Parents tend to freak out when their kid decides to major in English. After all, why bother putting so much time and money into an expensive degree with zero guaranteed career prospects? Why not something more lucrative, like computer science or engineering or business?
Sure, those degrees are safer bets for securing a financial future. And the struggling writer cliché exists for a reason. But good readers are typically good learners, and good writers are good thinkers. It's like George Orwell famously said, "If people cannot write well, they cannot think well, and if they cannot think well, others will do their thinking for them."
When you hire an English major, you're getting someone who's not solely motivated by making money or building a comfortable life -- you're hiring someone who is committed to creative thinking and overcoming the odds. This is exactly what you need at a startup.
Every unicorn needs a team of dreamers.
Writers and readers are very comfortable with the suspension of disbelief, so big ideas don't scare them. If you can imagine what's possible without letting preconceived notions cloud your judgment, then you can commit to a bold new invention that others might laugh out of the room.
If you hire too many technical thinkers or analytical minds, you'll instead create an idea vacuum, where every unique suggestion is shot down by so-called logic. It's the same reason you wouldn't want all English majors -- you'd have too many wild ideas and no reality checks. But mix the two and you get that Steve Jobs meets Steve Wozniak magic: visionaries and technical geniuses that can create the future together.
Your product will sound human and won't be riddled with spelling errors.
Aside from the creative benefits, English majors also offer practical skills. The need for a strong brand voice and clear microcopy throughout an experience are essential. Now more than ever, UX writers and content strategists are taking center stage, thinking through every word of an experience before pouring tons of cash into development (after which it's much harder to make substantial edits).
Good writers can help you establish style guides, produce thought leadership, craft press releases, and so much more. When you have an in-house verbal powerhouse, you can communicate your vision effectively from the start.
Flexibility, versatility, and diversity are all essential.
From marketing to product management, a bright and eager English major can learn to handle just about any role. The fierce competition for talent makes this a major opportunity. If you're willing to provide a little training at the start, you can hire young upstarts with liberal arts degrees and mold them into leaders instead of spending months fighting to recruit people with more obvious resumés.
If companies would hire this way more often, we probably wouldn't have such massive disparities in tech. Those with English degrees, and liberal arts degrees in general, are more likely to be women and minorities than candidates with computer science degrees or MBAs. Why not invest a bit in professional development upfront rather than follow the same old (broken) formula for screening candidates?
If technology is about thinking differently, then remember that Steve Jobs was a dropout who only cared about his calligraphy elective. What a person chooses to study--or if they go to college at all--may or may not say something about who they are and the skills they possess. It's one small factor in a much bigger equation.
So, hire some awesome English majors or don't-- just consider giving a little less weight to the presence of an MBA or technical degree on a resumé.