What are the most important talent gaps in the effective altruism community?

What are the highest-impact opportunities in the effective altruism community right now? We surveyed leaders at 17 key organisations to learn more about what skills they need and how they would trade-off receiving donations against hiring good staff. It’s a more extensive and up-to-date version of the survey we did last year.

Below is a summary of the key numbers, a link to a presentation with all grthe results, a discussion of what these numbers mean, and at the bottom an appendix on how the survey was conducted and analysed.

We also report on two additional surveys about the key bottlenecks in the community, and the amount of donations expected to these organisations.

Key figures

Willingness to pay to bring forward hires

We asked how organisations would have to be compensated in donations for their last ‘junior hire’ or ‘senior hire’ to disappear and not do valuable work for a 3 year period:

Most needed skills

  • Decisions on who to hire most often turned on Good overall judgement about probabilities, what to do and what matters, General mental ability and Fit with the team (over and above being into EA).

Funding vs talent constraints

  • On a 0-4 scale EA organisations viewed themselves as 2.5 ‘talent constrained’ and 1.2 ‘funding constrained’, suggesting hiring remains the more significant limiting factor, though funding still does limit some.

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Podcast: You want to do as much good as possible and have billions of dollars. What do you do?

What if you were in a position to give away billions of dollars to improve the world? What would you do with it? This is the problem facing Program Officers at the Open Philanthropy Project – people like Dr Nick Beckstead.

Following a PhD in philosophy, Nick works to figure out where money can do the most good. He’s been involved in major grants in a wide range of areas, including ending factory farming through technological innovation, safeguarding the world from advances in biotechnology and artificial intelligence, and spreading rational compassion.

This episode is a tour through some of the toughest questions ‘effective altruists’ face when figuring out how to best improve the world, including:

  • Should we mostly try to help people currently alive, or future generations? Nick studied this question for years in his PhD thesis, On the Overwhelming Importance of Shaping the Far Future. (The first 31 minutes is a snappier version of my conversation with Toby Ord.)
  • Is clean meat (aka in vitro meat) technologically feasible any time soon, or should we be looking for plant-based alternatives?
  • To stop malaria is it more cost-effective to use technology to eliminate mosquitos than to distribute bed nets?
  • What are the greatest risks to human civilisation continuing?
  • Should people who want to improve the future work for changes that will be very useful in a specific scenario,

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The space colonisation and nanotech focussed Silicon Valley community of the 70s and 80s

One tricky thing about lengthy podcasts is that you cover a dozen issues, but when you give the episode a title you only get to tell people about one. With Christine Peterson’s interview I went with a computer security angle, which turned out to not be that viral a topic. But people who listened to the episode kept telling me how much they loved it. So I’m going to try publishing the interview in pieces, each focussed on a single theme we covered.

Christine Peterson co-founded the Foresight Institute in the 90s. In the lightly edited transcript below we talk about a community she was part of in her youth, whose idealistic ambition bears some similarity to effective altruism today. We also cover a controversy from that time about whether nanotechnology would change the world or was impossible. Finally we think about what lessons we can learn from that whole era.

If you subscribe to our podcast, you can listen at leisure on your phone, speed up the conversation if you like, and get notified about future episodes. You can do so by searching ‘80,000 Hours’ wherever you get your podcasts (RSS, SoundCloud, iTunes, Stitcher).

The community that dreamed of space settlement and atomic factories

Robert Wiblin: Tell us a bit about how you ended up where you are today.

Christine Peterson: Wow. When I was growing up,

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80,000 Hours has a funding gap

Over the past three years, we’ve grown almost 36-fold, more than tripling each year. This is measured in terms of our key metric – the number of impact-adjusted significant plan changes each month. At the same time, our budget has only increased 27% per year.

Given this success, we think it’s time to take 80,000 Hours to the next level of funding.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be preparing our full annual review and fundraising documents, but here’s a preview.

chart

Overall, the 2017 target is to triple, measured in terms of impact-adjusted significant plan changes per month (which will mean over 3,000 over the year). We’ll do this by continuing to improve the advice, and starting to scale up marketing, with the aim of becoming the default source of career advice for talented, socially-motivated graduates.

