A friend recently told me about a course she was doing, how it encouraged those that attended to inspect their social network and identify the different value that people bring to it. So, look at the doctors as they can make me well, look at the accountants as they can help me balance my books.
Then, I look at the volunteer page of a charity. They're looking for relevant qualifications, degrees in social welfare and so on.
It's times like these that I sit and wonder at how completely useless my skills are.
The two things I'm really good at, writing and programming have no wide social application. Even speaking to somebody about it who's outside of the field is impossible, when I met the CEO at my new job I referred to my role as "Development Stuff". Any other description would take much longer than a handshake to deliver and end up making me look like a tongue tied boffin fit for nothing but a cubicle in the deepest recesses of the largest businesses.
Well, I'm not that person, that's for sure but it does make one wonder. Where, as a professional, does the developer fit. What can he do. Open source software seems like the answer to this but ultimately that's so insular.
There was a project that I was involved with for a very short time, an open source data repository which complied with a standard put in place by the Norwegian government. Had it been completed it would have shaken up that, abeit small, market and saved the government some money. You could argue that that represents some impact on society but its so far removed from the work itself it's very hard to drive it by principal alone.
Is the reason that there are so many technology startups, so many new open source projects an expression of the fact that we, as professionals, need a way to contribute to society? That we end up becoming a new society that contributes on a very high level to the greater one from which we become more and more removed.