Why I Chose to Study English
If I had a dime for all the times someone questioned why I decided to study English, I’d probably have enough money to put me through law school. Jokes aside, I honestly can see where the confusion lies. My high school academic record reads like it belongs to a poster child pre-med student: 12 advanced placement courses including two years of calculus, an introductory statistics course, advanced biology, and physics. On top of all that, I attended one of the best STEM high schools in the nation, which, not incidentally, is also home to the best high school computer science program in the world.
(Photo Credit: ABC Open Riverland/Flickr)
Maybe the ceaseless, intolerable reminders from my family – Vietnamese immigrants who wanted a secure future for their first-generation American daughter – that “a medical career is obviously the way to go” pushed me towards humanities.
Maybe it was the fact I often found myself catching up on sleep in my math and science classes. Maybe I saw the diversity in possible careers I could seek with an English major, from becoming an attorney to writing for network television. But I think my decision to study English was the result of the potential I saw in having a humanities degree in a job market overrun with science and tech majors. In one vein, having a computer science or engineering degree probably would make me a surefire hire in Silicon Valley. But in another, I think having an English degree will make me equally, if not more, in-demand as an asset to a start-up company.
Start Your STEM Career … With a Humanities Degree?
My assertion stems from the fact there are already successful humanities majors thriving in tech companies. In fact, according to research teams at Duke and Harvard under the leadership of Vivek Wadhwa, only 37 percent of tech CEOs had a traditional STEM degree versus the 63 percent with degrees in philosophy, business, and other liberal arts fields. That 63 percent includes Anna Pickard, the editorial director of Slackbot, with a degree in theater from Britain’s Manchester Metropolitan University and Marcus Ryu, the CEO of Guidewire, with a B.A. in English from Oxford. So what exactly makes this paradox of the humanities mind in tech possible?
In the words of David Rose, CEO of Ditto, “Liberal arts training allows people to think about technology itself in fundamentally different ways.” In other words, humanities majors are able to examine technology in a number of perspectives. A humanities major considers how different consumers interact with technology, like how a businessperson may utilize certain tech versus how a student may do so.
What Liberal Arts Grads Have to Offer
Essentially, the typical liberal arts student spends most of their educational career studying human interactions in several contexts; thus those interpersonal understandings they have are ideal in examining the possible consumers of a company’s tech. In another fashion, humanities-credentialed individuals are able to simplify concepts to explain to investors why they should put money into an idea when STEM folk may have trouble doing so.
While it is true knowing technological terms may not be a strength of liberal arts person, the ability to learn and dissect another language is. Not every potential venture capitalist is going to be familiar with technical jargon; liberal arts majors are useful because of their ability to translate complex ideas and technical processes into simpler terms. And besides these more “avant-garde” reasons, liberal arts degree-holders can pursue more traditional business positions in these tech companies as copywriters, marketing directors, brand-makers, and more.
With that in mind, I see my English degree as the complete opposite of what everyone else does: highly applicable and extremely lucrative.
Learn more about the earning potential of your major in PayScale’s College Salary Report.
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