10 Techy Career Paths for Liberal Arts Majors

In a national dialogue around education that seems to be getting increasingly heated, one of the main bones of contention is whether, and to what degree, we ought to emphasize STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) at the expense of a more classical education in the liberal arts. Thanks to public statements by Bill Gates and the late Steve Jobs, we can even fit this controversy neatly into the rubric of everyone’s favorite argument: a Mac vs. PC flamewar! While we’re more partial to the Jobs perspective that “computer science is a liberal art,” the bottom line is, any education is good education, and we should help people pursue what they’re most talented at. That said, there are plenty of opportunities in high tech even for students who prefer Stendhal to STEM. Career paths of this nature will tend to be highly individualized and idiosyncratic. Furthermore, at the most innovative tech companies, job titles are often totally arbitrary, empty conventions, with responsibilities divided ad hoc and constantly changing. But just as examples, here are 10 jobs in the field that liberal arts majors may find particularly congenial:

  1. Blogging/Copywriting

    Let’s get the obvious out of the way first. The World Wide Web has grown from a hobbyists’ paradise to a vast and lucrative ecosystem of both ideas and commerce. One thing remains true, though, as Viacom CEO Sumner Redstone (and later Bill Gates) famously said: “Content is king.” Even as the Web 2.0 model of monetizing free user content continues its apparent dominance, there remain many ways to get paid for your writing online. You can start your own site and figure out a way to monetize it, or you can go the other route and find a job (ahem, ahem) writing for an established web company. This has benefits such as, well, benefits, and a steady salary.

  2. Game Design

    Video games have been called the next Hollywood. Measured by fandom, by sheer profit, or even by artistic innovation, the industry is on the tantalizing verge of eclipsing the movies. Just like that great, defining 20th century art form (or any art form), however, producing the games themselves is partly a matter of technical know-how, and partly a matter of creative artistry. Storytelling, aesthetics, psychology, and so many more factors go into this incredibly interdisciplinary undertaking. It’s a competitive (of course) industry that requires a real passion and a ton of work, but there are many angles from which to approach a career in it.

  3. Customer Support

    There are still some good tech support jobs in America that haven’t been outsourced to foreign countries. In fact, there’s been a backlash against that practice, and for good reason. The main skill required for the job is an ability to work through confusion to clarity, with other human beings, via conversation, in real time. Coincidentally, this is precisely what liberal arts students do in those silly seminars of theirs all afternoon. The technical aspect of this job is surprisingly secondary, especially since it’s often for a single product that you’ll come to know like the back of your hand (which you’ll also, despite your well-practiced diplomacy, want to give to the millionth customer who didn’t try a simple restart).

  4. Technical Writing

    So maybe you weren’t the extroverted and spontaneous type who rattled off brilliant ideas in the aforementioned seminars. Maybe you made up for it with A+ term papers at the end of each semester: rigorously argued, meticulously sourced, and precisely worded to nail your thesis down. If that kind of solitary, painstaking work is more your style, then technical writing may be for you. Effective communication skills are still the name of the game, but in a more premeditated context.

  5. Project Management

    Project managers must be generalists who are able to read people well and synthesize diverse areas of experience. They must know every team member’s task just well enough to understand how it works and its importance to the whole. This holistic thinking is cultivated in the liberal arts domain, and perhaps even more so in extracurricular activities: the best example might be putting on a play, where you have to integrate so many working parts into a seamless human machine in time for a strict deadline (opening night).

  6. Social Media

    In a difficult job market for recent graduates, this has become almost a cliche entry-level job for twentysomethings. Managers naturally assume we’re better at it than older people (and thank God, because otherwise baby boomers would be hogging all the jobs); it’s basically the corporate equivalent of helping your grandparents learn how to use email or program their VCR. As this linked article from PR pro Nathan Burgess explains well, liberal arts students are often naturals at social media, because they’re trained to be inquisitive and hone in on interesting things to talk about.

  7. Quality Assurance

    QA is essentially preemptive tech support. You’re checking a product for bugs, glitches, unexplored contingencies, and just plain annoyances. This job can be very rigorous and technical, but it requires gestalt thinking and an understanding of how non-techie people will approach technology. Ignoring this latter factor is a common mistake that can lead to commercial failure, whereas paying attention to it is a huge part of Apple’s success, for instance.

  8. Digital Humanities

    If you’d prefer a career in the ivory tower, but still want to combine your interest in the cutting edge of technology with your love of the timeless verities, here’s a chance to get in on the ground floor. Digital humanities is the name for efforts to integrate the latest information technology advances in a meaningful way that creates genuinely new ways to understand and promulgate the traditionally paper-bound world of arts and letters. This is guaranteed to be a growth field; academic funding will increasingly move in this direction, and these skills provide an edge in a workplace where seniority otherwise carries disproportionate clout. If you’re someone who can both translate ancient Greek and code iOS, there’s not just an app, there’s an endowed chair for that.

  9. Entrepreneurship

    Granted, this one’s a little easier if you don’t have mountains of student loan debt, because you’re likely to incur some more (on your way to billionaire status, of course). Also, all the same people who told you you were crazy for double-majoring in Art History and Slavic Studies will also tell you you’re crazy for starting a business. They’re probably right, but screw ‘em. After all, Steve Jobs dropped out of his degree program altogether, studied calligraphy, then went backpacking in India. Did that make him any more or less qualified to be an entrepreneur than you are now?

  10. Software Development

    Yes, even this path is not foreclosed to you just yet, and here are a few reasons why. For one thing, the demand is huge. If you’re a decent coder you can pretty much literally write your own ticket to success. For another thing, because the popular and lucrative programming languages are always in flux, years of experience and study don’t always count for as much as you’d think. Even the original gangstas of programming need to constantly update their skills. Furthermore, this is just as easily done through practical on-the-job experience as through formal education. However, that’s another thing to consider for all of these jobs: additional training and certification can never hurt. Most of the time it doesn’t matter what you’ve studied in the past, as long as you can hack it in the present. If you’re a quick study, there’s no reason you can’t bone up on this stuff, pass some certifications, and start working.

Posted on 12/06/12 | by Staff Writers | in Career | No Comments »

Leave a Reply