Elena Panzera

by | Mar 6, 2019

How the high-tech world will save the humanities (or the other way round).

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We ask “why”.

I graduated in Italian literature on a sunny May day.
I was happier than ever. I felt I had a lot to share with the world: linguistics, philology, Latin, history, philosophy – so many interpretation keys to open doors, even if I didn’t know which ones yet.
Nevertheless, since then, most people started asking me the same question: “what are you planning to do with your degree in humanities?”
 
I really couldn’t get the point. Actually, the only thing I’d honestly felt like answering (even if we shouldn’t answer questions with another question) was: “Why would you ask me that?”
 
And this leads us straight to the first relevant benefit of the liberal arts: they give you critical thinking skills
 
Now, there is a direct link between critical thinking and the world of technology. However important it is to be able to take direction, no big company in the last few years has boomed thanks to blind followers. Think of Google, Apple, Youtube (by the way, Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube, studied history and literature at Harvard winking face): the story of these big companies shows that those who question the status quo and manage to think out of the box are more successful than others.
 
Having learned to think abstractly helps us to look at the same problem from different angles, and that may be a desirable strength for industries seeking constant improvement. 
Nowadays, indeed, cognitive flexibility and reading social situations and context can be as important as technical knowledge if you learn how to leverage them and find someone who can appreciate them.
 
As Steve Jobs would say, “It’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields the results that make our hearts sing.” 
 
And now imagine my surprise when, during the interview to work in a software company, I was asked what my favorite book was.

False dichotomies, liberal arts skills and their application to the tech.

When the World Economic Forum surveyed 350 top executives from nine leading industries about the skills necessary for business success for its study of The Future of Jobs, the ten essential ones turned out to be complex problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, people management, coordinating with others, emotional intelligence, judgement and decision making, service orientation, negotiation skills, and cognitive flexibility.
 
This list in itself is enough to dismiss the false dichotomy between hard and soft skills. 
In the software world, we try to respond more and more accurately to people’s needs; therefore, separating the “hard” sciences from the “soft” liberal arts would deprive the industries of that well-rounded learning experience that could actually help develop products responding to these real human needs, as they, and their declination, are one of the main areas of study of the liberal arts.
 
Humanistic subjects lessons, in fact, always require a specific thing called active listening. More than notions, we are faced with questions that need reflection, direct interaction with the matter and the ability to “step into others’ shoes”. Which also requires being insanely curious, effective in communication and inclined to learn
And here the utility of applying these skills to technology becomes evident.
 
After all, we’re not far from the concept of design thinking, that human-centered design that is spreading in the world of software development as a framework to develop solutions to problems by involving the human perspective in all steps of the process. Moreover, those who, like Imagicle, use the Agile development methodology, are very aware of the need for an approach to interactive systems development that aims to make systems usable and useful by focusing on the users.
In addition to skills like solution-focused thinking or problem framing, such approach requires a healthy dose of empathy (with clients, users, and customers) to take you from designing for the utility to designing for significance in the context of people’s experience.
 
In the next future, the spread of artificial intelligence will make this connection even clearer: machines will be able to do astonishing things, but, to respond and interpret needs in the form of commands and signals, someone will have to be able to intercept them most profoundly and to help communicate them in the most human way possible.

Imagicle: human-centered software development. 

Imagicle’s motto is “It’s always a matter of happy people”. 
Yes, I know we develop software. But in doing so, we start and land always at the same point: people. Possibly, happy ones.
Indeed, software development is all about identifying and solving people problems. This necessitates a wide range of skills including analytical and computer abilities, but it also requires to break down problems into smaller parts and connect knowledge, characteristic of liberal arts. The real stretch, here, is to put these skills (identifying and solving) in a dichotomous relationship, when, especially in this case, teamwork makes the dream work.
To quote an example from Forbes, “think of the ways the automobile revolution of the 1920s created enormous numbers of jobs for people who helped fit cars into everyday life: marketers, salesmen, driving instructors, road crews and so on”.
 
Now, in its moment of main growth and expansion, Imagicle realized the importance to look at the whole person and its mindset, not just the degree. Of course, everybody is aware that humanities and liberal arts couldn’t have created advanced applications without the help of skilled engineers and technical people, but it’s also true that the world is evolving faster than ever, with more and more frequent, articulate and sophisticated needs – and nothing is better than a good deal of creativity, imagination, and historical perspective to come up with different approaches to new problems.
 
In addition to technical profiles, Imagicle has hence started to move towards different horizons, looking, even before the skills, for good thinkers: political scientists, linguists, students, singers, philosophers, accountants have come to feed an increasingly mixed environment, making it stronger and powerful. It works, and it’s beautiful.
 
Imagicle team

Imagicle team

 
So, in the end, I can’t say whether the liberal arts will regenerate the tech world or the tech world will redeem the liberal arts from the prejudice of uselessness, but I’m pretty sure that the future will be fashioned by people who can adapt to rapid change and have  the ability to communicate, persevere, embrace ambiguity, work in team, frame questions and solve a wide variety of puzzles and problems.
 
And about the initial question, if someone asked me what I will do with my degree in literature, today I would have a ready answer: “Well, I will work in a tech company.”
 
(But yes, I’d still ask: “Why do you ask?”)
 
#stayimagicle

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