Common Threads of Contribution (if you ask me anyway…)

Recently, I’ve given a lot of thought to the ‘common threads’ of contribution as they relate to my own experiences (Software/Open Source + community volunteering). I feel so strongly that volunteering(‘contribution’) is something everyone should attempt if their lives allow it.

I say this, not with a pointed finger but with a heart filled by the many experiences of volunteering time, voice, code, energy; with gratitude for resulting experiences, friendships, and with excitement for what the future still holds. Oh yes, and the opportunity to change the world ,  if that’s your thing.

In the last seven years, my contribution focus has been with the BC Cancer Society (Tour De Rock) and BC Children’s Hospital, but as this blog is often a mirror of – this past year has been a story of contribution to Mozilla Webmaker (and my first Open Source love: Drupal).  

On the surface supporting the work of doctors and nurses researching pediatric cancer, seems a (very) far away experience from code-contribution and Drupal/web literacy/hackjam contribution, but yet…. find myself in familiar territory:

Inspiration and passion invite participation

One of the most inspiring moments during my time chairing BC Children’s Hospital Community for Kids (in my hometown of Sooke) was the opportunity to attend  Dr. Bruce Carleton‘s keynote on his work predicting deadly reactions through DNA profile.

The science behind his research is, without argument, mind-blogging brilliance. But, it was the passion in his words  – the compassion that invited support;  Dr. Carleton ‘humanized the complicated’ and in turn inspired my continued work.

I (seriously) contemplated ditching my development career to study medicine for an opportunity to contribute to his work (personal flaw: dreamer)

Likewise, the opportunity to learn, and talk with innovators at conferences like DrupalCON, and hear TED-X video(like this one that inspired me with Webmaker) have been powerful invitations to contribute and make a difference.

Inspiration requires regular replenishment.

Although the volunteer’s horizon is always that ‘much desired outcome’ – revisiting of personal goals, project direction, support and progress are crucial items of replenishment. 

Passion to make a difference, and the determination to see it through trump experience.

Prior to 2005 I’d never organized an event or fundraiser, never communicated or arranged media, and I certainly had no history of volunteer coordination.

Many, many events and fundraisers later, I can do all of these things with confidence.

Webmaker has been a perfect blend of technology, programming, coordinating volunteers, media and event design (existing strengths) but I’ve been slapped across the head with things like ‘lesson planning’ and ‘teaching’. I will get there, I know it. 

Community matters – help and be helped

An obvious reason the above applies. Without the support of the foundations and communities that surround them, inspiration dims – progress would not exist.

Although BCCHF , and Webmaker  foundations and community are good examples of this – it’s Drupal that has really proven to me, that I can contribute without fear. That holding onto code or an idea for fear of humiliation, or the need for perfection is time wasted (thank you Angie (@webchick) Byron for that important message) . Likewise, popping into a forum – answering an email in a dist list are just as valuable to the person needing help as writing an entire module.

You can’t always be on the front line, but that’s not necessarily where the help is needed.

I did, seriously contemplate medical school after listening to Dr. Carleton’s speech. But…reality items like budget-limitations, existing love-of-career, motherhood and a few forehead-smacks… brought forth the idea that contribution opportunities come in layers. Fundraising, event organization and advocacy were still ‘helping’, even though no petri dishes were involved.

With Webmaker, I would love to get ‘under the hood’ and code with any of the webmaker projects (ok probably Popcorn… ), or at least contribute/test some HTML5 ideas – you know ~ really help with the cool layer. But it makes more sense (job, motherhood, no lottery win yet ) to lean on my grassroot organizing strengths + just have having fun playing with kids and technology. I’m loving this every bit as much as coding.   **UPDATE:  post-mozparty I’ve started back at Drupal/Popcorn contrib & getting under the hood with Popcorn.  (yay)

There is such a thing as too much inspiration. Do less ~ better.

This might be personal issue for me, but there is no shortage of inspiration, cool technology (oh BTG I wish I could), inspiring causes, personal causes….

The problem with quick and dirty, as some people have said, is that the dirty remains long after the quick has been forgotten. – Steve C McConnell,

This quote(a fav of mine) is true of software development AND of contribution. You can’t help everyone – quality means one child at a time, one snippet of code at a time .

Sometimes it’s time to move on

Passion, inspiration, determination, and time won’t always be to carry a volunteer. Personalities, changing schedules, disagreement, shifting values, even offensive behavior need to be recognized. There are lots of ways to contribute to a single outcome, and so feeling unsupported, discriminated against, exhausted( are signals that  energy is better spent elsewhere .

My work with BCCHF was very successful, rewarding and I’m very proud of all I accomplished – but the role no longer fit my lifestyle (with 3 children) I was becoming exhausted, and no longer enjoying the process.  I’m proud of all I accomplished, but it was time to move on to something that did fit in my life.  Thanks Mozilla  – right time and right place :)

It’s personal

I think this would be a common thread for anyone dedicated to a cause for a long period of time, and a solid one for me.  My volunteer work with BCCHF & CCS came as a result of witnessing the good, and important work of researchers while my daughter fought (and won) her battle against cancer 7 years ago. There is still so much to do (I still organize an annual headshave)

As mother of school aged children, as a woman in technology it is crucial to me that my girls, that children EVERYWHERE be able to navigate the world around them confidently, that the technology and the web be open for them.   (side bonus:  tons of fun)

Next Blog Post In my Head:  Notable differences !