Bruce Schneier makes the case for "public interest technologists"

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Ok. I’ve a lot of experience in computer security, communications, etc. I would be more than happy to do a few hours of pro-bono work a week to advise my congress critters on technical matters within my expertise.

I am even somewhat ok at explaining difficult things to managers. Not great, but ok.

Where do I sign up?


I agree with the sentiment, but there are structural differences between the way organizations use lawyers and the way they use technologists that make this difficult to do sustainably. Legal expertise is typically seen as a means of mitigating quantifiable risk; technology is a cost center that tends to accumulate risk. Lawyers have clear models for both in-house counsel and, crucially, project-based work as a time-limited consultant. They even have standard, clear-cut structures for contracting against future work on a finished product (and for firing clients).

Technologists on the other hand often add to the complexity of an organization’s portfolio of responsibilities, and typically require competent technical management–not to keep them on track, but to act as a bulwark between them and non-technical stakeholders. Both of those things make it very easy for technologists to have negative experiences working in the non-profit sector.

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After years working in technology, I became interested more in how people use gadgets than the gadgets for their own sake and went into grad school to learn about it. I love Schneier’s concept of public-interest technologist and have been working to incorporate this concept in my scholarship.

If anyone can point me to academics studying public interest technology (especially from a media or communication perspective), I sure would appreciate the tip.

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I am simultaneously proud of you for having a conscience and simultaneously horrified that you might actually teach those morons how to better use technology to make our lives worse because that’s what they do best, even when they understand it

Engineers & coders are incredibly valuable to non-profits. The non-profit I worked with had a deal with a tech company that was trying to “give back” (or avoid taxes) by sending a volunteer team to work with us on our website. We got a team of three but they couldn’t find a company engineer/coder willing to volunteer time. The whole project wasted hours for our unpaid staff while we explained our complex website script to the team, even though they were unable to make any actual technical changes themselves. I think they did suggest an ugly new color scheme. The team was worse than useless without an engineer.

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