Should You Ever Volunteer Your Data Skills for Free?

The question has probably come up of whether it’s ever okay to offer your data-related knowledge to people or organizations for free. Does taking that approach ever benefit you?

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As a data expert, you’re part of a relatively small group of the workforce. You possess skills that are consistently in high demand and that are only likely to become more desirable as technologies become more advanced.

However, the question has probably come up of whether it’s ever okay to offer your data-related knowledge to people or organizations for free. Does taking that approach ever benefit you?


You Could Help Nonprofits Answer Key Questions with Data

One of the potential reasons why you may be willing to give your services for no fee is if you’re working with nonprofit organizations on a short-term basis to help charities use data to their advantage. Such a scenario is called a DataDive, and it takes place over 48 hours or less.

While attending that event, you’re part of a team of up to 20 other data specialists and can jump between groups during the process. That setup means you have chances to network with others in your field and assist with various projects, all while helping organizations in need.

Many nonprofits may already be aware of the potential associated with collecting and analyzing data but may not have the financial resources to get started. This arrangement helps you directly aid them with your expertise.


The Chance to Get Experience with a New Programming Language

Analysts say that R and Python are the top programming languages for data analysts. If you don’t know one of them yet, learning it beefs up your knowledge base in a meaningful way.

Although many data professionals teach themselves both of them or take online courses that guide them through the basics, you might find that you learn better in a real-world environment.
In that instance, if you come across an unpaid internship or another type of opportunity that teaches you another programming language and gives you experience with using it, that’s notable. It doesn’t result in immediate financial gain but could help you get a better job later, which is why it’s worth considering giving your skills for free.

In addition to an assortment of hard skills, a successful career as a data scientist requires having the right disposition and realizing that even small innovations are important. You’ll likely have to take a trial-and-error approach to overcoming challenges, too.

Giving your skills for free in a situation like the one described immediately above has a mutually beneficial experience. The organization gains what you know and you get to try real-world techniques.


Volunteering as a Data Scientist Doesn’t Give You a Portfolio or Profile

Compared to individuals associated with data science, people in other tech sectors may be more willing to volunteer their time and talents. In web design, for example, the work you do can often be included in your portfolio.

Also, it potentially enhances your public profile. Assuming you have permission to do so, it’s easy to show friends, family members, classmates and other people you know the work you’ve contributed to online.

Data science is different. Although it might be possible to show evidence of your work through case studies or statistics that illuminate how your expertise was instrumental in achieving an objective, those things are not as visually appealing to most people and especially to those who don’t work in your industry.


A Willingness to Work for Free Could Help You Launch a New Career

The potential of data science jobs makes many people in various fields ponder making a move and trying to enter the sector from other backgrounds. If that sounds like you, working for free could be valuable.

It’d be necessary to already possess basic data skills, but if you can demonstrate a passion for the work, that character trait could go a long way and perhaps even further than a computer science or math degree.


Keep Your Livelihood in Mind

What you’ve read here may spur you toward working for free — at least in some cases. If you decide to take that route, always do so in practical ways. For example, don’t let volunteering take priority over work that generates income.

Also, be clear and firm about the extent of assistance you can provide, whether for a particular project or your overall contributions. Otherwise, there’s a chance an organization could become overly dependent on you, causing burnout and making you realize you’re devoting too much time to a cause.
Whenever the possibility arises for you to work for free as a data scientist, it’s always crucial to determine what you’ll get from the experience and whether it’s possible to fulfill expectations without becoming overworked and overwhelmed.

If it’s obvious that the opportunity is advantageous and doesn’t require too many sacrifices, go for it! Otherwise, think carefully and take into account all that’s at stake.

Bio: Kayla Matthews discusses technology and big data on publications like The Week, The Data Center Journal and VentureBeat, and has been writing for more than five years. To read more posts from Kayla, subscribe to her blog Productivity Bytes.