We Need More Arts & Humanities in Tech
In August, Apple became the first U.S. publicly-traded company to reach a $1 trillion market cap (New York Times). While this milestone for Apple is significant, they are closely followed by Google and Amazon in the race to the $1 trillion valuation. In fact, Amazon became the second trillion dollar U.S. company in September (CBS News) with Google on-deck with a valuation of over $800 billion (Tech Crunch). To sum up the valuation highlights of the past six months, Bird scooters doubled their valuation to $2 billion in only 4 months during the summer months (Inc. Magazine). With that being said, the race to high valuations continues to be a common trend amongst startups and tech companies in the 21st century.
For smaller tech companies and startup companies, the ultimate goal is to reach a $1 billion valuation, where they earn the right to be called a “unicorn”. The term, “unicorn company”, is used to show how rare these types of companies are. In the same way that one would label a unicorn as a mythical creature, unicorn companies are truly one in a million. This obsession with high valuations and the publicity that comes with it is evident in a cursory review of last year and its investing landscape. In 2017, 132 US-based companies held the title of a VC unicorn nearly reaching a record number of deals while raising nearly $20 billion from investors. In addition to this, “the aggregate valuation of unicorns stood at just $35 billion in 2009 but has grown more than 20x since” (Pitch Book Annual Unicorn Report).
While most of these companies prove innovative and disruptive for their respective industries, there is no denying that the rise of unicorns and tech giants in the United States have brought about their own set of negative consequences.
Housing costs continue to rise in Silicon Valley while tripling the cost of living in the past two decades (Mercury News). As the cost of living is steadily rising, lower-class and middle-class individuals are being pushed out of the Bay Area, oftentimes being forced to commute 2+ hours to their non-tech jobs. Homelessness is still rampant in San Francisco and the heroin epidemic rages on.
With the heightened number of social issues (Income inequality, toxic masculinity in management, GDPR-compliance, etc.) primarily influenced by technology companies, there is a need, now more than ever, for the humanities and the social sciences to enter the tech workforce. The tech industry needs empathetic, inclusive, and diverse thinkers to lead the next class of tech employees. In an Atlantic article titled “Learning to be Human”, Sophie Gilbert states that “the purpose of the humanities is not primarily utilitarian, it is not primarily to get a job…the purpose of the humanities is to cultivate the individual, cultivate the citizen.” (The Atlantic).
In a world of enhanced UX experiences, we need a to start thinking about and prioritizing an empathy-centric, enhanced HX (Human Experience).
While much of the modern educational system puts a focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Mathematics), it seems that liberal arts skillsets, such as writing, are becoming the most sought-after skills in the hiring world. At the collegiate level, the Association of American Colleges and Universities echoed this belief. Their 2013 survey found that 93% of employersstated “a demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is important” (Inc Magazine). There is a clear need and demand for liberal arts backgrounds in today’s workforce, yet one in five bachelor’s degrees earned in the United States is a business degree (Dept. of Education). With this in mind, it is important to realize that business majors have a higher underemployment rate(47%) and scored significantly lower on the Collegiate Learning Assessment testcompared to students in the humanities, sciences, and social sciences.
A large part of liberal arts students’ success comes from their ability to master soft skills and quickly ramp on learning new technical/hard skills.
In a recent LinkedIn survey of employer’s most sought-after soft skills in 2018, “57% of leaders say soft skills are more important than hard skills” (LinkedIn). Globalization and innovation have drastically increased the need for cross-functional, diverse teams in tech, which are exactly the types of roles that require individuals with non-traditional business backgrounds and education: queue the Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that by 2022, 1 million more Americans will enter the workforce as educators and another 1.1 million newcomers will earn a living in sales. Each wave of tech will create fresh demand for trainers, coaches, managers, and salespeople. By contrast, software engineers’ ranks will grow by 279,500 or barely 3% of overall job growth. According to Michael Chiu, a partner at McKinsey Global Institute, “narrowly defined technical roles will not be the answer for long-term employment growth” (Forbes). If you add up the jobs held by people who majored in psychology, history, English and the like, they quickly surpass the totals for engineering and computer science.
There is a perception that Tech alone is the future of everything, but the future of tech is ultimately reliant on the people in tech (IC’s and Founders alike); not only the people building the tech, but the people selling the tech and advocating for why others should use it.
With this in mind, we need to make sure these roles are being filled by worthy individuals: workers that value People over Profit, workers that make Products to fix problems instead of creating problems, and workers that design solutions to solve society’s problems as opposed to making things easier for the one percent.
If you loved this article, I highly recommend checking out this TED talk by Eric Berridge.