Finding #CareerLove and Making the World a Better Place: They Don't Have to be Mutually Exclusive

I’ve been teaching user experience design at Startup Institute for the past two years and, during that time, I’ve gone on countless coffee chats with students. Unmistakably, the question I’m most often asked is:

How do I find the right career for me?

[bctt tweet="Finding #careerlove and Making the World a Better Place, by @AlissaAmpezzan "]

Like so many other "sharks" (as we Startup Institute Chicago alumni like to call ourselves), we want—nay, need—our work to have purpose, not just provide a paycheck. Often there is a misconception in the tech industry that we’re “just building apps,” but if we’re doing our jobs right, we’re building tools for people. Sometimes, those apps help you order food from your patio; others change entire societal systems for the better. We are motivated by making an impact, whether that means the company serves a greater good, or simply that it matters we show up everyday.

When I was weighing my job offers toward the end of Startup Institute, Jason Henrichs (legendary advisor and intern extraordinaire) gave me advice I continue to repeat:

At each step in your career, weigh these three factors, in this order: role, people, and product.  If you get two of three, take the job. If you get all three, buy a lottery ticket.

[bctt tweet="To find #careerlove, weigh role, people, and product, says @jasonhenrichs @AlissaAmpezzan"]

To help put these in context, I’ll walk you through some of the critical questions I asked myself when considering my job offer from Civis Analytics.

A framework for finding the right career for you:

1. Role

Ask yourself: Do I get to utilize and stretch my technical skills? Will this role put me on a path to where I ultimately want to be? Do I think I can be successful?

While I'd found an opportunity that would stretch my technical skills, for me the most important factor was: Will the work I do in this role have a positive impact on the world?

In the past, I’ve had the good fortune to work on websites and products for organizations with important social missions, and I knew seeing the impact of my work on the lives of real people—students, patients, volunteers, citizens—would be vital in every step of my career.

One of three… looking good.

As you're going through your job search, make sure you know what matters to you, and be honest with yourself. I learned that tech for social good was my top priority and that was something I wouldn’t give up.[bctt tweet="I learned that #tech for #socialgood was a priority that I couldn't give up, says @AlissaAmpezzan"]

2. People

Ask yourself: Do these people share my mission? On a tough day, do I still want to hang out with them? Are they a little bit weird? Do they challenge me?

In my first interview for Civis, I met Gabriel Burt, our CTO and one of the super-engineers who swooped in to save I was humbled to later call him my boss. Then, I met Dan Wagner, our CEO and the big brain behind Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign analytics team. Dan told me he'd started this company to solve the world's biggest problems with big data. You had me at Obama, sir. I had found my people.

In addition to Gabriel and Dan, I also work with:

  • Chas Jhin—an outstanding engineer who has worked on software to enroll the uninsured and encourage people to vote. Oh, and he's spent summers in northern Uganda working with an NGO bringing Internet access to remote villages.
  • Kelly Kreft—a data scientist on our non-profit team, who is working with the USA for UNHCR, the US arm of the UN Refugee Agency which works to save, protect, and rebuild the lives of people who have been forced to flee their homes due to violence and conflict (read Kelly’s blog post to learn more).
  • Over 100 other technologists who have equally inspiring stories.

Two of three: I was ready to take the job.

Are you looking for people who share the same goals or mission as you? Or, are you looking for people you know you can hang out with after work? I needed to know the people I was going to work with every day wanted to make the world a better place. Can and will they help you grow in your job and as a person?[bctt tweet="Before accepting a #job, ask: Do the ppl share my mission? Do they challenge me?—@AlissaAmpezzan"]

3. Product

Ask yourself: Will this technology make real, meaningful change in the world? How will it positively affect the lives of others?

In my two years at Civis, our technology has:

  • Helped identify the millions of Americans who are uninsured
  • Ensured the success of the marriage equality #lovewins campaign
  • Increased awareness for domestic abuse and women’s rights and health issues
  • Aided clean energy startups
  • Increased participation in programs to end global poverty
  • Helped the underemployed connect to jobs and skills training

I’m honored to be the guardian of that software’s user experience.[bctt tweet="I'm honored to be the guardian of @CivisAnalytics' #UX for #socialgood, says @AlissaAmpezzan"]

Three of three, I was ready to go out and buy a lottery ticket—lucky numbers: 4, 20, 26.

I like to look at the big picture beyond the software I’m building and it’s important to take a step back to see the impact. Maybe you’re interested in creating an app that will make consumers' lives easier or maybe you want to build software that will change how an industry works. Whatever that answer is, make sure you find a product that fulfills that need.

It’s not lost on me that I’m just designing software. I’m not saving the world, this isn’t Doctors without Borders. But the tech we build enables Kelly and our clients to actually make a difference. I can honestly say I care about our end users (can we just call them people?) because they make the world a better place.[bctt tweet="The #tech I build enables others to make a difference, says @AlissaAmpezzan #missiondriven"]

Having a social purpose-driven career means that, even when things are difficult (as they often are at startups), you can look at your work and see the world is positively better because of your effort. I fell in #careerlove with Civis Analytics because my time at Startup Institute forced me to:

  1. Define the role, people, and product I want.
  2. Not settle for anything less than 3 of 3.

Good luck with finding a job you love. If you care about building software with a mission, consider joining me at Civis Analytics.

[bctt tweet="My time @StartupInst forced me to define what I want in my #career and not settle, says @AlissaAmpezzan" via="no"]