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Do Tech Firms Really Want Liberal Arts Majors? 266

Nerval's Lobster writes: Not too long ago, a Forbes writer declared that a liberal arts degree had "become tech's hottest ticket." At so-called 'disruptive juggernauts' such as Facebook and Uber, George Anders wrote, 'the war for talent' had moved into non-technical realms such as marketing and sales. While there's undoubtedly some truth to Anders's thesis, technology recruiters and executives aren't seeing any less demand for strong technical skills in a wide variety of roles (Dice link). When there's a need for tech professionals with 'soft skills,' at least one recruiter just recruits computer-science majors from liberal arts schools, figuring those recruits will be more 'well-rounded.' To be clear, Forbes doesn't suggest that IT employers have begun mixing liberal-arts graduates into their technical teams; the article talks more about those graduates ending up in supporting roles such as sales and marketing, or else becoming intermediaries who translate the customer's product requirements into engineering solutions. But nobody should think that a strong technical background isn't as valued as ever throughout tech companies.
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Do Tech Firms Really Want Liberal Arts Majors?

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  • by xxxJonBoyxxx ( 565205 ) on Thursday September 10, 2015 @03:46PM (#50497751)

    No.

  • Yes, Yes I do (Score:2, Insightful)

    by bigdady92 ( 635263 )
    Because the more of these people that enter the tech field the sooner they can start answering the phones for "Helpdesk, how can I help you?" and have 0 chance of them leaving that career path due to their complete and utter lack of technical aptitude. This frees those people who have tech skills to better put to use instead of answering the damn phone from users who still can't figure out how to turn on Wifi on their laptop.
    • I've done IT support contract work for the last ten years, including help desk, desktop and data center. I'm now doing computer security. Help desk isn't a dead end job unless you let it become one.
    • Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3 support. It rolls off to the next in the follow order as needed. But regardless, Even at Tier 2 and 3, what user is conveying or expecting as an end result isn't necessarily directly attributed to what the underlaying problem is. More often then not, their problem is ancillary to a much bigger issue at hand. Either way, it all comes down to communicative skills between the end-user, and person delegated to provide results. It's all about asking the right questions and everyone agr

    • Because the more of these people that enter the tech field the sooner they can start answering the phones for "Helpdesk, how can I help you?" and have 0 chance of them leaving that career path due to their complete and utter lack of technical aptitude.

      Everyone in Operations should work the Help Desk at some point in his or her career. There is no substitute for that experience.

  • by __aaclcg7560 ( 824291 ) on Thursday September 10, 2015 @03:55PM (#50497819)
    I've always had an interest in computers and electronics as a kid, but I mostly avoided computers during my first tour through college. I managed to get an internship through a roommate to test software. After my contract was up six months later, I became a video game tester and lead tester for the next six years. I went back to college to learn computer programming and made the college president's list for maintaining a 4.0 GPA in my major. I've been doing IT support contract work for the last ten years. Now I'm doing computer security. Sometimes the best people to hire are the ones who take their time finding out what they want to do.
  • by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Thursday September 10, 2015 @04:00PM (#50497855)
    But if they run out of h1-bs they'll settle. A college degree is a quick n dirty way to weed out the unstable. At the very least you know the were reliable enough to make it through a four year degree Companies don't give a shit about your back story.
  • by NotDrWho ( 3543773 ) on Thursday September 10, 2015 @04:01PM (#50497865)

    I have a Masters in history and also a programming degree. So if you have any openings for breaking-the-paradigm-new-perspectives-shaking-things-up managers, I'm your man!

    • Programming degree? Never heard of that one.

      I on the other hand have and Engineering degree and a remembering dates degree.

      • I got a computer programming degree from my local community college. All programming, little theory. Where do you think all the Java programmers come from?
    • Corporations don't like developers who understand the past, they're too likely to ask uncomfortable questions about the current project and processes. No job for you.
  • or else becoming intermediaries who translate the customer's product requirements into engineering solutions

    So they take the specifications from the customers and take them down to the engineers?

    I believe these will be the first people to be laid off. Hopefully they have some kind of great idea like a jump-to-conclusions mat.

