As a new graduate, Leland Smith wasn’t sure what to do with a classical studies degree in Latin and Greek literature. So he used his computer skills and worked for a large network consulting firm.
“It was fine,” Smith said. “Just completely uninteresting.”
In the end, Smith, a lover of travel, decided to follow his heart. He quit his job and applied to work for the Peace Corps. He was subsequently hired as a technology volunteer in West Africa.
There he began hearing about Information and Communication Technology for Development (ICTD), and he realized he could marry his technology background with his interest in global development.
After returning to the United States, Smith pursued a master’s degree at the University of Colorado Boulder’s ATLAS ICTD program—a long way from his undergraduate degree in Latin and Greek literature, he said.
“ATLAS was the only program that had the right mixture of development and technology to return to a career in global development,” said Smith, who received a master’s degree in ICTD in December 2015. “The core ICTD courses are indispensable. It was key to tie everything together.”
Fieldwork methodology courses helped him become familiar with how the aid industry works, learning about the roles of different entities such as NGOs and the World Bank. He also enjoyed engineering classes that involved user-centered design, prototyping and human-computer interaction, he said, because the classes helped him “design technology interventions for populations very different than I might be accustomed to.’ ”
In August 2015, for his practicum, Smith joined Tetra Tech International Development in Washington, D.C. He helped transform Tetra Tech’s geospatial technologies program into a broadly focused technology for development unit, expanding work beyond GIS analysis and into diverse programming under the ICT umbrella. Since then, he has worked there full time.
He travels a lot for work: In 2016 he worked in five different countries. In 2017, he is supporting projects in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the West Bank, Tanzania and Ghana. He deploys a variety of technology solutions, from mobile data collection and analysis to open source software customization and deployment, as well as running rapid assessments for technology design.
“There are development people who get interested in technology but never really get too into it, but the people I’ve most enjoyed meeting and getting to know are technologists who become interested in development,” Smith said. ”They’re people who could probably make $200K per year at Facebook, Google or Boeing, but instead they’re developing awesome applications to roll out in Zambia.
“I’m not a full-time engineer, but understanding technology and being able to write a handful of basic scripts and work with a database–that’s what got me my job.
“At the end of the day, my company isn’t paying me to develop software. They’re paying me to be a thought leader and develop capacity,” he said.