3 Reasons To Hire an English Major

future belongs to the liberal arts major

There’s an old joke that goes like this:

A recent graduate with a bachelor’s in philosophy goes into McDonald’s and applies for a job. The shift manager takes the application, thanks the applicant and says, “Sorry, we’re only hiring philosophy majors with a master’s degree, or higher right now.”

It’s a fairly funny joke – if you aren’t a philosophy major – and in reality, it may pack more humor than truth; just ask PayPal cofounder and venture capital heavyweight Peter Thiel, who studied philosophy at Stanford.

The conventional wisdom today is that the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) areas of study are pretty much the only subjects worth pursuing. English, philosophy, history and the other liberal arts scarcely prepare you for more than a job in the fast food industry, so the thinking goes…even if I exaggerate a bit.

However, it seems to me that this outlook is just another one of those waves that sweeps through our culture that turns out to be totally wrong. I’m basing this judgment on some very good reasons – reasons that are founded in enduring truths.  (And I must disclose I have a liberal arts education.)

EQ vs IQ

Emotional intelligence (EQ) is proving equally valuable or even more valuable than IQ. Anyone who has worked with computer programmers or other scientists knows that many seem unable to communicate and this can lead to projects that go astray and cost overruns.

When you find someone who is a great communicator and also well-versed in technology, you feel like you’ve discovered a gold mine. The English major who picks up some tech skills later will be a real keeper. Frankly, I don’t see anyone walking that path in the opposite direction: being a tech specialist and then going back and picking up the overview and communication skills of a liberal arts education.

Robots and AI will be the STEM stars

Remember the men who landed on the moon and brought home rocks? Today we have robotic landers that can venture much further from Earth, last far longer in outer space and conduct much more sophisticated experiments. As computers become more powerful and artificial intelligence improves, a lot of technological development will be automated.

While it’s true that today’s robots are putting assembly line workers out of jobs, tomorrow’s robots will be putting the people who design today’s robots out of jobs.

However, no robot will ever make a sales call to an old client who, for some reason, jumped to a competitor. That will always require an individual with a deep understanding of how humans tick. Harvard University’s David J. Deming wrote a paper on this where he explains that performing simple human interactions has proven difficult to automate.

Great tech is artistic, human tech

Why do consumers love Apple products? There are other brands that are just as functional, and less expensive. However, Apple products are also beautiful and elegant. Steve Jobs once said:

“It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough. It’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields the results that make our hearts sing.”

Developing the sense of aesthetics and human needs that bring these elements to consumer technologies isn’t something that can be accomplished with one or two courses tacked onto a STEM major. It requires people who have a deep understanding of the human condition.

Finally, computer science jobs are hot today. There’s a big need for programmers and web developers. However, this high level of demand will certainly ebb. If you don’t believe me, go find a rocket scientist who participated in the original space race. In fact, they were some of the early Silicon Valley tech pioneers and one day they woke up unemployed and looking for jobs in bowling alleys.

But while all of that was happening, liberal arts majors were still being pumped out and finding success in management, sales, advertising, entrepreneurship and all kinds of career paths that require understanding people and the ability to work well with others.