While the tech boom is partly responsible for the spike in students majoring in science, technology, engineering and math, many tech CEOs still believe employees trained in the liberal arts add value to their companies. In 2010, Steve Jobs famously mused that for technology to be truly brilliant, it must be coupled with artistry. “It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough,” he said. “It’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields the results that make our hearts sing.” Other tech CEOs across the country agree that liberal arts training–with its emphasis on creativity and critical thinking–is vital to the success of their business.
So how exactly do the humanities translate into positive results for tech companies? Steve Yi, CEO of web advertising platform MediaAlpha, says that the liberal arts train students to thrive in subjectivity and ambiguity, a necessary skill in the tech world where few things are black and white. “In the dynamic environment of the technology sector, there is not typically one right answer when you make decisions,” he says. “There are just different shades of how correct you might be,” he says.
Yi says his interdisciplinary degree in East Asian Studies at Harvard taught him to see every issue from multiple perspectives: in college, he studied Asian literature in one class, then Asian politics or economics in the next. “It’s awfully similar to viewing our organization and our marketplace from different points of view, quickly shifting gears from sales to technology to marketing,” he says. “I need to synthesize these perspectives to decide where we need to go as a company.”
Danielle Sheer, a vice president at Carbonite, a cloud backup service, feels similarly. She studied existential philosophy at George Washington University, which sets her apart from her technically trained colleagues. She tells me that her academic background gives her an edge at a company where employees are trained to assume there is always a correct solution. “I don’t believe there is one answer for anything,” she tells me. “That makes me a very unusual member of the team. I always consider a plethora of different options and outcomes in every situation.”
Both Yi and Sheer recognize that the scientific method is valuable, with its emphasis on logic and reason, especially when dealing with data or engineering problems. But they believe this approach can sometimes be limiting. “When I collaborate with people who have a strictly technical background,” says Yi, “the perspective I find most lacking is an understanding of what motivates people and how to balance multiple factors that are at work outside the realm of technology.”
Employees trained in the liberal arts bring an alternative point of view in day-to-day decision-making in the tech workplace, but Vince Broady, CEO of content marketing platform Thismoment, argues that they also think differently about bigger questions, such as the impact a company should have on an industry. As a student at Brown, Broady studied religion, a field that emphasizes long-term goals, rather than quick gains. “You study people who dedicate their lifetime to their faith,” he says. “Their impact is measured across hundreds and thousands of years.” His academic background shapes how he thinks about his work: he wants to stay committed to building a company of lasting value, even during difficult times. This goes against the grain of tech culture, where entrepreneurs are encouraged to take risks but quickly move to new ideas when things don’t pan out. Broady questions whether “failing fast” is really the best way to do business.
Broady’s study of religion has also convinced him that leaps of faith are important in one’s career. If students are inclined towards the humanities, he encourages them to pursue what they love, even when others claim these fields are worthless. “There is always a story about a wasted education, about someone who paid so much for a degree and is now driving a taxi,” he says. “But you have to have some faith that your education will not be wasted on you. This is about you and your specific situation; you need to make sure that what you learn serves you.”
Why Top Tech CEOs Want Employees With Liberal Arts Degrees
September 5, 2014 | 0 Comments
"Why Top Tech CEOs Want Employees With Liberal Arts Degrees"
Auguts 28, 2014
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