Humanities in the tech industry?

Yesterday I partook in the annual get together at the Uni where we are told that people who study the humanities can indeed be both useful and worth the money in a corporate environment. As this is news to many companies it is oftentimes a very interesting day out. There was only one problem this year, close to no employers showed up! There were a couple of brave souls, but they were mostly small companies started by humanists. There were a lot of interesting lectures, and I went to four of them: one about VentureLab, the on campus help for students who wants to start a company of there own; the founder of TrendEthnography held a session on how great humanists can be in the corporate environment; DIK were there talking about the how to apply for a job as a humanist; and last, but perhaps most interestingly, three practical philosophers (in swedish) were there to talk about what use philosophy can be in society and in a corporate environment.VentureLab really made me think. I’ve wanted to set up my own company for the longest time, and here is my chance to do it. Right slap bang on campus! I need to think very carefully about that, and grab the chance if I can. But what idea to run with?

The woman from TrendEthnography was very thought provoking and made me realise that indeed I do know things that very few in other sectors do! I could be a valuable asset to any company really, and help with anything from formulating documents in a proper way, to draft ethical guidelines, to help them understand why people don’t think their products work. (If anyone at a tech company reads this and is intrigued, e-mail me! I live and work in the Skåne area of Sweden, but with enough incentive can be moved almost anywhere, except north…) She did point out that as a humanist you need to learn to do a few things, and most important among them I think were:

  • Learn to think of you self as a brand. Treat that brand with respect and value it.
  • Remember that your service is unique, and good service costs money! Don’t forget to ask to get paid. And this is important! You need to live.
  • Learn to talk the talk. This means that we speak academia, which very few people outside our sphere understands. Learn how to talk to, as it were, normal people, and even more importantly, company execs.
  • Even very basic humanistic insights are news to many.
  • Don’t sell out! This means that you should still conduct your studies as thorough as before, but translate it into a language, and length, that people can understand and concentrate on. You may have to distil a whole essay into one Keynote slide, but that’s the price we have to pay to change the world. And I think it is a pretty fair one…

Mull these over, and you’ll see that it does make sense.

The other really interesting bit, as said, were the philosophers. They worked with reality checking people and companies basically. (That is no mean feat for philosophers who might very well question the very existence of reality…) They had sessions with their ‘guests’ and used Socratic discussion and discussion analysis to help people find answers. They did not provide the answers, merely helped people reflect in them selves. And I found my self thinking: “I could do that! As a matter of fact, I am doing that, but I am not getting paid!!!”. They also helped companies and individuals with ethics and personal problems of different kinds, but they were poignant in saying that they were not healers, coaches, therapists or witches(!), as were often suggested by people. One of these Practical Philosophers worked for a tech company in Malmö (Sweden), and he said that they make half his yearly salary from just selling the ethical guidelines he drew up for the company! He is the only employed company philosopher in Sweden, and the company is a lot better for it. He splits his work time 60/40 between talking confidentially with the employees, acting as a filter between them and the execs, and helping in just plain writing readable documents. The filter bit is basically that he can come to the heads of the company and tell them that this or that doesn’t work in that department, and no one but he will know who complained or whatever! The writing bit, he said, was mostly because IT staff just don’t know how to write a proper document! So seriously, any company in the Malmö/Lund/Copenhagen area, I am available for interviews! Anyway, I just thought it might be interesting to hear what the ‘other people’ are up to at the universities!



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