11 December 2015

Interview Samir Talwar

Next in line is my friend Samir Talwar to share his views about meaningful work. Read his blog or find him on Twitter to get in touch with him.

Samir, please take a few sentences to introduce yourself in a professional context.
Samir Talwar, software developer and software crafter from the UK. I like to break things. I am currently focused on automation of large systems - deployment, testing and such. I have been developing software for five years full-time, about ten years part-time.

I know that you are concerned with social topics. Why does that matter to you?
I think my position in life is mostly down to luck. Software development is profitable, and I am lucky I am good at that rather than, say, gardening. I know people who do more important things like teaching, but get paid less. We spend lot of time destroying jobs. In return, I would like to help people suffer less or educate on things that make others suffer less. Also I believe we should have a Universal Basic Income, so people do not have to worry about eating or paying the bills.

austerityWhat other topics are you concerned about?
In Britain there is a huge push towards austerity, despite the opinion of most economists that it is a terrible idea. It is an ideological push rather than an economically sound one by our right-wing government, and the media are simply pushing in the same direction. We do not have enough well-known independent media institutions in the UK; most are owned by a few right-wing moguls.

I do not believe in the current implementation of capitalism, because some people do not work and get a lot of money - landowners, for example, who make money by the appreciation of their land, which is mostly down to the surrounding area. Destroying the environment is not recognised as a cost, so it is often cheaper in monetary terms than taking care of it. In addition, the jobs that people want to do are often paid less because the recognised importance is considered a substitute for money. For example, teaching makes less money than many jobs, so fewer good teachers are available. The large and complex society we have built does not value important roles as much as they should be valued due to short-term thinking. This is my top concern right now because it is in my face.

Otherwise, I am concerned about many issues. 1. There is war in Syria, and no one will take responsibility for the refugees, despite recognition that the war is partially the fault of Europe. 2. In the software industry many people are under-represented, e.g. women, black people, gay people and trans people. I see this close-up, as it's the industry I am in, so I am trying to do something about it, even when they are under-represented in many highly-paid industries, not just in this one. My main effort here is in attending and helping out with codebar.io to teach coding.

Outside these topics, what do you consider the biggest challenges of our times?
The environment. We are destroying it and we have no idea how to fix it. And even when we do, we refuse to. We are going to kill ourselves and everyone else if we continue on this path, but we do it anyway because human beings seem to be incentivised for short-term gain. I have no idea how I can help, as it seems to be not a problem of convincing people but forcing them to pay attention, which I am no good at.

When I talk to people, many express similar concerns, but almost nobody really acts on it. What could we do to engage in these topics?
I have reduced my meat intake to approximately one day per week and I tell everyone the health benefits. I donate to Greenpeace and other organisations. That is all I do for now though. I hope talking to people about it will help.

Most activities are personal choices or non-profit charity projects. This is great but most of our time is spent on regular work. I would like to see more impact on these important topics of my regular work. Do you think that is possible in general?
I think it will become increasingly possible as non-profit organisations move to the Internet for more than just petitions and newsletters. As we see the Internet become a force for change in its own right, we will be able to contribute with our skill sets.

There are many decisions we take before and during a project. Which guidance do you have to navigate these decisions?
I have historically been very bad at this. I do not think enough about how I might harm people simply by doing my job. I have recently decided only to work for small organisations and completely avoid large ones, which I hope will help. it is my opinion that because large organisations become faceless and bureaucratic, it is much easier for decisions to be made that harm people without any one person taking responsibility for their actions. If I am working for small companies, I will see the results of my actions directly, and I really hope this will make sure I hold myself accountable.

Syrian RefugeeHow do you think about selecting industry, customer and project based on your values and social responsibility?
I have worked in the finance industry, but I will not any more. I just do not think I am helping the world by funnelling money around for no reason. It is a recent call for me, but I am going to try and avoid industries or projects that I think would make the world worse.

Do you have problems with any industries?
The difficulty here is the personal consequences. I have people who depend on me to provide some income, so quitting a job does not just affect me. I am finally getting to a point in my life where this isn't so much of an issue, as finding a new job should be pretty easy right now, so I can afford to make a decision to quit.

I finally think I am comfortable quitting a job as soon as I find out it is involved in something I find morally reprehensible. These include the military, intelligence and incarceration industries. The others are less black and white; I have heard that the percentage of people in porn coerced into doing the job is very low, though I do not have the numbers to back this claim, and I have no issue with consenting adults doing whatever they like on camera, as much as I would like to avoid being in any part of the industry myself. Sweatshops are horrible places, but often they are the difference between a job and starvation.

Did you ever reject a customer or an actual project based on your values?
I have until now only been working in permanent jobs, but I have turned down a job offer and quit another based on my morals.

On the other hand, what would be industries, customers and projects that you would consider important and would have an impact on society and the problems we discussed earlier?
I would love to work in something related to health care or self-improvement, either physical or mental. I have experimented with software that teaches coding in the past, and found it incredibly rewarding. I would also love to work on software that helps people retain their privacy.

Thank you Samir for sharing your answers with us. Good luck for your next stage of life.

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