Do you know what is common in these CEOs – Stewart Butterfield, Slack,; Jack Ma, Alibaba,; Susan Wojcicki, YouTube; and Brian Chesky, Airbnb? Well they all hold degrees in the humanities – Philosophy, English, history & literature and fine arts respectively.
Human element is fast becoming imperative in tech space
It is true that tech companies are coveted places to work for as they offer independent work environments, rapid growth opportunities, and opportunities to solve new and pertinent problems. This has created a wrong narrative that non-STEM courses are irrelevant to tech world. Fact is tech companies do look for liberal arts and humanities graduates who have studies subjects like psychology, English, Art, Theater, or History. Today, there exist numerous job opportunities in tech companies for liberal arts degrees. Liberal arts or humanities graduates are recruited in tech companies in departments like Customer Service, Sales, Marketing, Product Design, Human Resources, and PR divisions. Moreover, some job roles including Computational Linguist, Technical Writer and Conversational Design are exclusive to humanities graduates.
The pivot of a tech company is building products for humans. But what if humans don’t like them? While building a products is an exclusively tech job, understanding what people want or like to have is an absolute non-tech area. So is the understanding of a marketing campaign, where reaction of public at large needs to be predicted from scraps of information collated. Data alone fails to do qualitative analysis of this magnitude; only instinct, critical thinking and a deeply contextual understanding of human nature can bail out companies here.
Good news is entry to tech space has now become easy as tasks that required expert knowledge are now being done with simple tools from GitHub and Stack Overflow and also with the internet. The key is to know your strengths and weaknesses and also how to leverage them.
What experts are saying
In his book – The Fuzzy and the Techie: Why the Liberal Arts Will Rule the Digital World, author and venture capitalist Scott Hartley proclaims that STEM-only mindset is all wrong. “If we want to prepare students to solve large-scale human problems we must push them to widen, not narrow, their education and interests. He ticks off a long list of successful tech leaders who hold degrees in the humanities,”argues Hartley. Hartley believes STEM-only mindset encourages students to approach education vocationally, solely in terms of future jobs while in order to prepare students to solve large-scale human problems, they need to widen and not narrow, their education and interests. He advocates for a true “liberal arts” education—which combines both ‘hard sciences and “softer” subjects’ – a holistic learning experience that opens the mind up to new opportunities and helps them develop products that respond to real human needs. Strategy consultant Christian Madsbjerg agrees with Hartley in his book Sensemaking where he argues that unless companies take pains to understand the human beings represented in their data sets, they risk losing touch with the markets they’re serving. According to him deep cultural knowledge business needs come not from numbers-driven market research but from humanities-driven study of texts, languages, and people. Validating the authors is the fact that companies like Apple, IBM, Microsoft, Amazon, Netflix, and Google have software, UI, and UX designers with fine-arts degrees – roles which while needing coding skills, also demands understanding of usability — or distinctly human ability to leverage experience in designing an effective solution for real people.
Like Hartley, Gary Saul Morson and Morton Schapiro – professors of the humanities and economics, respectively, at Northwestern University – in their book Cents and Sensibility, say that when economic models fall short, they do so for want of human understanding. “Economics tends to ignore three things: culture’s effect on decision making, the usefulness of stories in explaining people’s actions, and ethical considerations. People don’t exist in a vacuum, and treating them as if they do is both reductive and potentially harmful,” they argue and provide solution in literature and wants economists to read great novelists who have a deeper insight into people than social scientists do and unlike economists who treat people as abstractions, dig into the specifics.
These three books come together to indicate the idea that selecting a course is less important than expanding thoughts. The basic understanding that must be reached is that STEM students are perfectly capable of caring for human beings, while liberal arts majors can examine things scientifically.
LinkedIn has suggested that “between 2010 and 2013, the growth of liberal arts majors entering the technology industry from undergrad outpaced that of computer science and engineering majors by 10 percent.” That said, a report by researchers at Strada Education Network and Emsi, a labor market analytics firm, says bachelors of arts degrees in the humanities decreased from 36 percent in 1970 to 23 percent in 2016, according to data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System. Over the same time period, career-oriented majors in science, technology, engineering and mathematics crept from 64 to 77 percent. However, the paper also suggests that more and more workers with liberal arts background are joining the STEM fields. “We are clearly seeing an uptick in the data in terms of percent growth increase in liberal arts backgrounds into technical areas,” says Rob Sentz, one of the authors of the report. The study says that the parallel trends are caused by a mismatch between job seekers and employers. “The disconnect is that employers are not always great about articulating the skills they are looking for,” says Michelle R. Weise, another author of the report who sees opportunity in the increased emphasis from the labor market for humanistic skills, such as emotional intelligence and ethics: “To say at a very granular level that this is what a human skill entails breaks down the false dichotomy we have between hard and soft skills. It’s more around how do we think about these uniquely human skills that will resist automation. It gives us a different mindset for the challenges that are ahead,” writes Weise.
Moreover, with tech majors Google and Apple announcing degree on resumes as redundant, Weise believes this is a sign of more and employers embracing skills-based hiring. “A lot of entrepreneurs moving away from this as a proxy for skills because it tends to prioritize the privileged,” she says.
