My Major is American Studies.

Brennan D Baraban
Jan 19, 2018 · 4 min read

I know what you’re thinking:

What are you going to do with that?

The answer is not straightforward, nor concrete. In fact, in the grander scheme of higher education, I argue that we must move away from understanding undergraduate majors strictly within the lens of employment. Excuse my digression. To answer concisely:

I am going to be a software engineer.

I understand any initial misgivings. As a graduating student at the University of California, Davis majoring in American Studies, my chosen field of study is a common point of misconception. No, American Studies is not [strictly] American history. Rather, American Studies is a field in the humanities that evaluates contemporary United States culture and society.

I gravitated toward this lesser-known, seemingly immaterial program at UC Davis for several reasons:

0_American Studies is engaging. Classes are small, and I have collaborated closely with peers and professors. The department deemphasizes grades, instead advocating individualized learning, interdisciplinary study, and creative work through reading, writing, and discussion. In independent research papers, I am given the freedom to tackle topics of my interest and am tasked with conducting cultural analyses from the ground up.

1_American Studies is relevant. The unprecedented state of today’s political climate highlights the importance of the humanities, yet American society has always required consistent and thorough critique. In American Studies, I integrate history, sociology, science, philosophy — a broad spectrum of cultural phenomenon. I consider how complex societal ideologies, practices, and group dynamics impact the lives of real people everyday.

2_American Studies is worthwhile. Through American Studies, I have had the opportunity to produce exceptional independent work. Moreover, the program has engendered a diversified undergraduate career. American Studies curriculum is intentionally flexible. Here in my third and final year, I have supplemented a major in the humanities with rigorous critical thinking and problem-solving by double minoring in Statistics and Economics. American Studies encourages versatile learning.

There is no strict or even typical career path for an American Studies student; however, I credit the field with inspiring my career goal. If the Japanese have it right, then American Studies has helped me realize my ikigai, my reason to jump out of bed every morning. Through American Studies, I have discovered that I love solving complex problems that integrate disciplines and skills; I have learned about multi-faceted issues challenging livelihoods and solutions being developed towards these issues; I have performed best when working collaboratively; most practically, I have been afforded a well-rounded experience that has led me to software engineering.

I gravitate toward this increasingly popular, undoubtedly crucial field for several reasons:

0_Programming is engaging. Faced with a given problem, I feel the thrill of challenge, like that when solving a puzzle. I am tasked with coordinating a variety of skills and knowledge, forced to think through a multitude of ways to go about compiling a program in an effective yet organized and shareable way. In going about these puzzles, I must collaborate with the worldwide network of programmers and coding resources. I am encouraged to go about these puzzles creatively in building a program from the ground up.

1_Programming is relevant. Technology is inseparable from all aspects of our lives today, personally, socially, occupationally, or otherwise. In programming, I confront problems the solutions to which have the potential to immediately make efficiencies, opportunities, and resources available to people everyday.

2_Programming is worthwhile. Anyone pursuing a career in Computer Science who says they are ambivalent towards career prospects is lying. More significantly, software engineering is rapidly-evolving. Coding languages constantly develop and advance in complexity and the capabilities of software expand equally fast. Software engineers are challenged to continually adapt. Above all, programming requires versatile learning.

Now, while I hope I’ve convinced you that American Studies and Computer Science are at least ideologically parallel, I recognize the gap between the rigorous programming skills required in software engineering and the, well, lack of programming skills required in the humanities. Forgive me for sounding like a broken record, but I will pursue my dream of becoming a software engineer in further connection to my undergraduate career. I will learn software development in a setting alike to that of which I have come to advocate (in fact, am writing a Senior Thesis on) in my experience with American Studies — Holberton School.

I choose Holberton School for several reasons:

0_Holberton School curriculum is project-based. Just as American Studies professors assign research papers to task students with evaluating social issues, Holberton School helps students learn coding through hands-on practice. In projects ranging from structured Twitter clones to open-ended computer virus creations, I will continue to develop my skills in integrating knowledge and collaborating with networks through independent work — arguably, the best way to learn.

1_Holberton School is founded on interaction with industry mentors and peers. In American Studies, I have appreciated the opportunity to form individual relationships with professors. I will continue to break down the barriers between students and professionals at Holberton School. In particular, networking offered at Holberton School is conducive to finding that ultimate goal of education itself, employment, which is integrated into the curriculum.

2_Holberton School emphasizes learning how to learn. Although my Bachelor of Arts degree is impending, my education and upbringing have instilled in me that learning is never over. This idea is particularly relevant to the world of software engineering, and the full-stack engineering curriculum at Holberton School is developing competent and versatile software engineers. Holberton School will teach me the skills to continually grow in my career as a software engineer but also as a dedicated, lifelong learner.

So, yes, I could go into law, or I could go into business, two professions which, I imagine, are more graspable within initial impressions of American Studies. The beauty of my education is that I feel prepared to tackle my dream of software engineering.

I am going to be a software engineer.

I am going to be a software engineer at Holberton School.

Brennan D Baraban

Written by

Full-stack software engineer

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