Charity continues to hit home for programmer-turned-altruist

Mercury News Staff Writer


SO here's Nipun Mehta, a young, well-paid Sun programmer, who quits his job somewhat unexpectedly and just a little mysteriously.

And you can guess the rest, right? A few of Mehta's co-workers thought they could, too.

"Are you going to a dot-com?" they ask.

Well, no. He's going to help people.

How? Any way he can.

Yes, it sounds crazy. It is definitely un-Silicon Valley. But it's not new for Mehta. I wrote about him last summer. He and a group of friends had started a donation club. They'd pool a few bucks and then research charities and give their money away. They graduated to a Web site,, that encouraged volunteers to help non-profits by building Web sites as tools for donations and recruits.

The group says about 400 volunteers have helped 250 non-profits in just over a year.

"The power of it," Mehta, 24, says of volunteering, "is the change in people's hearts."

Mehta needed to do more. He loved his job developing compilers. He worked hard at it and then drove home to Santa Clara and worked hard at building CharityFocus and looking for other causes. He worried about doing both his job and volunteer work well, and the job lost.

There was no magical moment. No epiphany. Mehta started by doing what he could. Helping some got him wanting to help more.

"And now," he says, "I'm leaving my job."

Chasing riches is a never-ending chase, Mehta says. You make your fortune and then work like mad to keep it and display it.

Mehta isn't a digital millionaire. He says he was in the $70,000- to $100,000-a-year range. He has some Sun stock, but not enough to retire. He will work contract jobs a couple of months a year. Enough to make $25,000, which he says will carry him. He'll continue to live with his parents but plans to pay them rent.

"When he told me initially," Mehta's mother, Harshida Mehta, 47, says of her son's plans. "It was like, `Oh, my gosh. Not this.' "

She wants for her son what mothers want for their sons -- a good job, security, prosperity. But she listened to Nipun. She thought about what she knew about him. About his conviction. She thought about herself at 24.

"Part of me says, `That's what I wanted to do at his age,' " she says.

Nipun Mehta has no grand plan. He'll work on CharityFocus. He's exploring a project involving Richard Gere and the Dalai Lama to take technology to Tibetan refugees in India.

No, Mehta doesn't know how long he'll pursue his new life. He has no timetable.

But Harshida Mehta has a hunch.

"Knowing him, I would be very, very surprised if he goes back to work."