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  • Connecting Liberal Arts Students to Tech Careers

    March 23, 2016 | By NACE Staff

    Special Populations
    A programmer at work.

    TAGS: counseling, liberal arts, nace insights

    Spotlight for Career Services Professionals

    Liberal arts students can thrive in tech careers because of the strength of a liberal arts education and the profile of students who are drawn to it, says Alice Harra, associate dean of students and director of Reed College’s Center for Life Beyond Reed.

    “[Liberal arts graduates] are curious and want to solve problems using a multi-disciplinary approach,” she explains. “In addition, the value of strong writers, good listeners, and clear presenters cannot be underestimated. These skills are in short supply today. A surprising number of tech firms—from Apple to Air B&B to Switchboard to Urban Airship to Puppet Labs—have liberal arts founders or early employees.”

    Harra says tech companies are putting engineers on teams with social scientists and humanists—philosophers, designers, artists, sociologists, anthropologists, performers, and more—as a competitive advantage. 

    “The liberal arts students I know are very nimble,” she notes. “Prepared by an intellectually rigorous education and trained to think across disciplines, they can move between tech and non-tech roles at companies, allowing quicker talent movement and growth. When a liberal arts student has pursued a balanced academic life, there are few entry-level employees more powerful and valuable in the tech sector.”

    How can college career services offices make the connection between liberal arts students and tech companies? Harra has several suggestions:

    • Use the features of LinkedIn to find alumni in the tech sector—Harra explains that LinkedIn makes it incredibly easy for career services professionals and students to find where alumni work in the tech sector and in what capacity. For example, Reed student interns used LinkedIn and the alumni directory to put together a list of tech sector alumni; they found a large number, including many at Intel, Apple, Nike, and Microsoft. The career center reached out to the alumni to create Reed recruiting pods within these firms and to ask for connections to the university relations/recruiting teams.
    • Invite tech alumni to share their knowledge and experience—Invite alumni from local tech firms to come to campus to teach programming skills and mentor coders. This may include leading mini “code camps” to support students who are solving complex and interesting issues in their studies and who need to learn new code to do so. 
    • Urge students to be proactive—Encourage students to go beyond what is offered officially on campus and learn to create things by picking up coding skills from other students, online, or on their own. Demonstrating initiative by creating an app, for example, is a great way for a liberal arts student to catch the eye of tech recruiters.

    Harra will present “Why Liberal Arts Majors Thrive in Tech Companies” during NACE16.