How an English Degree Can Lead to a Job in Tech
Every time I hear or read some form of this advice I cringe: “To get a job and be successful you should study engineering, math or science. A liberal arts degree is a waste of time and money.” It’s not a surprising notion given our tech-centric job market and economy, but I absolutely disagree. Spoiler: I’ve worked in tech marketing for 6 years and I have a degree in English.
While I absolutely agree that being an engineer, developer, and/or math-minded individual makes you a commodity in today’s job market, not everyone is meant to pursue a role in those fields. Plain and simple. But rather than debate the larger issue of why this blanket recommendation is flawed or what this shift towards STEM-dominated education means for our society (great pieces already cover that here, here and elsewhere), I feel compelled to simply share my account of how a liberal arts degree can lead to a successful career, even a career in tech.
Growing up in school I loved all subjects but really loved English and foreign language. As the years progressed I performed well in all things writing, reading, and communication-based. Math was doable but did not come naturally and I did not enjoy it. When I began college at UCLA I was still undecided about my future career path, so I majored in English with a minor in Spanish purely because those were the subjects that I loved and where I was strongest. I expected that I would change majors midway through college to something more “practical,” but I ended up loving my classes and truly felt intellectually stimulated (how many college students can really say that?). Fortunately, I also soon realized that I was developing incredibly valuable and job-applicable skills in my English courses.
Getting a Job in Tech Marketing
I graduated college with a Bachelor of Arts in English and a minor in Spanish and I was able to get an entry-level marketing job at a small tech startup in Southern California. I should note that during college I also wrote for UCLA’s newspaper The Daily Bruin, held two internship positions (one in marketing), and wrote pieces for a literary website. I do believe that these additional items on my resume contributed to me landing a job in marketing, but what really helped was being able to relate the skills I learned in my literature courses to the job at hand. After 6 years in marketing I can attest that my college education gave me skills to succeed in my field and even set me apart from other marketers in tech.
Why English Majors Make Great Marketers
Before I go further I do want to acknowledge that there are different roles within marketing that require different skills. For example the day-to-day of a paid search marketer is very different than that of a content and social media marketer. So please bear with me in this post as I generalize a bit.
Writing/Communication: As an English major you read a lot, write a lot, then write some more. Pretty much every assignment, quiz, and exam involves writing. Then, your writing is torn apart by very smart professors who point out how it could be better. The result? By the end of four years English majors are exceptional communicators who can quickly and easily put ideas into words. And what is marketing? Wikipedia says it’s “the means of communication between the company and the consumer audience.” Since communication is the core of marketing, the years that English majors spend writing are a huge asset. In my own career in tech marketing, I use these communication skills every single day: writing copy for websites and ads, writing how-to guides for online products, writing email promotions for clients, writing materials for Sales to use in pitches, and so on.
Analysis: But beyond just being effective communicators, English majors are forced to be persuasive communicators. That’s because writing for literature courses all comes down to the ability to prove a thesis/case/argument through literary analysis. English majors learn how to analyze text, breaking down elements and examining complexities, in order to provide compelling evidence and prove a point. This skill is a huge asset to tech marketers, as they need to not only think critically but also have the ability to educate and convince an audience.
Cultural & Historical Awareness: One of my favorite things about majoring in English was that it forced me to read literature that I probably wouldn’t have read on my own (cough The Canterbury Tales). And though some things I read were painful at first, I learned so much about history, culture, and human motivation by reading works from the 1300s through the present day. This ability to see things from different perspectives and anticipate responses/behaviors is a key component of marketing strategy and execution. Believe it or not, there are benefits to being well-read that go beyond dominating the literature categories in Jeopardy! and Trivial Pursuit (though that benefit shouldn’t be discounted).
These are just a few of the skills that make English majors great candidates for roles in tech marketing. I was able to leverage these skills to break into the field, and have since worked my way up to a marketing manager position at a tech company in San Francisco. With the surge in the technology jobs market over the last decade, I think there’s a misconception that tech jobs=coding jobs. While software developers do make up a large part of the workforce, we shouldn’t forget that technology companies also need teams for marketing, sales, operations and finance. So my advice is: If you want to study literature in college don’t give up on that because everyone is pushing you towards a more “practical” major. I’m really glad I didn’t. Don’t feel like your liberal arts degree means you can’t work in tech — you can.