Book Nerds Make Better Programmers

Pick Up a Book and Become a Programmer

In a few months, many liberal arts graduates may find themselves experiencing a quarter-life crisis. In a science- and tech-based world, they might be asking themselves whether or not they made the right choice. Unfortunately, there is an age-old myth that liberal arts majors have fewer job prospects in comparison to hard science majors. English, sociology, archeology? If the myth is to be believed, these majors should be things of the past. Fortunately, this myth has been busted. Liberal arts majors, if you’re interested in technology, your degree can actually give you an advantage over those imposing techies. The trick is to recognize your strengths, minimize your weaknesses, and realize you are capable of contributing. Yes, you can do it!

Vote ‘Yes’ for Liberal Arts Degrees

In his article, “To Write Better Code, Read Virginia Woolf,” J. Bradford Hipps argues against the notion that liberal arts degrees are fruitless in our current technological age. Software is a large component of today’s industry, which should come as no surprise. Sadly, many technologists claim students should seek degrees in science and engineering and limit humanities to hobbies. Hipps uses personal experience to contest this argument. He says, “As a practice, software development is far more creative than algorithmic.” In other words, a background in liberal arts not only aids a programmer, but can even provide an advantage.

Unnamed Computer Programming LanguageIn short, I agree with Hipps. Carrying a degree in liberal arts or humanities does not preclude someone from becoming a successful programmer or scientist. True, the aim of these educational branches is not to produce engineers. Instead, they seek to develop open-minded individuals who know how to use their minds and can think for themselves. Even technologists seem to recognize this aim. Hipps—a liberal arts major—was hired by a technology consultancy to “cut down on engineering groupthink.”

Computer science degrees develop the power of the mind in critical thinking, problem-solving, abstraction, and algorithm. Yet without the ability to approach a problem from different angles and without the skills to communicate clearly, work with others, and examine perennial questions, how can someone be an effective programmer?

Human beings design, program, and use computers. In order to develop successful programs, teamwork, cooperation, and communication are required. These traits are cultivated through discussion, writing, and group projects—all of which are facilitated in liberal arts and humanities curricula. Surprise! Furthermore, these fields of study provide an essential piece to the puzzle of successful programming: human understanding.

Literature, philosophy, history, art, and all the other subjects that fall under the headings of “liberal arts” and “humanities” provide the study and understanding of the human experience. So yes, it is my firm opinion that a background in these fields, educational or otherwise, creates a superior programmer, scientist, or engineer.

Trust Me, I’m a Credible Source

Though I am not a programmer, my argument—like Hipps’—is based on personal experience. I am in the last stages of completing an undergraduate degree in English, with a focus in creative writing and minor in technical writing. After spending roughly eight years working toward my bachelor’s, I have quite a few different subjects under my belt. From zoology and computer science to graphic design and creative writing, I feel I have covered them all.

I approached computer science fairly late in the game—about four years ago, to be exact. After graduating with my associate’s, I took a break from college to, you know, “find myself.” No, not really. Actually, I needed a full-time job to pay off some debt. Sound familiar? Well, after four years of working random jobs and moving into marketing and web design, I decided I needed my four-year degree. Tired of dead-end jobs, I sought a new major and technology seemed to be the wave of the future. I have always loved working in HTML and CSS, so I figured, why not? Why should Java, Python, and C be so different?

In the end, I discovered they were vastly different. And, in the end, I decided I didn’t want to be a programmer. However, the computer science classes that I did take opened my eyes to something I had never realized before: I can do things. What!? An artsy-fartsy girl like me can be a programmer? Yes, it’s true.

It didn’t make sense to me then, but my professors and classmates continuously praised my problem-solving ability and project management skills. Surprisingly, I was able to take a seemingly intangible thing and make it tangible. I could communicate and work with my peers in a way that maximized productivity and—best of all—passion. Unsurprisingly, I had a similar experience in my physical science courses as a zoology major. And yeah, I chalk it all up to having a well-rounded background set firmly in liberal arts. Take that, naysayers!

So, as I get ready to graduate with my creative and technical writing degree, I look forward to a future in which the sciences will forever remain open to me. I know that my liberal arts degree will only aid me in my ventures, not hinder them. So go—read Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Better yet, take part in the #WotNReadingChallenge. You can apply for that tech job tomorrow.

What do you think about liberal arts degrees? Do you think book nerds make the best programmers? Let us know in the comments!

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About the author

Anastasia Dotzauer

Anastasia is the Senior Editor at WotN. She enjoys losing herself in the fantastical worlds of literature, graphic novels, and television. Though reading and writing are her primary passions, art and photography tie as a close second. Her favorite fandoms are Game of Thrones, Green Lantern, Harry Potter, and Star Trek.

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