International NGO Safety Organisation



Function: Director of Technology & Innovation
Location: Headquarters, the Netherlands
Nationality: American

Austin has been instrumental in the design and development of the Conflict & Humanitarian Data Centre over the last four years. The multi-cultural and international environment is one of Austin’s favourite things about working at INSO.

Your background is not ‘typical’ of someone working in the humanitarian aid sector. How did you come to join INSO and what have you learnt since being here?

I have been building software solutions for over 10 years. In 2017, I was looking for an experience that included traveling and working on an interesting project. I saw this role on a career website. It sounded like a great opportunity for me to accomplish both these goals.

I had never worked with an NGO before, nor did I have any understanding of how this industry operates. Despite that, I felt that I would still be able to be of service to the organization. Now, after some time working here, I feel I have gained an appreciation for those who dedicate themselves to humanitarian response and I have been able to contribute to a community which was previously so foreign to me. Any newcomer to INSO needs to know it is not a requirement to be already a seasoned humanitarian beforehand – your colleagues will welcome you with open arms and help you to understand how things work.

What were you doing before INSO?

I started off writing software for schools in Pennsylvania. The work included designing and developing a grade book application and a health care management system, as well as building and maintaining several other systems. After several years in the education sector, I worked for a company to automatically schedule site visits for hundreds of work zones. Working with C#, Java, MS SQL, Azure and Xamarin, I took the projects from inception to implementation.

You started as a Software Development Manager. What did that role include?

The core focus of that role was been designing and developing the Conflict & Humanitarian Data Centre. With source data coming from more than 13 countries around the world, and the ability to run across many clients in contexts with limited resources (even without internet), it was an extensive project that took four years to complete. The system is highly available with multiple levels of redundancy that handle the millions of entries spanning different languages and complexities. I also built and maintain a portal for INSO’s NGO partners to subscribe to email reports and rapid-response text messages. And besides all this, I helped to maintain INSO’s website.

As any developer will understand, I spend a lot of time with my computer! Building software requires quite a lot of reading and writing lines of code, but it is enjoyable to create a system that will alleviate issues humanitarians are facing. I find problem-solving and critical thinking fun, and I’m happy I can incorporate these into my daily activities at INSO. I also attend meetings with the other developers regularly where we discuss our progress, help each other with the challenges we’re facing and plan future integrations. We like to keep a consistent pace with an iterative agile working structure.

Can you share your favorite moment with INSO so far?

I spent a few weeks working from INSO’s office in Ukraine in 2019. It was an amazing experience. The local team kindly showed me around the area and introduced me to a few cultural activities. It was wonderful to see just how friendly people can be when a stranger enters their city, and how much I could learn from their community.

Based on your own experience, what can someone new to INSO expect?

I grew up in a very small and rural town. I really didn’t know what I could expect in new environments outside my hometown. This intense weight of uncertainty drove me into a panic attack before moving for my job with INSO, like an internal defence mechanism trying to get me to stay where things were safe and familiar.

Leaving took me outside my comfort zone. Starting something new was a risk, but now I look back on this decision with nothing but admiration. I am fortunate to have had this opportunity to see so many facets of this world that we all call home, and it’s helped me to become a more understanding person with a stronger personality. Every person has their own unique circumstance when starting with INSO but, speaking from experience, I’d say it is very reasonable to be a bit afraid. Expect it to change you; it will be worth it.