How Stewart Butterfield Influenced Hiring Practices in Silicon Valley

The tech industry is changing its hiring practices. This is due to the rate at which liberal arts graduates are being hired by tech companies.

Looking back four years ago, Stewart Butterfield said that liberal degrees are going to increase in value. He said that liberal art gives you a different kind of thinking from a technical one.

Stewart Butterfield is one of the co-founders of Flickr and Slack. So far, Slack has raised more than $1.2 billion seed capital in ten years. Last year, the company went public.

George Anders interviewed Butterfield to find out his views on the importance of liberal degrees in the tech sector. The interviewee admitted that philosophy taught him two important things that have helped run his companies. One of them is how to write clearly by following an argument to the letter. Another was learning about people’s belief systems, acquired from the history of science.

The interview gained a lot of attention as more than 1.2 million people viewed it online. Later, George Anders published his book, ‘You Can Do Anything: The Surprising Power of a ‘Useless’ Liberal Arts Education’. The book talks about how a liberal arts degree is more relevant in the current tech-oriented economy. Not surprisingly, both the Harvard Business Review and The Washington Post have acknowledged this fact.

In the past, liberal arts graduates could be found in marketing, communications, and human resource roles. Today, they work in complex IT roles that have been traditionally reserved for STEM graduates.

The senior associate director for UC Berkeley’s career center stresses the relevance of a liberal arts degree. There are software development engineers that graduated with majors in political science and psychology. Today, at least 75% of the students at UC Berkeley are doing an undergraduate in a liberal arts subject.

Based on the emerging trend, employees with liberal arts degrees are now in demand from entry to management level. An excellent example to look at is Slack’s leadership. About 50% hold a business or a non-STEM degree. This is according to the company’s published employee biographies. Most of the subjects they majored in include political science, English, and psychology.

There seems to be an increase in job opportunities for holders of liberal arts degrees. According to the Strada Institute for the Future of Work and Emsi most STEM jobs will become obsolete in the next few years. That’s because machine learning and artificial intelligence will make it easy for machines to do most of the technical work.

Therefore, the best candidates moving forward should be equipped with soft skills. Even the smartest machines cannot interpret emotions better than humans. That is why tech companies are hiring people with degrees in psychology. The workforce needs people with emotional intelligence and coaching skills. Even Ivy League universities are encouraging their students to do liberal arts courses.

However, tech companies don’t focus so much on the papers. A good example is Stewart Butterfield’s Slack. Many open positions on the company website require someone with experience. They don’t focus so much on the type of degree that one has.

Although institutions of higher learning are encouraging students to do liberal arts degrees, employers are looking for more. How are you going to separate yourself from the competition? Experts recommend that you learn some technical skills too.

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