Much like interning volunteering can be a great way to get experience in IT both early on in your career when you are having problems getting those first few jobs as well as later on when you are well established and what to be able to demonstrate breadth and community but in this article we will focus on the former. Volunteering is much like interning except you don’t have the advantage, normally, or having a mentor or a professional peer to provide you with a recommendation. Because of this a real internship is much more valuable to you professionally. But volunteering shouldn’t be overlooked for two reasons. Firstly because everything that you can do to add to your resume is important and secondly because being a good, professional citizen means giving back and starting early gets you into the swing and makes it easier to keep giving later.
Volunteering can take on a lot of forms from working with local charities, churches, private schools or other non-profits. You might have to hunt around to find organizations open to working with you and some non-profits will simply not be interested in having volunteer help (if you can believe that) but don’t be discouraged because somebody will be very excited to have you helping out.
The type of work that you are likely to do when volunteering could vary wildly. You might be helping out setting up computers much like you would with a basic desktop tech position. Or maybe you will be helping the organization get set up with their first website. Maybe a small, private school could use you to teach a computer basics class – or the same in the evenings at the community center. Maybe a local organization needs help setting up an Access database or needs OpenOffice.org installed on their computers and someone to show them how to use it.
Volunteering is likely to give you a chance to do some mostly basic work but perhaps in new and meaningful ways. By volunteering you are practically assured to be increasing the diversity of your experience portfolio. You may have a chance to learn new aspects of a technology but more likely you will get a chance to apply business rationale to the technology decision making process.
When volunteering quite often the organization that you will be working with, especially when they are quite small and you are the only “computer guy” that they have access to, will be in a position to turn to you to help with IT business decisions. These decisions are likely to be quite small but they can serve as an important tool in your own educational process. Maybe they need help deciding what small firewall product to purchase. This is your chance to carefully investigate firewall products in their price range to determine features, cost, stability, maintainability, integration, etc. Maybe you can help them choose their office suite or maybe you can do some wiring and help them set up an entire office. The opportunities are there and if you do your “job” well they might have more and more need of your services. Often non-profit organizations are limited by the availability of support that they can get. Your voluntary efforts might be a significant factor in their ability to become more technologically advanced.