    • Depends heavily on what you're building, but this kind of person is very useful in systems engineering particularly. You get all kinds of customers, people who really don't get technology, or who half understand something out there but want that things "except instead of x do y" and you learn that x and y are just incomprehensible gibberish and he really means something else, but no technical person can approach it without hysteria or barfing, or one of those things inducing the other. This kind of person a

  • ...It stands to reason that the only positions that can presently be legally hired in the US will come with a liberal arts background.

    • I read a recent article where law firms are requiring a college degree instead of a high school diploma for a filing clerk position. Never mind that the work haven't changed that much over the years. A high school diploma gets into college and that's about it these days.
      • In most cases it's just used as a signaling function for intelligence and work ethic. It's credential inflation. When more people have degrees they don't mean as much.
  • by enjar ( 249223 ) on Thursday September 10, 2015 @04:16PM (#50498015) Homepage

    I'm a tech person who generally tries to avoid sales people as much as possible, but I'd never in a million years suggest that sales is a "supporting role". If it were not for the sales staff where I work, I'd have no income, and consequently be living in a van down by the river. The engineering staff knows how to do a lot of great stuff, but getting the foot in the door at a customer and then getting them to buy our product isn't one of them. There are other departments a company might be able to get by without, but sales isn't one of them.

    Without a product, you can't sell anything.
    Without a sales, you don't have income.
    Without income, you can't pay the people who make the product.
    (Repeat)

    • I'm always surprised by sales. I know in theory a company can't make any money without sales and marketing to provide customers, but as a supplier and customer, most of the salesguys I meet are idiots.

      As a supplier, I was on new hire training with a few sales guys from our company, and I was amazed at how clueless they were about our products. I don't even work hands on with finished products and I know more than them.

      As a customer, when I reach out to a supplier for help at work I find:
      -Their "outside sale

  • Keep in mind the Nerval's Lobster who "submitted" this article is Dice themselves.

  • by plopez ( 54068 ) on Thursday September 10, 2015 @04:23PM (#50498091) Journal

    He got an MS in Rhetoric and then worked in various office admins roles for a while. Then he got a job writing documentation. This expanded over time to requirements gathering and test planning. All of which requires more of an ability to communicate with people both on the technical and non-technical side of the process.

    So don't discount it. LA majors can contribute if they are given the correct jobs and allowed to grow into them.

  • There will never be enough hair dressers and telephone sanitizers,

  • by trout007 ( 975317 ) on Thursday September 10, 2015 @04:38PM (#50498247)

    The problem is there isn't a real standard as far as a liberal arts education is concerned. This wasn't always the case. There used to be a very rigorous coursework every bit as demanding as technical degrees. Math, science, music, logic, rhetoric, astronomy, anatomy, etc. the problem started when student loans became available from the government. There are a whole bunch of new students that have a bunch of money but no business in college. You can't place them in technical degrees because there are standards schools need to meet. So liberal arts was expanded and dumbed down at some schools to get all of this new money. There are still some great liberal arts programs out there but you better do your research so you aren't wasting your time and money.

  • Tech companies will certainly hire fresh liberal-arts grads for the same sorts of jobs liberal-arts grads fill in any company, and have for years. They will not (absent extraordinary extra-curricular experience) hire them for jobs requiring specialized skills like programming.

    There's no need to pay engineer salaries to people not requiring engineering expertise.

  • I'd be careful hiring liberal arts majors. The traditional liberal arts degree was a good indication the holder could write well and formulate logical arguments. It wasn't the major you picked if you wanted an easy ride through college. The problem is so many schools have jettisoned much of the cannon with garbage self-validation and angry studies classes. Without a good understanding of the specific program you really don't know what you're getting.
    • so many schools have jettisoned much of the cannon

      Ah, the days when a University was a true fortress of wisdom.

  • > Not too long ago, a Forbes writer declared that a liberal arts degree had "become tech's hottest ticket."

    I've been hearing this refrain every couple of years since I was in university. That was so long ago our connection to the world was BITNET.

    Having worked in or for several dozen companies over that span, I've seen no indication that liberal arts are hired more or less than anyone else. I call BS.

  • by Greyfox ( 87712 )
    If they have a decent github portfolio, I'd probably hire them. But then, I'd hire a high school dropout if they had a decent github portfolio. I value participation in open source projects much more than a piece of paper from some university. I've seen the kinds of programmers they produce.

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