Want a coveted job at a top tech company? Get thee to coding boot camp.
Want to give your kid a competitive advantage? Code camp is the answer.
What's the true meaning of life? Code!
As learn-to-code fever continues to spread, it leaves the non-technically inclined feeling their skills are lacking. And it often leaves those fluent in multiple coding languages feeling like they're at the top of the world.
Not so fast. Graduating from the best-of-the-best coding boot camp is not the solution to all of life's problems. As technology continues to infiltrate our day-to-day lives, the value of a liberal arts education is more mission critical than ever. That's the main takeaway made by software engineer Tracy Chou in her recent Quartz piece.
Who is Tracy Chou, and why should you listen to her? Because she's kind of a big deal in tech and a champion for diversity in the field. When she talks, people listen. Chou is not just a talking tech head. She's got major coding chops. The Stanford computer science grad interned at Facebook and Google. She worked at Quora, Pinterest, Rocket Fuel, and the United States Digital Service. Chou was also recently featured inThe Atlantic's cover story on technical women in Silicon Valley. She's a noteworthy name in the tech field, to say the least.
Mark Cuban has also championed a liberal arts education as the best way to future-proof your career. Though wildly heralded as a soothsayer, Cuban has no coding experience. Chou does. She's built a whole career on this skill set. She has plenty of on-the-job experience to draw from. So when Chou says a liberal arts education matters, you want to know where she's coming from.
A fuzzy education convert
Chou admits that as a student, she didn't take humanities classes seriously. She found them to be "dreary, overwrought exercises in finding meaning where there was none."
But that changed once she graduated to the real world. Chou joined a tiny four-person startup at the time called Quora. Now building buttons and features that people actually used, she wasn't coding for the mere purposes of meeting a course requirement. Though she still loved the coding for the fun of it, the stakes had become far greater.
The decisions Chou made with code affected people's lives and could influence the world around her. As she says in her article:
As my teammates and I were building the product, we were also simultaneously defining what it should be, whom it would serve, what behaviors we wanted to incentivize amongst our users, what kind of community it would become, and what kind of value we hoped to create in the world.
And Chou began to realize why studying philosophy, literature, psychology, and other seemingly impractical subject had been useful. This was where she learned to ponder big questions.
Coding taught her the what. But humanities taught her to think about the who, the why, and the how. How might this product change the world around me? Who are the people I'm building this for? Why does it matter?
Chou found herself pondering philosophical questions in her day-to-day work. As she worked to develop features to combat online trolls and bullies, she debated whether people were inherently good or inherently bad.
Chou says that first job as a software engineer at Quora was the first time she had thought deeply about what she was working on, to what end, and why. As she continued in the field and wrote code for other companies, she realized how lacking this big-picture thinking skill was.
It worries me that so many of the builders of technology today are people like me, people who haven't spent anywhere near enough time thinking about these larger questions of what it is that we are building, and what the implications are for the world.
Chou finishes her piece with a rallying cry: It's not too late. She encourages tech workers to challenge themselves through traveling, reading, and learning. You don't need to go back to school and get a philosophy degree. Look for other ways to engage your mind in critical thinking.
In Chou's own words, there's enormous value in learning to "identify and interrogate privilege, power structures, structural inequality, and injustice." That's some heavy stuff. But when you're building technology that millions of people may interact with, it matters.