Gone are the days when tech companies made rounds to colleges for candidates who majored in science and technology. According to Steve Jobs, liberal arts is the backbone of any technological organisation. He believed that it was technology combined with liberal arts and humanities that became the DNA of Apple.
It is because of the value that liberal arts graduates add to an organisation, that tech companies are now seeking candidates who have the ability to balance multi-disciplinary arts and marry it to the company’s mantra.
Let’s have a look at five CEOs who forayed into tech companies with degrees in liberal arts.
Susan Wojcicki, Youtube CEO
Major: Bachelors in Literature and History, Harvard University
Susan Wojcicki was the first marketing manager at Google who went on to become the chief executive officer of Youtube in 2014. She attributes her success to her parents who motivated her to pick varied subjects as they were both teachers. She said from a very early age she had seen that her parents weren’t after money or fame but cared only about what interested them as teachers.
Jack Ma, Former Ali Baba CEO
Major: Bachelors in English, Hangzhou Normal University (Hangzhou Teacher’s Institute)
Jack Ma struggled a lot to use his much acquired English degree. He was rejected 30 times, but after constant trials, was hired as a teacher at a local college. Jack Ma founded Alibaba (global wholesale marketplace), with 15 of his friends and later went on to become the CEO. He stepped down as CEO in 2015 to become the chairman and manage stakeholder relationships. He completely values his years of struggle and says that the Chinese education system should become a little unprofessional.
Carly Fiorina, Former Hewlett-Packard CEO
Major: Bachelors in Philosophy and Medieval History, Stanford University
Even after a Stanford degree under her belt, Carly Fiorina struggled on to find a suitable job. After bagging a sales job at AT&T, she quickly landed at HP and later went on to become the CEO from 1999 to 2005. Even though she has gone on record to say that her liberal arts degree didn’t prepare her for the job, it taught her a lot in life. She said it’s because of the liberal arts degree that she could assimilate the essence of the given information.
Stewart Butterfield, CEO Slack
- Bachelor’s in Philosophy, Canada University of Victoria
- Masters in History and Philosophy, Cambridge
Stewart Butterfield is famously known for co-founding Flickr and in 2013 announced the release of Slack i.e. cloud-based software for instant messaging and searching. He said that majoring in liberal arts taught him a lot. He learned how to write clearly and even how to follow an argument till the end, which he finds quite invaluable in discussions and meetings.
Steve Yi, CEO MediaAlpha
Major: Interdisciplinary degree in East Asian Studies, Harvard
Steve Yi is the Chief at the web advertising platform MediaAlpha. He accolades his years at liberal arts and says that his studies taught him a lot about perspective. He believes that when it comes to a dynamic industry like technology, there is not just one right answer, so he gives his studies credit for making him understand the various shades of the right answer.
Ultimately, it may be said that it is not important how you get there, but to learn about perspectives and perseverance. As surprising as it may seem, liberal arts is becoming the answer for tech organisations.
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