(Photo of a friend's business card. Really.)
I spent the summer between my junior and senior year of college taking a computer science class. I was so intimidated by the very idea of software programming that I wanted to have it as the only thing on my schedule (besides a full time job and training for field hockey season). I learned how to do some basic C++ programming and spent 8 weeks writing code to move a green blinking dot (the mouse) through an ever-changing arrangement of solid lines (the maze). I passed the class, got my required math/science credit, and returned to college in the Fall as a history major.
Yesterday, I logged on to the website IFTTT, signed in with a username and password, and with about three clicks "coded" my blogger posts to automatically save into my account on Evernote. Then I went over to ManyEyes, uploaded an excel spreadsheet, and made a bubble chart almost as cool as Hans Rosling's. I took a few minutes at lunch time to finish another module of CodeAcademy and, while I was at it I logged into Khan Academy to check in on my 6th grader's progress. Back at work, thinking about open licensing and social change, I've been slowly schooling myself in GitHub, exploring it and reading Pro Git, as I find I need to "play with it to get it."
Cory Doctorow tells us that ""Computers are everywhere. They are now something we put our whole bodies into---airplanes, cars---and something we put into our bodies---pacemakers, cochlear implants. They HAVE to be trustworthy." Marc Andreessen points out that "software is eating the world," and that in our world "everything is programmable." The Estonian government has decided that coding should be part of every first grader's curriculum.
We won't all become coders, but we all need to know how to make our computers and mobiles work for us and get smarter about how they are re-shaping what we share, when, and with whom. There is a sign that the general public is getting savvier on these issues - the Pew Center on the Internet and American Life found recently that more than half of the people they surveyed had either uninstalled or chosen not to install an app because of their concerns about privacy.
The technology infrastructure for data, communications, news, presentations, analysis, and sharing is constantly changing and expanding. Our practices for choosing and using data, telling stories, persuading others, and making choices have to keep up. The data sources that will be linked, omnipresent, and increasingly useful for donors, nonprofits, program professionals and board members are improving, rapidly. These include data at all levels - industry-wide, issue-specific, programmatic performance metric, and on social outcomes. Running successful programs, leading organizations, analyzing funding opportunities, communicating and managing, or being an effective philanthropic professional requires people who can constantly upgrade their own abilities at data analysis and presentation, information synthesis, networking, financial analysis, and BS detection (or, what Howard Rheingold aptly calls "crap detection." We'll all need the kind of marketing and network experience that running a crowdfunding campaign requires, and funders will have to recalibrate where they fit into the ever-changing types of revenue that individuals, projects and organizations will be using to get things done.
I'm starting to think of my own professional skills like versions of operating systems - I'm a v.49 now and I'm working on upgrading myself to v.49.x. (Peter Leyden calls this "reinventing" and points to Tim O'Reilly as a model).
I used branch to help me think through this post, and was able to participate in an incredibly helpful conversation with Christine Egger, Beth Kanter, Howard Rheingold, and others. The resources that these folks linked to over there are incredible - from NTEN to Rheingold, conversations hosted on blogs and in books, Facebook - using the tool and writing this post was a meta-lesson in exactly the skills I'm talking about. For the sake of length I'm linking to them all rather than re-phrasing them here.
Everyone in philanthropy needs to keep learning - to keep up with the ways change is changing and to understand the design choices that effect our communities, privacy, choices, and sense of trust. In the Branch discussion Beth Kanter helpfully summed it up - "we need Net Smarts, cross-cultural competency, visual thinking, and data skills."
Here's a great example of this type of "professional upgrading" from the Nieman Lab on Journalism at Harvard. Brian Boyer, head of app development at NPR, not only describes, but offers the syllabus for the "hacker journalism" course he sees as necessary. Professional development is going to have be treated as a moving target. Our assumptions that "past degrees are an indication of future success" won't work anymore. There's lot of news about how technology is disrupting schooling and higher education. Those of us already in the working world are experiencing this as well - the need to simultaneously do and learn. We're all beginners now.
[Please join me in discussion about this post and the rest of the series over at Branch. I'm embedding the branch discussion below so you can see what it looks like.]