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Liberal Arts Graduates Meet IT Challenges

Posted on 26 May 2009

The surprising skill set of today’s tech professionals.

Liberal arts majors go to college, graduate, and then have to forget all they’ve learned. That’s what people think. But, in today’s hot job market, liberal arts majors may be better qualified than tech graduates to meet the needs of an IT career.

What IT Takes
Universities all over the country are preparing liberal arts students to move into IT jobs after college. For example, Ferrum College in Virginia requires incoming freshmen take a basic computer literacy course and has installed computers in every residence hall. But many academicians at liberal arts colleges and universities, as well as their students, will be tell you that it’s not just a matter of mastering the latest programming language–knowing your JAVA from your Starbucks–that prepares graduates for success in IT positions. The unique and diverse perspective that goes into a liberal arts education really does prepare graduates for success. Jarrod Gingras, a history major, is a recent graduate of College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA. He now works as a Web designer and content specialist for Tvisions. Using his knowledge of HTML and other scripting languages, he manages the company’s site. Gingras is the first to admit that, although he majored in history, his overall education suits his IT career objectives. “Having a liberal arts background,” he says, “helps in interacting with customers and researching the best practices, as well as in communication, both written and verbal, of ideas with co-workers. I think my liberal arts background will have a major impact on my ability to succeed in management positions.”

When asked if he thought that a liberal arts major actually hinders a graduate’s chances in the IT job market, Gingras says no. “A liberal arts major will not hurt your chances of finding a job. Employers find real world experience and a strong liberal arts background to be an extremely valuable combination. I found that many employers look for well-rounded people from liberal arts schools who have the ability to communicate effectively,” he adds. “Employers are looking for people with technical skills and people skills. I encourage students to expose themselves to as many disciplines as possible.”

Employers find real world experience and a strong liberal arts background to be an extremely valuable combination.

The Benefits of a Balanced Education
Faculty members at some of the most prestigious universities across the nation agree that students who pursue liberal arts majors get more of a balanced education than students pursuing other fields of study. The exposure to many ideas and disciplines helps them to develop general skills that employers need and value in any organization. These skills will not only prepare them for the challenges of an IT career, but for the challenges inherent in any career.

Ruth Schemmer, a career services coordinator at Texas A&M University, finds that “liberal arts majors have an intellectual curiosity not satisfied by more narrow technical courses. Their skills come not so much from what they learned, but from how they learned. They bring strong communication, critical analysis, problem-solving skills, flexibility, and adaptability to any organization.”

Scott Poole, a professor of Speech Communication at Texas A&M, agrees. He thinks that the success of the school’s curriculum is evident in the varied positions that its graduates now hold. “One of our majors became a network manager for one of Houston’s biggest law firms,” Poole boasts. “Another works for Andersen Consulting, working with public agencies to redesign themselves around information technology. Her organizational communication background really helped in this respect.”

Going Beyond IT Trends
Mel Bernstein, the Academic Vice President and Dean of Tufts University in Boston, says that his school continues to redefine and examine the skills that students will need and how to meet their educational needs. Berstein wants his students “to be leaders in rapidly emerging fields, many of which require specific and complex skills–Information technology being the latest.” He is proud of the school’s philosophy and curriculum, both of which foster innovation in students.

Pierre Omidyar is one of those students, a Tufts graduate who became famous as the founder of eBay. “Explore your interests,” Berstein says. “Recognize and prepare for a global work life. Obtain the skills you need in language and culture. While Internet applications are the current growth industry be prepared not for five jobs, but five careers which haven’t been invented yet. Leverage [your experience], your self-confidence and adaptability, and your global perspective to prosper in whatever is in store in the future.”

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