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Why liberal arts degrees are valuable in tech

Sharon Florentine | Aug. 23, 2016
Think having a STEM degree is the only way to succeed in technology industry? Think again.

In a technology-driven, increasingly digital world, you might think you need a computer science, engineering, technology, mathematics or other degree to succeed. Turns out that's far from the truth.

Arijit Sengupta, CEO of advanced analytics firm BeyondCore, holds a bachelor of science in computer science and a bachelor of arts in economics and fell one class short of having a minor in dance. He brings elements of all three to his daily work with BeyondCore, and some of the most valuable lessons he's learned have come from his liberal arts education and his dance training, he says.

Data dance

"In dance, if you have to take your partner from your left to your right in a certain direction, you have to think about their movement, their motion and their direction. Do you want to block the person's trajectory, and then force them to go to the other way? No! The easiest way to manage a maneuver is to guide the other person's momentum around and reorient yourself to what they're doing. That turns it into a real shared experience," he says.

That analogy is one that has informed the three major design principles of BeyondCore's product, Sengupta says. One of which is that the user should always be guided to what's important in the data while expending minimal effort -- the product should be intuitive based on the ways the user interacts with it.

That principle also has informed the way Sengupta manages and trains his teams. Instead of adopting a strict hierarchy and a command-and-control methodology, Sengupta says he believes in trusting his team members to know when, how and why to make certain decisions about the product, features, direction and even how they can do their best work.

"One of the finest moments of my career happened in a new feature design meeting. I mean, I'm the CEO, right? I went in feeling very proud of the things I was going to present, until this very new, very junior employee stood up to me and said, 'We can't adopt that. It violates the design principles we agreed upon.' And I realized he was exactly right and we needed to do the 'dance' a different way. This is a prime example of guiding rather than instructing."

Multiple lessons

Yahoo research scientist Amanda Stent has multiple degrees; one in mathematics and the other in music. From that course of study, Stent says, she's learned lessons that have been invaluable in her career.

"Obviously, as a research scientist, the math degree is critical, but the music major gave me experience performing in public and a lot of experience in practicing until you get something right -- that's really critical for research," Stent says.


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