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Bye-bye Knight

ImageLast week was my last at Knight Foundation. The departure is both sweet and bitter. I’m excited about the new gig, but am remembering all the good things about the last six years.

This was the first time I’d worked in philanthropy and It makes for a very different view of business. At one level, it’s very similar to a for profit business. You have IT. Accounting. Administration. HR. Office maintenance. People have jobs they come to in the morning and families they come home to at night. You make friends. You make enemies. You have quiet times You have time when you think all the time in the world is not enough for what you need to do.

But at another level it’s very different in that the business mission is “to do good”. It’s very fulfilling to work towards “doing good” as opposed to “sell more cars”. And it’s not easy. You would think it would be easy to give away money. But it’s actually very hard to give away money _well_. You are entrusted with someone else’s money and you have to to a good job giving it away. No, you’re supposed to do a great job of giving it away. If you give it away and find it didn’t do any good, you failed at your job. If you give it away and it does good, but could have done better elsewhere, then you could have done a better job. And it’s damn hard to measure “good” in any quantitative way.

This makes for a very interesting group of people to work with. In my case I was lucky to work with some of the smartest people I’ve known in my life. Philanthopries are interesting, Knight was fascinating.

But in my heart I’m a software developer through and through. I’ve been doing it since they invented dirt and in all those year have never gotten bored of it. Like many organizations, Knight is using more off the shelf software these days for internal use. And that’s an excellent fit for the organization. We had a older grants management system around which we had to write software to get the functionality we needed. Now we’re moving to an open source grant management system which works at a level the older enhanced system could only dream of. Absolutely the right choice for the organization. But a large chunk of the software I work disappears right there.

I also wrote a great deal of software in the first three years I was there. Most of that software worked excellently and was well designed. The result for the organization is great. The result for me is that now I do more configuring to prepare for the new year than developing new software.

The other challenge is that IT organization in philanthropies tend to be small to non existent. Our entire IT staff is four and a half people. And some of those people have active responsibilities in generating technical grants. I _am_ the programming department. I love the independence. I can say “I want to move to Visual Studio 2012” and start right then and there. But what I don’t have is other programmers around me. I don’t have someone working with me side-by-side writing a new system. I don’t have someone who I can ask to grab a cup of coffee and follow me to the whiteboard to sketch out one of my crazy ideas.

And so I move on to my next gig, but Knight will always have a special spot in my heart.


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