Can You Study Want You Want and Still Have a Career in Tech?

 From TechCrunch — March 21, 2011:

Engineering vs. Liberal Arts” by Vivek Wadhaw

So I ask myself, does it really have to be versus?

Increasingly the notion of the value of a liberal education comes under attack, particularly in a tough job market with economic pressure everywhere you look.  Many of our nation’s greatest universities still hold fast to the notion that they are not pre-professional academies, and that their job is to teach undergraduates “how to learn — how to learn.”  That might sound a bit abstract for the aspiring unemployed with bachelors degrees in art history, creative writing, or sociology — especially with a bag of student loans as a lovely parting gift — but consider the following:

1) It’s your life, you only get one, and no matter how healthy you are, it is going to be relatively short.  Why are you here?

2) What you do with that life cannot solely be guided by decisions around income, your earnings will only be one part of the greater picture known as potential fulfillment.

3) The four years (plus or minus) you spend in college is by definition impractical, unless you are pre-med or something similar, the NPV of four years spending without earning is going to be a tough pill to digest unless you Think Different.

4) If you have made the choice to go impractical and invest in a college degree, how can it not be in a subject you love?

5) If you learn to learn, and learn it well, you can probably teach yourself almost anything (ok, maybe not brain surgery).  The point is to love learning, sharpen your critical thinking skills, and pursue your passion.  Passionate people have a much better chance — though no guarantee — at happiness (see #2 above).

So I’m with Steve, follow your muse, study what matters to you.  You can always pick up the focus in graduate school or on the job training, and who knows, the insight you gain in the study of almost anything could just Change The World.  But remember, science and math are a subset of the liberal arts, a classical education includes broad exposure and experimentation, so if already love poetry, perhaps you can also learn to like physics, even if just a little bit — it’s good to stretch beyond your comfort zone and you always need to do that.  And as Steve says, when it comes time to innovate, it does take all disciplines working together at the table, so the more you know and appreciate what your neighbor knows, the more you can help each other win together as a team.


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