Making the Switch from IT to ICT4D

Last newsletter I asked you to tell me about your job search dilemmas and wow! I received a wave of responses. I’ll be publishing a few over the next few newsletters. Ask your question to see it responded to here.

Their Question:

I want to find a job that matters and I don’t know where to start. I’m worried I’ll have to leave a cushy, well paying, IT job and be poor in order to make a difference in people’s lives, but I’m worried I’m not adding enough value today, in a direct fashion, to other people, to the environment, to the world.

My Response:

I know the feeling of being lost in a current career and wanting a new one. It took me years to discover ICT4D and then a few more to get my dream job in the field. Throughout that process, I found that there is only one way to discover what calls to you: ask people who are doing it what they think, do, and like about their jobs.

Informational interviews – where you ask about their work/career and then reflect afterward if what they talked about seemed worthy for you. This is the best route, regardless of what field you want to go into. Yet, I am always surprised about how few people do them.

If ICT4D is your calling, you will not be making Silicon Valley money in the NGO world. You can look at any organizations’ IRS Form 990 (see for them) and see the highest paid staff over $100K. Usually its a short list.

At my company, and we are one of the larger ones, senior staff are around $200K, the CEO clocks in at $250K, and we’re a $650 million/year org. So yes, typically IT engineers take a pay cut when they move into ICT4D, but we’re not in this for the money.

I sleep really well at night with my role. I know I am making a difference – I can see it. Not daily, but I believe in what we are doing and have seen the results in the field. That feeling of doing good drives me more than buckets of cash.

Want more depth to your career questions? Grab a career coaching session.


ipad charts

The 3 Roles in ICT4D

Recently, I was interviewed by Devex on the typical roles for ICT4D practitioners in ICT4D careers: The technologist, the strategist and the field-based consultant. Here’s a copy of the post if you’re not a Devex member.

I talked about how most people are either focused on the software & hardware aspects (technologist), on the program design and fundraising (strategist), or leading teams in the field to delivery (field-based staff).

Which Role Is for You?

Thinking about these 3 roles, figure out which one you want and which one you are qualified for. The role you want and are qualified for should be the same, but not always.

I will say that the field-based role is usually the most popular, which also makes it one of the hardest to get. If you’re dead-set on a field-based role, consider volunteering or joining a small organization (which is pretty close to volunteering) to get yourself out to a good location. Then try to work yourself into a (better) paid gig once you are there.

If you have prior IT experience, then the technologist role is usually easiest to qualify for, though you still need some field experience to show you know and appreciate the local context. Also realize that ICT4D pays half (at best) of private sector IT work, so be prepared for a massive pay cut, but an equally massive increase in sense of purpose and life-fulfillment.

ICT generalists usually take the strategist role, but only those who have sales experience or aptitude do well in the role. It is all about strategy – to help the organization win new funding and execute on it, not just idly daydreaming what could be. The strategist can also be a researcher, though this is a less-common version.

Wayan & Asia