The myth of the useless degree

Studying art will not keep you out of a life in IT

If all the work of the future is in high tech, it stands to reason that your non-technical degree – in the liberal arts, fine arts, or a non-technical science – will leave you out of that future, right?

Nope. That’s a myth.

If you were lucky enough to choose a course of study because you were interested in the subject and not simply hoping to get a job after college, then you have something the future – even the highly technical one we are hurtling towards -- needs. Art? Anthropology? English? History? French poetry? If you were passionate enough about it to study it, it is an asset, even in a technical field. As Steve Jobs said (in 2010), "It's in Apple's DNA that technology alone is not enough. It's technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields the results that make our hearts sing."

And as Rachel Bernstein told me when she was head of The Sims Medieval, so many skills go into creating a technical product, especially a game like that, that – as long as you also have some technical skills – there will be a need for people who know things, whatever those things are. Obviously, a lot of history goes into a game set in medieval times but that’s only one obvious example. “If you love art, get that skill set,” suggests Bernstein. “Chase what you love. When people are hiring, they want people who love what they do. So figure out what you love and go do that.”

I’m sure, though, that you have heard – from your parents, from everyone studying computer science, in job interviews – that you will never get a job with a humanities degree. Well, I am here to tell you that I have heard otherwise.

Christine Park is an automobile designer working on future Cadillac vehicles at GM. But she started out studying fine art, which had always been her passion. Along the way, she discovered that a great deal of aesthetic beauty and an understanding of what appeals to humans goes into making cars people want. Her art – once something that stayed on the page – now merely starts as a sketch. Eventually, it ends up flying down the freeway where she can encounter it enjoying a life of its own. “Don’t lose your passion,” she advises. “If you are passionate about something, you are most likely good at it. Keep on with that. And don’t let anyone discourage you.”

Or take Genevieve Bell (in the video above) as an example. She is clearly passionate about anthropology. She has a bachelor’s, a masters, and a doctorate in that subject. But she works at Intel, in charge of Interaction and Experience Research. She has also been named one of the top 25 women in technology to watch by AlwaysOn and was inducted to the Women In Technology International Hall of Fame.

What you studied is part of who you are. Maybe you need to add some technical skills to that. But knowledge -- and passion -- are always good.

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