, through the twin forces of professionalism and person responsibility - can make IT a better place to work and IT products that are better for everyone.

Haworth’s career focuses on helping individuals and charities make changes. This might be finding new volunteers, making new digital products or growing revenues - all through the use of technology. ‘A lot of my role is helping them do a lot of the good stuff they are already doing,’ He said.

How to do good

Stating that it’s what draws many into the IT profession in the first place, Haworth enthused ‘a lot of IT professionals have… this common idea that things can change. Things can be made differently. Things can be improved. Things can be re-coded. Those kinds of beliefs work really well towards the idea of ethics and change-making. That’s why I see so much interesting debate from IT professionals towards ethics and social good.’ 

Society, both speakers agree, holds IT in very high regard and this can make technology workers feel like only inventors, philanthropists and movement leaders can catalyse change. ‘This gives us a slightly limited view about what it is to be a change-maker,’ Haworth said. ‘You don’t need to be one of those archetypes to make change.’

Rather, he said, anybody with IT skills can do it. ‘Social impact isn’t about inventing new technologies, it’s about using existing technologies that are out there and finding new uses for them,’ he explained. ‘Or, even helping somebody that’s doing something really good, something positive in their community… [helping them to use] a bit of technology that has been around for years that they don’t know how to use…’ 

Call to action

Finishing his point he, says: ‘maybe you can help.’ And, by way of an illustration, he pointed to the Blue Cross dog rescue charity. Because people weren’t carrying change in their pockets any more, donations fell. They didn’t have the resources to reinvent the traditional plastic dog-shaped collection box outside shops. So, they fitted a contactless card reader into a labrador’s cold weather coat. People, he explained, wanted to pat the dog - with their Mastercards.

Charities need your skills: 40% of charities don’t have the capacity to take donations online; 13% showed no digital activity in 2019; 2 in 3 high profile charties reported cyber breaches.

Both George and Haworth agree: through a passion for volunteering, a spirit of sharing and through professionalism we can all make IT good for society. Imagine the power of designing a website for a charity who can’t.

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