Moving from commercial to social

"Why am I doing what I’m doing every day of my life? I’m working really hard, learning great skills and working overtime so we can still make the impossible deadline with the team. But why? ... At a larger scale, am I making a difference to the world at all?"

A story about me moving to a company with social impact as it's primary goal, and how it changed my everyday life.

Why are you doing your daytime job?

Two years ago I had the pleasure of attending a great keynote by Rasmus Lerdorf at phpDay in Italy. Rasmus told us how he found satisfaction in helping other people with his work at Etsy, and that “all problems that we can solve from behind the keyboard are more or less solved, so if you want to do something meaningful you need to get out there and ask people what they need”. (I am sorry if this is inaccurate, it has been two years and this is how I remember it).

The keynote got me thinking; why am I doing what I’m doing every day of my life? I’m working really hard, learning great skills and working overtime so we can still make the impossible deadline with the team. But why? Sure, it gets my bills paid at the end of the month and it gets me to go on an occasionally holiday every now and then, which is nice. But at a larger scale, am I making a difference to the world at all? Later when I’m old and looking back at my life, will it satisfy me that I’ve worked really long hours so the company got really successful and now the owners and the stakeholders all have really nice cars and fancy boats?

The satisfaction you get from helping other people

Ok I’m probably exaggerating a bit. I’m sure a lot of people are happy working for someone in exchange for being able to live a comfortable live, and if that’s what makes you happy then that’s perfect! In fact, it kept me happy for over ten years, so I’ll be the last person to judge. But the keynote inspired me to not just focus on my own bank account and wellbeing (although that’s important too), but to help other people as well in order to make a difference. You’ve probably experienced first hand how satisfying it can be to help someone in need. The gratitude you receive for doing something as simple as getting groceries for your sick neighbor feels a lot better than making a bit more cash. So, I decided I wanted to have this feeling on a daily basis. I wanted to do something meaningful, by helping people in my everyday life.

My move to social

In August 2015 I started as lead backend developer at NLvoorelkaar, the largest online marketplace for volunteering work in The Netherlands. The basic concept of what we do is pretty straight-forward: both volunteers and people looking for help can sign up, and we try to bring them together on our website. The help people are looking for varies widely; from people who aren’t able to maintain their own garden to people who need a ride to the hospital, and from people who need volunteers to organize their event to people who are feeling lonely and want to have a chat over a cup of coffee. They all have one thing in common: they are looking for a kind person to help them to achieve something they couldn’t accomplish on their own.

When it comes to technical matters my job isn’t that different from my previous jobs at all. We have interesting architectural matters to deal with, SCRUM sprints to deliver in time, new tools and techniques to consider and automated tests to write. It is a very sophisticated environment where I get a lot of satisfaction from the things we accomplish on a technical level, but the reward I get from realizing every day that we’re doing all of this to help people makes me feel like I’ve got the best job in the world. Sure, we encounter rough seas every now and then. But a simple glance at the ‘thank you’ messages users are sending each other makes me realize it has all been worth it: Those people wouldn’t have received the help they were looking for if it wasn’t for the efforts of me and our amazing team.

Your move to social

I’m not saying that everyone should move to social right now. Different people have different needs. To me personally, the move to a company that tries to achieve social impact as a primary purpose has given me the most satisfying job I ever had, and I would recommend it to anyone! It shouldn’t be hard to make the switch. As in any industry a lot of social companies are looking for good PHP developers. Simply Google for them, they aren’t hard to find. (By the way, we are looking for a new colleague too). And if switching your daytime job is a bridge too far, why not simply do some volunteering work in the weekends and see how it feels? You might call me crazy now but please just give it a go, and I’m sure you will thank me for it later.