Although software engineers and other technical employees are essential to his business, “I’m still hiring more humanities majors than STEM grads, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon,” Michael Litt, co-founder of the video marketing startup Vidyard, writes at Fast Company:
At my company, as at many tech companies, developers only make up 15–25% of our workforce. … Think about the other roles that deal with developing and marketing tech products and services: Sales teams need to understand human relationships. Marketing teams have to understand what gets people excited and why. Internally, our HR teams need to know how to build a community and culture so the company can continue to thrive. The nuts and bolts of software development are just one small part of any successful tech company. It would actually be foolish to limit my hiring only to people with tech backgrounds.
Even within strictly technical roles—including the product and engineering positions that form the basis of STEM know-how—a humanities foundation can be invaluable. Some of our software, UI, and UX designers come from a fine-arts backgrounds, for instance. Yes, coding skills are important there, but so is an understanding of usability—in other words, the uniquely human ability to draw upon experience to design an elegant solution that real people will actually find helpful.
Litt’s preference for humanities majors reflects the enduring—and even growing—importance of “soft skills” as a differentiator of talent in the contemporary labor market. Many employers have a hard time recruiting employees with these skills (such as interpersonal, multicultural, and communication skills, as well as critical thinking and the ability to learn independently) and find these skill gaps more difficult to address through training than technical ones.
Amid the soft skills crunch and today’s tight talent market, many employers are actively courting candidates with backgrounds in the liberal arts and humanities. Some observers even believe that humanities majors will enjoy a competitive advantage in an increasingly digital economy, as the ability to design around people’s needs and preferences will become more important to building a successful product than hard coding skills.