Why Liberal Arts Graduates Can Be Great Developers

  Joe Mitchell |

The overall shift to mobile-friendly enterprise applications comes with a focus on usability. Add to that the concentration on agile, iterative development and the companies building these applications need developers with a versatile, creative mindset. This is a mindset that is very different from the narrow, deeply technical background of the stereotypical software engineer. Today’s best developers combine innovation, agility and creativity. And it turns out that there are many people with a liberal arts education have all three!

Why liberal arts?
Software development has evolved to demand the right combination of creative and critical thinking. The typical engineer of the past might have a very comprehensive mathematics and coding background, but it lives in a silo. Those with such a strict engineering background focus only on the logic of the application. Think about the days before the iPhone. There were many heavily-engineered products that were also not very user-friendly. Today, the iPhone is the standard-bearer of usability, with functionality that is now commonly adopted into tablets and laptops.

How does the type of thinking that enables something like the iPhone happen? It happens through someone with a wide range of education and experience. This type of person has not just vertical knowledge, but horizontal as well. It’s the ability to comprehend multiple lines of thinking across several topics and drive them all towards a common goal. And that is exactly the type of thinking that comes from a liberal arts background.

Developers coming out of Silicon Valley want to work at the most nimble of start-ups, but often their training has been very structured and rigid. This is not good, considering a recent survey found that 80% of employers could not find the “soft skills” they needed in recent graduates. And that’s an issue that is not going to be solved by a Google incubator overnight. But those from a liberal arts background are hardwired to be innovative and are well suited to be the new generation of leaders that start-ups now demand.

But liberal arts people are not developers
That’s true, but they can become them. What’s needed is something like a fully-immersive bootcamp where someone with a liberal arts background can learn the development skills they need and apply the intuitive, wide-ranging thinking that they already have. The right industry-aligned coding program can help individuals build their developer’s toolkit relatively quickly, and a lifetime of broad-based liberal arts knowledge can put that toolkit to work honing real competitive advantage for their next employer.

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