While many in the tech industry have the skills and talent to provide support in situations like Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, they simply don’t have the necessary experience in these specific environments.
I won’t share any examples of this, as singling specific attempts is mean-spirited. But, believe me, they are happening.
Andrew Therriault — founder of Civin, a company that helps the public sector use data — stated in an intriguing Twitter thread that “amateur volunteers, however well-intentioned and skilled in their own fields, are often solving the wrong problem.”
Effectively, by throwing yourself into a field you’re unfamiliar with, you end up creating more work for people who have spent their lives building the skills to operate in these situations.
It may feel like helping, but it’s often achieving the opposite.
I put this thought to Linus Neumann from Chaos Computer Club, Europe’s largest association of hackers. Specifically, how — and if — people with high-level computing skills should get involved with what’s happening in Ukraine.
“This is a war,” he told me, “an actual war with bombs and bullets and bodies”
Neumann said that while hacktivist attacks are “impressive displays of political protest,” they haven’t had any impact on Putin’s military abilities. And, even if they did, this would be a “disaster.”
“States respond to [hacktivist] attacks with military logic,” he said. This means Putin could scapegoat any individual, organization, or country he desires before seeking “revenge” on them.
Neumann continued to tell me that, when it comes to actual cyber warfare, it’s “coordination” that’s “the primary challenge.”
This echoes what Therriault said about third parties getting involved in this conflict digitally.
So if your real area of expertise is doing tech in a for-profit environment, then the best way to use those skills to help others is to do more of what you’re good at, and use the proceeds to solve the resource problems that plague people working on these things every day. (8/10)
— Andrew Therriault (@therriaultphd) February 27, 2022
It’s not you, it’s us
Unfortunately, the modern tech industry is founded on the idea of “disruption.” If you look at the past 30 years, companies haven’t been using technology to neatly support other sectors, instead they’ve been using it to dismantle them.
This goes for almost everything, from Amazon’s overhaul of retail, to Apple’s remodeling of our daily lives with the iPhone. It’s inherent in the language of the industry.
But here’s the thing: not everything can — or should — be disrupted. Thinking otherwise is pure hubris. Often, the best approach is showing humility and, well, putting your money where your mouth is.
The best example of the negative impact this “disruptor” mentality has was displayed by everyone’s favorite tech egomaniac, Elon Musk.
Stretch your mind back to 2018 and the Thai boy’s soccer team being stuck in a cave. Rather than just accept the expertise of life-long divers and rescuing experts (who eventually saved the boys), Musk took it upon himself to build a submarine.
Surprise surprise, the vehicle was unusable. It didn’t even fit in the damn cave.
The moral, if there was one, is this: listen to experts and accept what they’re saying.
This isn’t saying don’t help, far from it. If an organization actively asks for your technical assistance and you can deliver that (for example, the IT Army of Ukraine), then go right ahead.
The danger is when you provide “help” experts haven’t asked for — which is precisely what Musk did. All the money and resources spent on his submarine would’ve been better utilized in the hands of experts.
We are creating an IT army. We need digital talents. All operational tasks will be given here: https://t.co/Ie4ESfxoSn. There will be tasks for everyone. We continue to fight on the cyber front. The first task is on the channel for cyber specialists.
— Mykhailo Fedorov (@FedorovMykhailo) February 26, 2022
But you can help
This isn’t an indictment or a takedown of people wanting to make a difference. I totally get why highly-skilled technologists want to get involved — and I genuinely believe the reasons behind this are both admirable and understandable.
Inactivity feels tortuous when we want to do something, especially if we have applicable skills. But this in itself is a selfish act, as we’re prioritizing our needs, over those of the people actually embroiled in war.
Help. Lord, help as much as you can, but do so in a way that’s actually beneficial for the overall effort.
So, unless you are called on to specifically lend your talents to Ukraine, here’s what you can do instead: