The Top 10 Liberal Arts Skills You Need to Succeed in Tech
James Le '17 says that liberal arts skills are crucial when you're working in the tech world.
As he searched for a career in technology, James Le '17, a communication major from Hanoi, Vietnam, realized that his liberal arts education equipped him for this career in ways that a degree from a technology-based college do not.
Listen and Hear
Liberally educated people know how to pay attention — to others and to the world around them. They work hard to hear what other people say. They can follow an argument, track logical reasoning, detect illogic, hear the emotions that lie behind both the logic and the illogic, and ultimately empathize with the person who is feeling those emotions.
Read and Understand
Liberally educated people are skilled readers. They know how to read far more than just words. They are moved by what they see in a great art museum and what they hear in a concert hall. They recognize extraordinary athletic achievements; they are engaged by classic and contemporary works of theater, cinema and more. All of these are ways in which the eyes and the ears are attuned to the wonders that make up the human and the natural worlds. None of us can possibly master all these forms of “reading,” but liberally educated people should be competent in many of them and curious about all of them.
Talk with Anyone
Liberally educated people know how to talk. They can give a speech, ask thoughtful questions, and make people laugh. They can hold a conversation with a high school dropout or a Nobel laureate, a child or a nursing-home resident, a factory worker or a corporate resident. Moreover, they participate in such conversations not because they like to talk about themselves but because they are genuinely interested in others.
Write Clearly and Persuasively and Movingly
Liberally educated people know the craft of putting words on paper. It is about expressing what is in their minds and hearts so as to teach, persuade, and move the person who reads their words. It is about writing as a form of touching, akin to the touching that happens in an exhilarating conversation.
Solve a Wide variety of Puzzles and Problems
The ability to solve puzzles requires many skills, including a basic comfort with numbers, a familiarity with computers, and the recognition that many problems that appear to turn on questions of quality can in act be reinterpreted as subtle problems of quantity. These are the skills of the analyst, the manager, the engineer, the critic: the ability to look at a complicated reality, break it into pieces, and figure out how it works in order to do practical things in the real world.
Respect Rigor Not so Much for Its Own Sake but as a Way of Seeking Truth
Liberally educated people love learning, but they love wisdom more. They can appreciate a closely resonated argument without being unduly impressed by mere logic. They understand that knowledge serves values, and they strive to put these two — knowledge and values — into constant dialogue with each other. The ability to recognize true rigor is one of the most important achievements in any education, but it is worthless, even dangerous, if it is not placed in the service of some larger vision that also renders it humane.
Practice Humility, Tolerance, and Self-criticism
This is another way of saying that they can understand the power of other people’s dreams and nightmares as well as their own. They have the intellectual range and emotional generosity to step outside their own experiences and prejudices, thereby opening themselves to perspectives different from their own. Without such encounters, we cannot learn how much people differ — and how much they have in common.
Understand How to Get Things Done in the World
Learning how to get things done in the world in order to leave it a better place is surely one of the most practical and important lessons we can take from our education. It is fraught with peril because the power to act in the world can so easily be abused — but we fool ourselves if we think we can avoid acting, avoid exercising power, avoid joining the world’s fight. And so we study power and struggle to use it wisely and well.
Nurture and Empower the People Around Self
Liberally educated people understand that they belong to a community whose prosperity and well-being are crucial to their own, and they help that community flourish by making the success of others possible. The fulfillment of high talent, the just exercise of power, the celebration of human diversity: nothing so redeems these things as the recognition that what seem like personal triumphs are in fact the achievements of our common humanity.
Being a liberally educated person means being able to see connections that allow for one to make sense of the world and act within it in creative ways. Every one of the qualities described here — listening, reading, talking, writing, puzzle solving, truth seeking, seeing through other people’s eyes, leading, working in a community — is finally about connecting. A liberal education is about gaining the power and the wisdom, the generosity and the freedom to connect.
Le is currently working as a freelance frontend developer and also planning to pursue a Master's in computer science next year. You can learn more about him by visiting his website at jameskle.com.