Building systems for a better world

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Building systems for a better world
Sean Mailander [left].
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Meet the Australian volunteers lending their IT skills to those in need.

Twenty-first century volunteering is no longer limited to hauling bricks to and from an NGO-funded orphanage.

Building IT systems could prove just as useful to some developing nations as building roads and homes.

A new generation of benevolent IT professionals are discovering that their skills are in demand inside countries working to get their governments and industries up to a world standard – and Australian volunteer programs are boosting their IT intake in response.

Volunteers like Amy Carland are picking up a competitive knack for problem solving while working through challenges they are unlikely to ever have to face in Australia.

Carland is currently in Papua New Guinea with the Australian Volunteers for International Development program, where she is forced to use the office phone and fax to buy local domain names that aren’t available online.

“In terms of IT, I have been attempting to address issues across internal networking and online connectivity, and also assist in requirements gathering for systems to support programs, such as a potential legal case management system and website,” Carland said.

“I certainly felt like I gained more than I contributed [by volunteering],” Carland said of her time.

From December 1 the Australian Volunteers for International Development program and the Australian Youth Ambassadors will be looking for another 23 volunteers like Amy to take up roles including database administration, desktop support, software development, website development and information management.

Sean Mailander, who has just finished a 12-month placement in Tonga, has urged his IT industry peers to take the plunge.

“Don't be shy – volunteering suits everyone. Nothing says ‘able to adapt to [a] difficult situation’ like a stint as a volunteer in a different culture,” he said.

Sean's overseas placement was as an ICT development officer for the Ministry of Lands, Environment, Climate Change and Natural Resources in Nuku'alofa.

The software developer, whose paid job sees him building specialist business management products for vets, said prospective volunteers shouldn’t be concerned if their skill set does not exactly mirror the job on offer.

He has learnt that jumping in the deep-end will pay dividends in terms of experience gained.

“On a daily basis I was shadowing my counterpart for an hour or so as he did triage for desktop support. We talked about the issues he faced and the range of technical solutions, from bandaid fixes to architectural changes,” he said.

“I also did some development for an in-house business application and worked with my counterpart to explain industry best-practice approaches.”

Mailander said working in Tonga provided him with both highs – swimming with whales – and also a “cultural disconnect”.

“The volunteer work forces you to confront your own cultural expectations,” he said.

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