Agile 2018

Agile 2018
Speaking at Agile 2018

Monday, September 12, 2016

Humanities and Liberal Arts are Good for Technology

I want liberal arts in my business
Occasionally, the news of the week prompts me to yell expletives at my web browser or television.  This was a financial literacy course called, Teen Financial Education Day.  It seemed innocent enough teaching young people how to use credit responsibly, how to use the banking system, and make smart investments.  It was innocent until you saw the advertising materials which said things like “A ballerina yesterday.  An engineer today.”  As a successful scrum master and software developer this ticked me off.  This week on the blog I want to talk about why and emphasize that we need humanities, liberal arts, and the STEM in order to have a successful business community.

I graduated from Illinois State University with a major in Mass Communication’s and a minor in philosophy.  I pursued the minor because it was a subject which interested me.  I pursued the Mass Communications degree because I was going to work in radio.  I could not have picked a worse major as the radio business outside Chicago began to contract and the recession of 1990 evaporated any other jobs.  As a child of the Reagan 1980’s who said no to drugs, worked hard in school and strived to better himself; it was a very bitter pill to swallow.  I did everything expected of me by society and my elders and I was rewarded with underemployment and ridicule.

It would take me eight years from when I graduated from college to find a career in the technology field.  It was the giddy and stupid days of the dot com bubble and I went back to community college to learn visual basic.  At the ripe old age of 30, I was starting my career from scratch.  I was a self-taught technologist.  Funny thing was that my experience in newspaper, radio, and mass media made me a natural fit as a web developer.  I could discuss typography with print professionals in a language they understood.  I understood the shorthand of marketing professionals.  I knew things about color, shape and art which didn’t have to be explained.  As technology changed with the addition of CSS and XML, I was able to quickly adapt and retrain myself because I learned those concepts in school studying alien concepts like monads, existential nausea, and the payola scandals of the 1960’s.

As a liberal arts and humanity’s student, I had an advantage over my more technical colleagues because I had the “soft” skills and communications abilities to help software projects get done.  So when a bank like Wells Fargo says these skills are not necessary as part of financial literacy education it makes me want to become a hulking green rage monster.  Furthermore, when that bank is the second largest provider of private student loans in the United States, it looks like that a financial institution is trying to pick and choose which majors students should pursue.  It looks fishy at best and market manipulative at worst.

We need humanities and liberal arts in American culture.  We need humanities and liberal arts in American business because these graduates have the writing, speaking, learning and teaching skills that businesses need.  They understand different cultures.  Someone with a background in gender studies could help reduce sexual harassment in the workplace.  A worker with an understanding of Langston Hughes, Nina Simone or the Harlem Renaissance might be better explain diversity issues or #BlackLivesMatter to people who might not have that understanding.  Finally, an art history major would be a perfect choice for a UX designer or Web designer.

This is why we need liberal arts and humanities.  We need it because life is more than ones and zeros.  It is about people and inspiring them, understanding them, and helping them be better people.  It is about developing open minds and optimism about the future.  It is about understanding the past and the way our culture has evolved over the last 3000 years to become what it is today and what it might be tomorrow.  Liberal arts helps build better technology and better businesses and it is about time that others begin to see that.

Until next time.