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Engineering a better world
On disenchanted engineers in search of purpose
Last year, I was interviewing a bright starry-eyed IIT graduate for a full-stack development role for the Data & Insights Unit at the Ministry of Rural Development. What followed was erratic calls spurred over a few months where I tried to convince her to leave her cushy software job at big finance and join us. She already showed civic interest, she had done YLAC (Young Leaders for Active Citizenship) and had reached out to me through someone I knew to be in the public sector space. She was figuring out whether she wanted to apply to a recently launched tech policy fellowship.
I would usually call her once a month, asking her nonchalantly if she's made up her mind to transition working for the government as a software developer. I told her if she were interested there would be few opportunities which would provide her such comfortable onboarding into public sector tech. Still hesitant, she said she could start remotely and then see how it unfolds.
Overtime, I had become mindful not to push or try to convince any potential hires. It usually backfires. An ideal hire should require a very gentle push, anything more and we'll have a mismatch of expectations eventually when they join.
On one of the calls, she mentioned she won't be able to start working remotely as she had decided to help a leading dev economist do field surveys on government programs. Moreover, she had applied to CMGGA.
At that moment I decided the break my rule of gentle pushing. Not another disenchanted engineer leaving code to get into policy. We honestly have a few too many of them occupying space within the dev/public sector pretending to do specialist jobs as generalists. We need engineers to do good by doing good engineering within the government. Yes, you can be on the field reporting about how government apps are failing or you can come help the government write better code and re-engineer processes. In any case, the former is better served by people who understand social realities and policy and not engineers on guilt trips. I became more aggressive in my convincing, not wanting to see the same story unfold again, especially for someone who liked code, but was seeking a broader purpose.
Fast forward, she joined us, and a few thousand lines of code later, she wrote the citizen information module for Janmanrega app, empowering potentially crores of MGNREGA workers to fight for their rights by knowing real-time status of their workdays, payments and attendance. Simply an engineer, doing good by doing good engineering.
PS. Due to changes in my life, I promise to write more often. Subscribe if you haven’t already :)
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