IT worker answers call to service

Money is not always the ultimate measure of satisfaction for IT work, according to Matt Adams.

A 23-year-old development specialist for Morcor Solutions Inc., a Napanee, Ont.-based provider of asset management and ad tracking solutions for publications, Adams has spent the last six months juggling his regular job with a volunteer systems engineer position at the International Operations Center (IOC) of Garden Valley, Tex.-based charity Mercy Ships. The aid organization operates a fleet of hospital vessels that travel to developing nations and provide both medical assistance and long-term sustainable development.

Adams works remotely for Morcor about 25 hours a week, and dedicates up to 25 hours more to Mercy Ships. Although the long hours can be tiring, he said that at the end of the day he finds “some solace in what I did, the end product, and how many people I just helped.”

How he got there

Adams said he was always “one of those typical computer geeks from a fairly young age.” He helped with network administration in public school, and after graduating from high school, he wasn’t interested in pursuing further education right away so he started looking for work.

His first paid position was as a computer technician in Kingston, Ont., but since 1997 Adams had also volunteered with the Boy Scouts of Canada, which opened up other doors. In 1999 he joined the Scouts’ information management team, which built the Web-based information management system used to administer the staff, participants and schedules of the Scouts’ Jamboree in PEI in the summer of 2001. The experience led to a paid position as an information management technologist with the Scouts in Ottawa in September of that year.

In March of 2003 Adams joined Morcor, and had only been there for six months when a woman visited his church and spoke about serving as a nurse onboard a me-dical vessel.

“I had been interested in doing some volunteer work and thought, ‘That’s a cool thing,’ so I applied to Mercy Ships,” Adams said. Originally he wanted to work on one of the ships, the Africa Mercy, while in dry dock, but by the time his application got through, the position was filled and he was offered the alternate spot at the IOC.

When he approached Morcor about the opportunity, “they were amazing — they were really receptive to me volunteering. They were really rather enthused about this opportunity, which is odd (to me), because it doesn’t directly benefit them at all.”

Challenges and benefits

The IT department at the IOC does “just about anything,” Adams said. “I’ve worked with warehouse management systems, accounting systems a little bit. I’ve mentored other systems administrators.” He has also developed some standardization documentation for the procedures and policies that govern how his department operates.

The toughest part of the job, apart from finding the financial resources to keep the operations going, is recruiting skilled people with enough time to volunteer.

Few people on staff at Mercy Ships actually receive a salary. Most are self-supporting, meaning they have to approach individuals or religious organizations for donations. The support-raising aspect might deter some from applying. “But the people who do come are fiercely dedicated to the cause.”

For those who end up joining, it’s not an easy job. “Unfortunately they tend to get a little bit of burnout. It’s like that with all non-profits, because of the lack of resources.” But the benefits “by far outweigh the burnout,” Adams said — and in some regards, there is less stress than working at a for-profit firm.

“Since we’re a non-profit, at the end of the day we’re able to keep in mind that the world keeps spinning, that there is always tomorrow…You don’t have someone constantly tapping you on the shoulder saying, ‘If you don’t get this done, you don’t have a pay cheque.’”

This attitude, said Adams, “reminds you not to take too much burden on your shoulders, because not one person or team can carry the entire burden of the organization.”

The aftermath

As of the middle of this month, Adams will be back at Morcor full time. He said he hopes to return to the IOC someday, although he’s not sure when. In the meantime, he will continue to volunteer for Mercy Ships for about eight hours a week to maintain the relationship.

In the end, the underlying theme for those working at Mercy Ships — or any other non-profit organization — is that of service, he said. “There is no financial gain in this industry; you’re not going to become rich by volunteering your time. But the satisfaction is incredible and at end of day there is nothing that beats it.”

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