When Your Volunteer Work Lands You a Dream Job

Jackie Lam — Intentional Living

When you volunteer, the work you put in can reward you in some astonishing ways. Just ask Matthew Vita, a 26-year-old software engineer who devotes his free time to OpenEMR, which provides free, game-changing healthcare software to many clinics and practitioners in developing nations hoping to upgrade the way they track records and treat patients. OpenEMR has been successfully implemented in clinics in Kenya, Argentina, and Micronesia. It was also helpful in Puerto Rico as healthcare facilities grappled with the effects of Hurricanes Irma and Maria. For Vita, his volunteer work has allowed him to do something he’s truly passionate about—helping people around the world live healthier lives—while also landing his dream job.

Vita’s road to OpenEMR and programming started in the IT department at his father’s workplace. In high school, Vita fell ill with what doctors would eventually diagnose as Celiac disease. As a way to distract himself from the symptoms and uncertainty, Vita spent hours building computers made of retired parts his father brought home from work.

“Eventually, my experimentation led me to playing with various programming languages and open-source tools,” says Vita. Studying information science in college, Vita deepened his involvement in open-source programming, code that is made available to the public for free after development. For Vita, open source offers something unique in the tech field—a way to collaborate with and benefit communities, free of cost barriers.

After graduating in 2014, Vita founded a mental health app, but he struggled to get it off the ground and realized he needed a traditional job to pay the bills. So he took a position as a software engineer for a hospital in Pittsburgh.

Vita was doing what he loved, and still delving into open source as a hobby, but he wanted to do more. In 2016, he discovered OpenEMR and was immediately hooked. “To have a capable system available for anyone around the globe is so useful,” says Vita, who began volunteering with the organization. “My work on OpenEMR easily allows me to boost their productivity and focus on their most important task: caring for patients.”

Vita’s volunteer work has helped his professional life, too. Last year, Vita began searching for a new job—taking interviews in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York, turning over every tech-boom stone hoping to find the dream job. He had the right degree, the right work experience, and he was willing to move.

And Vita did land his dream job—at a startup in Los Angeles with ambitious plans to improve medical lab test tracking. But it wasn’t just the degree and the work experience that got him there. His new employer was most impressed with his contributions to OpenEMR. And even though his new job sometimes requires 10-hour days, he’s kept up volunteering with OpenEMR on nights and weekends.

Aside from the professional link, Vita enjoys working on code with volunteers from around the world. Last year, Vita and a colleague from Brazil co-wrote a presentation on OpenEMR’s volunteer model—currently hovering around 100 active regular volunteers—that was accepted into a health care conference in Kathmandu, Nepal. Vita and his wife traveled to Nepal for the presentation, which spurred interest from a doctor from the neighboring country of Bhutan. Vita and his team are now working with that doctor on a SMS-based messaging system that allows patients to report key health values, such as blood sugar or blood pressure, to their health care provider.

These days, Vita is saving up in hopes of striking out on his own into entirely self-funded, open-source projects, much like his role model, Sindre Sorhus. Sorhus is the founder of Awesome, a database community that sources and categorizes available open-source programs in practically every field imaginable. (Vita currently co-manages Awesome Health.)

“I really look up to this gentleman. He is a master programmer and basically burned down all of his personal savings to produce some really important open-source packages full time,” Vita says.

Today, Sorhus relies on Patreon to help fund his open-source work so he can focus solely on creating free-for-all programs and services. “I am a huge fan of this Patreon model and think our civilization would benefit from more luminaries doing this,” says Vita. “No corporate interests, just scientific experimentation, development, and research for public benefit.”