Concretely, here’s some priorities we could pursue:

  • Dramatically improve the career reviews and problem profiles, so we have in-depth profiles of all the best options. This will help our existing users make better changes, and bring in more traffic.
  • Upgrading – develop mentors and specialist content for the most high-potential users, such as those who want to work on AI risk, policy, EA orgs and so on. We now have a large base of engaged users (1300+ through the workshop, 80,000+ on newsletter), so there’s a lot of follow-up we could do to get more valuable plan changes from them.

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We can learn a lot from Tara, who left pharmacy to work in effective altruism

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Tara saved lives working as a pharmacist in Bhutan – no really we checked, and she totally did – but she nevertheless left to try to find something better.

This is part of our series of profiles of people who changed their career in a major way in order to have more impact because of their exposure to 80,000 Hours.

Today Tara Mac Aulay is the head of operations in the Centre for Effective Altruism. But just two years ago she was working as a pharmacist. How and why did she make this transition? Her career path is sufficiently fascinating it’s worth telling the story form the start.

Tara was extremely conscientious and hard-working from a very young age. As a result she was able to finish high school and start studying at university at the young age of 16, rather than the usual 18 or 19. She managed to do this while at the same time i) redesigning the staff and inventory management for an Australian restaurant chain, then, because this saved them so much money, being promoted to a more senior role to ii) travel around the country to make major changes to failing stores to save them from closure. As a teenager! Needless to say, this entrepreneurialism and ambition allowed her to develop a wide range of professional skills at a young age.

At the age of 15 she applied to study pharmacy,

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Plan change story: interview with Dillon Bowen, founder of Effective Altruism group at Tufts University

I recently interviewed Dillon Bowen, who runs the EA student group at Tufts University, about how his career plans changed as a result of interacting with 80,000 Hours. Dillon’s original plan was to do a Philosophy PhD and then go into philosophy academia. After going to a talk at Tufts by our co-founder Will MacAskill and receiving career coaching from 80,000 Hours, he started taking classes in economics, now intends to do an Economics PhD instead.

More details of the key points from the interview are below.

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Working at effective altruist organisations: good or bad for career capital?

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Working in effective altruism directly is a good way to build career capital in some respects, and a bad way in others. How about on balance?

Many people in our community are interested in working at “effective altruist” (EA) organisations, which I define as organisations whose leaders aim to do the most good on the basis of evidence and reason, and explicity identify as part of the effective altruism movement (see a list).

These jobs are often seen as higher-impact and more fulfilling than alternatives, but there’s a common worry: they’ll provide worse career capital, putting you in a worse position in the long-term.

I argued here that career capital might not be a strong enough consideration to outweigh the additional impact.

In this post, I’ll explore whether the career capital you get from working at EA orgs really is worse than the alternatives. I’ll outline arguments give for and against, arguing the career capital is better than is often assumed.

Arguments against working in effective altruist organisations for career capital
Less prestige

The jobs are less prestigious – few people have heard of organisations like GiveWell or the Center for Effective Altruism – and so these jobs don’t provide as impressive general-purpose credentials as working at a brand name employer like Google or McKinsey.

Less concrete career progression

The jobs don’t come with an obvious career path.

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One of the most exciting new effective altruist organisations: An interview with David Goldberg of the Founders Pledge

It’s my pleasure to introduce David Goldberg to those who in the effective altruism community who don’t yet know him. He’s behind the Founders Pledge, which in just 8 months has raised $64 million in legally binding pledges of equity, is growing fast, and has got some very exciting (but currently confidential) plans in the works. I met him when I was representing 80,000 Hours at the Founders Forum conference earlier this year and introduced him in more depth to the idea of effective altruism, which he’s now built into the core of the Founders Pledge’s mission.

Tell us about your background

I did my undergraduate work at UCLA in Political Science and Public Policy and then continued with postgraduate study at the University of Cambridge focusing on International Relations. My plan was to get a PhD and then stay in academics and shape International Security policy. However a year in, I realised that the practical impact of my work would be marginal at best, so I finished with a Master’s degree and began to look for opportunities that would actually have a discernible effect on the world. I got involved with Founders Forum For Good — the precursor to what I do now with the Founders Pledge — where I focused on helping social entrepreneurs build and scale businesses. Before all that, I spent a couple years in finance in the US, started and sold a business in Europe, and ran a chain of Segway dealerships in California.

