Member Spotlight | Kinsen Siu

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Kinsen-Siu, Vera Institute of Justice

An Interview with Kinsen Siu, Operations and Technology Executive, Servant-leader, Vera Institute of Justice, and a TAG member since 2018.

So you've recently made the leap from private sector to social sector. How is the shift for you?

The transition has been fairly seamless. While technology will always change, the work needed to connect with people, to ask them to buy-in and collaborate with you, to listen and discern between what they say and what they actually need is all very similar. The mission of Vera Institute of Justice has this unifying effect so that has certainly helped.

As a seasoned IT leader in the private sector, what practices or approaches do you think the social sector could learn from its private sector siblings?

I deployed Scrum principles in my previous job and the social sector would probably do well to adopt some of those principles. I advise a small nonprofit called Nomi Network whose mission is to fight human trafficking. It was clear (to me at least) that they would derive a great deal of benefit from a “product” backlog and sprints. The recipe of a small team, urgent mission, numerous projects all with the same high priority, is a recipe for burning their people out. A product backlog gives permission to teams to take a step back and prioritize. A sprint forces the discipline of working only on those tasks defined for that spring and relieves the guilt of not working on something else.

What energizes you about #philanthropytech right now? Where do you see an opportunity right now in social sector tech?

I just worked with a group of software engineers, u/x designers, and cybersecurity experts work with our Center of Immigration Justice team to build with a scalable web application to help connect migrant families with their children. They built it in two weeks! All of them were volunteers. They communicated over their cell phones and slack. The opportunity in technology is been very real and yet still very much untapped. Perhaps a better question is how do organizations get out of the way and be part of the process instead of trying to exert too much control.

No doubt you've mentored numerous technology professionals throughout your career. What advice do you give to emerging leaders in IT?

I encourage all my mentees to examine their WHY. Why are you doing what you’re doing? That almost always leads into a conversation where I also encourage them to look at their lives holistically.

For all of us IT leaders in general, we need to understand that the very nature of our work has honed an extremely valuable skill. That skill is to always be learning. Embrace it. Figure out your best learning style. Invest in it.

What does life outside of work look for you? How do you stay balanced?

I play with my two-year-old son. Some days at work aren’t so great but he doesn’t care. He runs to me and gives me a hug. Then he likes to run around laughing with an energetic joy that is contagious. I like to think he’s teaching me and I need to learn (again) that even on the bad days there is SO much to be joyful about.

When I’m at home I disconnect. If it’s truly urgent, someone will call or text me.

After my father passed, I stopped waiting for those moments when things would “settle down” and gave up feeling guilty about asking for time off. My wife makes all our vacation plans way out in advance and everyone knows that I won’t be available during that time.

The Technology Association of Grantmakers (TAG) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit membership organization that promotes the power of technology to advance the goals of the philanthropic sector.