Students should consider a liberal arts degree if they want to pursue tech
June 6, 2016
The eclectic nature of my own studies might look a little “messy” from the outside, but I know it made me a better designer, problem solver and coder. While the push for college bound students to major in fields within STEM is incredibly important, especially for young women, it may not be the best decision for everyone.
I received a Bachelor of Arts from Middlebury College, a liberal arts college based in Vermont where I majored in violin performance and composition with a minor in cross-cultural perspectives. I also completed all my pre-med requirements and took elective courses in Russian literature, Islamic art & architecture, Chinese culture and society, painting and sociology. That sure is a mouthful but there are aspects from every one of my classes that I have incorporated into my personal and professional life in profound ways.
Of course, there were times when I felt doors close because of my liberal arts background, but at the same time many more doors flew open and waved me in. By the way, according to this Forbes article, Middlebury is repositioning itself as a startup hatchery with their Center for Social Entrepreneurship and for good reason.
Here are four reasons why you shouldn’t dismiss the value of a liberal arts college education.
1. Students will learn how to solve problems through critical thinking. Learning to really think critically is not easy to do and it takes a lot of practice. But once you learn how, there is no situation or problem that you can’t analyze and evaluate. Liberal arts students will learn how technical concepts relate to real-world situations by solving real world problems and at the same time nurturing their curiosity.
2. A liberal arts education teaches students how to make complex concepts simple.
This is not something you learn overnight but rather it becomes a lifelong skill that can be applied to a variety of disciplines including software engineering and user experience design. As a designer I am always having to help break complicated concepts down to help stakeholders understand strategies, constraints and design choices.
3. The multi-disciplinary aspect of a liberal arts education adds valuable dimensions to your workflow and is an essential aspect of productive and successful collaborations. Take a look at this recent New York Times article “To write better code, read Virginia Woolf.”
In the story, the author talks about how a music major solved a major engineering hurdle because she was able to move freely and “instead of freezing up over the logical permutations behind each A and S, she found that these symbols put her in the mind of musical notes. As notes, they could be made to work in concert. They could be orchestrated.”
In other words, having a team made up of people with a diverse set of skills in multiple disciplines will only make your team richer and more successful.
4. They will learn how to communicate. Sounds simple, but honestly, there are way too many people out there that don’t know how to explain things well in writing or presenting. When it comes to UX design and content strategy, language and the power of storytelling is incredibly important for usability. This is especially true on mobile screens where text is limited due to screen size and the difference between using one word over another could be the reason why a user stays loyal or never signs on again due to confusion or boredom.
I wrote essays constantly, whether for organic chemistry or biblical literature. In fact, I don’t think I ever took a multiple choice test in my entire four years of college. It was exhausting, but it really taught me how to communicate my ideas on paper and orally.
Last night my husband, Jason, created a new term (or maybe it already exists?) SHTEM (Science, Humanities, Technology, Engineering and Math) moving humanities and humanitarianism as a core part of the STEM discipline. I think he might be on to something.