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Announcing the effective altruism handbook

Effective Altruism HandbookA new Effective Altruism handbook has been released, which features some of 80,000 Hours’ ideas about high impact careers.

This handbook is made up of blog pieces and essays that are freely available online, and has been compiled by Ryan Carey, and released with some assistance from the Centre for Effective Altruism.

It has 24 mini-chapters altogether, split into five sections What is Effective Altruism, Charity Evaluation, Career Choice, Cause Selection and Organizations. Its foreword by Will MacAskill and Peter Singer, is new, as are concluding letters by seven effective altruist organizations. A lot of discussions have gone into deciding which writings are the best for describing the main concepts of effective altruism, so that’s another reason to check it out.

The rest of the essays are freely available online, and were compiled by Ryan Carey with the support of the Centre for Effective Altruism.

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Donating to Giving What We Can is higher impact than donating to GiveWell recommended charities.

Giving What We Can is fundraising. When I last checked, they had only reached £70,000 of their £150,000 target.

Last year, more than $28m was donated to Give Directly, AMF, SCI and Deworm the World – the charities recommended by GiveWell and Giving What We Can.1 In contrast, Giving What We Can (GWWC) spent under $200,000. My claim in this post is that if you donate to these top recommended charities, you’ll have even more impact (at the margin) if you donate to Giving What We Can instead.

GWWC is closely affiliated with 80,000 Hours, so I’m likely to be biased in GWWC’s favour. However, I feel strongly enough that I think it’s worth writing on the topic anyway.

Here’s three reasons why to donate to GWWC.

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Interview with Caroline Fiennes about opportunities in effective philanthropy

Introduction

We recently interviewed Caroline Fiennes to find out about her ideas on opportunities to make a difference promoting effective philanthropy, and more about her organisation, Giving Evidence. The aim was to both inform our strategy as an organisation, and find opportunities for people who are interested in leading a career in this area.

The interview was conducted via phone call. Below we summarise the key messages of the conversation, followed by some key excerpts, which have been edited and reorganised for clarity.

In summary, Caroline told us:

  • Billions of pounds are donated to charity in the UK each year, but there’s little evidence which can inform donors’ decisions about where to donate. Hence, this money probably doesn’t have as much impact as it could.
  • One intervention would be to set up something like Charity Navigator for the UK, ideally rating charities both on organisation quality (as Charity Navigator does) and on the strength of the evidence behind the interventions they implement. There are many people interested in taking this project forward, but it’s difficult to raise money for it.
  • Another intervention is creating a platform to publicly collect and share the monitoring and evaluation data that charities already produce. Over a billion pounds is spent on monitoring and evaluation each year, but it seems that only about two percent of the studies get shared. Giving Evidence recently raised funding to explore how to create a system for sharing evidence in the UK criminal justice sector.

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Which cause is most effective?

In previous posts, we explained what causes are and presented a method for assessing them in terms of expected effectiveness.

In this post, we apply this method to identify a list of causes that we think represent some particularly promising opportunities for having a social impact in your career (though there are many others we don’t cover!).

We’d like to emphasise that these are just informed guesses over which there’s disagreement. We don’t expect the results to be highly robust. However, you have to choose something to work on, so we think it’ll be useful to share our guesses to give you ideas and so we can get feedback on our reasoning – we’ve certainly had lots of requests to do so. In the future, we’d like more people to independently apply the methodology to a wider range of causes and do more research into the biggest uncertainties.

The following is intended to be a list of some of the most effective causes in general to work on, based on broad human values. Which cause is most effective for an individual to work on also depends on what resources they have (money, skills, experience), their comparative advantages and how motivated they are. This list is just intended as a starting point, which needs to be combined with individual considerations. An individual’s list may differ due also to differences in values. After we present the list, we go over some of the key assumptions we made and how these assumptions affect the rankings.

We intend to update the list significantly over time as more research is done into these issues. Fortunately, more and more cause prioritisation research is being done, so we’re optimistic our answers will become more solid over the next couple of years. This also means we think it’s highly important to stay flexible, build career capital, and keep your options open.

