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Do IT Professionals Have a Social Responsibility?

Sam Segran, CIO, Texas Tech University

Do IT Professionals Have a Social Responsibility?Sam Segran, CIO, Texas Tech University

Except for a few involved researchers and interested parties, the world hardly noticed the advent of the internet in 1969 (as ARPANET) when the first host-to-host message was communicated from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) to Stanford. The invention of the World Wide Web in 1989 by Sir Tim Berners-Lee with the associated communication protocols and standards, coupled with emerging technologies such as the PC and the cell phone helped to start the transformation of society into the digital age. The privatization of the internet in the 1990’s, and the subsequent emergence of social media, cloud and an increasing number of internet-connected devices, Internet of Things (IoTs) in the new millennium further accelerated this transformation.

As a result, the world has changed around us. From agriculture to the space industry, we have seen significant, visible transformations. Personal and organizational wealth, including intellectual property, is also now transitioning to the cyber world. Sadly, so have criminals from across the world that are transitioning to the cyber world.

Fortunately, this new cyber world has also given rise to a fast-growing new breed in the workforce that includes direct and indirect IT (cyber) professionals. According to US Department of Labor (DOL), IT jobs are projected to grow 12 percent from 2014 to 2024, faster than the average for all occupations. Many of these professionals, from all industries, are helping to build a useful and productive society. However, the cybersecurity environment is constantly changing, so the methods to protect ourselves must evolve with those changes. Most employees have the benefit of cybersecurity awareness resources through their work. However, what about small businesses, mom and pop operations, the unemployed, and retirees? As IT professionals, both direct and indirect (those with IT skills but whose primary roles are not IT), do we have a social responsibility? I believe we do! In addition to our job duties, what can we, as individuals, do for the betterment of society? Some ideas are listed below.

Cybersecurity – A major area in which IT professionals can do significant good in the community is in cybersecurity and cybersecurity awareness. 

IT professionals can offer guidance and expertise ranging from coding or app-writing clinics for juniors and seniors in high schools to cybersecurity awareness for various groups such as community groups, churches, small businesses, chambers of commerce, etc. Two especially vulnerable groups that can benefit from the latter activities are K-12 children who are targets on the internet and social media for sexual predators, and retirees who are generally dependent on their retirement assets but with very little knowledge to protect themselves and their assets online from cyber criminals.

Promote STEM – Seek out opportunities to present to schools and groups to encourage young people in K-12, especially the under-represented groups, including minorities and women,to consider careers in theScience, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields; help provide a window into your professional world.

Help your colleagues – Assist colleagues within the organization to leverage technology to improve processes and/or explore innovative opportunities which are especially useful in times of lean budgets. If done collaboratively and with grace, this action could also help IT professionals build strong lasting relationships across departments/units within the organization.

Participate – Participate in established industry security organizations such as the Multi-State Information Sharing & Analysis Center (MS-ISAC), Information Sharing and Analysis Organizations (ISAOs), InfraGard (partnership between the FBI and members of the private sector), Stop- Think-Connect (national public awareness campaign by Dept. of Homeland Security), or in other professional technology organizations.

Go beyond your comfort zone – Leverage volunteers with subject matter knowledge in other fields, e.g. environmental care, animal welfare, or betterment of human living conditions. Help them go further in their volunteer activities using your IT skills such as web, systems design, database, programming, security, or IoTs.

Share your passion – Be a mentor in and for your field.

Spread your knowledge – A major social contribution of IT professionals is the sharing of knowledge and skills through voluntary participation in professional organizations, seminars, conferences, user groups, standards organizations, advisory groups, one-on-one consultations, etc. 

As IT professionals, we should strive to leave the cyber world better than we found “IT”!

Over the years, I have had the privilege of working with or knowing numerous successful IT professionals who are leaders in their fields. The one major common attribute of these passionate individuals is their willingness to collaborate with colleagues and others.

Any good, ethical professional would agree, however well-intentioned, voluntary contribution to society should not be made at the expense of the good of the organization or at the expense of the shareholders. Thankfully, many forward-thinking organizations already have formal programs that encourage volunteer activities. These efforts should be on your own time. It is understandable that not everyone would be able to commit significant hours of volunteer effort regularly. Therefore, IT professionals could consider a “micro” volunteering concept–just an hour a month will add up. Based on DOL statistics, in 2014, there were about 3.9 million IT professionals and 350,000 IT managers in the U.S., for a total of 4.25 million. At one hour per month per IT professional, this group alone could contribute 51 million hours of public good in a year; and this total doesn’t even include all the indirect IT professionals who far exceed the number of direct IT professionals, or those from around the world.

In addition to fulfilling duties at work, it is also a good social contribution if we keep up skills in our field of work. Individuals who regularly update their skills as lifelong learners add overall value to the organization, industry, society, and to themselves. The number of new professions continue to increase in the cyber industry and by continuously updating relevant skills, IT professionals can help further advance the industry. According to DOL statistics, healthcare support occupations and healthcare practitioners, and technical occupations are projected to be the two fastest growing occupational groups, adding a combined 2.3 million jobs, about 1 in 4 new jobs.

In addition to the betterment of the society that we live in, this social contribution can be good for the soul, leverage your passion, and help to set a great example for the younger generations behind us. It should be more than a good pay-check and free snacks! As IT professionals, we should strive to leave the cyber world better than we found “IT”!

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