Coders Need Not Apply: Why Technology Needs English Majors

Written by Sharon Rosenblatt, BA 2010

Hack your own career. That’s my advice for the terrified English majors, this class of 2016.

Why should you believe me? From 2006 to 2010, after avoiding classes at our beautiful University of Maryland in the business school or that required an HTML prerequisite, it surprised everyone, including myself, when I began working for a technology consulting business in Silver Spring. “What do you do with a BA in English?” puppets sang in the Broadway play Avenue Q. What did I want to do? I had spent the majority of my college experience in Tawes (and showing my "age," Susquehanna). Outside of College Park, post-graduation, I wanted to shake things up. I could use my words to do so. The only thing that stood in my way was society’s view that an English major had no place working alongside a coder. Luckily, my employers at Accessibility Partners, a technology consulting company focused on making technology accessible and usable for people with disabilities, abandoned that notion.

Taking technology access for granted for most of my life, within weeks I went from politely aware to a fervent disability advocate. I realized right away that it was okay that my job took me out of my comfort zone. I worked alongside developers, engineers, designers, but I also worked with lawyers, human resource professionals, CIOs, CTOs, policy analysts, and senators. Nobody cared I was an imposter. I didn’t know how to write more than a line or two of HTML, but I was on the same level professionally with those who did.

Some hiring managers are unaware that technology has a need for training, social media, marketing, speaking, public relations, essays, awareness statements, advocacy, and beyond. It isn’t just writing the manual: it’s sharing the technology to the world. How else would the public find out about it? English majors bridge the communication gap. I feel vindicated knowing that I’ve undone some stereotypes about the liberal arts. English majors don’t just make you feel guilty for not reading Moby Dick. We can write the mission statement on your website, hold a press conference, and get your company famous in a blog on Forbes.

Most college graduates do not get a job in their chosen field. According to a Time article (http://time.com/money/3913735/college-majors-hot-job-field-stem/) “…only 25% of new grads report getting a job in their major.” Is this bad? I don’t think so. I’d embrace it. Having a pigeonholed career path is a detriment for most of us. Humans are malleable, but unfortunately, the inflexibility of the high value of STEM makes it hard for recent graduates to see outside their major, or try something new. Without an accepting dialogue, people may be wary to dip their toes in a field that might garner success.

So, why hire an English major? Being a Terp taught me to be tenacious, zealous, and often energetic. Having an over-caffeinated writer who can glibly spout synonyms when developers need another word for "glitch" is exactly what technology companies should look for. But my experience should not be unique. Most tech companies in the DC region are altruistic. They have a mission that needs an audience.  Hire an English major: they’ll share it in on Twitter, in a press release, as an article, and maybe a wordy e-mail to clients. They’ll write award nominations to get you grants, recognition, and Facebook likes. That’s important to grow your brand. Cue the people who focused on literature, Shakespeare, creative writing, and post-modern poetry. That cohort with boundless words, who are unfairly deemed less desirable because they can engineer sentences and not hardware.

Technology needs everyone. My English 101 class taught me that the best way to build your ethos was to get published in a field where your passion is evident. Bachelors of Arts, unite with the Bachelors of Science! And moreover—let’s demolish the antiquated notion that STEM is only limited to the acronym. Technology shouldn’t require a specific degree, just a degree of passion and a desire to change society. Working with programs, hardware, software, apps, really anything with an on/off functionality can benefit from the plurality in voices, whether written, coded, typed, signed, spoken, or translated. The message is the same, but it’s time to let everyone say it in their most powerful language.