In the rest of this post we:
1. Provide a summary list of high priority causes
2. Explain what each cause is and overview our reasons for including it
3. Explain how key judgement calls alter the ranking
4. Overview how we came up with the list and how we’ll take it forward
5. Answer other common questions

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Case study: choosing between working at Effective Altruist organisations, Earning to Give and Graduate school

Introduction

Back in May 2013, I realized I would be graduating in a year and wondered a lot about what I should pick for my first career. The questions I had at the time were:

1.) Should I aim to work in an Effective Altruist organization, go to graduate school, or should I earn to give?

2.) Where should I look for employment if I want to earn to give — law, market research, or programming?

I spent a little time considering other options (finance and consulting careers), but the bulk of my time was spent comparing EA org employment, grad school, and the three earning to give careers.

Lessons learned

  • Direct work in EA is promising, but there are limited employment opportunities and a generally strong base of talent to draw from that makes replaceability an issue.

  • Graduate school also seems promising, but programs with high direct impact seem limited in employment opportunities.

  • It’s important to consider factors about the career other than salary when doing earning to give. Law was my best earning to give opportunity at first glance, given that it had the highest salary of the options I was willing to consider. But when I looked more deeply at non-salary factors, it became my worst option.

  • Market research and computer programming are my most promising paths and I should consider both further. They allow good salary potential while offering many other benefits.

  • Publishing my ongoing thought process was valuable in ways I couldn’t even imagine at the time, creating the opportunity to meet people I couldn’t have met otherwise.

  • Spending time directly in Oxford was also incredibly valuable in meeting with people that could help me think through my decision process.

  • An analytically-minded person can train in programming quickly enough to seriously consider programming as a career path. While I started with intermediate computer programming knowledge in irrelevant computer languages, it took me about 150 hours of training over 20 weeks to know enough to interview competently. I don’t know if this is a unique case, though.

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What should you do with a very large amount of money?

A philanthropist who will remain anonymous recently asked Nick Beckstead, a trustee of 80,000 Hours, what he would do with a very large amount of money.

Nick, with support from Carl Shulman (a research advisor to 80,000 Hours), wrote a detailed answer: A long-run perspective on strategic cause selection and philanthropy.

If you’re looking to spend or influence large budgets with the aim of improving the world (or happen to be extremely wealthy!) we recommend taking a look. It also contains brief arguments in favor of five causes.

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Interview with the founder of Giving Games

Like both Holden Karnofsky and Elie Hassenfeld, Jon Behar left a lucrative job at a hedge fund to create a startup called “A Path That’s Clear”. Here, he runs “Giving Games” which engage people around the world in discussions about effective giving.

Rob Wiblin and I sat down to interview Jon Behar and learn more about his career choices and what it’s like to leave your job to pursue dreams of running effective altruist projects. Jon’s main points were:

  • It can be worthwhile to take some time off to think about things if you no longer are enjoying your job.

  • Working on something that you think is important can make you more motivated and more productive.

  • When starting an effective altruist project, it could be important to consider how you could partner with an existing organization rather than proliferate the large amount of EA orgs that exist.

  • The best way to get into a career in any field is to find people who are already in that field and ask them for advice, even if you don’t know them. You’ll be surprised by the number of people who agree to speak with you.

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Looking for a seriously high impact job using your analytical skills?

Recently we interviewed Holden Karnofsky, co-founder of the independent, nonprofit charity evaluator GiveWell. We recommend GiveWell as a leading source of information on where to have the largest impact with your charitable donations.

Our conversation suggested that GiveWell might be one of the highest impact career opportunities in the world. There’s reason to think that GiveWell has the potential to be an extremely impactful organisation, but they are short of some key types of staff. If you fit their criteria, then this is a position really worth considering. Read on for excerpts from our conversation on (i) what GiveWell does and why it’s important (ii) what kind of people will do well there (iii) how you can get a job there.

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Interview with Holden Karnofsky, co-founder of GiveWell

Holden Karnofsky is the co-founder and co-executive director of GiveWell, an independent, nonprofit charity evaluator. We recommend Givewell as a leading source of information on where to have the largest impact with your charitable donations.

In 2012 GiveWell moved over $9.5 million to its top charities and the amount of money moved by GiveWell has so far been roughly doubling each year. GiveWell also recently formed a partnership with GoodVentures, a new multi-billion dollar foundation which aims to do as much good as possible. This has already had huge impact, for example at the end of 2012, Good Ventures awarded $2 million in grants to GiveWell’s top recommended charities.

Holden

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