Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Turn A Liberal Arts Degree Into A Great Tech Career

College students often find themselves experiencing a quarter-life crisis near graduation. The future looms like a hydra; jobs, debts and living expenses grow ever larger as they march out of tomorrow and into the present. This leaves many students asking themselves whether they made the right choice. Liberal Arts students, who often have a less concrete career path than their peers, are particularly susceptible to bouts of panic.
If you’re interested in technology, however, a Liberal Arts degree can be a great thing to have. The trick is to play to your strengths, minimize your weaknesses, and realize you are capable of contributing. Here’s how you can turn your degree into a career in tech.

Don’t Stop Learning

A lack of concrete career prospects is the main reason why Liberal Arts students find themselves in crisis after graduating. This problem is born out in the statistics; students who graduate with a degree in humanities or the arts make about $20,000 less than those with a degree in Engineering or Computer Science. These same students also receive fewer job offers. I’m not going lie and tell you that a Liberal Arts degrees will make you rich. It probably won’t. But you can certainly find a rewarding career that pays enough to enjoy life.
The key is to view your background as a stepping stone rather than an end goal. Unlike many other college programs, which have essentially become elaborate vocational schools, the Liberal Arts focuses on a broad background of knowledge. Schools strong in the humanities often require their students to finish classes in a broad range of subjects outside their degree. This is designed to help students build a foundation and learn fundamental critical thinking skills.
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I know what you’re thinking. “Great! I just spent tens of thousands on a degree, and now I have to spend tens of thousands more for a different degree!” No, you don’t! The bar to entry into technology is exceptionally low. More money and more education always helps, but you can teach yourself programming, web design or digital design on a five year old Windows desktop with a few hundred dollars (or less) of software and reference materials. It’s entirely possible to start learning today and land a real job within a couple of years.
This may sound like a cop-out, and you may still wonder why you didn’t go for another degree in the first place. Here’s the thing; you’re not as old as you think. Graduating college is a beginning, not an end, and you have a lot of time to learn other skills. A degree in Computer Science or Engineering would give you a more direct path, but you’d also have a far more limited perspective. And there are technology companies that appreciate the more well-rounded view a geek with a Liberal Arts background can provide.

Play To Your Strengths

As a graduating Liberal Arts student you lack the specific technology skills that some of your peers have, but you also possess a different set of skills they likely don’t. Liberal Arts students are often better at expressing their ideas than their peers and can more competently make and defend arguments. Liberal Arts students tend to be more creative, too, which means they’re more likely to come up with an original idea in the first place. These advantages are well suited for jobs that deal with communications, marketing, public relations, and planning.
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Visit Google’s hiring page, for example, and you’ll find that only a fraction of it is dedicated to jobs in software and hardware engineering. The company has hundreds of positions in other fields and is currently in need of community outreach managers, project managers, service associates and support technicians. Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter and others have  numerous postings similar to this that cover a wide range of experience levels, from internships to management positions that pay over $100k per year.
Use a tool like LinkedIn Edu and search for companies that hire from your major. You will be surprised to see the likes of IBM, Apple, and Hewlett-Packard among others hiring for a broad range of roles. Compare your career track with those profiled on LinkedIn.
LinkedIn Edu   How To Turn A Liberal Arts Degree Into A Great Tech Career
Don’t hesitate; gun for whichever of these positions fits your level of experience. It may not be the hands-on tech job you dreamed of, but if you later decide you’d like a more technical role you’ll already have your foot in the door at a company with lucrative positions. In the meantime you can use your strengths, grab a job and start learning  how technology works in the real world. You may even find that the position you thought was temporary is in fact what you’d like to do with your life.

Prepare For The Long Game

The high salaries earned by young programmers obscure a disappointing reality that’s rarely talked about but easily observed; tech is no industry for old men. Those who go into programming and engineering for Silicon Valley firms find their salary growth slows as they head towards 40 and then falls backwards as they flirt with 50. HR managers seem to subscribe to the cliche’ that an old dog can’t learn new tricks. Why pay a veteran over $100k a year when a new graduate is obtainable for $60 to 70k (and sometimes far less)? This thinking is likely flawed — but it’s also prevalent.
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This doesn’t mean everyone you know who’s graduating into a plush job is going to be broke two decades down the road. People who major in computer science, engineering and related fields make more money on average throughout life than those who major in the humanities. In the fast-paced world of tech, though, there is an “up or out” attitude that can challenge people who lack a well-rounded background. Those who do their job well are expected to become project managers and move up the chain of command, but a person with a relatively narrow education may lack the skills necessary to excel in that position.
As a Liberal Arts major you’re better prepared for that challenge of transitioning into a different or expanded role. That doesn’t mean you should count your chickens before they hatch, however. This is another reason to focus on your strengths and get in to the industry early rather than waiting until you’ve obtained whatever skill set you think is necessary. You’ll never have the chance to succeed later in your career if you don’t start you career at all.

There’s A Place For You

A career is not a game. You don’t select a class and bind yourself to it from beginning to end. Your skills are flexible and can be augmented with further learning if you put in the effort. You may find yourself in places you’d never imagined.
This certainly describes my experience. When I graduated seven years ago I had no clue I’d become a writer in this industry. My career took the shape it did because I put myself out there. I did things I’d never done before. I talked to people I didn’t know. And eventually I stumbled across a path that combined my childhood love of computer hardware with my often critical perspective.
Your path will may be more direct, or it may be just as hap-hazard, and you’ll likely end up in a different place. You may be a programmer, a project manager, a designer or an artist. In any case what’s important is to retain your confidence, focus on your strengths and eagerly seek out new opportunities. Your career in technology is out there. You just need to go find it.

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