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Ben Halpern for CodeNewbie

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How Can Coding Make a Positive Impact on Society?

From creating applications that improve access to healthcare and education, to developing software that helps with disaster relief efforts, coding is a powerful tool that can be used to make a positive impact on society.

But attempting to use your skills for good isn't always easy. We run up against issues like:

  • Limited resources
  • Political and social barriers
  • Lack of awareness or understanding of the potential impact of technology

What other ways have you found to use your coding skills to make a positive impact and improve our world? And what career suggestions do you have for newbies just starting out?

Top comments (9)

booleanhunter profile image
Ashwin Hariharan • Edited

What a great topic! Here are some ways that I can think of (Note: you need to be not just a coder, but also understand software engineering as a whole):

Don't simply be an advocate of tech, but also be an "investigator"

If you blog, try and provide a grounded, realistic view of things that you care about.
A lot of folks talk mostly about the benefits while hardly talking about the shortcomings - especially on topics like microservices, AI or Web3. its not just about promoting a technology that you like - but also talking about where its not a good fit and what it does poorly. In my opinion, this needs to be done more often, and it would undoubtedly help both technical as well as non-technical folks in large corporates make more informed decisions. If that piece of technology is widely used, these efforts can have an impact even on the legislative level.

An example that I can think of: Few years back, India's Aadhaar project (arguably world's largest biometric identification system) was riddled with security flaws. While the architects of the project insisted that sensitive information was perfectly safe, several coders and technologists used their programming skills to illustrate and bring those loopholes to the limelight of the public and media.

Pay attention to your local community

A lot of them are threatened by large conglomerates like Amazon, especially local grocers. Perhaps you could use your coding skills to set up an online storefront to help them get more customers?

Be an advocate for accessibility

In my experience, this has always been an after-thought. You can learn about accessibility and advocate for it within your company. This can help to make products and services more accessible to individuals with disabilities. Even better, you could build something for individuals with disabilities yourself.

Some career suggestions

I've generally noticed that its easier to create an impact "indirectly" by being part of an organization, as opposed to doing it as an individual. Organizations have much more resources than you. You could even try to find software engineering openings at organizations that work for social causes.

If your just starting out, try to go for the low-hanging fruits first, learn the ropes before you take on larger goals. And finally, prioritize your physical and mental well-being above all - after all, you are also a part of the very society you live in! :)

jcsmileyjr profile image
JC Smiley

Be intentional about contributing your time and expertise to local non profits. They fill in the gap between government services and private business in regard to helping our society. They normally can't afford custom technical solutions. This is where we create the most impact.

Also, my experience is that they are led by older and possibly not as tech savvy leaders. Sometimes, just having a conversation can point them in the best direction or to show them unknown resources.

darkwiiplayer profile image
𒎏Wii 🏳️‍⚧️

Staying away from the political aspects of this a bit, because that's a really complex subject on its own; As much as big noble goals like helping with disaster relief efforts, or improving healthcare may seem more appealing to ones sense of righteousness, it shouldn't be understated how much of an effect software has on society by just generally making production more efficient.

If we stop looking at things through the capitalis lens of increasing profit, what software does, at an even more fundamental level (in combination with hardware, specially robotics), is to increase the amount of goods humanity can produce relative to population size, in other words, the same labour can generate more stuff or the same amount of stuff can be produced with much less labour.

Building software to automate something as mundane as mass-producing toothbrushes may not feel like saving the world, but at the end of the day, that's lots of manpower that can be invested into something else, including just not having to work as long.

Thanks to the whole political aspect of this, societies are still in a bit of an "automation bad because it removes jobs" mindset, but if we could shift that to a healthier "the less human work we need, the more we can just live off our creations and pursue more important life goals" mindset, every tiny bit of automation, every action we can hand over from human workers to programmable machines, is a tiny contribution to a happier humanity.

janmpeterka profile image
Jan Peterka

I have a bit different view on this, so just adding that to discussion.
Making production more efficient, automation and all this can have immense positive effect, but also huge negative one (ecological, societal). As is often said - it's just a tool, how we use it is what makes it positive/negative.

It seems to me that it's really important to be aware of effects our work can have and try to make it do good.

darkwiiplayer profile image
𒎏Wii 🏳️‍⚧️

Absolutely! The same programming time could be put to use building software that helps running wind-turbines more efficiently, or predicting the best places to dig for coal. At the end of the day, we still absolutely need to be mindful of what we're working on and how it could affect the world.

All I'm trying to say is that the smaller things can also have important effects. These can be positive effects that contribute to making a better world, or they could be tiny steps towards destroying it. But it's never just the big and obvious contributions that drive change.

Thread Thread
janmpeterka profile image
Jan Peterka

then we fully agree and I probably read into your comment something that wasn't there. Sorry for that and thanks for your view :)

icolomina profile image
Nacho Colomina Torregrosa

I think open source software has been decisive in getting to the point where we are now. Thanks to open source philosophy developers around the world can work together, learn from each other and create applications which can improve people's lives

pinotattari profile image
Riccardo Bernardini

It cannot

janmpeterka profile image
Jan Peterka

That's pretty harsh view. Why do you think so?