“I had a good upbringing and see [doing pro bono work] as an opportunity to share the fruits of that and the resources I was able to obtain because of it.”

L. Allen Poole

Please note:
This is the second post in a series of interviews of FileMaker developers who are currently doing pro bono work. At join::table we not only strive to initiate these experiences, but to also celebrate those who are already making a difference in the community. All interviewee views expressed in this post are of the person interviewed and do not necessarily reflect the views or practices recommended by join::table.


 

L. Allen Poole was one of the first developers to fill out our initial developer survey and was an early pro bono FileMaker developer. Allen has been a FileMaker developer since 1993 and was heavily involved in the NTAP (Nonprofit Technology Assistance Provider) movement that occurred in that decade and the years that followed. Now firmly established as the Principal at Creative Database Solutions NW, Allen offers his expertise to help organizations choose and use information management systems. He lives with his wife and two kids in Portland, Oregon. When not at his computer, he enjoys working with his hands in many ways, such as: cooking, woodworking, and metalwork, and is extensively refurbishing his families family’s 1906 house.


JONATHAN NICOLETTI (of join::table):

First, could you tell us a little about yourself as a FileMaker Developer?

ALLEN:

I was introduced to FileMaker as a Community Service Coordinator in the realm of hHigher education. Someone from technology services handed me a box (back when software came in boxes) with FileMaker 3 on it and it didn’t take long for me to start loving the tool. My first application was to help manage the on-campus community outreach that I oversaw. From that original model, I was able to market that system to other schools and retrofit it to their needs. After a few years, I became really involved in the NTAP movement through various organizations such as NPower Seattle, TACS (now NAO https://nonprofitoregon.org ) and Ebase. Through these organizations, I really began providing training and consulting services to nonprofits. Although I have since moved on from these roles, I try to bring the experience and values I learned during this time to my current company Creative Database Solutions NW.

JONATHAN:

How long have you been doing pro bono work? ( in years, projects, or both!)

ALLEN:

I’ve been doing Pro Bono work in some capacity for about thirty years and have completed around thirty projects. I’ve also worked on about 200 “low bono” (discounted for non-profits) projects.

JONATHAN:

What motivates you to do pro bono work? 

ALLEN:

I thought of four motivations for doing pro bono work:.

  1. It’s a way to provide in-kind support and be active in a domain that you want to help beyond financial donation.
  2. Tech professionals are always learning and these pro bono projects can expand your skill-set to do something outside of your normal routine.
  3. I find that this enriches my professional experience and gives me exposure to new environments, people, and challenges that I would have otherwise not met.
  4. Lastly, I had a good upbringing and see this as an opportunity to share the fruits of that and the resources I was able to obtain because of it. 

JONATHAN:

What impact has your pro bono development had on the organizations/communities you partner with?

ALLEN:

I have been able to experience three levels of impact of my work. At the most basic level, my work has extended the capabilities of the nonprofits. The value is further extended by the longevity of the applications as some that I built in the 90s are still in use. Of course, this is the type of impact that is most visible, but I have also been able to see the impact on an individual level as well. One of my clients had to come in one Saturday a month for twelve hours to do a task that we were able to automate into one button pressed on a Friday afternoon. So not only was I helping this organization, but I also helped this woman get one of her weekends back each month. 

The last level of impact was my involvement with an open source project called Ebase. Built in FileMaker Pro 4, it a was a database designed to help nonprofits manage volunteers, events, donors, etc. Thus, in contrast to the localized impact of the organizational or individual benefits, the impact of open source project development extends to thousands of organizations.

JONATHAN:

What impact has doing pro bono work had on you as the developer?

ALLEN:

Similar to what I stated in my motivations, projects like this give me a tremendous opportunity to grow on a technical, business, and planning level while seeing the impact of pro bono work.

JONATHAN:

What sort of challenges have you experienced doing pro bono projects?

ALLEN:

The biggest challenged I have faced working with nonprofits is lack of resources. This can manifest in a couple different ways. Sometimes even if you are willing to put the time in for a successful project, the client may not be able to. This may be sourced from incorrect expectations, but more often is because they already have too much on their plate. Other times a client may not be able to foster the correct environment for managing an information system. This can be due to lack of hardware or space accommodations, or it can be due to having the proper knowledge of housing a system. I had one client who had a shutdown script that worked reliably in testing but would fail in the client’s office. It turned out that a hurried volunteer, seeing the machine was slow to shut down, was unplugging it from the wall at the end of each day. So in this way the challenges can be multi-dimensional and irregular.

JONATHAN:

What advice would you give to someone considering doing pro bono work?

ALLEN:

Communicate a lot about expectations and timelines. The reality about doing pro bono is that sometimes, time just gets wasted. However, if you are able to be in consistent communication, it will help. Also regarding expectations: developers who are not familiar with nonprofits, may have their expectations challenged. The bar of entry may be lower for the nonprofit you are working with so it will be important to recognize that the staff you partner with may not be able to meet you in expertise and professionalism.

JONATHAN:

Thank you so much, Allen!


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