Monday, March 31, 2014

Liberal Arts and Return on Investment

It was not a failure to launch
it was a rotten economy.
(Picture from Time.com)
Being an entrepreneur during times like this is very difficult.  Each day, I see myself confronted with frustration and failure.  It gets old and it sucks the enthusiasm out of you.  That is when I have had to rely on family and friends to pick me up and make sense of my crazy fate.  You see I have always traveled the more unfamiliar path my entire life and in spite of my choices I have managed to earn a living and develop the skills necessary to found my own business.  I reflected on that when this week when Payscale.com published its annual list of return on investment colleges and college majors.  Naturally, degrees from colleges near Silicon Valley and with big focus on science and technology had the highest rankings.  This kicked off another round of articles about how a humanities education was a handicap in today’s global economy.  As someone who comes from a humanities background, I can say that those articles are gross exaggerations.  This week on the blog, I will argue that a humanities background is an advantage in this mixed up global economy.

When I graduated from college in 1990, George Bush Sr. was president and we were in the middle of a recession which guaranteed that none of us graduating were going to find a job.  It was very discouraging for someone who wanted to work in radio.  I found an internship which paid minimum wage and worked nights as a disk jockey at a night club.  It was awful.  I was forced to live like a teen-ager with my parents and I had enough money for gas.  I could not afford to rent my own place or provide for myself.  Adding insult to injury was the cover of Time Magazine telling everyone that my failure to launch was due to laziness. As someone who said no to drugs, worked his nerdy butt off in high school and college, and sacrificed so much to become an academic and professional success; it was a bitter pill to swallow.

It was during this time that I felt the first rumbles of the internet.  I discovered the Prodigy data service and also learned about this funny thing called Microsoft windows and how it made life easier.  It did not know it yet but a path in my life was revealing itself to me.  It would be almost eight years from college graduation to my first technology job but I think my liberal arts background made it possible.  I had to learn strange languages.  A course in symbolic logic I took as part of my philosophy minor made it easier to understand decision trees and algorithms.  The years working in print media and radio helped me bridge the gap between old-media and the new-fangled media of the web.  Without a communications degree, I would not have the skills necessary to collaborate with customers and users.  Liberal Arts and humanities have served me well.

As I earned my MBA the study skills I learned as an undergraduate came in handy.  I was more prepared than my fellow students, understood the turn of a phrase and could take complicated things and make them easy to understand.  I doubt I would have learned those skills in a computer science course.  Now that I have an MBA and I have founded my own business, I see that I have been able to merge my experience with technology with my liberal arts background.

I also know that I want to hire a mix of liberal arts and technical professionals as my business grows.  I have terrible spelling so I have to rely on others to proof read my work.  That means that English majors are going to receive preferential hiring treatment from HR department.  For every developer who understands monads and SOLID programming, I am going to make sure I hire a few people to understand how to conjugate a verb and understand what Gottfried Leibniz meant by monads.  I feel this way because a diverse group of people can better solve the problems of customers.

So looking at the news that a liberal arts background may not provide the most return on investment for a professional, I politely ignore it.  I have been surviving and thriving as a professional because of my liberal arts background instead of in spite of it.  I have learned to ride the wave of the internet as it picked up steam and I have founded my own business hoping to help others take advantage of those trends.

If you would like to know more about my business and how we can help you improve your profits and bottom line please give us a call.

Being an entrepreneur is frustrating but I would rather follow this path rather than the well-traveled one.  I hope you get the chance to wander with me.

Until next time.