STEM skills are vital to the world we live in today, but technology alone, as Steve Jobs famously insisted, is not enough. If you have been thinking about applying to universities and have been focusing on the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics for no reason other than you think they will make you more employable upon graduation, you might want to reconsider. Take a step back and re-evaluate where you want to put your mental energy, everyday, for four plus years, because as recent studies have shown, these subjects are not the be-all and end-all of starting a career.
Cathy N. Davidson, a professor in the doctoral program in English at the Graduate Center, CUNY, author of The New Education: How to Revolutionize the University to Prepare Students for a World in Flux and appointed by former President Barack Obama to the National Council on the Humanities, has written a piece worth reading about the clouded assumptions of those wishing to start a career and the type of studying they should be doing beforehand, based on two recent studies carried out by Google on their own employees and hiring data.
These two recent studies, called ‘Project Oxygen’ and ‘Project Aristotle’, show that studies of workplace success contradict the conventional wisdom about “hard skills” and their maximal benefit to us on our career path. The research has been carried out by technology titan Google.
From this study, Google was able to learn more about its employees, of whom there are over 72,000 worldwide. According to Davidson
Computer scientists Sergey Brin and Larry Page founded Google on the conviction that only technologists can understand technology, and originally set its hiring algorithms to sort for computer science students with top grades from elite science universities.
However, when ‘Project Oxygen’ was carried out in 2013, the results gathered came as a shock to the industry. ‘Project Oxygen’ concluded that among the eight most important qualities of Google’s top employees, STEM expertise comes in last. The top characteristics of success at Google are so-called “soft skills,” such as communication, good leadership, possessing insight into others’ values and points of view, having empathy and a supportive nature towards others and possessing good critical thinking and problem solving skills, along with the ability to create connections across complex ideas.
These are the skills that actually make you indispensable to employers, so don’t worry if you never learnt rocket science or even coding skills, because these attributes can get you the job you dream of, be it in the tech industry or not.
While these traits are certainly applicable to having studied in the field of technology, they are especially reflective of a degree such as English or theatre, or really anything from the humanities category. Davidson further acknowledges the question of whether Google employees were succeeding despite their technical training and not because of it.
On top of that, Google also carried out ‘Project Aristotle’ last spring, which analysed data on its inventive and productive teams, and supports the importance of soft skills, even in high tech environments. This study showed that the most innovative and productive ideas were actually coming from Google’s B-teams instead of their highly professional counterparts and esteemed scientists who would be categorized as A-teams, which further consolidates the fact that the best teams at Google exhibit soft skills such as generosity, curiosity, empathy and emotional intelligence with a keen emphasis on emotional safety, also.
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What can we learn from these studies? Only that no student should be prevented from majoring in an area they love based on a false idea of what they need to succeed. In order to thrive in a changing world we must be sure of ourselves and our skills, and if rocket science isn’t your thing, then social science should be. As Davidson remarks
The humanities and the arts and the pleasure in studying them make us not only work ready, but world ready too, and the world is in desperate need of the expertise of those who are educated to the human, cultural, and social as well as the computational.
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