Did you know Idealist builds and maintains our own website, and has since 1995? We asked Derek Hurley—a software engineer known for his calm demeanor, red headphones, highly-developed cupcake-eating technique, and masterful martial arts skills—to tell us about life as a “dev” in Idealist’s Portland, Oregon office.
Q: So… We’re coworkers, but I’m not very techie. What would you say you do here?
A: I’m a software developer. Basically, I write code that goes very close to the browser—I work with the things you interact with on the website, like buttons and menus. I also work with our designers on layout and color decisions, and sometimes with data… But really all of it comes down to aspects of presentation and interactivity.
Q: Okay, I think I get that. How did you find your job at Idealist and what attracted you to us?
A: I had a classmate my senior year of college who worked at Idealist; he said it was great and suggested I come by the office one day to introduce myself. There was no job posting or anything, but I stopped by and the management team was interested in meeting me. The more staff members I met, the more it seemed like incredible people worked here. Often in this field you find smart people, but people who are funny and friendly and humble, too? And when I learned more about what Idealist is trying to accomplish, I became even more interested. I was hired to work part-time for the last three months I was in college, then started full-time right after.
Q: What does the word “idealist” mean to you?
A: To me, an idealist is someone who always looks on the bright side of life, forgive the Monty Python reference. Someone who thinks people are generally good or want to do good, but that things arise that keep them from doing so. An idealist thinks, ‘Of course everyone wants to live in a better world,’ but they also understand that there are a million different facets to that agenda.
Q: Idealist is all about turning good intentions into action. Can you tell us about a good intention you’ve acted on in your life outside of work?
A: A personal interest of mine is helping homeless youth connect with resources that can help them. I was a resident assistant in college and more than once had to deal with transients in our dorms and hallways. I learned that there’s a whole social class out there—especially in Portland—that I think represents a lot of wasted potential. But between places like Outside In, Sisters of the Road, Virginia Woof... there’s a lot of help out there if people know where to look.
For me, coming up with the right approach has been one stumbling block. I don’t want to come across as intrusive, or like I’m telling them to do something or advertising for a particular place. I just want to start a conversation and then give them something to take away, like a note with an address on the money I give them, or a meal voucher they can cash in. I’m also not looking to start another organization—there are already lots of people who are providing these services well. I just want to help bit by bit in the course of my day.
So far, the people I’ve talked with about this intention have been really supportive; the Idealist community in particular has given me suggestions I didn’t know about before. Now it’s up to me to keep taking that first step—during my walk to work to turn and face these kids and have a conversation. I find they’re usually just grateful for the fact that someone stopped to talk, which helps me stay in that mindset of not having weirdness about just going up to someone and conversing with them; just saying hi.
Do you have a question for Derek the Dev about technology at Idealist? Or maybe you’ve done something to improve the lives of homeless youth and want to share your advice? Send him a message on Idealist.