Unqualified for Tech, STEAM > STEM, and Tech Ethics

The #UnqualifiedForTech discussion is an important one. In response to the Equifax CSO being ridiculed for having a music degree instead of a tech degree, many tech workers pointed out that they too don’t have tech degrees, or degrees at all.

There are many aspects to this discussion. There is plenty of straight up misogyny.

There’s privilege.

There’s disdain for the liberal arts—degrees that are more necessary than ever.

There’s academic treadmill thinking reinforced by deficit model capitalism.

And there’s misunderstanding about how tech hires.

The academic treadmill to a BS in CS is not the only entry into tech. To hire strictly from credentialist pipelines is bad for your company, bad for society, and just bad ethics. During my career, I’ve coded alongside people with music degrees. I’ve coded alongside the gamut of liberal arts degrees. I’ve coded alongside those with no degrees, those who stepped off a treadmill that often goes nowhere to avoid student loan debt and deficit model pathologies. I’ve coded alongside great people who would never have gotten into tech if we all hired strictly from credentialist pipelines and demanded technical degrees.

We shouldn’t want only those with technical degrees making software. Such gatekeeping is harmful, misguided, and out-of-touch. We need liberal arts majors writing code, and we need every tech worker with a tech degree to get a better liberal arts education than they’re currently getting. We need the arts and humanities throughout the ranks of tech.

Much too belatedly, we in tech are realizing how much we need soft skills and non-technical backgrounds in order to build good teams, design for the diverse actuality of humanity, and be ethical. Over and over again, we demonstrate poor ethics and a stunted understanding of people and society. We need historians, anthropologists, and sociologists in design and decision making processes. Hire these folks, now.

We also need to get over our STEM preoccupation in education. This fascination has been at the expense of liberal arts education. We should emphasize STEAM over STEM. Instead, we’re devaluing liberal arts and pushing people away from the very necessary humanities. Restore the Arts. We need that A in STEAM.

We need it because tech is in structural and ethical crisis.

We don’t hire enough people, and those we do hire are pretty homogenous.

Instead of criticizing tech workers with music degrees, accelerate hiring from the arts and humanities. Open our pipelines. We need more people. We need more perspectives. We need more humanity.

Cultures that embrace inclusion, compassion, soft skills, and the social model are more productive and humane. We’re better at everything when we hire inclusively and hold the arts and humanities close.

How Nadella turned things around comes back to the book he had his top lieutenants read, and the culture that took hold from there. He has inspired the company’s 124,000 employees to embrace what he calls “learn-it-all” curiosity (as opposed to what he describes as Microsoft’s historical know-it-all bent) that in turn has inspired developers and customers-and investors-to engage with the company in new, more modern ways. Nadella is a contemporary CEO able to emphasize the kinds of soft skills that are often derided in the cutthroat world of corporate politics but are, in today’s fast-moving marketplace, increasingly essential to outsize performance.

Nadella’s approach is gentler. He believes human beings are wired to have empathy, and that’s essential not only for creating harmony at work but also for making products that will resonate. “You have to be able to say, ‘Where is this person coming from?'” he says. “‘What makes them tick? Why are they excited or frustrated by something that is happening, whether it’s about computing or beyond computing?'”

His philosophy stems from one of the principal events of his personal life. In 1996, his first child, Zain, was born with severe cerebral palsy, permanently altering what had been a pretty carefree lifestyle for him and his wife, Anu. For two or three years, Nadella felt sorry for himself. And then-nudged along by Anu, who had given up her career as an architect to care for Zain-his perspective changed. “If anything,” he remembers thinking, “I should be doing everything to put myself in [Zain’s] shoes, given the privilege I have to be able to help him.” Nadella says that this empathy-though he cautions that the word is sometimes overused-“is a massive part of who I am today. . . . I distinctly remember who I was as a person before and after,” he says. “I won’t say I was narrow or selfish or anything, but there was something that was missing.”

Source: Satya Nadella Rewrites Microsoft’s Code

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