Here are some key findings of the study –
- Unlike STEM majors, liberal arts students get swift wage growth in their 30s and 40s, after working in their second or third job and learning to translate skills to technical fields, and also acquiring technical skills in the process.
- Liberal arts graduates with good human skills relevant to different jobs are more employable as they are good thinkers and can be trained vertically areas like social media or programming.
- Average earnings for STEM majors are higher than those with liberal arts degree but according to the study, 82 percent of workers with a liberal arts degree are employed, with the average full-time worker earning $55,000 annually.
- Better translating human skills like leadership, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking — critical cogs of arts and humanities — are crucial in indicating the value of humanities and arts to employers in an increasingly tech-driven world.
Again, data from HESA’s Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) reveals a small number of first-degree humanities graduates (405 in total) were working as science, IT, engineering and building professionals in 2016/17 six months after graduation. The report also says that liberal arts or humanity majors who go to STEM careers including IT-related positions and also science and engineering roles have studied history (32.8%), English studies (19.8%) and philosophy (10%).
The most popular jobs were:
- web design and development professional (14.6%)
- social and humanities scientists (13.4%)
- programmers and software development professionals (11.5%)
- IT user support technicians (10.8%)
- IT operations technicians (10.5%)
- information technology and telecommunications professionals n.e.c. (7.8%)
- IT business analysts, architects and systems designers (6.5%)
- university researchers (5.2%)
- engineering professionals n.e.c. (2.7%)
- chartered surveyors (2.6%).
Strengths of liberal arts graduates
Liberal arts degree inculcates strengths that can be effectively leveraged on the resume and also during interviews. The primary skill that a liberal arts student learns is critical thinking i.e. the aptitude to ask question which is an invaluable asset and helps in business growth. Questioning status quo helps propel organisations forward. Liberal arts students are equipped with the abilities to ask the right questions, like – “Why are we doing it this way? Is this the most efficient way to achieve our goals?”
Working independently and collectively
The second key skill is working autonomously and in team. Tech companies optimize both autonomy and collaboration. Prioritizing time and managing projects alone helps college students learn how to work independently while working in group projects prepare them to think collectively and collaborate with diverse personalities which in turn improve communication skills. Tech companies need players who can excel as an individual contributor and be a team player. As an employee of a tech company one often needs to communicate with in house as well as remote workers placed all over the world.
Weaknesses of liberal arts graduates
Many think that all who work in tech companies are tech expert, while in reality one does not have to know app building or coding to work in tech. What is actually needed is an authentic interest in the industry which is enough to build required skills even after the start of a career. While interviewing humanities graduates recruiters try to find out in them a formal or additional interest or experience in tech, where formal means doing a college coding course, or internship on data management. However, formal experience is not absolute necessity. Any online course or creating blogs or websites is just as good for you to demonstrate your genuine desire to start a career in tech.
Work experience is critical for a recruiter as it means the candidate has not only learnt but duly applied the tech skills. Those lacking in this area can try and get some before starting the job hunt. However, there exist some non-traditional ways also which includes extracurricular experience in the form of being an active member of a college organization or club, volunteer experience or any sort of leadership role like being a team captain, taking ownership of group projects, even public speaking.
Top companies to work for in 2020-21
- Bain & Company
- In-N-Out Burger
- Sammons Financial Group Companies
- Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
- Intuitive (Intuitive Surgical)
- Ultimate Software
- Southwest Airlines
- Boston Consulting Group
- Trader Joe’s
- H E B
- Power Home Remodeling
- MD Anderson Cancer Center
- McKinsey & Company
- Camden Property Trust
- Mayo Clinic
- Keller Williams
- Working at Wegmans Food Markets
(source – https://www.glassdoor.com/)
Top 20 Online Courses for Arts & Humanities Students
- English for Journalism – University of Pennsylvania
- Better Business Writing in English – Georgia Tech
- Intercultural Communication and Conflict Resolution – University of California, Irvine
- Game Theory – Stanford University & University of British Columbia
- Strategy and Sustainability – IESE Business School
- Introduction to Mathematical Thinking – Stanford University
- Discrete Mathematics – Shanghai Jiao Tong University
- Moral Foundations of Politics – Yale University
- Introduction to Logic – Stanford University
- Effective Communication in the Globalised Workplace – National University of Singapore
- The Arts and Science of Relationships: Understanding Human Needs – University of Toronto
- Art & Activity: Interactive Strategies for Engaging with Art – The Museum of Modern Art
- Global Diplomacy: Diplomacy in the Modern World – University of London, SOAS University of London
- Getting Started With Music Theory – Michigan State University
- The Art of Music Production – Berklee
- The Art of Vocal Production – Berklee
- Art & Ideas: Teaching with Themes – The Museum of Modern Art
- Music as Biology: What We Like to Hear and Why – Duke University
- Leading Innovation in Arts and Culture – Vanderbilt University & National Arts Strategies
- Art & Activity: Interactive Strategies for Engaging with Art – The Museum of Art
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