Amazon's Alexa wasn't just built by engineers, but people who understand human behaviour to stop consumers from getting creeped out about a device listening to all their conversations
There’s no doubt STEM skills are crucial to businesses that need to embrace technology, but can people with arts and humanities skills also build careers in the industry? Mohit Joshi, president of India-based IT consultancy Infosys, believes they can – and explains why.
What’s common between the following business leaders: Stewart Butterfield, Meg Whitman, Marc Benioff, and Susan Wojcicki? They lead technology companies and they come from an education in humanities.
While the misconception is that it is STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) graduates who have the skills to deliver value, you may be surprised to know that today, not only are students from liberal arts and humanities finding jobs in a technology-dominated market — but they have the right skills to shape up as business leaders driving revenue and growth with their creative, holistic approach to work.
In the UK, more than half the seats in a technology company are occupied by non-technical employees.
The push for creative talent is further intensified by an extreme shortage in STEM skills that’s compelling companies to hire seven out of 10 candidates with no STEM training, as per 2018 research by stem.org.uk.
LinkedIn found that in 2019, companies are looking not just for people who can code, but people who can be creative. Not just analyse but also adapt.
They need collaborators as much as they need network engineers. The World Economic Forum survey titled The Future of Jobs reconfirms the belief in the importance of non-STEM skills.
Why STEM skills aren’t the only ones relevant to tech careers
So, we know that liberal arts majors have certain great skills, but why would a technology company hire a lawyer or a philosopher over someone with more relevant tech skills?
Let’s take the example of a technology product like Alexa. Amazon has 10,000 employees dedicated to Alexa, and not all of them are engineers.
They are the people with non-STEM skills who make Alexa more human, giving people the confidence to welcome the digital device into their homes without getting creeped out about a tool listening to all their conversations.
As Dave Limp, an Amazon senior vice-president, said, “The device business is less about building hardware for customers and more about building services behind that hardware.”
A mathematician will be at ease building logical models — but it is the art graduate who can spot the patterns more easily. A software engineer can build the greatest CRM (customer relationship management) platform — but it is the humanities graduate who can unravel the complexities of consumer behaviour.
As technologies become obsolete and engineers have to reskill, it is important to develop those important soft skills that are typically seen in students of liberal arts, such as critical thinking, creative communication, and adaptability.
Making arts and humanities skills relevant to careers in tech businesses
Hiring employees with non-STEM skills requires technology companies to invest in them and to train them such that they learn to apply their skills to add value and be relevant to the business.
Continuous learning, internships, hands-on training and a rudimentary understanding of the technologies can teach employees to understand the nuances of the digital world that they need to operate in.
Today’s technology companies are actively partnering with academia to undertake studies and develop prototypes.
University professors, researchers, students and executive MBA graduates can bring with them deep knowledge whilst the industry can bring to the table technologies and real-life challenges that need to be solved.
Infosys holds relationships with 37 universities that include top European business schools of Europe, such as INSEAD, HEC Paris, London Business School and IESE Business School, to drive research projects and training programmes.
Experience is key. Many businesses in our industry can play a key role in exposing young minds to real-life business environments, particularly through internship programmes, exposing students to different business functions and digital technologies with a hands-on approach on numerous projects spanning different teams throughout the business.
Michelle Duffner, an Infosys InStep intern from WHU-Otto Beisheim School of Management from the 2019 cohort, explains: “I took an internship that allowed me to expand my knowledge about technology in one of the most successful IT companies in the world.
“I was able to use the research methodology and quantitative model that I learnt in school to understand industry and technology trends and impact.
“Working together with engineers, I got a lot of insight into how business and technology are interconnected, and how to approach implementing new technology solutions.”
While technology companies will always need talent with STEM skills, it’s imperative we don’t underplay or underestimate the role of the humanities and arts, and their contribution to our industry.
To get the best of the both worlds, organisations need to inculcate skills such as creative thinking and cognitive flexibility into their engineers and architects — while hiring artists, lawyers, marketers and economists to offer new perspectives that can maximise innovation and growth in an industry that thrives when it’s intellectually diverse.