Calling on IT to do more

Summary:We all go through days where we feel jaded, fatigued and weary of dealing with petty politics and inconsequential squabbles in the office, while stressing out over the need to meet quarterly business targets.I've had my own share of corporate fatigue having run the rat race for over 13 years which, though short by some standards, can feel like an eternity when you're a media professional in an industry that runs at 300,000 km per second.

We all go through days where we feel jaded, fatigued and weary of dealing with petty politics and inconsequential squabbles in the office, while stressing out over the need to meet quarterly business targets.

I've had my own share of corporate fatigue having run the rat race for over 13 years which, though short by some standards, can feel like an eternity when you're a media professional in an industry that runs at 300,000 km per second. That's the speed of light, by the way.

Often, I've stopped to ponder why I'm spending the bulk of the short amount of time I have to live this life, on a seemingly endless chase to reach the top of a profession that, at the end of the chase, mayn't have the rewards that match the level of investment.

Covering the IT industry isn't exactly life-changing. The stuff I write about doesn't discuss why the poverty line in some countries is well below a dollar a day, nor does it expose how citizens in war-torn nations are ravaged by famine.

My idealist goal as a young journalist to change the world for the better has since given way to uncovering news about corporate M&As, business strategies and current buzzwords like cloud computing and mobile development...and to the occasional blog rumblings about the meaning of an IT-enabled life.

It's hardly earth-shattering or Nobel Prize-worthy material. In fact, I saw covering the IT industry to be almost immaterial and often, would ask myself: Is this it? What's the meaning to all this?

Fortunately, a dinner function this week helped provide some answers and slap me out of self-pity.

A handful of professionals from the local IT industry had gathered over dinner to meet Thorkil Sonne, founder of Specialisterne, a Danish IT computer company that hires individuals with high-functioning autism.

We had written a piece that looked at the potential of autistic workers to excel in IT, tapping their intrinsic passion for details to perform tasks such as software testing and quality control. Thorkil's organization aims to help the autistic hone their skills and secure gainful employment with IT companies, and he was in Singapore this week to champion this cause to the relevant stakeholders here.

Over dinner, he spoke passionately about how his own son, diagnosed with autism at the age of two, had ignited his desire to help autistic people identify and build on their strengths so they can also be independent citizens of the world.

He explained that high-functioning autistic individuals have much to offer if companies would give them the opportunity and understand their unique traits so they can be appropriately managed in a work environment.

Autistic people, for instance, don't get irony. They can't read between the lines or get innuendos and are unable to detect sarcasm. What they say is what they mean so electronic communications like e-mail and text messages are actually ideal because with text, what you see is what the words mean.

According to Thorkil, autistic individuals do congregate on Facebook and engage with like-minded peers in spirited conversations, so they can be sociable--on their own terms and under conditions that they comprehend. Two people whom Thorkil's company had assessed and trained were recently offered internship with IBM in Denmark.

Conversations that night also turned to news this week that the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation would set aside US$42 million in grants to spur innovation to help improve toilets and sanitation. Some 2.6 billion people worldwide currently lack access to safe sanitation, leaving waste that usually go into a sewage system on the ground or in a ditch. Such unsanitary conditions have resulted in illness, killing 1.5 million children each year from diarrhea-related diseases.

Part of Gates' efforts include reinventing the toilet and by year-end, the foundation expects to have some 50 groups working on ideas for the next generation of toilets including one that runs without water or electricity.

That night over dinner, I realized that immaterial it might sometimes seem, technology can play a role in helping to change lives and make the world a better place for those in need of one.

So rather than wallow in self-indulgence about how meaningless the corporate race can get, I shall resolve to help in whatever small way I can, to highlight how individuals and organizations like Thorkil and the Gates foundation are driving the use of technology to improve society.

Topics: Innovation

About

Eileen Yu began covering the IT industry when Asynchronous Transfer Mode was still hip and e-commerce was the new buzzword. Currently a freelance blogger and content specialist based in Singapore, she has over 15 years of industry experience with various publications including ZDNet, IDG, and Singapore Press Holdings. Eileen majored i... Full Bio

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