It seems like I've known Arnie Rowland (blog | twitter)
since the dawn of time. But it's really more like the last several
years, or at least since Arnie achieved Microsoft MVP status, that I
really got to know him. Arnie has also been trying to get me to speak
to the user group he leads in Portland, but coordinating it has been
fiendishly difficult. I hope to get out to Portland in 2011 (no
One of the activities that Arnie is leading that has deeply impressed me is Project Phoenix. Described here:
are inviting unemployed or underemployed developers to propose a
software project for a non-profit agency, school, or church. The idea
is that we will provide a package of the latest software, tools, and
training resources to help you improve your skills, get up to date with
current technologies, gain practical experience, potentially earn a
recommendation for your efforts, and in general, enjoy the feeling of
accomplishing something useful for others...
I'm a big proponent of professional ethics and paying it forward in
ways like this. So I wanted to discuss this further with Arnie.
Here's a bit of our discussion...
Kevin>> Tell me about Project Phoenix. What does it hope to accomplish?
Arnie>> I appreciate the opportunity to introduce Project
Phoenix to your readers. We are awarding a package that includes an MSDN
Ultimate Subscription, software tools, training, and books to
unemployed, or significantly underemployed, developers that propose and
undertake a software project for a non-profit, school, or church. We are
making one award each week of the rest of the year –more than 30 in
total. The idea is to provide the recipient access to the tools needed
to improve his/her skills, an opportunity to gain practical experience,
the potential to earn a recommendation and/or referral –and to
positively contribute to society as a form of 'give-back'. No free
lunch, just sweat equity –the kind that makes us all feel good for the
effort. Additionally, one of our goals is to increase consciousness
amongst IT professionals about the needs of the non-profit sector. Many
agencies, schools, and churches need our help –yet their budgets often
don’t allow them to fully engage with us. When they are lucky, they get
half-baked solutions to try and solve the complex problems of our
society. That’s just not right.
Kevin>> In what way can we help?
Arnie>> Great question Kevin. I ask your readers to help spread
the word about Project Phoenix. Tell any eligible developers –heck,
tell all developers you know since someone you tell may have an
unemployed friend or relative. Bringing Project Phoenix to the attention
of non-profits, schools, and churches will help to increase the
potential that a profound solution will bubble up and out. And for those
readers that are not eligible to participate in Project Phoenix because
they are employed, we challenge you to ask your church, your kids'
schools, your local non-profit agencies how you can use your skills to
help them with their mission. Participate in, or organize, a local ‘Give Camp’. Consider how you can give back to society some token of your appreciation for being so fortunate.
Kevin>> There are a multitude of ways to volunteer. What attracted you to Project Phoenix?
Kevin>> I had been presented with these very expensive software
gifts to just hand out as I saw fit. I observed that some similar gifts
were being handed out to folks that could guess what number is between 1
and 3, or some similarly lame exercise, some were handed out as ‘door
prizes’ –sometimes to winners that didn’t really have any use for, or
place significant value on, the gift. Some time ago, after giving out
such a door prize, I was contacted by the recipient who was exploring
how to gain some value, maybe a trade, or even a sell. I realized that
often we in the industry were bestowing very valuable gifts to folks
that just didn’t place much value on the gift. I wanted to do something
different. I decided that seeking out those who clearly understood the
value of the gift, and were willing to offer some of their time and
effort in exchange had some potential. Tying the pieces together, I
decided to create a ‘package’ of value for the recipient so that he/she
was motivated to take on a real life project for a deserving non-profit,
school, or church, thereby creating additional value from the
participants’ efforts to learn to use new tools. Unemployed developers
are quite unlikely to be able to afford the package of software, tools,
books and training –yet they would most certainly gain significant value
from the ‘gift’ if they used it to increase their employment
Kevin>> I’ve written a lot about
the need for IT professionals to demonstrate good ethics on a daily
basis in their profession. Do you think there’s a correlation between
good ethics and volunteerism?
Arnie>> Ethics is about doing the right thing. We in this
industry have skills that are needed by societal agents that work
diligently to better life for less fortunate members of our society. The
right thing is to offer some of our time, some of our skills, to help.
We need more IT professionals willing to give up a TV program, willing
to give up a football or basketball game, or willing to forgo a few
hours of video gaming, and go out and do the right thing.
Project Phoenix is great for IT professionals because it plays off of
their strengths in technology. But one of the downsides of IT is that
the technology often puts distance between people, for example using an
email when a phone call might better serve the situation. Does Project
Phoenix do anything to connect us with real, live human beings and make a
difference in their lives?
Arnie>> I only wish it did. We recognize that many of the
projects we award will be completed without any direct personal contact
between the developer and the agency. Phone calls, emails, perhaps
online meetings will be the norm. That is an unfortunate fact of life in
our profession. We hope and encourage that folks receiving Project
Phoenix awards will be inclined to share their experiences with others
–perhaps at User Groups. However, we are helping folks that are directly
interacting with their clients. If the projects we award reduce the
administrative burden for those working in non-profit agencies, schools
and churches, and allow them to have more direct contact with their
clients –we have succeeded in increasing social benefit.
Kevin>> What would the results of doing work with Project Phoenix look like?
Arnie>> For the individual who proposed a project for a
non-profit, school, or church, and was awarded, there will be the
satisfaction of having completed a ‘real world’ project while learning
new tools and technologies. There will be the satisfaction of knowing
that their work is benefiting some organization that would not have been
able to purchase the solution. There will be the potential for a
recommendation from the non-profit organization. There will be something
significant to offer during job interviews. And another result is that
some of the projects we award will be available in Codeplex for others
to build upon; the efforts of our awards may seed many additional
Arnie>> We recognize that we are seeding over 30 projects, and
yet there is no insurance that these projects will actually complete and
be deployed. So we have created a ‘completion bonus’. In March 2011, we
will be evaluating the completed and deployed projects. One of the
developers and projects that we previously awarded will be featured on
the TechEd 2011 website and provided a full TechEd 2011 Conference pass
courtesy of the Microsoft TechEd 2011 organizers. Telerik,
a vendor supplying software development tools, will cover the airfare
and hotel expenses to get the winner to TechEd, as well as feature the
developer on their website. We are still working out the criteria for
this excellent project completion bonus.
Kevin>> What are the next steps?
Arnie>> Continue spreading the word about Project Phoenix. Participate in, or organize, a local Give Camp.
Ask your local non-profits, schools, churches how you can use your
skills to help them. Society improves because we all care and take
action. Show your care.