Liberal arts majors have been having a rough time lately. Venture capital legend Mark Andreesen
told a conference last year that the average English major is likely to end up working at a shoe store.A recent McKinsey study found that liberal arts majors have higher rates of unemployment, more debt, and are less happy with their jobs.
But while pure maths and engineering backgrounds might help you get a job, they’re no guarantee of success. In a piece in The Wall Street Journal Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini, who has a maths and accounting background, argues that technical skills are “necessary but not sufficient.”
In business, you need to be able to relate to people, to be able to put that scientific education in a broader social context. Otherwise you end up with technically proficient products that solve the wrong problems, or that nobody ever sees or uses.
Unless people have a background that’s broader than just numbers, they’re unable to do that.
“I’ve seen many an actuary and many an engineer who are brilliant,” Bertolini writes, “but they fail in their ability to communicate or commercialize an idea because they can’t relate to the people they’re dealing with.”
More technical education is certainly desirable. But emphasising it to the exclusion of everything else ends up creating a ceiling over people’s careers.
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