How I Steered My Work Towards Positive Social Good

Jaisalmer, India 2007

Last July, I left my role at Exygy as Director of Product Management after 7 amazing years. As I take some much-needed rest and relaxation to prepare for my next chapter, I’ve had time to reflex on those amazing years.

Though I feel tremendous pride about the work I did with Exygy, I also learned a lot by making mistakes along the way. I hope this reflection can help others who are out there fighting the good fight of designing and building software that helps contribute to social good while minimizing negative externalities as much as possible along the way.

My journey towards a role of designing and building software for social good began in 2007 when I was a software developer for Time Warner, Inc. in New York City. Though I worked with a great team of folks for an incredible organization, my work felt unfulfilling to me as it didn’t feel like I was doing work that directly contributed to the big issues of our time — climate change, health equity, racial justice, environment, etc. — which were becoming more and more in my field of vision.

It was on a project where I was working on software for tracking philanthropic grants that Time Warner would give to educational organizations and the arts that I asked myself... Why am I not working with this kind of technology all the time and not just the occasional philanthropic project?

So, I took a leap of faith that there was something more out there for me. Somewhere my work would have more impact on positive social good. I was privileged to have money in the bank and a passport to explore the world, so I did. In those travels, I met amazing young people, who, with fewer resources and less privilege than I, were doing inspiring entrepreneurial work.

When I returned home I met designer James Arnold — currently Director of Design Operations at Exygy. He and I started a small design agency called Mister Machine. We did great work together and began to form a shared value system around putting work into the world that would have a positive impact on society.

Together we worked on amazing social good projects that included work for The New York Peace Institute, Zeal Learning, the Joint BioEnergy Institute, and Al-Shabaka The Palestinian Policy Network.

With Mister Machine, Jesse and I built a relationship with Zach Berke, the founder of Exygy, and ultimately merged our little design agency with his. Working with an agency with more reach than ours, helped us expand the impact of our work in ways that after seven years I'm super proud of.

Not all of the work I did at Exygy fits the positive social good mold. When I joined, a decent percentage of our revenue still came from more commercial work which helped support the social impact work we wanted to do more of.

That said, around the time Jesse and I joined, we started a contract with the City of San Francisco to design and build an affordable housing listing, application, and housing developer portal. Ultimately called DAHLIA, in 2015, this was a big contract for us and began to give Exygy the momentum we needed to commit more fully to exclusively working with clients that create positive social good.

How do I know that the work I did over my years at Exygy created meaningful positive social outcomes? I’ll explore this personal area of growth for me in future articles and try to leave room for the things I still need to learn.